Atomic Robo Returns to War, Reacts to Eisner Nod

Just over a year ago, new comics publisher Red 5 was little more than a blip on the radar. But following Comic-Con International 2008, the publisher now has a genuine hit on their hands in the form of their Eisner-nominated miniseries "Atomic Robo."

Written by "8-bit Theatre" web comic creator Brian Clevinger and drawn by former flight school instructor Scott Wegener, the series tells the tale of a self aware, wise-cracking robot created by Nikola Tesla, a robot that has been tasked by the U.S. Government since World War II to handle science and supernatural threats from around the world. Nominated for Best Coloring (handled by Ronda Pattison) and Best Limited Series, the formerly limited series will launch a second volume titled "Atomic Robo and the Dogs of War," starting August 13. The writer/artist team sat down with CBR News to discuss their success, what the second series will brin, the familial aspects of their collaboration, and how the series takes precedent over any other comics work.

The originating "Atomic Robo" ran six issues and involved mostly single-issue, done-in-one stories that zig-zagged between Robo's modern life and his past experiences. Clevinger says "Dogs of War" will run five issues and mostly take place during the Allied Invasion of Sicily in World War II. When asked if the second volume will follow the style of the previous with single issue adventures, or change time periods within an issue, Clevinger said yes and no.

"We're just doing World War II this time," Clevinger said before backing up. "Well, that's not entirely true. Due to their popularity last time around, every issue of this series will include mini-comics. And those will show us glimpses of non-WWII adventures. I really enjoyed how the first series was able to play with different eras within the same narrative, but I think from here on out we'll concentrate on particular time periods or particular themes. This time World War II is our framework. For the series after this one, [it] will pit Robo against a threat in the '20s, and it should end in the modern day, but a single event from 1908 ties it all together."

The five-issue "Atomic Robo: Dogs of War" will surround the invasion but will work out into two two-issue arcs and one stand-alone. The first, Clevinger noted, will show Robo's assistance during the invasion. The second two-parter will take place after the Axis retreated from Sicily, and the stand-alone takes place a few months later. "Just like the previous series, every issue still works on its own, but the links between issues are much more direct this time," Clevinger said. "We were able to hop around time in the previous series by exploring Robo's memory in a kind of free association style. This time we're focusing on a particular theme and a particular era to link everything together."

Besides Baron Heinrich Von Helsingard, who was the main villain in the original series, there will be a number of other villains introduced in "Dogs of War," some pulled directly from history. "We've got Otto Skorzeny," revealed Clevinger. "He's one of these people you couldn't possibly make up because it'd be too unbelievable and you'd have to dial it back a few notches. Otto was Hitler's number one special agent and in this series he commands a squad of 'Laufpanzers', these specialized armored troops. We've also got Dr. Vanadis Valkyrie, the head researcher for another Nazi super weapon program. Helsingard is connected to both of these things, but you'll have to read the series to find out how."

One of the memorable aspects of the first "Atomic Robo" book is its dry and sarcastic sense of humor and how the self-aware robot deals with situations. Clevinger says "Dogs of War" is a bit more serious than the original and that has to do with his and Wegener's family. " "I may not be the best judge of that, because I didn't think the first series was being funny at all except for the issue with the Hawking Incident," he said. "But, you know, we're dealing with actual military campaigns from WWII in this series. Scott and I both have grandfathers who served in the war and we both have great respect for the soldiers on both sides of this conflict and the people who were caught between them. It's kind of hard to do a slapstick comedy in between all that.

"I mean, don't freak out, we're not doing Band Of Brothers And Also A Robot. We're very much aware that people pick up Robo comics to have fun, and frankly we'd get bored with it ourselves if we didn't deliver on that. Everything we see is from Robo's perspective, and he's still a young 'bot in this story. To him, it's one big adventure. Not in a frivolous way, but let's face it, he knows he's bulletproof and he takes advantage of that to thwart enemy soldiers at every opportunity." The genesis of the "Atomic Robo" enterprise started when Wegener was in-between careers as a flight instructor. When he got his first taste of corporate aviation, he knew it was the last place he wanted to be. After a series of "no-brainer" jobs to shape his craft as a comic book artist, Wegener finally met Clevinger who was willing to pay him a page rate for his book, and three months later he started worked on "Atomic Robo" #1.

"Originally, I was just work for hire," said Wegener, "but Brian and I quickly slipped into the sort of passive-aggressive relationship you witness in many old couples that you find wandering aimlessly around the malls of America. So, it wasn't very long before I started imposing my unsolicited opinions about Robo on Brian. The character himself I loved, but there were some technical issues dealing with what he could and could not do that I did not like. Much to my surprise Brian was open to critique, and we developed a really productive back-and-forth between us. I quickly learned that I had some really terrible ideas that were worse than any of the things I didn't like about Robo, but I had a couple of goods ones also.

"What developed was a really healthy series of checks and balances between us as a team. I found that while this was developing I began to invest more and more of myself in the project. It quickly went from a job to an obsession. Then at some point Robo evolved into something slightly different and Brian asked me to become his partner in the project. Definitely one of those 'happiest moments of my life' sort of thing."

In regards to the Eisner nomination, Clevinger said he did not see it coming but mentioned that he would have liked to have seen Jonathan Hickman's "The Nightly News" win, but neither was the case as last Friday's award ceremony saw Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba taking the Best Limited Series award with their "The Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite." However, Clevinger said he has been nominated for an Eisner award for his web comic, "8-Bit Theatre," and likened being nominated for this award as "being called the smartest person in a room full of cabbage."

"Let's illustrate the problem," Clevinger said. "Take the classic Kevin Kline film 'French Kiss.' Certainly, it's a competent film. The actors are in frame, there are no glaring errors in editing or continuity, the camera is steady, the lighting is adequate, and the audio is clear. It's not a great film, not an award winning film, but it doesn't screw anything up. Compare that to, say, one those childhood home movies M. Night Shyamalan tends to include on his DVDs. There's poor audio, no lighting to speak of, terrible editing, clunky camera work, etc. One is clearly the work of professionals, the other is a work of amateurs. If there's an Oscar category for which both improbably qualify, which one do you nominate? Is it fair to Shyamalan's home movies to pit them against something so beyond them? Is it fair to 'French Kiss' that it has to 'compete' with something so amateurish?"

In terms of their future plans, Clevinger admitted being in talks to see "Atomic Robo" in another format besides comics, but what does it for this team of fresh faces is the familial aspect of the book. "There are the obvious things of course; working on a project that you care deeply about, working in flip-flops and a bathrobe from the comfort of home, and discovering that this thing you love and work on in your bathrobe is being received warmly by the readers," said the writer of what he enjoys most about the project. "Watching the book take shape on the page, seeing how it evolves from the written script to the final inks, to rewriting the script to fix the parts that I ignored, and then seeing how much better it gets once Ronda [Pattison, colors] and Jeff [Powell] on lettering get their hands on it, is a joy."

"Ronda has been a treat to work with," Wegener agreed. "When we explained the sort of look we were going for and how we'd like the colors to somehow clash with yet compliment the line work, she nailed it.

"Jeff is probably the coolest part of it. He and I were good friends back in high school, but when I left NYC we lost touch. I knew that he had worked in Marvel's bullpen back when they had one and was doing stuff for Archie Comics, but I hadn't spoken to him in almost ten years. It took a lot of internet searching, but I eventually found a friend of a friend of a friend who put us in touch. Renewing that old friendship has been great. Almost from the get-go it was like ten minutes, and not a decade, had passed and we slipped back into that comfortable groove that good friends share."

In terms of what's next for the "Atomic Robo" creators, Clevinger said, "People always ask us what our dream book would be, or which Big Two character we want to work on. Our answer is usually, 'We don't understand the question.' 'Robo' is the book. Anything else we work on is a means to do more 'Robo.' Scott did a couple issues of 'Punisher War Journal' a while back. Not because it was 'Oh boy, Marvel!' or 'Oh boy, Punisher!' It was 'Oh boy, we're between 'Robo' volumes right now.'" "Atomic Robo and the Dogs of War" #1 hits stands August 13. The first volume is available at your local comic book store in trade paperback from Red 5 Comics.

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