ECCC EXCLUSIVE: "Epic Kill" Creator Raffaele Ienco Builds "Mechanism" at Heavy Metal

Raffaele Ienco plans to bring some robotic metal to Heavy Metal Comics with his creator-owned ongoing series "Mechanism." The tale of a pair of police shepherding around an experimental robot cop in a world practically overrun by lizard-like aliens will be written and drawn by Ienco whose other credits include the Image Comics series "Epic Kill" and issues of "Fantastic Four" at Marvel.

Launching on July 1, "Mechanism" marks the second announced comic project at Heavy Metal (the first being the second series of Steve Seeley and Michael Moreci's "Hoax Hunters," formerly from Image). The move into creator-owned comics was announced last year after Kevin Eastman sold Heavy Metal to David Boxenbaum and Jeff Krelitz.

In light of the Ienco announcement, CBR News talked briefly with Krelitz about what Heavy Metal is looking for when it comes to their new comic line and the benefits they offer the creator.

"Heavy Metal is a company founded by creators," Krelitz said, noting past contributors like Moebius, Philippe Druillet and Eastman. "We are about supporting the creators. That is why our deal is the most advantageous. Unlike our competitors who charge thousands an issue for a creator-owned publishing model, if Heavy Metal likes your comic, we will simply charge you $1 to publish it. Beyond that, should creators want it, we have a tremendous amount of resource in the form of media and merchandising opportunities - brand building tools that we will help use to really develop and expand not just a comic, but a brand."

He added that the comics reflect the company's longtime quest for innovation. "Strong, cool, provocative, fearless and inspiring art and story is what we're looking for."

And that's what Krelitz and company saw when they got a look at "Mechanism." "The story and art epitomize Heavy Metal," Krelitz said. "It's a pleasure to read and beautiful to look at. It presents the idea of imagining a future that the human race may not survive and the characters living on that precipice. I love how the story challenges humanity's existence both philosophically and commercially. Raff is amazingly talented and the perfect fit for the new line."

To get a better idea of what the world of "Mechanism" has in store for readers and humanity, CBR News talked with Ienco about building this world from the ground up, writing a robotic character and what it means to him to write a comic for Heavy Metal.

CBR News: "Mechanism" takes place on an Earth invaded by aliens. What has their presence meant for humanity?

Raffaele Ienco: The aliens - "Geckos" as they've come to be called - have been dropped into the Earth's oceans by a parent race no human has ever seen yet. They multiply to huge numbers, eventually overwhelming any of Earth's armies. Walled cities are the refuge for the survivors but there are some who choose to live outside the walls, free to live life on their own terms and take their chances against the invaders. Now with the arrival of this new advanced mech technology, the chessboard has become much more dangerous and exciting.

You got to create your own robot and aliens from the ground up. What were some of the important elements you wanted to incorporate in those designs?

With the aliens I wanted them to be creepy, yet graceful. Deadly, dangerous, aquatic, beautiful and strange. Animals, yet intelligent. Instinctual and moving in packs.

The robots in "Mechanism" were designed to be different, cool, powerful, silent, faceless, worn, forgotten heroes. Dangerous too, like the aliens.

The design of the main character robot was to make it mysterious; that's why it has no face. You can't tell what it's thinking. A truly advanced artificial intelligence is just as enigmatic as an alien intelligence. Maybe even as dangerous.

It's made quite clear early on that this robot is a prototype. How will that come into play as the series kicks off?

It's a prototype and yet it's not, without giving too much away. By issue #4 we'll learn more of its true nature. Before then, it's mainly the human characters that move the story forward but everything will eventually coalesce around the mech as it works through some... constraints placed upon it by its creator. A tag line for the series is "The most complicated machine ever made has not finished making... itself!"

In addition to the robot, the book also focuses on officers Gibbons and Minelli. How do they respond to their new partner?

I really enjoy these two characters and their interactions. Minelli means well but is inexperienced and that's a dangerous thing to be where the Geckos are involved. Both will have their parts to play in the evolution of the mech prototype, and both don't like it much to begin with. As will Tom Burg, the inventor, and Horus Banks, the moral compass of the story. And many other characters. They are the planets revolving around the Sun. Each character's interaction with the mech will shape how it reacts when... Nope! I can't say more without giving the story away. Sorry!

The series is described as an ongoing. Do you have a set number of issues in mind or more of a general idea where you want to go with the book?

The first arc is five issues but I'm planning at least ten issues for the full story scope. And then more hopefully. I'd like to do a really long run and create more original characters and a full, rich world. The more characters I create the more I can kill off anyway. [laughs] Isn't that the trend nowadays? Referencing "Game of Thrones" and "The Walking Dead" here. But sometimes you kill a character and then miss them like I have already.

When you talked to CBR about "Devoid of Life," you mentioned that you were transitioning from the video game world into comics. How has the transition been for you so far?

I haven't worked in video games for eight years now. People in comics really aren't here for the money. We're here for the love of the medium. And that's me. Now, video games paid really well, but on the down side of it you're part of a team that numbers in the hundreds, making a small component of a big organism. It's easy to feel tiny and lost in that environment.

With comics I can create worlds and characters myself, writing and illustrating the stories I want to tell. And have those stories printed for sale in comic shops in a reasonable amount of time. If I do it well enough the rewards will come but I'm more interested in becoming a better cartoonist than my earning power. Still a guy's gotta eat and pay the bills!

Over the past few years you've moved into doing work for Marvel. How important is it to you to get back to the creator-owned books?

I love the work I did for Marvel and hope to work with them again and often. But the calls from the Big Two come at the best and worst times and sometimes not at all. For instance, I was working on a Marvel gig and DC offered me something really swell, but I couldn't accept because I had the Marvel gig. And when that ended there was nothing more from either.

Creator-owned books, on the other hand, can be really exciting and fulfilling if you're lucky enough to catch the public's imagination with something they've never experienced before. Your own comics can keep you working and keep your hand in the game. And sometimes you can win the game altogether like Robert Kirkman did with "The Walking Dead."

What is your process like for a series like this that you're writing and drawing? Do you come up with a full script first, thumbnail as you go or something completely different?

My first step with anything is hand-written notes and plenty of them along with pen thumbnails beside the notes. Those are fun because they're done so fast. And boy, do things change from that first batch of notes. My concepts always evolve. "Mechanism" started as a story about a farmer in a world invaded by aliens and a crashed military robot he was helping repair. The farmer was able to speak and unburden his emotions to the robot about a tragedy in his past, something he couldn't convey to anyone else. From there the story got bigger and more characters crept in, back-story happened and on and on, to what it's become now.

Right now I'm six pages into issue #4, and I have a pile of notes and thumbnails and dialogue beside me to follow. I create a PDF of the artwork as each art page is finished and use the notes feature to drop in the dialogue so I can read it a few times and edit it, before I letter it. This is the first time I've done all the artwork on the computer and Photoshop. I have no original art to sell. So this is a new look for me. A new style. What makes "Mechanism" and Heavy Metal such a good match in your mind?

Oh they're perfect for each other! Science-fiction, hard-core metal machines, the future, hard rain, fog, unfathomable aliens, conspiracy, evolution beyond the confines of the mind, character driven men and women, destruction, breaking the boundaries, beautiful art. Heavy Metal and "Mechanism" have a lot in common, don't you think?

Also, let me take this opportunity to thank Jeff Krelitz, co-CEO of Heavy Metal for all the things he's done in making me feel welcome and excited about Heavy Metal Comics. He's doing all the right things to make the comics a hit and the creators of said comics successful. Now if we could only get picked up by Loot Crate!

"Mechanism" #1, written and drawn by Raffaele Ienco, lands in stores in July 1.

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