Writer J. Torres is no stranger to creating comics that connect with both kids and adult adventure fans.
For years, Torres has plied his craft on top all-ages titles like "Teen Titans Go!" and various Archie series, but his bread-and-butter has been creator owned comics that anyone can read, and this month the writer and Oni Press deliver two new kinetic kids comics. In one corner stands "BroBots and the Kaiju Kerfuffle" -Â an original graphic novel with artist with Sean Dove that mixes the monster-fighting, robot-combining action of '80s anime with fist-bumping brotherly love. And across the genre aisle there's the just-launched mini series "The Mighty Zodiac" with Corin Howell where the traditional Chinese Zodiac is transformed into a mythological adventure in the vein of "Avatar: The Last Airbender."
With "BroBots" breaking into shops on May 25 and issue #2 of "The Mighty Zodiac" arriving on May 18, CBR News caught up with Torres on the current state of kick-butt kids comics. Below, the writer digs into the epic appeal of kaiju battles, the real life bros that inspired his humorous story and how series like "Zodiac" can present a more complex tale in the all-ages vein.
CBR News: J., you're in the enviable position of launching two books almost at once with "The Mighty Zodiac" just having hit and "BroBots" on the way in a few weeks time. I know "Mighty" had a long gestation period for you as a writer. How long have you been toying with "BroBots," and when did you realize that both of these were going to be ready for the world at the same time?
J. Torres: Yes, IÊ¼m very lucky to have these two titles launching from Oni in the same season. It wasn't planned this way. It happened because, as you said, "The Mighty Zodiac" took longer than expected to come together while "BroBots" came together rather quickly. I had also been hoping that "BroBots" would be ready for TCAF, since both Sean and I were planning to attend this year, and Oni made it happen.
Of the two, "BroBots" seems the comic that is build on a core kid-friendly concept: combining robots battling giant monsters. What is it about this genre that originated in Japan that you think seems to connect so well with readers, and how do you tweak the genre in the graphic novel?
I canÊ¼t explain it other than to say it looks so cool. As a kid, you see a giant kaiju or giant robots - or even better the two battling it out - and itÊ¼s just so cool. At itÊ¼s core, itÊ¼s the age old battle between good and evil, something we see a lot of as kids in fairy tales and superhero comics and cartoons, but when you literally magnify that, make it giant-sized, it becomes what the kids these days call "epic." In "BroBots," we take all these elements, including some fairy tale stuff, and create this kind of robot versus kaiju primer for little kids. For older readers, though, it readers like a love letter to our the Japanese pop culture of our youth.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the book is that aside from big battles, there's also a fairy tale element to it. What classic tales did you look to most when writing the script, and how easy was it to merge them with the Robot Vs. Kaiju style?
ThatÊ¼s a big spoiler. ThereÊ¼s a plot twist that happens in "BroBots," folding a classic fairy tale into our story, and revealing it might give away too much...so letÊ¼s just say itÊ¼s a BIG spoiler.
Of course, with a title like "BroBots" there is an expectation that the characters are going to really steal the show. What can you say about the three leads and how their personalities are particularly "bro-ish"?
You know, they actually have a lot of "bro" moments. From trash talking, like bros on the b-ball court, to dancing together like EDM bros at a rave. They also act like real brothers, shaking their fists at each other with one minute, then working together so beautifully they have to fist bump the next minute. A lot of this comes from by two sons, the original Brobots.
Your artist on the book is Sean Dove who's worked for a long time on the design end of the comics spectrum. What does his graphic style do to complete the tone you wanted for this story?
I've been wanting to work with Sean for some time now, and I've just been waiting for the right story to come along. HeÊ¼s got a "retro-cool" style that I love. ItÊ¼s an aesthetic all over Cartoon Network these days and I felt that "BroBots" needed that look. It also helped that Sean and I share a love of a lot of the same anime, manga, and Japanimation-inspired cartoons from the '80s and '90s.
On the flipside, the just-launched series "Mighty Zodiac" skews a bit older. In the wake of continuity-heavy kids shows like "Avatar: The Last Airbender" how complex do you feel you can get an all-ages story, and what was your big hook for the mythology of this world?
It began with a trip to Korea where I saw these stone statues representing animals in the Chinese zodiac as warriors. I imagined them coming to life and having adventures. I also had all these other ideas for a fantasy story involving stars falling out of the sky, a dragon dealing with a cancer-like disease, and I put it all together. I didn't really think about the complexity of the story.
I didn't even think about making it "all-ages." ItÊ¼s just something that comes naturally to me, you know? ItÊ¼s my default setting. I've written "mature readers" content, usually assigned to me, but when it comes to my own stuff, it often just goes to that "rated E for everyone" place.
With at least a dozen characters who can be described as leads in the book, you're juggling quite an ensemble cast for a six-issue series. Do you find that one of the Zodiac crew has become a de facto audience identification character, or is part of the challenge here making all the cast an equal part of the story?
Quite a bit of the focus is on a group within the group called "The Four" consisting of Tan the rooster, Ko the cat, Kane the dog, and Mal the horse. I think most readers will identify with those guys because theyÊ¼re like the "new class" in this school of warriors. However, I do try to give everyone on the team some action. But as with any large cast, whether itÊ¼s "The Avengers" or "The Walking Dead," characters will take turns being centre stage. If I get to do a sequel, another pair from within the team might be the "stars."
So a lot happened in issue #1. We saw the birth of the Moon Rabbit Army as our villains. The Zodiac's Master Long is on the verge of a pretty drastic transformation. Six mysterious fallen stars have spread across the land. And one of the Zodiac in Rang the Rat may have designs on those objects counter to his teammates. Whew! As the series moves forward, what is the story element that you think will unite all these disparate storylines and really pay off for readers?
ItÊ¼s all about the stars! Everyone wants the stars for one reason or another. Long thinks they can "cure" him. Rang thinks it will help him curry favor with the rabbits. And they think, getting their hands on the start - to destroy them - will let them back into Gaya, the metaphorical "garden" from which they've been banished.
And with a series this big, your artist certainly has a lot to bring to the table both in terms of breathing life into all these characters and delivering on the big action beats a story like this requires. Luckily, Corin Howell has a tremendous amount of illustrative range in her work. What does Corin do in the issues ahead that you're particularly excited to see on the final printed page?
She just turned in pages from issue #5, and it had me laughing at scenes I had forgotten were supposed to be funny. Also, every action sequence sheÊ¼s turned in has been so fun to see "come to life" from what was on the page. Then thereÊ¼s all the wonderful facial expressions and "acting" she draws on every page. I have to say Maarta Laiho, our colorist, is also killing it. SheÊ¼s really helping the storytelling with atmosphere and mood in ways that I didn't expect.
You've been making all-ages comics for years now, and you work on that front with Oni goes back way before there was such a hunger in the comic shop market for this kind of material. How is it different now making these kinds of comics than when you were putting out books like "Allison Dare" or "Sidekicks"?
You just said it. ThereÊ¼s a much bigger market for all-ages comics now, lots of readers looking for the type of comics I like to write. Back then, during the early Oni days, I had to juggle a number of freelance projects to pay the bills, and not all of them were all-ages or even comic book related. These days, the audience and demand is such that I can focus on my creator-owned books if I want to and even stay in the all-ages lane. ItÊ¼s a great time for all-ages comics and creators; I think itÊ¼s a great time for creator-owned comic books in general!
"The Mighty Zodiac" #1 is on sale now. Both issue #2 and the "BroBots" graphic novel hit later this month from Oni Press.