Ryall, Rodriguez Reveal the Sci-Fi Inspiration Behind "Onyx"

Space is a big, scary place, especially for the star of the upcoming IDW Publishing comic "Onyx". In the series from Chris Ryall and Gabriel Rodriguez, the titular space knight becomes locked in her suit while on a mission to save planets and ends up all alone.

The result of a long-in-coming partnership between Ryall -- IDW's Chief Creative Officer, Editor-in-Chief and writer of books like "Dirk Gently" and "Zombies vs. Robots" -- and "Locke & Key" artist Rodriguez, "Onyx" draws on the pair's shared influences while also blazing new territory. Onyx and her knight-like armor mark the zenith of technology on her home planet. The suit was designed keep her alive in space while fighting a plague of deadly spores that ravage worlds, but the suiting-up process also keeps her perpetually locked inside of it. As the series kicks off in July, Onyx finds herself traveling to a planet called Earth, ready to continue her mission and protect the planet from the relentless spores.

Ryall & Rodriguez Introduce "Onyx" to IDW

To give audiences a taste of the four-issue limited series, every IDW comic shipping in May features a preview of "Onyx" that introduces the lead character and sets up her mission to travel through space and do her best to kill the alien spores that ravaged her home planet. CBR News talked to Ryall and Rodriguez about designing everything from the armor to the woman inside, and how another space knight influenced the project.

CBR News: What can you tell us about Onyx? Why does she travel the cosmos bringing about justice?

Chris Ryall: She hails from a planet called Pelimosa, a world that saw its people -- and the entire planet itself -- devastated by an alien spoor. She and some others were conscripted into action as a result, but she was never a warrior before that point. So she's out to try to help other planets from suffering the fate of her home world but [she] isn't a crusading hero or soldier as much as she is a survivor looking to help others escape what she went through.

Gabriel Rodriguez: Indeed, Onyx's quest and mission is not about justice, but about survival. She has witnessed what this Doom Plague has done to other worlds, and as her civilization had some tools that could help fight it, she's been driven by her sense of responsibility and empathy, trying to do her best against it. She's a hero driven by a sense of empathy and compassion, but aware of uncertainty, as she doesn't really know if there's a chance to succeed.

What does Onyx's inability to actually remove the armor do to her psyche?

Ryall: That's something we'll be exploring in the series. It definitely takes a toll on her; meanwhile, one of the humans she teams up with, a telepath being driven crazy by errant thoughts entering her head at all times, thinks she's found a similarly miserable kindred spirit in Onyx. But things are never quite so cut and dried as that.

Rodriguez: Sometimes what gets you the gift of becoming special is what casts you apart from others. We'll definitely explore that in the story and the evolution of our characters.

How did "Onyx" come to be and what lead the two of you to team up to bring this character to life?

Ryall: Gabriel and I had chatted informally about doing a project together, something that would be a true collaboration in the sense that Gabe would be involved in the plotting and pacing -- working more Marvel-style than either of us usually work. And we've chatted about various influences over the months and years, and often those influences involve someone in a metal suit. So we got to talking seriously from there about making our own version of this. That was pretty much the day "Onyx" was first born, but she came into more clear focus over the last half-year or so.

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Rodriguez: Onyx came to life as an answer to our mutual interest in finally doing an original project together, after more than a decade of close collaborations and friendship. Both Chris and I enjoy and love the same things about comics and we wanted to do something new, driven mostly by a sense of fun. After working on several projects in different genres, I also wanted to do something in the only one I didn't explore before: a sci-fi adventure. So we poured on this a lot of concepts we enjoy from B movies and classic comics, wanting to give them a new, fresh spin with contemporary eyes.

We crossed a couple ideas Chris had for a new character we originally wanted to be a "guest" in a franchise project, with an idea for an adventure story I was thinking about, and from that, we started building up something completely new. And as Chris also mentioned, we also wanted to try a new approach to the creative process, so we're trying this "Marvel-style" of discussing ideas, plotting, solving pages and then writing over it, which has been incredibly fun and has flowed smoothly.

Chris, it's no secret that you're a huge fan of a certain Space Knight. In what ways did Rom inspire Onyx?

Ryall: Rom? Oh, I thought you were talking about Starshine, or maybe Firefall, or possibly even Raak the Breaker -- but not Gloriole. I mean, come on. All right, I suppose it's fair enough to say that I feel a bit of fondness for Rom. And Rom's DNA is definitely in the creation of Onyx, as is Ripley from "Alien," "Krull," "The Island of Doctor Moreau," John Boorman's "Excalibur," Judge Anderson, Pepper Potts in the Iron Man armor, The Bride...

It's been a blast to mix in so many of our influences and pop-culture touch points to develop Onyx and her world -- and if all those references aren't immediately apparent yet, they will be when people see the comic itself.

Rodriguez: [Laughs] Well, I guess it's evident any time you create a new something, you use it as a way to release your inner demons, right? As Chris mentioned, there are several inspiration sources for Onyx, some more evident than others. If I have to add some to the ones from pop culture already mentioned: there's something in Onyx from Agent Kusanagi from "Ghost In The Shell," or Number Six and Cylons from "[Battlestar] Galactica," and in a very weird way, even bits from "Ultraman." For me also, there's always a huge influence from classical myths, and in "Onyx" I intentionally mixed ideas from Sir Galahad from the Arthurian legends and Athena and Artemis from the Greek Pantheon.

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The armor has a very unique look to it, equal parts medieval and futuristic. What can it do?

Ryall: It keeps her safe and alive in interstellar space, and also allows otherworldly travel and defense, but those things come at a great price, as we'll see as the series rolls on. Again, the suit didn't initially start as a battlesuit but it sure seems to have ended up that way. The suit does contain various energy weapons, though -- shields and swords and throwing blades and other such weapons.

Rodriguez: The pinnacle of Pelimosian science development got them to handle plasma energy like clay. That granted them ways to manipulate energy as weapons, tools or magnetic and energy fields and power sources with unimaginable uses, giving them even the chance to manipulate space-time a bit, which is very helpful for space travel. Mix that with tech to develop unique body suits to enhance physical and psychical conditions, and you'll get extraordinary abilities...at a price we'll discover is hard to pay.

Was there a lot of back and forth when designing Onyx's look?

Ryall: I had some initial thoughts, and we certainly traded opinions with each new iteration Gabriel developed, but visuals are Gabe's primary area of expertise (there are many). I adore the final version but he definitely didn't make it easy on himself, having to draw all those angles and edges on panel after panel.

Rodriguez: It was sort of a long journey to get to Onyx's final look, but that wasn't a problem as I took it as an evolving work in progress in a very early stage, so I had no pressure to solve it fast. That was very helpful, as we had the chance to discuss what we wanted the character to be, and that concept fed the approach to the final result. Probably not the most friendly geometry to handle over and over in action sequences, but I hope it finally captured what the character needs to communicate to readers.

The series finds Onyx tracking down destructive alien spoors. Would it be safe to assume someone sent those spores at said planet?

Ryall: Not necessarily, but it'd be safe to assume the damned weed wreaks major havoc on all forms of life it encounters, plants and animals alike.

Rodriguez: We hope there will be nothing "safe to assume" in Onyx's adventures... so you'll have to wait and see.

As the story begins, Onyx is traveling to another planet in an effort to stop the spores. Does she find help in the populace? If so, what can you tell readers about those people?

Ryall: Actually, the story of Onyx traveling to that other planet is our free #0 issue that's running as a bonus in our May comics to serve as an introduction to the character and the universe around her. As that story plays out, she arrives on the planet too late to effect any change and the planet and its people meet an untimely end. But issue #1 opens on Earth -- an over-crowded, near-future Earth -- as both the spore and Onyx arrive on Earth.

Rodriguez: And we'll see the impact both Onyx and the alien spore will have over the local populace, hopefully driving the story to surprising places. Our main goal is to strongly place fun in "funny books" with this one, so we really hope you'll enjoy the ride and will get attached the these characters and want to see more of Onyx in the future. We'll see where it all goes from here.

The "Onyx" #0 preview by Chris Ryall and Gabriel Rodriguez can be seen in all May-shipping IDW titles. "Onyx" #1 arrives in stores on July 1.

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