Look, Up In The Sky: Immonen Pilots "Shockrockets"

[Shockrockets]Say you're one of the artists who defines one of the great cultural icons for a generation. Your work is in high demand and DC Comics so likes your work that they publish a hard cover graphic novel you both write and draw.

Why would you decide to strike out on a creator-owned series from a brand-new imprint?

"Doing a book like 'Adventures of Superman' - at least, the way the books had been set up for so many years - was draining," Stuart Immonen told CBR News on Sunday. "To constantly be on top of not only your own juggling act, but that of three (sometimes four!) other creative teams, and be able to turn on a dime and run with a new direction, was creatively and physically too demanding to maintain. When Kurt [Busiek] told me about Gorilla [Comics], it seemed like all the years he and I and others had been trying to unlock opportunities for ourselves had finally borne fruit. As well, the choice of writing and drawing someone else's property or participating in something brand spankin' new, that's half mine for the same level of pay and infinitely more creative satisfaction seems like the definition of no-brainer. Then again, I don't think I actually closed any doors at DC …"

But the new series he's doing with "Shockrockets" is something very different than what his fans have seen over the past few years in the Superman family of books at DC Comics.

For starters, even though Superman moved through a high-tech milieu at times, it can't compare to a book that is centered around magnificent men (and women) in futuristic flying machines.

Immonen says the appeal of such a book is "personal, obviously. I like machinery, finding out how things work, even if I can't put them back together afterward. I like the look of tech-oriented comics and movies, and I like them better when they have a sense of weight, like they could really work. I try to incorporate that feeling in my own work, and, like any self-directed project, I just assume there are others out there like me, that want to read a series like this. I'm not saying we're reinventing comics, or even the action genre, but there isn't a whole lot available now that fills the hole we're trying to fill."

Sharing the comic creation process with one of the biggest names in comics sometimes leads to a situation where one creator leads and the other follows. Not so here, Immonen says.

"Kurt's one of the most considerate writers I've worked with, and his enthusiasm is only matched by his generosity. Even though our credits read 'writer' and 'penciller,' the give-and-take in the process of creating each issue makes for a very dynamic relationship. Kurt will respond informatively about designs or art I've turned in, and he encourages my input in story ideas, and character names and situations, so it's very blurred and pleasant for it."

- Stuart Immonen

The first issue of "Shockrockets" - the first of the Gorilla Comics line of comics published through Image Comics - featured a well-developed world with a history and setting that propel the stories and clearly makes the characters who they are, making one wonder just how much time had gone into developing the series' setting.

"The details are probably more boring than you imagine. I think that, while we have talked about the specifics of 'Shockrockets' for well over half a year, very little is actually written down. Kurt has an amazing memory for detail. We've both incorporated ideas that have been kicking around for some time independent of SR, and perhaps because of that, the tale seems richer. That isn't to say we're flying by the seats of our pants, but rather that there was so much available at the beginnings of the project, it seems like half the work was already done when we started."

At Wondercon in Oakland, Ca. in April, Busiek made a point of telling fans that every issue of every Gorilla Comic will be "new reader friendly," not requiring readers to have picked up any other issues to understand what's going on. Immonen says fans should expect just that.

"We'll do it the same way other storytellers have been doing it since Dickens. Every movie serial (or sequel), every weekly television show does it, and even comics, before the days of the inside front cover, did it. There's no reason we can't. It's just poor craft not to."

And it's a good thing, too, as it looks as though word of mouth might be getting some more comic fans to pick up subsequent issues:

"The mail I've seen has been unwaveringly positive, and sales on the first issue have been very strong, and our print run has sold out, as far as I know. Jim Valentino and Anthony Bozzi at Image are working hard to promote the book and are enthusiastic about the content. I felt a lot of pressure working on the first issue, not only because I felt things had to be just so to meet my own standards, but I felt that, at least for a month, we'd be representing the entire Gorilla line, and a lot was riding on that. I think we pulled through all right."

As for subsequent issues, look for things to get turned up a few notches.

"Alejandro Cruz, our protagonist, makes his mark on the Shockrockets team, and comes out on top, but not without reservations, and not without getting a little burned. The loose threads, some of which were left dangling in the first issue are tied up, but some others are left to dangle. As each issue is completed, we realize that they seem to end, not with a flourish, but a single ominous note. The end of the mini will be no different, I expect.

"The miniseries is set for six issues, then we do the 'Superstar' one-shot, and perhaps a 'Superstar' miniseries, then come back to 'Shockrockets.' There's a whole world of stories which Kurt and I want to tell, and only some of them will fit in the genres delineated by 'Shockrockets' and 'Superstar,' so after the second 'Shockrockets' series, we may do something very, very different, but that's a long time from now."

Regular Comic Wire readers got a glimpse of "Superstar" last December, with an online look at the ashcan preview released at Mid-Ohio Con, but Immonen briefly sketched out what sort of territory "Superstar" will be flying off into when the celebrity superhero makes his formal debut.

"Cody Bridges' story is not unlike Alejandro's in that he's a conflicted fish in unfamiliar waters, but different in that he's accepted by everyone except himself for who he is, while Alejandro knows he's good enough to make the grade but keeps hitting barrier after barrier. Mike Carlin told me the best heroic stories are quests, and Superstar's one of those stories - it's just more of an internal quest."

As for the loose talk that Gorilla Comics is in trouble without its original financial backer, Immonen says such talk overstates the issues.

"It's no secret that Gorilla has disassociated itself with eHero, the Internet startup company - that was in our press release of last month, but despite that, the books are going to be coming out and on time. It comes down to stuff that won't affect publishing schedule or book price or creative teams, and therefore nothing anyone who just wants to read the books will notice."

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