He's got his halo on straight: Callen talks 'Halo and Sprocket'

[Halo and Sprocket]What do you get when you throw a woman into an apartment with an angel and a robot? No, it's not Fox's latest reality television series. You get a truly charming, all-ages series by the name of "Halo and Sprocket" from the mind of writer/artist Kerry Callen and Slave Labor Publishing. Callen took some time out of his schedule to talk about his creation and how he got into comics.

"Like a lot of people, I've loved comics all my life," Callen told CBR News. "I think when people enjoy a certain form of entertainment, they naturally want to be a part of it. So, in the mid-eighties, I think, I submitted some pages to DC Comics. I ended up writing and drawing a story for their 'New Talent Showcase' book. Then I did a book for Eclipse Comics, now defunct, called 'Directory to a Nonexistent Universe.' It was a takeoff of the Marvel and DC directories that were popular at the time. I had so many other things going on at that time in my life that I essentially burned myself out. So I thought, 'Hmmm, maybe comics would be a fun thing to read instead of create.' That was a temporary feeling, so I started up again a few years ago.

"Also, I got to know Mike Huddleston a few years back. When he started working on 'The Coffin' for Oni, it had a big influence on me. He was doing great work and it reminded me what fun making comics can be. In addition to that, I was enjoying comics that were playing by their own rules. Things like 'Too Much Coffee Man' and some of James Kochalka's stuff. They were basically saying anything they wanted to say and drawing it in a simple style. That really appealed to me, and I wanted to take my own shot at that kind of thing. I was also influenced by Jim Mahfood's and Kelley Seda's work. Basically their work was saying to me, 'Do your own thing! People might like it...!'

"I should mention that I was lucky enough to meet Charles Schulz a few times! Meeting him and other creators kept me inspired over the years even when I wasn't working on my personal projects," added Callen.

When Callen chose to start up again, it was with an all-ages series, "Halo and Sprocket." Callen described the series as "the everyday adventures of an angel and a robot who live with a young, single woman. It's a humor book, and each issue has three short stories that are about life in general which, hopefully, anyone can appreciate. Halo, the angel, represents life viewed from a metaphysical, or things-unseen, point of view. Sprocket, the robot, views everything using pure logic or facts. And Katie, the human character, represents real-life experience. When you look at life from these three, radically different points of view, everyday's a grand adventure! Actually, anyone can go to my Web site and read the very first story I did. I think it sums up the feel of the book pretty well. Though I think the art gets better as I go...

"I'd been trying to create a comic book that was accessible to anyone, not just people who normally read comics," continued Callen. "So I've tried to interject a bit of a comic strip sensibility into it. I've been influenced by such things as 'Peanuts' and 'Calvin and Hobbes.' There's a certain simplicity, yet depth, in those that I strive for in my work. I wish more people read comic books, so I'm trying to make one that anybody can read.'

[Halo and Sprocket #4]And, if the fan press and the comic review sites can be believed, he did just what he set out to do with "Halo and Sprocket" #1 which shipped in April 2002. Subsequent issues came out quarterly until issue #4, which hit the stands on June 4. "I, rather inadvertently, got involved in developing a cartoon for Disney TV, which threw me behind on 'Halo and Sprocket,'" explained Callen. "Currently, we're planning a trade paperback for a December release. It will collect the first four issues, along with the story I did for 'Slave Labor Stories' for Free Comic Book Day. I may add a couple of new things, too. Also, I may take a short break from the regular issues and gear up to tell their 'origin' as my next project."

While his next project might be foremost in his mind at the moment, the current issues are on the minds of his readers. "Response has been great! After the first issue came out, my publisher, Slave Labor, told me that they've never seen so many e-mails come in on a first issue!

"Uh... they were all positive, luckily," he quickly added.

"Actually, it's been great working with Slave Labor. I pretty much do an entire issue and then mail it to them on a CD. They deal with the promotion, printing and distribution. It's really refreshing to work on my own material without interference from anyone else. I like my regular job, but I have many, many cooks adding their ingredients to my broth there."

Unfortunately, Halo, Sprocket, and Katie have to share Callen with his day job. "I'm a designer at Hallmark Cards. I work in the Licensing Department. We create cards and party goods with Disney characters, Looney Toons, Peanuts...we also do Spider-Man, Batman, Hulk...oh and movie stuff too, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars. When I think about it, it's actually pretty amazing which characters I get to create with on a day-to-day basis. And it's a benefit to be a big geek like me! Knowing all the characters really helps you design product that rings true with the consumer." said Callen.

"I think a lot of alternative comic artists try to balance a day job with their personal work," continued Callen. "The marketplace just isn't big enough for it to be otherwise. There was a gap between 'Halo and Sprocket' #3 and #4 for just this reason. It's becoming clear to me that it's probably better for us creators to do special projects or limited series. In the future, 'Halo and Sprocket' will probably become a series of limited series. I think Mike Mignola has the right idea doing that with 'Hellboy.'"

Even though Halo and Sprocket falls outside the dominant super-hero genre, Callen hasn't forgotten what originally got him hooked on comics. "Even though I've mostly enjoyed reading alternative comics the last several years, I still have a soft spot for super-heroes. I think Spider-Man and Batman are both great characters. Though, I probably like looking at them more than reading their stories. I also like Nightcrawler and Iron Fist. Oh, and Tigra! Grrrrrr. I love some of the old DC characters like the Metal Men and Metamorpho. A couple of years ago I discovered the 'Plastic Man Archives,' the stuff by Jack Cole. Those are great. I think they've had an influence on the work I do.

"In fact, if DC ever does another 'Bizarro Comics' collection, I'd love to contribute to it! If you're not familiar with it, it was filled with alternative artists' take on standard DC characters. It was a blast to read. I'd have to say, however, that I'm actually working on my dream project with 'Halo and Sprocket.' I have total creative freedom to draw and say whatever I want with characters I really like. How can you beat that?"

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