RAGNA-ROCK: Fawkes & Stewart on "The Apocalipstix"

When the bombs finally drop, what else is there to do but rock? This year's Comic-Con International in San Diego will feature the debut of Oni Press' newest band of unlikely heroes in "The Apocalipstix," an original graphic novel from writer Ray Fawkes ("Spookshow") and artist Cameron Stewart ("The Other Side," "Catwoman," "Seaguy"). CBR News caught up with the creative team to discuss the book, and tomorrow we'll present our readers with an exclusive 50-page preview to get you ready to rock. Come, Armageddon, come!

"The Apocalipstix is an all-girl band so dedicated to rock that they won't even let the end of civilization stop them from touring," Ray Fawkes told CBR. "They'll play for anything that has two limbs to clap together and an orifice to whistle out of - true artists barreling across a blasted world that badly needs art.

"They are: Mandy, a force-of-nature vocalist, crack driver and fierce warrior woman, leading the pack; Megumi, the angst-ridden last survivor of a nuked-out nation, working it all out with drumsticks and pistols; and Dot, the bass-playing philosopher with just the right mix of crazy to take the end of the world in perfect stride."

The character Megumi, who Fawkes indicates might be the last Japanese girl in the world, speaks in her native tongue throughout the book, with English subtitles. This, the writer said, took quite a bit of effort and required the services of a translator. "It was my brainiac idea to have Meg speak entirely in Japanese--in fact, I originally wanted to leave her dialogue untranslated in the book, figuring that someone somewhere would decipher it all and post it online, on some site," he said. "Cameron talked some sense into me though, which is good, because I was lying awake at night thinking 'but Meg's got all the good lines' and picturing fans jumping the table to throttle me at cons."

Perhaps strangely, the Apocalipstix are not the only rockers to make it through the End Times. "It's sort of a chicken-or-egg situation. I mean, do a lot of musicians survive the apocalypse, or do a lot of people who survive decide that they really need to start making music?" Fawkes said. "If I wake up one day at three in the afternoon and discovered that my home town has been reduced to a cinder, I might just pick up the nearest harmonica and start honkin' it at anyone who wanders by. I might just."

Fawkes and Stewart describe "The Apocalipstix" as a project that grew out of what each creator wanted most to do at the time. "Ray and I started working on these characters together back in 2003," Cameron Stewart told CBR News. "I was just finishing up my work on 'Catwoman' with Ed Brubaker and I was feeling a little burned out and I wanted to draw something fun of my own creation to reinvigorate myself. I made a quick list of things I wanted to draw - cute girls was the top of the list, as anyone who knows me or my work should find completely unsurprising. I'm a big music fan so I wanted to do something that involved rock and roll in some way. And I absolutely did not want to draw lots of architecture, as I was getting sick of drawing the buildings in Gotham City. As a joke, I thought that the easiest environment to draw would be a desert, and then started thinking about how I could put girls and guitars in that setting. Soon I'd thought of an all-girl rock band in a 'Mad Max'-like future wasteland."

Stewart and Fawkes were acquainted by virtue of the online comics scene, and discovered they both lived in Toronto. "I knew [Ray] was a terrific writer from his self-published 'Spookshow' comic," Stewart said. "He and I had tried unsuccessfully to work on some things together in the past and I figured he'd be the perfect guy to develop the idea into something usable. I contacted him and gave him the basic premise and soon, as expected, he'd named all the girls, given them distinct and rounded personalities, written a back-story, and woven it all together brilliantly."

The pair produced a short story featuring the Apocalyptix characters in the RAID Studio "Rumble Royale" anthology, as well as additional material that appeared in the Toronto Comic Arts Festival's anthologies for Free Comic Book Day. "Eventually, James Lucas Jones at Oni Press asked us if we'd be interested in developing the shorts into a full-length book, and here we are."

Stewart's images have lots of room to breathe in "The Apocalipstix," as most pages only contain a few relatively large panels, and there are a good number of full and double-page spreads. "I wanted to open up the story and make it enjoyable for me to draw," said the artist. "One of the things that I find most challenging and often downright unpleasant about drawing the standard monthly 22-page comic is the limit of space you have to tell the story. When I'm working on laying out a comic I often decide to split panels into two, or add panels of my own if I feel it necessary to improve pacing or clarify the storytelling and it frequently becomes a headache trying to cram in everything in with such a short page count, and the result is often cramped, crowded pages, or moments or details that have to be sacrificed for the sake of space.

"When I started work on 'The Apocalipstix' original graphic novel, I decided that I was not going to be restricted by page count, I would just draw each scene as it felt natural for me to do and allow myself as many pages as I wanted to do it right. I found this really liberating and it enabled me to use double page splashes for effect far more frequently than I would have if I'd been stuck with only 22 pages for each chapter. This is a big, loud, pop story and I think it needed big, loud, pop panels."

There is more to "The Apocalipstix" than a Battle of the Bands at the End of the World, however. The book also contains mad, high-speed chase scenes and epic battles against impossible odds. "Action scenes I found the most satisfying and exhilarating and I got all charged up drawing those," Stewart confessed. "How many times in your life to you get to draw a trio of hot girls getting into a fist fight with a colony of giant mutant ants?"

In addition to the big panels, Stewart's character illustration style also differs significantly from his work on DC's "Catwoman" and "Manhattan Guardian." "I don't really concern myself with having a 'style,' I just draw by instinct, what feels right for whatever project I'm working on," Stewart said. "The gritty realism of my work on 'The Other Side' is absolutely not appropriate for this book and so here I tried to draw in a way that reflected the fun, exciting spirit of Ray's script. The Apocalipstix have gone through an evolution over time, they've become much more simplified than in previous adventures and this comes from drawing them repeatedly and working out subtle ways to draw them better and more efficiently."

Volume 1 of "The Apocalipstix" features three interconnected stories, each running approximately 50 pages. According to Fawkes, this format will continue for future editions, though the exact specs will be determined organically. "Volume 2 is also a three-chapter piece with a single overall direction--taking the Apocalipstix to the end of their cross-country tour," the writer said. "The chapters vary in length to a certain degree, but we're playing it pretty fast and loose, making sure that everything gets told the way we want to tell it."

Don't forget to check back with CBR tomorrow for an exclusive fifty-page preview of "The Apocalipstix."

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