"GearHead" – Walking Softly and Carrying a Big Wrench

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Many heroes carry weapons. Batman has his batarangs, Captain America has his shield, Wonder Woman has her lasso, and Dogwelder (from Garth Ennis' "Hitman") has his…welder. But when it comes to out-and-out damage, nothing gets the job done like a hefty wrench. At least, that's what the heroine of Arcana Studio's "GearHead" believes.

This month, readers can look forward to the tale of a wrench-wielding post-teenage girl with daddy-issues and more than a little pent-up aggression, courtesy of writer Dennis Hopeless, penciller Kevin Mellon, and inker Ed Herrera. According to this creative crew, the book has superheroes, hot rods, and a post-apocalyptic vibe. As the chick in "The Sound of Music" says, "These are a few of my favorite things…"

CBR News contacted the writer and penciller of this book to find out what other anarchic "goodies" await readers who dare to pick up "GearHead." To begin with, tell us a little about yourselves. What's each of your backgrounds in comics and is this your first published work?

Dennis: I went to school to be a screenwriter and produced a couple short films while I was there; which was fun and all, but it seemed like I spent the majority of my time trying to get together actors and a crew. And then people always flaked before the things were finished. Writing comics was a reaction to that, I guess. You know, one writer and one artist.

Kevin: And one inker. And one colorist. And one letterer…

Dennis: Yeah, shut up.

Kevin: I've been drawing since I was a kid and all that. I did three years at the Joe Kubert School, got my ass handed to me, took a couple years off and…here I am. Ed (the inker) and I were at the Kubert School together. I made good use of the time, cultivating the notion that we should work together. He's ten times the artist I am, but I somehow convinced him to ink me instead of getting work on his own. I'm a dick.

Where did the idea for "GearHead" come from and how did the three of you end up together on the book?

Dennis: I met Kevin through the owner of our local comic store – Pulp Fiction Comics & Games in Lee's Summit, MO. I had dropped off a copy of one of my comic scripts and Andy Mahon (the owner) pawned it off on Kevin.

Kevin: Yeah, he didn't want to read it himself, so he was like, "This is Dennis, he's a writer. You two should work together. Read his script, it's really good." Dick.

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Dennis: Somehow that worked out.

We worked together for about a year before I pitched him "GearHead" – mostly slice-of-life indie stuff that no one seemed to want to publish. Kevin spent a couple months doing some anthology work with a different writer, so I had some time to brainstorm our next project. Oddly enough, it started out as an auto-bio thing about my Dad and his project car collection (the man had like thirty cars when he died, all in various states of disrepair.) I knew Kevin wouldn't touch it, but sometimes things get stuck in your head. So, I was working on that when my wife dragged me to a local punk show. Two hours, five PBRs and one punk rock catfight later, Dad and his cars became an anti-establishment hottie and her hot rod.

Kevin: I remember asking for a female lead. He gave me that, but I ended up drawing a ton of cars and buildings in the process.

Now, how did the book end up published by Arcana?

Kevin: Basically, I put together a .pdf of the first issue's pencils and sent it out in a big mass email. Sean O'Reilly [Editor-In-Chief of Arcana] emailed me back within a couple of days with a contract.

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Wow, that's rather bold! Good for you guys.

Dennis: Sean's a funny guy. The email said something like, "Looks great" and, you know, nothing else. Kevin looked it over three or four times before realizing there was a contract attached. I guess that's Sean's way of weeding out the less-than-thorough.

Sounds like it. Now, here is the description of the book used in the press release:

Shelby Cooper lives just outside a world of spandex politicians and electric cars - but F**K them and their world. She's a hot chick with a hotrod. She drives fast, talks trash and hurts people with a big-ass wrench. What does any of that have to do with super powers? Well...

On a mission to find her brother and in search of the destiny she never knew she had, Shelby's life is about to get interesting. Join her on a 4-issue road trip that leads from the drag strip all the way to the White House. Like her father before her, she is GearHead.

Let's talk about genres – which one does this book fall under? You mention super powers, but this doesn't sound like superhero fare. It sounds more like "Road Warrior."

Dennis: Let's see – it's a post-apocalyptic, fascist-utopian, superhero origin story with a little horror thrown in for good measure. See why we tell people it's about a girl who beats people with a wrench?

There are things I like about most every genre. But genre stories can be kind of limiting. So, instead of focusing on one set of rules, we veered in and out between genres. It makes the book hard to describe, but it allowed me to put an army of zombie bartenders and a half-naked superheroine president in the same story.

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Tell us about the story and where and when it takes place.

Dennis: It takes place in a superhero universe about a decade after this big "Super War" destroyed most of the United States. The heroes won the war and used the victory to seize political control. Since then, they've rebuilt the country around seven giant super-cities, because, you know, heroes know how to protect cities. Inside city limits, there's no pollution or crime. Outside it's "Beyond the Thunderdome" wasteland.

The main character, Shelby Cooper, is this teenage girl who lives outside one of the cities. She drives a big gas-guzzling hot rod and wishes the superheroes and their rules would fuck right off. In the first issue, she finds out her dad died fighting alongside the heroes in the war and she's forced to deal with the fact that she may, in fact, not know everything. She sets off to get some answers, and without really trying to, she disrupts the lives of pretty much every other character in the book.

It says, "Like her father before her, she is GearHead." What does this mean? Is GearHead known to the society in the book?

Dennis: Yeah, Shelby's Dad was a dirt-under-the-fingernails vigilante called GearHead. He wore a welding mask and smashed faces with a pipe wrench. In a roundabout way, this is the story of Shelby picking up that mantle.

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Outside of Shelby, who are the other main characters in the book?

Dennis: Shelby's a badass. Beyond Shelby, you've got:

Former heroes – Subtle T is a teleporter, and the president. Midtown's honorable mayor, Weather Vain, makes sure every Christmas is white. Iron Skull is the biomechanical chief of Midtown's police department.

Former villains – Oil Slick's an urban cowboy-wannabe who shoots "Texas Tea" from his fingertips. Evil Ted runs a bar with his zombie doppelgangers. Johnny Rocket…um, he has a rocket pack. And Black Tuesday is a black magic woman.

Kevin: I tried to design Shelby to be – what I think – all tomboy-ish girls should be: kick-ass and hot without being stupid "model" hot. I have a tendency to pretty things up too much as it is; so with her, I tried to stay away from that, but I wanted to make her as appealing as I could in that context. Shelby's the girl-next-door that you know is attractive, but you don't think of first when you go to jerk off. I did T&A, but I tried to keep it somewhat "realistic." Her boobs move like real boobs, and she wears her pants like a girl wearing guy pants would.

It sounds like the book pokes some "fun" at politics. Should readers be looking for a commentary here on American politics? And what's a "spandex politician?"

Dennis: Um, that wasn't really the intention. I have just as many opinions about the state of American politics as anyone else, but we didn't write the book with an agenda. The politics in the book focus more on the idea that power corrupts. All of the politicians in the book used to be spandex superheroes; now they run the country. They started out with, and hold onto, the best intentions. But, if power corrupts, a super-powered President is pretty damn scary.

Kevin, as mentioned, the art looks terrific. What kind of tone/feel are you going for with the art and how are you going about to achieve this?

Kevin: Thanks! I don't know if there's a big $3 word for what I'm going for. I just like to live inside that edge where comic art meets realistic art, and pick and choose depending on the page and panel. The way Ed inks brings a darker edge to what I do – plus he tends to have a better grasp on the design of a page than I do – so he knows what to leave out and what to add. With the page layouts themselves, I'm really just trying to do in comics what movies can't do. I'll let you know when I figure out exactly what that is.

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Hot rods are a big part of this series – are any of you car junkies? Does each of you have a favorite "hot rod?"

Dennis: My dad was as big a "junkie" as I can imagine. All of the hot rod stuff comes from him. I'm not really a car guy, but I know Dad's favorite was his first: a '39 International Pickup.

Kevin: I'm not a car junkie in the slightest, but I grew up with a father that took me to every car show in the KC area from the time I could walk till I got old enough to say no.

And I'd have to say a '66 GT Mustang for my favorite hot rod. My dad had one for a few years, and of all the old cars he bought, sold and never worked on, that one was my favorite.

What excites you most about this series?

Dennis: Comparing issue #4 to issue #1. We got a lot better doing this book.

Kevin: I was going to say getting something done and published. But yeah, working on this series was kinda like watching a child actor grow up on TV. We definitely get more "mature" with each issue. I'm not saying we are mature, but we're getting closer. The difference between the first and last issue is surprising.

Are you working on anything else (either at the moment or after the series finishes)?

Kevin: Yeah, we're coming up with stuff right now, and really getting ready to pitch a couple things in the next few months.

Dennis: We're trying to keep at it. "GearHead" is bimonthly, so right now we're working on having our next project come out just as this one finishes up.

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