New publisher Radical Comics has made a splash on the comics scene with well reviewed titles such as "Hercules" and "Caliber." They added a new project this week with "Freedom Formula: Ghost of the Wasteland," a five-issue miniseries by writer Edmund Shern with art by Imaginary Friends Studios' Kai and Chester Ocampo. The title is set in a future where corporations set the rules and "exosuit" racing is high entertainment. Those racers, though, are slaves held captive by their bloodline; part of a caste system that exists into the future. When one of the drivers leads a revolt, questions are raised of loyalty, redemption, and familial distrust.
Series writer Edmund Shern joins THE COMMENTARY TRACK this week to discuss some of the highlights of his first issue, including its artistic inspirations, the role of the artists in the storytelling, and some of the details of the series' futuristic world yet to be revealed.
As always, these tracks come with SPOILERS. You've been warned.
Commentary by Edmund Shern
We had three covers for "Freedom Formula" #1. Radical was gracious enough to give this the Prestige Format treatment, which certainly helps in the presentation of the covers. I love all three. My favorite has to be the Comic-Con International: San Diego variant because it really represents the genesis of the idea. Strip away the racing stripes and you have a basic Formula 1 styled Mecha, which was the original visual inspiration for the whole concept. Kai Lim had painted it and I told him there was a story right there waiting to be told!
Finding the look for "Freedom Formula" was a big challenge. I wanted the look of the book to reflect the Asian inspiration for the ideas, yet I also wanted a European painted feel to it to also represent the fact that this story reflects our influences growing up among Asian and Hollywood entertainment.
Rather than do a straight flashback, Kai and Chester came up with the brilliant idea to do a parallel pair of panels to reflect the race and the historical back-story being related. I think it's ingenious! I wish I'd thought of that as a writer, but that is where an artist's visual sensibilities can contribute to the process.
Chester was pushing for even the shape and layout of the panels to get increasingly geared towards a big racing money shot. In our choice for the panels on the final spread on pages 6-7, we went back to manga traditions to create panels that focused on building the mood rather than specifically moving the plot along.
Right off the bat, I wanted to introduce the antagonists. Typically, story structures are built around protagonists. But for me, I found it really interesting to have a protagonist (Zee) basically stumble and react to situations as opposed to really taking control of situations -- at least in the first half of his character arc. In contrast, I have the corporate bosses thinking they are in control and actively acting to control situations and people. This is where I start getting philosophical about fate and destiny and all that crap.
Zee really hates his father! This could be me working out my own estrangement with my father. As much as I don't feel I have anything in common with him, I sometimes wonder how similar he was to me at my age now. Are we doomed to repeat the sins of our fathers?
I wanted to give the Wastelanders their own Wastespeak. I still think it's a cool idea. The only problem was that Zee would have to be speaking Wastespeak throughout the book and that would be tiring on both reader and writer! I'll revive Wastespeak in a later arc and pin it on a specific character. I'll make a mental note of that.
Notice the Dusthopper. It's one of my favorite vehicles that the guys designed. There are so many throwaway design concepts that were developed that I hope to present a full art book just on the groundwork we did.
Transportation in the wasteland is not a nice way to travel. We had fun with the bus though. It's inspired by how people pack into and on top of buses in various places in Asia. That's unheard of in America, but practical reality in places where life is cheap!
Page 11 ends with a scene which segues into the flashback. Dave Gibbons was truly the master of visual segues in "Watchmen." That's very much a big reference for me in excellence in visual storytelling. I feel this really helps in the flow of the storytelling. Then again, I could be analyzing too much again!
Indicating flashbacks are always tricky. I got the team to avoid the usual panel shape differentiation. In the end, they went for a painting style shift for the flashback.
Here's another stylistic decision -- notice the red "action" panels. J.H. Williams III and Jose Villarrubia's amazing work on "Desolation Jones" inspired us to really push coloring styles into the realm of storytelling. Colorists aren't just there to make something beautiful; a great colorist can really enhance the mood tremendously. Our red action panels made them stark and even suggested sudden actions in a panel. Scott McCloud would no doubt have a field day with how color communicates passages of time!
Really fast paced storytelling was needed here to show the hustle of the race and lead up to the big accident in the following page. This sequence was tough for me to work out. I really had to figure out routes and how close calls could turn into accidents etc. I was using Matchbox cars to work this out! I'm not sure if all of my brilliant details of how vehicles would crisscross and end up with an accident actually made it to the page.
I love this spread. Not just because the guys were able to really communicate the scale of these machines in the art here, but also because the panel layouts were done so creatively that we had panels that looked like debris!
Check out Chinese characters which read "Freedom" on the back of Zee's neck in panel three. I loved how the guys shifted color palettes to enhance storytelling -- lighting the character just nicely when I came over to LA to seek his fortunes.
Thanks to Edmund Shern for stopping by to discuss the new world of "Freedom Fighters" #1, on sale now.
As always, if you have any titles or creators you'd like to see in THE COMMENTARY TRACK, or you're a creator with a book coming out that you'd like to talk about in detail, drop us a line. We're especially looking for artists/colorists/letterers who are looking to talk about their craft, as we've had a shortage of those so far. We're busy behind the scenes lining up books for the weeks ahead, but there's always room for more!