Comic fans come in many different types. There are those who primarily check out the most recent super hero fare, those that gravitate towards more independent styled product, while still others prefer the storytelling styles of the Golden and Silver Age masters. For Cuban born comic creator Frank Espinosa, he's hoping to capture a bit of all three audiences with his new Speakeasy series "Rocketo," in stores today.
As you'll soon see from the preview pages included with this interview, "Rocketo" doesn't look or sound like your typical comic published today. It really does share something with the three different types of comic fare described above. With "Rocketo," Espinosa is hoping to bring back the swashbuckling adventure stories of yesteryear, but with a modern flavor.
Espinosa told CBR News that "Rocketo" takes place on Earth 2000 years after a major cataclysm has split the continents of the Earth into grat pieces, ultimately creating a brand new world called Lucerne. "The cataclysm also destroyed the magnetic field of the earth, which makes it impossible to navigate long distances because compasses are now useless," Espinosa explained to CBR News. "The men that were left, the few, they started to play around with genetics. They wanted to repopulate the planet, so they started to come up with bizarre combinations of humans. Some of them were bird men, some were dog men, some were tiger men, etc. The last combination that they came up with was what they called the Mappers. They're like human compasses. They know where they are on that planet at all times. They can look at a cloud and can see the movement in the cloud and know there's a landmass up ahead, etc. Very mystical, kind of Zen like guys."
On the arm of the Mappers can be found what looks like a tattoo, but it's actually something far more powerful. It's a lens that's grown into their flesh and moves around, acting like a compass. "The Mappers are the explorers of this world and when man started to come out of this cataclysm they needed to explore, so they designed these guys to go out and lead the exploration ships, but also designed them so that they could adapt to any environment," explained Espinosa. "They're genetic structure would actually change. If they were to jump into the ocean, their genetic structure would alter and they'd grow gills, or if you threw them into the bottom of a volcano they'd turn into blue-steeled men. They're the ultimate explorers."
The series takes place hundreds of years after the Mappers were designed and by this time they've forgotten many of the gifts they were given by the original creator so our star, Rocketo, is busy rediscovering those powers. "The 'Journey to the Hidden Sea' is really Rocketo's story about how he rediscovers what the original Mappers were like and what their powers were like. In true super hero tradition, he becomes the one to carry on the tradition of the line and, at the end, he's able to do all the things the original guys could do. That's the basic setting, but the book is really about just one guy, Rocketo, and how he grows up, the exploration and journeys he goes on, how he makes mistakes in life, how he does good and what happens to him in the end."
As a series, "Rocketo" is planned to last 48 issues, with each twelve-issue series making up one book. There are four books total, which are:
- Book 1 - "Journey to the Hidden Sea"
- Book 2 - "Journey to the New World"
- Book 3 - "Journey to the Broken Moon"
- Book 4 - "Journey to Ultamo"
"I wanted to do two stories where Rocketo discovered the world, then I wanted to play around with Rocketo in space. Kind of like Jules Verne did with his books," said Espinosa. "He spent a lot of time exploring Earth, but then he goes and explores space. The moon has been shattered too and has been floating around in tiny little pieces. Visually, I thought that would be a lot of fun to explore."
Espinosa said that the story of famed American test pilot Chuck Yeager was a huge influence on "Rocketo." "The third book, 'Journey to the Broken Moon,' is a wink from me to one of my favorite films, 'The Right Stuff,' since in this world Rocketo will be the first man in outer space, much like Yeager was really the first astronaut."
Espinosa explained that there's a possibility of some short stories to bridge one book to another, should he find a story compelling enough to tell, but said that once the series is finished there really won't be much more to say. "I might want to revisit the world again, but not with Rocketo," said Espinosa. "I think that world is fascinating in itself with all these cultures that have sprouted up. That might be kind of fun to explore further."
The art style employed by Espinosa for this series is rather unique to comics. It's as though his background in commercial illustration (amongst which saw Espionza redesign the Looney Tunes characters for Warner Bros. in 1992 & 2002) has been squished together with influences from French artists and American cartoonists he grew up admiring. "The best description of my art was given to me by a fellow artist named Ethan Beavers who does 'Mutation' for Speakeasy," said Espinosa. "He's a wonderful artist, I have to note that. He wrote a really nice thing about 'Rocketo' #0 and called it 'Jazz for the eyes.' I thought that was perfect. In a way it is because it's all very free form. I do very light pencils, then I just let my ink lay. Because I come from an animation background, I try to put down the movement and energy. For instance, I try to get the feeling of the hand rather than just drawing a hand. It's really more about movement than it is actual drawing. I keep a lot out of my drawings. I try to keep it simple." You might think by keeping things simple that would mean the work is easier. You'd be wrong. "It turns out that thinking of what not to put in when I'm composing a page takes up just as much time had I included everything! All art is communication and when you're trying to communicate a particular expression or gesture, it takes time."
The coloring in "Rocketo" is different than is traditionally seen in the American comics market and Espinosa thinks that's probably the Latin in him coming through. "The colors just kind of happened with 'Rocketo,'" said Espinosa. "I look at the European stuff a lot. I love that stuff. I love how they can tell a very serious story with very funny illustrations. I like that. I wanted the coloring to be as loose as my line work. I experimented a lot and found that when I was doing heavy coloring, it stiffened up my drawings.
I really wanted to keep that almost as a first impression. I struggled with it a lot, doing tons of tests with Rocketo, changing the color of his pants and shirts and changing the way I colored his pants, so I decided one day to relax about it and the page began to talk to me. It just kind of grew organically."
Espinosa hopes that audiences see "Rocketo" as a return to the adventure serials of the early 20th Century. "'Flash Gordon' and 'Buck Rogers' were big influences with that whole adventure, larger than life thing. Originally, this was supposed to take place in space and Rocketo was a space guy who would visit a planet called Lucerne, then he'd go to another planet. He'd visit the tiger men on one planet, the birdmen on another, etc… it was very Flash Gordon. Then I said to myself, 'That's been done already!' So, I decided to change things up a bit. Which is how we come to the world that Rocketo inhabits now. I decided to place it on Earth and all those planets I created previously became countries and continents and places on Earth. That was much more fun for me because one the origins of this idea sprang from the fact we've been around as a civilization for thousands of years and we're still exploring this world. These people are just starting to explore their world and they have plenty to check out. Explorers have always been fascinating because they don't have an agenda like they're going to defeat evil.
"'Rocketo' really does go back to those early days of adventure stories," continued Espinosa. "I always describe this as 'Captain Easy' meets 'Flash Gordon' which meets 'Peanuts' which meets 'Popeye.' In fact, I've always thought Popeye was one of the greatest adventure strips. The early 'Popeye's.' They're funny and the story telling was incredible. There's a lot of that in 'Rocketo.' I just wanted to bring back all that old style adventure in a way that still had a human face to it.
I wanted to write a story where you do get to meet Rocketo when he's young and as you go through each book he gets older, so by the end of the last book he's an older man."
Originally, Espinosa had intended "Rocketo" to be a bi-monthly book clocking in at 64 pages each. Then he met with Speakeasy chief Adam Fortier who suggested he split the issues up and make it a monthly book, which works better in the direct market. Epsinoza got hooked up with Speakeasy through his friend Alex Ross. "Alex is a good friend of mine and he used to come by the Warner Bros. studios and would give little lectures," said Espinosa. "So, I spoke with Alex over dinner when he was down here for the [Wizard World] Long Beach convention and he asked me to bring some of my work with me. He really liked it and saw right through it. He said come to the con and I'll introduce you to some people I know. I went and, sure enough, he introduced me to Adam. Darwyn Cooke was there and I found out later Darwyn really liked what I was showing Adam and really did a lot of championing for me. So, I had two big champions on my side. Two days later Adam called me up and asked for a synopsis. Two days after that he told me he wanted to pick this up. I was floored because I had been shopping it around for about a year."
Look for "Rocketo" in finer comic shops everywhere Wednesday, August 17th.