ALL-NEW REMENDER: Writer talks "Atom, "End League," "Fear Agent"

Rick Remender would tear you a new one if you called him an overnight success. The writer-artist has ten years under his belt, and fans of his critically acclaimed independent comics work know Remender's a double-threat variety of comic book creator, writing such characters as the alien-hunting last human in the universe, Heath Huston, in Dark Horse's ongoing "Fear Agent" and drawing such memorable stories as Santa Claus killing Zombies in Brian Posehn's "The Last Christmas."

Remender cracks into the mainstream this week by taking over the writing duties on DC Comics' "All-New Atom" with issue #21. CBR News sat down with Remender to examine his start in comics while working on "The Iron Giant" to where he is today with new titles "The End League," (issue #2 on sale now) and joining Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin on "Punisher: War Journal."

You started out in animation with "Anastasia," as well as working on "The Iron Giant," and "Titan A.E." What did you learn while working in animation and how did it leed you to a career in comics?

Working in animation taught me I don't like going to work and sitting in a cubicle. It also taught me a ton about production and the importance of deadlines. It gave me the basic foundation to begin self-publishing comics. It also made it clear to me I needed to have a pure creative outlet where I could develop my own ideas and not someone else's.

You started in self-publishing with "Captain Dingleberry." How did you come up with the idea for a superhero that has a dimensional doorway in his ass? What did you learn from this experience, quitting your job in animation to create this story?

Ha--we came up with ol' Captain Dingleberry during our lunch sketchbook sessions. My buddies Harper Jaten and Rory Hensley and I would be so bound up from doing assistant animation work we would spend our lunch breaks sketching up the most ridiculous stuff we could think of.

We had Sir Richard Pumpaloaf inspired by a Zappa song; he imprisoned folks and transformed them into bread before molesting them. We had Sac Warrior of Choad, also very horrible; he had balls made of iron and a scrotum made of silly putty and he swung his manhood around like Thor's hammer. It was a lot of fun and we had fulltime jobs so it didn't need to be anything real or make any money. We self published the first full issues and sold like 5,000 copies out of the gate which opened my eyes to the real potential of doing comics for a living. I quit my job a few months later and produced another seven issues of "Captain Dingleberry." It was a great way to teach myself how to make comics.

In your career you've worked with Kieron Dwyer on "Sea of Red," "Crawl Space," "Night Mary," and "Black Heart Billy." How did you guys first meet? What's it been like, this extended journey through comics together?

Kieron is a great friend and collaborator. We work so well together, it's always a lot of fun. He's also one of my best friends so we've supported each other through some crazy times along the way. I wouldn't be where I'm at without his support and friendship.

What's new and fresh paths will you be taking the Atom on in "The All-New Atom?" What appealed to you about the title and how did you get the job?

[Artist] Pat Olliffe and I are spinning it in a very fast paced, classic sci-fi direction, sort of how the original Gardner Fox stuff was set up with a bit of "Fear Agent" thrown in. Classic fun esthetics merged with modern storytelling. I love the character; there are just endless possibilities for him if you put your mind to it. Anyone who read this arc and isn't a fan of he character is cold inside and full of poison blood.

I got the job in a poker game with editor Michael Siglain. Siglain was hopped up on goofballs and kept going "all in." Eventually, I told him if he wanted to up the stakes he'd need to put an ongoing book for me in the mix. He did and I was holding two of a kind, which beat the royal sampler he was holding.

For fans of both of your books, the idea of you and Matt Fraction working together on "Punisher: War Journal" must sound like more fun than Frank Castle has ever had. What's it like working with Fraction and Howard Chaykin and what do you guys have going on in the title?

It is a dream job. Matt and I are both fans of watching snuff films on the internet together late at night when our wives sleep in our cold, cold beds. We like the ones where horses kill men the best. So it was only a matter of time before we made comical books together. I was concerned that Howard wouldn't fit into our particular interest group but Matt put us all on the phone where my fears were alleviated. Bless his heart, Chaykin is a freak as well. I've always been a huge fan of his art and I knew I loved him as a man when he let Matt and I listen to him watching "2 girls 1 cup." Long live Howard Chaykin.

"The All-New Atom" and "Punisher War Journal," are not your first forays into mainstream superhero comics. You inked Kieron Dwyer on "The Avengers," and in previous writings you've expressed irks about people laughing off your pitches because you were an inker. What did you learn from this experience and how did it lead to your becoming a working writer?

It showed me a kind of callousness many folks in comics exhibit in regards to public perception. I saw a widespread inability to gauge the inherent value in something with one's personal barometer. It's easy to just assign folks an easy to understand label. "Inker." "Writer." "Penciller." It's all about what they see you do on a book first and from then on out you're assigned that value. It's fucked.

Having been seen by a lot of folks as an inker when I worked with KD on "Avengers" was a bad thing. Sure, I'd written three creator-owned graphic novels at that point, but they were black and white indie books that only a few thousand people saw so that didn't help much. It became incredibly frustrating. It took me doing another pile of graphic novels before I broke through that perception barrier.

In your column Against the Grain, you wrote that after your wedding you had a bunch of pitches green lit. Getting married and having that giant vote of confidence must have given you a feeling that you were meant to be in this business. What was that year like for you?

I was writing "Night Mary" at IDW, "Sea of Red," "Strange Girl," "Fear Agent" at Image, and pencilling "Man with the Screaming Brain" for Dark Horse all while I was working as a fulltime storyboard artist at Electronic Arts. It was insane. As "Screaming Brain" moved into "The Last Christmas" and I added another couple of books to write it, became clear I was either going to have to quit drawing or writing. I had managed to juggle both for over a year but I was dying. I put on like 30 pounds and began to have heart palpitations. It was too much work and too much stress to continue to put myself through. So after "The Last Christmas" ended, I gave up drawing professionally to focus on writing. It's been nice as now I find art cathartic and fun again, the expectations lowered I can use it to unwind for the first time in over a decade.

How did "The Last Christmas" come about and how much fun was it to work on? Reading that book, one can tell you, Brian Posehn, Gerry Duggan and Hilary Barta had to have a boatload of fun on that book. It just came through on the pages.

I love all three of those goofballs. We had a ton of fun doing the book; it was all fun to draw and having Hilary Barta ink me is a treat. We did two series together and each issue just got better and better. Brian and Gerry are old friends so we all worked together super comfortably. We're talking about doing a new book but I'll have to figure out how to find time to draw it. I guess I do miss pencilling and inking pages.

Starting with "The Last Christmas," it appears you have a massive attraction to post-apocalyptic stories with certain variations: Superhero apocalypse in "The End League"; alien invasions in "Fear Agent"; vampires in "Sea of Red"; and The Rapture in "Strange Girl." What is it about those kinds of stories you like?

I like the Last Days. The feeling of desperation brought on by finality. It's almost over and you have one more chance to end your life in a way you can feel good about-- Pow, immediate stakes and tension. Plus, it's aesthetically the most fun. Bombed out shells of cities, mutants and monster, nothing simple. I like bleak futures and can't stop writing about them.

What can your fans look forward to with the further adventures of Heath Huston?

June is going to be "Fear Agent" month at Dark Horse and we'll opening a new storyline, but between now and then we've got a metric ton of amazing stuff still happening in the "Hatchet Job" arc. The secret of Mara's involvement in the Dressite attack on Earth is revealed as she basically damns all the current Fear Agents in order to secure her revenge on the space pirates who killed her family. Heath and Charlotte are dealing with the expiration of her new husband and the revelation in "Fear Agent" #19 that Charlotte kept Heath in the dark about his daughter's existence. It's a big slopping pile of high adventure and heavy drama in deep space.

We've also got Kieron Dwyer joining the team for issues #20 and #21. He'll be working with Jerome Opena and as you can see from the samples, they are one amazing team.

What do you remember about creating Heath Houston? Why do you think "Fear Agent" is so popular?

The first spark for "Fear Agent" came from looking at a sci-fi cover Tony Moore had done for Rob Zombie. I was working at the same time with mark Rickettes and Hilary Barta on a sci-fi book and had my head in the Wally Wood/Frank Frazetta mode as well and when I saw Tony's [work], it made me crazy how much I loved it and how much better he was at drawing it then I was. We got on the phone and I threw out "alien exterminator" and off we went. The name "Fear Agent" came from two CDs next to my computer, "Fear" and "Agent Orange."

I think [Heath's] appeal comes from the familiarity to him. He's that classic Han Solo rouge we all grew up loving. He's Captain Kirk fighting the lizard man before scoring with a blue skinned beauty.

"The End League" has your fansenthralled yet only two issue has been released. What is the schedule for this book?

It'll be bi-monthly for the first four issues as we get ramped up. The first part of a book is always tough. You're tearing ideas out of thin air and trying to develop them into a world that folks want to learned more about. We figured we'd give [series artist] Mat [Broome] all the time he needed to pour as much love as he wanted into the pages. We'll be going monthly as of issue #5, more news on that soon.

You're been playing with this comic in a somewhat "Watchmen"-like context, but with clearer superhero archetypes in this superhero apocalypse setting. How long have you been developing this idea?

Couple of years now. It sort of sat waiting in my computer for a long time, I needed a real mind boggling good super hero artist to do the thing and had gone through a few guys who had to pull out of the project. At one point I'd mentioned it to [editor Tom] Brevoort as a potential Marvel book but never officially pitched it. In the end, I decided I'd rather have freedom to do anything I wanted with the story and characters.

Where did you grow up? You've lived in San Francisco and Portland. What comics did you read growing up and how did they influence you as a writer and an artist?

I grew up in Phoenix prior to the urban sprawl explosion. It was a nice place to live back in the '70s and '80s. It's since become a behemoth of TGI Fridays and Wal-Marts. It breaks my heart as I have a lot of love for what that city used to be.

As a kid I loved superhero comics, skating and going to shows. I gravitated towards the skateboard art scene of the '80s and that got me into drawing. I still remember the first Pushead drawing I copied out of Thrasher magazine. Eventually, Thrasher opened my eyes to [artist] Robert Williams, who lead me to a new world of art as I discovered underground comics and eventually the Juxtapose scene. A Robert Williams article in Thrasher is the reason I became an artist. Everything I drew for years was aimed at trying to be like Robert Williams.

Any chance you'll return to writing and drawing a book?

Yes. In the next couple of years, for sure.


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