INTERVIEW: Ken Garing Returns to Planetoid for Epic New Adventure

Tales of diverse groups of people setting aside the differences that divide them in order to overcome a problem or build something are new abound in all types of literature, and for a good reason. These types of stories have universal appeal, they’re inspiring, and they can be pretty fun and exciting -- especially when they’re set in a far-off future on an inhospitable world that’s under siege by the robot armies of a vicious alien empire.

That was the set up for writer/artist Ken Garing’s 2012 creator-owned sci-fi adventure series from Image Comics, "Planetoid," which followed the adventures of a soldier named Silas who found himself ship wrecked on an alien world and banded together with other stranded castaways, both human and alien, to build something greater than themselves: a community.

This February, Garing will take readers back to that world with Image's "Planetoid: Praxis," a new miniseries that focuses on a family and some of the fantastic and real world challenges they face. CBR spoke with Garing about making "Praxis" accessible for new readers, its connections to the original series, his cast of characters and the obstacles they’ll face, and having a creator-owned project where he’s in control of almost every aspect of the final product.

CBR: When the original "Planetoid" series began it looked like it was going to be the story of Silas, an ex-soldier looking to survive on an alien world. Silas' story came to a definitive close though at the end of the original mini and now you're about to launch the sequel, "Planetoid: Praxis." So am I correct in assuming that as a whole "Planetoid" is more about this alien world community Silas helped found than any one person or protagonist?

Ken Garing: That's right. In "Planetoid," Silas and some other characters fought off these killer robots that roamed the surface and went on to establish a settlement in an area called the Slab -- which is this big expanse of rotting infrastructure on the planetoid's surface.

Silas was the protagonist but the planetoid itself was/is really the central character. Silas was more-or-less just reacting to what the planetoid presented him with.

With "Praxis," we continue on with this settlement and a cast of characters a few years after the events of "Planetoid." The time between has been a period of calm, but now change is coming to the settlement in the form of off-world visitors.

How new reader friendly is "Planetoid Praxis?" And for returning readers, was the epilogue of the first series with Onica, Nkunda and their children sort of a hint to where you're headed in "Praxis?"

"Praxis #1" was designed as a bridge between the two volumes. So there's some recapping of the events in "Planetoid" while also moving things forward. Honestly, the summary above is probably all people need to know. Outside of that basic setup, the drama in "Praxis" is all self-contained.

The epilogue in "Planetoid" does serve as a setup for "Praxis." When I drew those last few pages and I immediately started started thinking about what happens next. So, for those returning readers the transition should be pretty seamless.

I also try to approach the reader-friendly issue with the story-telling itself. Clarity and readability are really important to me. I think an audience will follow you as long as they think you know where you're going. Along the way you can slowly introduce more detail and make a complex story that doesn't feel complex.

What's it like writing Silas' former comrade and one-time lover Onica in this new series? How has she changed and grown since we last caught up with her? Is her leadership role of the Slab top community she helped found agreeing with her?

She's now the mother of two kids and she's the de-facto leader of the settlement. But in some ways, Onica has actually not grown. She's very capable and strong but also very stubborn.

In the past she's had to fight to survive, but now with "Praxis" she's put in a position where she can't just fight her way out. When visitors start coming to the planetoid her reality becomes more nuanced and complex. She's mostly doing everything right as the settlement's leader but these new circumstances threaten to overwhelm her and the others.

How big of a role does Onica's family play in this series? How has her husband Nkunda and their children Aden and Zuri changed since we last saw them?

Most of the characters have not changed since "Planetoid", but there will be major changes going forward in the pages of "Praxis." For example, Aden and Zuri are little kids at the beginning of "Praxis" but by the end they're in their late teens.

The family thing came about totally organically at the end of "Planetoid." It was not part of my original idea. But it stuck in my mind and opened up interesting narrative opportunities. There's a larger plot developing around the characters but ultimately the family dynamic is the backbone of the story.

So much scif-fi is centered around what are essentially action-heroes. Even some really intelligent sci-fi does this. But the family dynamic seemed really unique, you know, having this cast of characters with different motivations instead of a single protagonist on a mission.

Who are some of the other supporting characters we'll meet and catch up with in "Praxis?"

Onica, Nkunda, Aden and Zuri are the central characters. But the character Dakar comes on strong too. He was a very minor character in "Planetoid" that grew totally on his own. I just really like drawing him. He represents the sentiment from the first series. He was a loyalist to Silas and is sort of second-in-charge after Onica. He's a warrior who is ready to fight and die for the settlement, but again that's not always the right approach to a problem.

There's a lot to say about the main antagonist in "Praxis" but that will have to remain a mystery for now.

Fair enough. Let's talk about the inciting incident of “Praxis.” Earlier you mentioned visitors coming to the planetoid?

For many years, the people on the planetoid have lived in isolation. They've managed to form a working community but some degree of tribalism has also developed. In "Praxis" we'll see that various off-world parties can now access the planetoid's surface and can come and go as they please.

The visitors themselves do pose an actual threat but the real drama in "Praxis" focuses on how these changes affect the characters on an interpersonal level, within the settlement.

One of the great things about the original "Planetoid" was the world building you did. It was sort of this fun combination of lived in sci-fi like "Firefly" and "The Expanse" and the multitude of aliens featured in stuff like Star Wars or Star Trek. Will we see more of that in "Praxis?" Will we learn more about some of the alien races you established in the original "Planetoid?"

Yeah, there's much more detail given to alien cultures in "Praxis." In "Planetoid" I introduced a few alien races, so it's interesting to be able and build on that. There's also more opportunity to develop the culture of the Slab.

In "Planetoid" the population was hunted down by robot sentries but now now people have the freedom to move around and congregate. So there will be plenty of scenes exploring weird new environments on the Slab. There will also be some explanation about the history of the Slab and some rumors about a race indigenous to the planetoid.

Visually, how does "Praxis" compare to the original "Planetoid?" Did the new story call for some stylistic changes in your drawing or a new color palette?

"Planetoid" was tricky for me because I wanted the production to be really good. I didn't want it to look like an indie comic. I wanted to make a comic that could compete with "Batman.” But until then, I had never had work in print so everything had to be figured out on the job. I would do things like little color tests in the actual comic to figure how dark or how saturated a certain color looked in print.

"Praxis" looks way better, as a result of all that. It's way more sure-footed and bold. I also wanted to do something new with the color. I wanted to get away from muddy dark colors. Sometime it's appropriate, but there's so much of it out there right now.

My favorite artist and colorist is Richard Corben. Looking at his work, I noticed that he creates dark atmosphere by using deeply saturated colors. So I tried to play with that approach instead of just going with heavy grays.

If fan support is there how long do you see "Planetoid" going? Do you see yourself using the sort of "Hellboy" model of a series of miniseries?

It's funny because the "Hellboy" model is the most obvious and straight forward to me, but there still seems to be a lot of confusion about it.

I do have an outline for a third volume and some ideas about an early-years Silas story. But I also want to do other stories in other genres too. I've wanted to do a comic about Bobby Fischer for a long time. I have a fantasy story and cyberpunk comic I started on prior to "Praxis.”

But, as you said, it all depends on fan support. Or the perception of it.

Finally, you're in charge of just about every aspect of "Planetoid." As a creator, how challenging and rewarding is a project like this where it's yours pretty much top to bottom?

The most rewarding thing is that I don't have to draw boring scenes. Sometimes I'll buy a comic by some amazing artist who is known for drawing monsters or something, and the writer will have him draw a five page argument between two guys in car.

But, of course, it's challenging too. The workload can seems overwhelming at times.

Also, the way the industry compartmentalizes artists and writers can be frustrating for those of us who do both. Writers are credited with "the story" and artists are geared towards being as technically proficient as possible. That approach makes sense, but it creates a certain type of comic book.

Then what often happens is personal work by writer/artists gets viewed through this rigid lens. So I see things where spontaneity gets characterized as "inconsistency". Or maybe a writer/artist will try to express something political or abstract and will get criticized for not having enough "character development" or something.For me, other than Bronze Age Marvel titles and a few other exceptions, single-creator comics are pretty much all I ever look at.

Even as a kid my favorite comics were by writer/artists; Eastman and Laird's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" or Larsen and McFarlane's "Spider-Man" comics. Then as a teenager I read comics like Corben's "Den,” Miller's "Ronin,” Otomo's "Akira,” Crumb's short stories, Gilbert Hernandez's "Love & Rockets X"....

Reading all of these comics by writer/artists made me want to write and draw my own comics. Being able to actually do that and get them published is extremely rewarding

I hope people like this comic and support it! "Planetoid" did well based entirely on the support and word-of-mouth from retailers and readers support. When it comes to marketing this book, I'm totally clueless. So if you've read "Planetoid" or if you like "Praxis", please let it be known to your retailer and online.

"Planetoid Praxis" #1 is on sale Feb. 1 from Image Comics.

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