"Big laughs, honest," said Massey. "TerroMax is the world's leading evil science corporation. Their scientists churn out the most diabolical creatures, machines and technology available. They're true market leaders. But evil, you know, tends to make a mess. 'Maintenance' is the story of the guys who have to clean up that mess. They're not out to fight crime, or defeat evil. Hey, they work for evil. But they are a couple of decent fellas, just trying to do their job."
Those decent fellas, Doug and Manny, aren't "chosen ones" or "reluctant heroes," they're just regular guys who happen to work in the TerroMax Maintenance Department. "Cleaning spills, plugging leaks, general fix-it. Typical maintenance work," explains the scribe. "Except the spill they're wiping up might be a sentient, man-eating marmalade. That kind of thing. And they're surrounded by a cast of supporting characters who also live and work at TerroMax, like the good-natured and lethal Manshark, the opportunistic alien K'Arl, and all the TerroMax scientists busy crafting mayhem.
"One theme that keeps coming up -- and not entirely because I wanted to explore it -- is the value of plain decency. Doug and Manny are average joes. They don't have glamorous jobs. They're not out to save the world. But because they're a decent couple of guys, when they get embroiled in some wacky cataclysm, usually brought about by the actions of their 'superiors,' simply cleaning up the mess renders them heroic."
Massey paused. "Look, screw that. There are no themes. No themes! It's just wall-to-wall crazy adventures and raucous humor. I can't believe you made me talk about themes!"
Themes are off limits, but when it comes to goals, Massey has one in mind: to entertain. It's something he's serious about. "Entertain because the jokes are solid, the characters are ones you care enough about to want to spend time with, and the yarnspinning is engaging. I'm not looking to shock. I don't want the humor to come across as smug. I don't want to be a post-modern, post-ironic, post-whatever smartass snickering at silly genre concepts because I think I'm obviously above them. We're here to put on a show, and we're going to juggle and tap-dance play the ukulele, and make sure we look like we're having a grand old time doing it. Monsters! Laughs! Good times! That said, it's not a kid's book. The comedy can be a bit biting, and there are a few swear words here and there.
"I've got the first year plotted out so far, and just about half the scripts are finished. I have other clear but less formed ideas about what follows, and I see no end in sight."
It was Massey's self-published "Death Takes A Holiday" comic, which is 48 pages and features one six panel strip per page, that brought him to the attention of Oni Press. "James Lucas Jones at Oni liked the humor in it," he explained. "He also frequents some of the same online groups that I do, and I've done my fair share of pushing my role as a humorist through posting jokes and random comics. James wondered if I could take my humor and construct some longer narratives I could expose it in. He also knew, having seen 'Death,' that I'm not much of an artist. I can squeak by in the minimal confines I set for myself in 'Death,' but for a longer, broader story I need serious help.
"Anyway, James asked me to pitch an idea for something ongoing. I gave him a couple of ideas, he liked 'Maintenance,' and asked for a script. I started feeding him pages, he liked where it was going, and went to find an artist. It's just kept going from there."
The ideas behind the book come from a couple different places. "I love stories about average people in extraordinary circumstances. On a practical level, I also wanted a motif that allowed for an endless supply of wacky adventures. Maintenance workers in a massive evil science factory fit both bills nicely."
Massey will be joined by artist Robbi Rodriguez, co-creator of Image Comics' "Hero Camp." While Massey didn't know much about Rodriguez before their collaboration began -- Jones recommended Rodriquez -- Massey and his new artist clicked immediately. "James and I agreed that he 'got it' and seemed to have the chops, so we all dove in," said the writer. "Story pitch, to initial sketches, to hardcore work on the book in a matter of weeks. The final characters are hardly revised a hair from his initial sketches. And as he turned in pages for the first issue, it was obvious we scored big with him. It's great stuff, and perfect for the kind of humor and stories I want to tell. Looser and more cartoonish -- in the best possible way -- than his 'Hero Camp' style. We've already got a finished issue under our belts, and San Diego is the first chance I'll even get to talk to him."
"Maintenance" hits stores in December, with a 32-page first issue, and subsequent issues of 24 page length. The black and white series promises lots of laughs and Massey, for one, couldn't think of a better company to be with than Oni. "Oni's mix of styles and genres makes it an excellent home for 'Maintenance," he said. "One of the things I like best about Oni is that they never try to be hip or edgy. They simply want to find great creators and publish great stories. If some of them end up being a bit hip, or a little edgy, terrific. But the story is what matters. I'm having a great time working with James. No fights so far!"
CBR Staff Writer Arune Singh contributed to this story.