By now just about anyone who calls themselves a serious comic book fan would have to admit that they've at least heard about The Red Star, the title that came seemingly from nowhere to take nearly everyone by surprise.
But, what exactly is it that makes The Red Star so revolutionary? Well, the appeal to many is the book's unique blend of action, drama, sci-fi, magic, and old-fashioned Soviet melodrama! To others, it's the gorgeous mesh of traditional pencil art and photo-realistic computer imaging layered onto each glossy page with exquisite care and skill. But, to Christian Gossett, the creator and penciler for the series, it's something else altogether. "As far as what makes it special, I'd have to say the team that creates it. From our investors to our creative people, Team Red Star is a unique group of individuals and I think we all try to remain thankful for the participation of the others. I may have started this whole mess, but I consciously work from a place of appreciation for the fact that it is absolutely collaborative and if I were on my own, we wouldn't be having this interview," Gossett says. "Somehow, I believe this mutual appreciation works itself onto the page. What is shown on each panel is the harmonious dance of a group working toward a common cause."
But the fans, they still love it for the great artwork and unique storylines, right? "For fans, jeez, I hope they like it because it is unlike anything else out there. Our 3D/2D integration is an experiment that has shown promise, and our story must be hitting some kind of chord out there. Also, I think the fans appreciate our sense of experimentation. Everything we do, we try to come up with something that hasn't been done and that might be cool for our audience."
Anyone who knows Gossett's background wouldn't be surprised at all at this comic-computer animated amalgam approach. "I got a job doing character design and script-writing at Activision. I worked on Pitfall 3D, Apocalypse with Bruce Willis, did some voice work on Heavy Gear 2, and did the storyboards, dialogue and covers for Spiderman PSX from Neversoft. It didn't take long for me to realize while working on Next Generation video games that a comic using 3D models could look amazing. The challenge would be to work out a means by which the 2D elements would be integrated into the 3D environments. In steps Allen Coulter, 3D maestro, who is just as crazy an experimenter as I am, and after a year and a half of lab work, our tests came out the way we wanted. Add the infamous Snakebite to the team with his 'viewmaster' depth of field, and you've got The Red Star," Gossett explains.
Team Red Star, as Gossett calls them, is entirely committed to putting out the best product that they possibly can, and it shows in each magnificent panel of this gorgeous book. Luckily for the fans, the commitment to excellence extends beyond the monthly issue. "Our Trade Paperback," says Gossett, " is going to be a massive experiment in integrating comic books and online storytelling. The focus of the experiment is to give our readers the deepest sense of the world and characters possible. We're all nervous but very excited about it. The Trade Paperback will have a lot of the sketch work and analysis that went into the process, and I would say that, at this point, anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of our work should check it out. Each creator is interviewed, and I couldn't recommend it any more strongly for aspiring artists and writers."
Now more than ever the comics realm is open to new and different forms of storytelling. Gossett explains, "We all work toward putting out a product that fills what we feel is a gap in the industry. I'm not against superheroes at all, in their case I would say that in the hands of talented people, superheroes are fantastic. Alex Ross has shown with character after character in story after story that superheroes can work from their folkloric source in very powerful ways. Frank Miller's Dark Knight is the reason that I came back to comics, and Bendis' Powers is great for the fact that it has clued in to the current state of our industry's common debate: Are superheroes dying? Who is killing them? What is killing them? Can or should they be saved?"
So, as a response to the more open forum for non-spandex titles, Team Red Star set out to tell a tale of epic heroism, without the traditional elements we've come to expect from comics. Gossett agrees with others who have classified The Red Star as a 'post-superhero' genre. "Are there amazing abilities displayed by the characters? Yes. Are they indeed 'superpowered'? Yes. But our women dress for the weather and our men don't wear leotards. This makes, oddly enough, a very strong statement about the world of the story. We've tried to design a world that is 'too tough for tights'. In effect, we're saying that, if any of them half-naked bimbos from other comics tried to crossover into the Red Star universe, they wouldn't last a minute. First, they'd probably freeze to death, second, this world is simply too harsh for flashy bikinis. The heroes of The Red Star are walking tanks that wear steel plates, the women wear metallic-fiber greatcoats. This is a hard, hard world they're in. As I said, other universes can do spandex well and more power to 'em, but I am definitely a soldier of the new era, and that new era refuses to be defined by heroes in swimwear."
Still, basing the Red Star storyline on the alternate future history of the Communist Soviet Union is not a typical source to draw from. This just goes hand in hand with Gossett's desire to change the standard. "The story of Russia is one of the most powerful dramas, most hilarious comedies, and most harrowing tragedies of the twentieth century. It all depends on your perspective. Russia is a treasure trove of human experience of every kind that could be imagined. Yes, the same could be said of many, many cultures, but there are two major empires in this century, and there are already plenty of stories about the United States. So as I've said, I went to where others did not," Gossett admits.
As Gossett mined the rich history of the Soviet Union and began constructing the world of The Red Star, he was amazed at the wealth of material that he discovered. "Studying Russia, I learned a massive, massive amount about my own country as well as theirs. I chose to translate this knowledge through the 'cultural costume' of science fiction, or more accurately mythic fantasy. The visual alphabet of the story has to be as understandable as the written alphabet. There is attention to the technological detail, but this is not as important as the fact that The Red Star is a fairy tale written about a country that has lived through a century that was anything but one," he says.
So, to tell this epic story, Gossett and Company have integrated various types of story elements. From Romance to Combat, Science Fiction to Magic, it's all part of the world of The Red Star. "Almost every superpower you've ever heard of, flying, heat-vision, superspeed, they sure as heck ain't based in reality," explains Gossett. "Throughout the history of fiction, when writers want to go beyond reality, they use a form of magic. But what kind of magic? The great heroes and villains of all time have been defined by the kinds of magic they used. Aladdin and his flying carpet, the secret elixir of Dr. Jekyll, the many 'Force' powers of George Lucas' Jedi, the particular forms of 'unreal' power given to these heroes makes them who they are. The heroes of The Red Star live in a world where 'sorcery' has been treated much like we treat technology in our world. So in the case of the world of The Red Star, not only does the use of magic help me make the story visually powerful, but the way it is controlled also helps me make a statement about the authoritarian world that the characters live in."
To create a pulse of genuine human drama, Gossett employs a device he calls, "Comparative mythology. The idea that all stories, since they are based on common human experiences, do have connections that go far beneath their cultural surfaces. For example, superheroes in tights and capes are, at this point, a distinct aspect of American culture. Whereas when we see a picture of a fifty foot tall Mecha battling another giant robot and blowing up some urban metropolis in their wake, most of us immediately say, "Oh, Mecha, that must be Japanese" as most modern Mecha stories are. Both the Mecha and the Spandex guy are two different cultures exploring the theme of 'Heroism'. The Japanese culture desires such fictional exploration with giant robots ripping apart skyscrapers. Whereas in America, for some reason, we're very comfortable with a hero saving the world while dressed like a Vegas showgirl," he says.
Still, the center point of the drama in The Red Star is the love story between Maya Antares, Sorceress-Major of The Red Fleet and soldier Marcus Antares, missing for over a decade and presumed dead. The reasons for this are elementary to Gossett. "To portray only a war is to lose sight of why war is tragic. To show those who must love and live and survive a war is to make the conflict matter on a human level," he says. This touchstone of Maya's grief allows the reader to feel the tragedy of war and the power of her loss.
Many fans may shy away from the book in fear of any overt political content. Gossett is quick to point out, "Any human being has the power to make a political statement. They don't need a comic book. However, yes, there is a basic political truth I am trying to convey and the founding fathers of The United States are my teachers in this respect. There can be no Governmental Power without Individual Consent. There are no laws that say we must follow laws, and when laws do not serve humanity then they are corrupt and should not be accepted as law. We agree to be a society, and if things get bad, if a government, any government, is shown to be corrupt, it is not only our right, but our duty to stop agreeing to be a society and bring new leaders to power. Only through such commitment to the Rule of Law can we truly say we are free citizens," he says.
So, what can we expect in the near future from Team Red Star? "There is enough material to tell stories in The Red Star universe for as long as there is an audience to read them, or see them, or play them," Gossett says. Hinting that there may be plans to develop The Red Star into an animated film or video game. "My dream come true would be a full Anime treatment done with Japanese designers," Gossett exclaims.
"(Team Red Star) are all ferocious innovators. I can feel (it) already, wanting to kick out the fence and go riding wild all over the world we've created. It's gonna be a great next story arc for The Red Star," Gossett promises.