Task Force Rad Squad is a comic about friendship. And alien monsters. And friends coming together to fight alien monsters inside a giant robot.
If you grew up watching Power Rangers, or are at least familiar with them, you'll probably dig this comic. Creators Caleb Goellner, Buster Moody and Ryan Hill have taken the concept and spun it on its head, creating something that shows their love for the Power Rangers while also being unique unto itself. The trio is selling it online, both digitally and in print, and took the time to answer my questions about the series, its inspiration and their approach to selling it.
JK Parkin: I thought we could start by talking about the secret origin of Task Force Rad Squad. How did the three of you come together to form a cohesive fighting unit? Did you know each other before the idea for TFRS was conceived?
Caleb Goellner: It was a really cool and organic process with some serendipity in the mix. I spent a few months looking at artists before I thought to go straight to a friend of mine. I'd known Buster from the Kansas City comics scene for a few years, but he was always busy working on Zuda and Image books, so it took me awhile to come around and consider him for the concept. Once I saw some Katsuhiro Otomo and Moebius homages on his blog, though, nobody else even seemed like an option. You know how tokusatsu localized for the U.S. can wind up totally its own thing? Buster's art is like that in the best way, fusing a number of dope influences into something that's totally fresh and "him." Once Buster was on board, we realized we'd probably need a colorist to help us nail self-imposed deadlines. I'd known Ryan since moving to Portland circa 2010 and had been talking Power Rangers and toku stuff with him at parties and things for forever, so I filled him in on our project and he totally got what we were going for. On top of being an awesome artist in his own right on books like this year's FCBD Avatar: The Last Airbender comic from Dark Horse, Ryan's a fantastic colorist with a massive resume and really understands Buster's lines, so we were really stoked to have him on the book.
Buster Moody: For a period of time in my youth Power Rangers were a big part of my life, and I even remember drawing some of my earlier, more dynamic character poses based off of Power Rangers promotional artwork and stuff. They'd kind of left my consciousness during middle school through college, though a couple weeks prior to Caleb approaching me about working on the book, I had sort of a metaphysical experience with a God-analog manifesting in the form of Zordon, which was oddly amazing but perplexing at the time. Once Caleb started talking to me about TFRS the synchronicity of the experience, along with Caleb's fantastic plan for the book and all-out enthusiasm for the project, kind of made it a no-brainer.
Ryan Hill: I was the last to get brought in. Caleb and Buster had been working on the book for a while. Caleb and I had been talking about it’s progress and how excited he was at a couple of different events around Portland. Little did I know at the time that I was being considered to get to color it. I knew how focused Caleb was and the instant he had shown me Busters art as it started to come in I knew I was gonna “volunteer” myself anyway just because it was obvious how amazing it was shaping up to be. He beat me to the punch and asked me if I wanted to pitch in. Didn’t have to think twice.
Caleb, you've been creating your own web comic as well, Mermaid: Evolution, which you write and draw. How's the experience been working with an art team? What's the back-and-forth process like between you guys?
Caleb: I'm still pretty new to meaningful comics collaboration, but I've been in bands since I was a kid and kind of adopted a relaxed attitude to making stuff in a group. I just try to find talented people I trust, work hard on my parts and provide as much support as I can to everybody throughout the whole process. Buster's so rad that I kind of just send him scripts and the occasional sketch/design and get out of his way until he's got questions. Same thing with Ryan. We all chat online and text regularly to get updates and share ideas, but Buster and Ryan are such pros that I don't have to sweat anything crucial. It's awesome getting to team up with them.
Ryan: From my end it couldn’t have been easier. Circumstantially being the last part of the process and with my end being entirely digital, I probably have the most room in terms of variation and correction. But Busters art speaks for itself, and I really just knew from the get go of exactly what I wanted to do and what I felt both of them were looking for. And wonderfully Caleb and Buster agreed because they seemed pretty happy from jumpstreet. We had some minimal fixes here and there, but it flowed effortlessly and we were all on the same page. It one of the most enjoyable books I’ve had the pleasure of working on. These are both wonderful gentlemen to get to team with.
So I know Caleb from ComicsAlliance (RIP), but Buster and Ryan, tell me a little about yourselves. Is this your first comic, and who or what are some of the influences on your work?
Buster: This is the first comic that I've fully penciled and inked. I colored a handful of comics professionally while I was still in school and helped out with both of the Screamland books from Image, doing colors and back-up stories. I have an astronaut webcomic that's sort of on the back-burner presently, along with dozens of concepts at varying stages of development. Artistically some of my biggest influences, in no particular order, include but aren't limited to Moebius, Katsuhiro Otomo, Windsor McCay, Crumb, Koji Morimoto, Bosch, Durer, Kase2, Jack Kirby, Master ES, Enki Bilal, Geof Darrow, Peter Chung, Gustave Dore and on and on. Outside of purely visuals some of my general influences include Philip K. Dick, Outkast, Stanley Kubrick, Brian Eno, Terence McKenna, Robert Anton Wilson, J. Dilla, Bill Hicks, Mr. Rogers, Aphex Twin, Pete Rock, ad infinitum.
Ryan: I was a part of the Dark Horse production dept for a little over eight years, and there I got to work on a number of different books. After awhile I had finally wanted to jump to the creative side and I had the fortune of getting to work on titles like House of Night and Dark Matter. Like everyone my "influence" list is endless: Katsuhiro Otomo, Bengal, Stan Sakai, Mike Mignola, Dave Stewart, Eric Powell, Steve Purcell, Rob Schrab, Jamie Hewlett, Dave McCaig, Phil Bourassa, Job Madureira, Clement Sauve, and on and on and on.
Speaking of influences ... let's talk Power Rangers. Can I assume all of you were fans of the show growing up? If so, what version of the PR's were your favorites, and what were some of your favorite episodes?
Caleb: I was eight when Mighty Morphin Power Rangers debuted, and the disconnect between its Saban and Toei footage bothered me until a year or so later. I eventually got hooked, though, and watched the entire first Saban run through its last series, Lost Galaxy. I skipped the Disney era by and large while in high school and college, but for whatever reason wound up watching reruns of those series on Disney XD when I started freelance writing. At the same time I was getting into Kamen Rider and the original Super Sentai shows from the '70s and became fascinated by the entire genre and the culture around it. My favorite Sentai shows are the first few created by Shotaro Ishinomori, but on the strict Power Rangers side, I kind of love the first wave of Saban shows equally, although Turbo and In Space stand out. I like SPD and RPM the best out of the Disney years. I'm kind of a bad dude to ask because I kind of love it all and could ramble for days!
Buster: My favorite version is definitely Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. I really like in the second season when Lord Zedd was introduced. I remember him being so badass at the time. He had this serpent that turned into his Z staff, and he was all cool and menacing. Later on his character was a little less serious and domineering. I also shamelessly enjoy the movie. Sky surfing!
Ryan: My favorite episodes are always the crossovers that happen once a season. “Forever Red” is really high on my list, if not the top. The only one that gives that a run for its money is the Ninja Turtles/Power Rangers in Space team up. That was great (even though it was the “Next Mutation” incarnation of the turtles). Mighty Morphing will always be the first and the best. I was also a fan of “In Space” just because it attempted to wrap up the “mythology” started in MMPR. As a kid I just thought that it was Saved by the Bell with superheroes but now we’re... man I don’t even know the current count of iterations that have existed. It’s this amazingly unique thing that just stood the test of time.
I thought the birthday cake monster in the first issue was pretty inspired. What were some of your favorite villains/monsters from Power Rangers?
Caleb: My favorite is probably Mad Mike the Pizza Chef. He's the mascot of a local pizza place brought to life by evil sorcery and has a garlic bulb for a head. On top of tossing exploding pizzas at the Rangers, he also took control of a car by putting evil pizzas on its hubcaps. His greatest feat, though, was that he threw all of the Rangers onto a massive pizza crust, covered them in toppings and started baking them in a giant microwave with every intention of eating them. Kinda bums me out to know I may never do anything that badass.
Buster: Yeah, Mad Mike the Pizza Chef is awesome ... because pizza. Polluticorn was cool too and was a unicorn monster… who polluted. From just an interesting design standpoint I also like Magnetbrain and Four Head, but there are a lotta cool looking monsters.
Ryan: I know if I say Ivan Ooze that's being slightly heretical, but the classic “smells like teenagers” line and the fact that he ACTUALLY fought the Power Rangers personally and didn’t just stand on a balcony. Plus Goldar was ridiculous. I’ll always love Goldar.
You guys opted for a "pay what you want" digital model for selling and distributing the comic online. How many people have paid money for it, and what's the average amount they'll pay? And what do you guys consider the "right amount" for people to pay?
Caleb: We've had really good luck with it so far, thanks to a really generous and supportive group of readers. We've been stoked to print and sell a few hundred physical copies over the past few weeks at conventions and signings and such (and we'll have it for sale online and in some more comic shops soon, too), but pay-what-you-want digital is where we've connected with the vast majority of our readers. Our download numbers are more than 5x what our print numbers have been, and more than half of those downloads have been paid, with the average buyer spending around $1-3. I'm a new writer and TFRS is a new book, so I wanted to give people the option to try it for free if they wanted (and also give those who buy a print copy the chance to get a digital version for free). At this point I think anything readers want to give us is the "right amount" for digital, and we've been truly grateful for all of the support.
Buster: Yeah, whatever people want to pay seems like the right amount to me.
Ryan: Whatever they can. Think Caleb has mentioned a $1-3 average in the numbers we’ve seen so far. That sounds about right to me, I’d guess. But really it’s more about getting it out to as many as we can.
(Editor's note: Print copies are indeed now available).
Are you planning any other methods of distribution, like comiXology, a print collection, etc.?
Caleb: We're open to exploring whatever options are right for the book, our readers and any potential new readers, really. We've had a lot of fun with our modest print runs (there's nothing like holding your own printed comics, man), but there's only so much we can do as an indie crew when it comes to distribution, which is one of the biggest appeals of focusing on digital. Eventually we'd love to collect our comics into a trade or hardcover of some kind and make that easily available to readers. With print, it all kind of depends on whether or not the right publishing partner wants to party.
JK: How are things progressing on issue #2?
Caleb: Buster's got my script and has started doing concept sketches, which we've been rolling out on the TFRS Tumblr. I'm super jazzed on everything he's doing.
Ryan: I know it's on its way. I’m that last stop in the process, so I still have only seen the concept and start work for issue two. But I’m really excited to get to come back around to this world. I really can’t wait to get into it again.
What other projects are you working on?
Caleb: Right now I'm outlining issues 3-4 of TFRS and drawing Mermaid: Evolution Vol. 2. I've had a weird few weeks lately, which put a dent in my drawing time, but new Mermaid pages should be rolling out weekly again starting next week. I've also been writing a third comic that I hope to bring to life soon. Oh, and Buster's almost done drawing and coloring a killer Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan comic of ours that we'll be posting online in the very near future that I'm mondo excited about.
Buster: Yeah, I'm wrapping up that short TMNT fan comic that we're going to put on the internets, researching and gathering reference along with sketching stuff out for TFRS #2, possibly some other comic stuffs, and working on some tracks for my next beat release.
Ryan: Recently I just had the Avatar: The Last Airbender story I drew and colored come out on FCBD from Dark Horse and that was a real awesome experience as well. Unfortunately the graphic novel I’m now coloring now is a book I can’t talk about yet, but hopefully soon.
For more information on Task Force Rad Squad and its creators: