I, SHMOBOT: Rifkin talks "Shmobots"

The futuristic society in BOOM! Studios' "Shmobots" authorized the construction of a race of worker robots to perform all of the city's manual labor. But some things never change, and the city gave the robot contract to the lowest bidder, giving way to a new social class of defective, stupid and even lazy robots: Shmobots. Created by writer-director Adam Rifkin ("Detroit Rock City," "The Chase"), illustrated by Les Toil and praised by Stan Lee, the 128-page graphic novel is on sale next week and marks the filmmaker's first foray into comics.

"Shmobots" grew out of a character named Eyeballs the Robot that Rifkin created chiefly to irritate his film editor Pete Schink. "I would talk in a monotone robot voice and repeat 'Eyeballs' before and after each sentence," Rifkin told CBR News. "'Eyeballs. I am Eyeballs The Robot. Eyeballs. Eyeballs. Let's go grab some lunch. Eyeballs.'" Of course, the more annoyed Schink became, the more often Rifkin would invoke the voice. "We even created a back-story for Eyeballs The Robot as having been a Robbie The Robot-style rip-off character that had starred in a series of bad 1950s sci-fi B-movies like 'Eyeballs Goes West' and 'Eyeballs Meets the Three Stooges.'"

Years later, Rifkin conceived of a scene in which a group of pot-smoking, slacker robots try in vain to hire a prostitute. "At first I considered writing it as a short film, but then I couldn't help but feel that there was a bigger idea to explore," Rifkin said. "The bigger idea being that of a whole subculture of stupid, pot-smoking robots who don't work, don't contribute to society in any productive way, but have an offensive sense of entitlement."

Rifkin said he had no trouble finding the robots' voices, as he grew up around kids with decidedly similar attitudes. "I wondered what people might call this subculture of mechanical loser and thus, 'Shmobots' was born," he revealed. "As I was coming up with 'Shmobots,' it seemed like a natural fit to include Eyeballs as a major character."

The story of "Shmobots" centers around four roommates: three Shmobots and the bots' human friend Miles. Our trio of Shmobots consists of Rusty, a bot called 69.5 and the infamous Eyeballs. "Rusty's pretty much their leader and a total asshole," Rifkin said. "69.5 is a bit of a wuss but generally pretty sweet." However, 69.5 has a propensity for coming up with stupid ideas for movies, like "The Diary of Anne Frankenstein." "Eyeballs The Robot is a bit of a know-it-all, and Miles is their human pal."

The world of "Shmobots" is populated by slacker robots of all shapes and sizes, including Goldy, the Shmobot hooker with a heart of beryllium, and BroBot, who Rifkin said "keeps all his human bitches coming back for more."

Rifkin took inspiration for "Shmobots" from obvious sources like Robbie the Robot of "Lost in Space" fame and "The Tin Man," but the writer mined a few unconventional sources as well. "I also took great inspiration from Cheech and Chong movies, 'The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers' and other underground comics and 'The Hitchhikers' Guild to the Galaxy,'" Rifkin said. " I always loved that depressed robot!"

Les Toil is providing the artwork for "Shmobots," and Rifkin has known his collaborator for quite some time. "Originally, we met through a mutual friend who published a film magazine --now a website -- called 'Film Threat,'" Rifkin explained. The filmmaker came across one of Toil's "Film Threat" covers right around the time Rifkin was about to go into production on a film he'd written called "The Dark Backward." "I needed someone to help me visually realize Blump's, a fictitious ACME-style company, that made all the products in the film's surreal world. Les's work and product designs were brilliant. They encapsulated that bleak '50s sensibility I was looking for perfectly."

Blump's products are all meant to be disgusting, with products including Weaselroni, Pig Newtons and the Yamsicle, but presented in an inviting 1950s style complete with a wholesome smile from a friendly old lady. "The Blump's products are very much inspired by my love of Wacky Packages, a 1970s Topps Bubble Gum Co. line of product parody stickers," Rifkin said. "Also 'MAD' magazine was a big influence and Blump's in many ways owes 'MAD' a great debt as well." Since his film "The Dark Backward," every movie Rifkin's made has featured at least one prominently placed Blump's product, and Rifkin's first foray into comics promises to continue the tradition.

After being more than satisfied with Les Toil's work on "The Dark Backward," Rifkin continued to work with the artist on many a film and television projects. "Looking at his work is almost like watching a movie sometimes," Rifkin said. "In fact, I approached 'Shmobots' as I would if I were directing it as a film, and wanted the artwork to reflect that feel. I wanted it to be very cinematic in its style and composition. Each shot had to progress the story forward, just like the script. And the characters, though robots, needed to each be infused with real individual personality at a glance."

Rifkin and Toil produced the entire "Shmobots" graphic novel independently. "Once it was done, we met with a number of publishers and were offered many deals, but we ultimately chose to partner up with BOOM! because we felt that they really got what 'Shmobots' was about," Rifkin said. "And so far so good! We and BOOM! are already talking about partnering up on more projects."

Unsurprisingly, Adam Rifkin has more 'Shmobots' stories he hopes to tell, and the writer hopes his creation is a burgeoning franchise. "We're talking about 'Shmobots' movies, a TV show, toys, video games, cartoons, breakfast cereals, fast food licensing deals, bed sheets, condoms -- 'Shmobots' is going to be the next pop culture juggernaut!" Rifkin said. "Hey, a guy can dream can't he?"

The 128-page "Shmobots" graphic novel hits stands on August 27 from BOOM! Studios. The book is also being serialized for free at the BOOM! website, updating by one page a day.

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