Sal Abbinanti talks Atomika

A few facts you may not know about God - he was created by man, he's red, and his name is Atomika.

That's the gospel according to Sal Abbinanti, at least.

Abbinanti is a Chicago based artist representative with a client list that includes comic book legends Alex Ross and Simone Bianchi. While art dealing might take up his nine-to-five daytime duties, he turns into an entirely different though not altogether separate beast when business hours close. Abbinanti is the creator and artist of "Atomika" - a sprawling God-versus-God epic comic book series that he describes as "Thor" meets Federico Fellini and H.R. Giger - which he has self-published through Mercury Comics since 2005, after an initial unsuccessful partnership with Speakeasy Comics.

Set in a dystopian alternate version of Russia, "Atomika" focuses on a young boy who became a man-made God with the express purpose of representing The State - a dictatorial version of the country that seeks to spread its influence across the world.

"Growing up in the '70s, Russia was always the evil empire," Abbinanti told CBR News. "Being a huge fan of Jack Kirby's 'New Gods,' I thought it would be a great setting for a book. So when I started to research Stalin a bit and learned how the Soviet Union outlawed all religion and told the Russian people that The State was now their God, the idea for a government-created God floated about my head. It's sort of an else worlds if the Soviet Union had won the Cold War."

And thus Atomika was born. With seemingly endless amounts of power, skill and capabilities, Atomika could take the entire world and reshape it into any image he so pleased - which is why, of course, the world of "Atomika" so greatly resembles the twisted and omnipotent Russian empire that Atomika represents. On top of that, Atomika symbolizes a new type of God - a man-made, technology-driven divinity - and as such, he seeks to put an end to all of the Gods that came before him.

"Atomika is the second son of [the goddess] Mother Russia," explained Abbinanti of the character. "He was a regular child and his role as the God of the Soviet Union did not flourish until he became a man. He holds all the strength of the Soviet Union's modern technology. Atomika is on his journey to defeat all the former Gods worshipped in the Soviet Union."

Among those that participate in Atomika's journey is Arohnir, the seemingly ageless ruler of the distorted Russia. While the mortal Arohnir is nothing short of Atomika's creator - and, in many ways, his father - he is initially both supportive and wary of the man-made God. Before long, wariness wins that equation and feeds into Arohnir's desire to put an end to the ever-more-powerful Atomika.

"He's sort of my Rasputin," Abbinanti said of the villainous Arohnir. "He's the evil government antagonist. Arohnir is in power and never plans to give it up. Power means control and it corrupts. He's like the Michael Corleone of the Soviet Union. I actually modeled him after a former creative director I worked for!"

While it's Arohnir's actions within the story that create Atomika's godly visage, it is Abbinanti himself that designed the visual appearance of the character - a feat that the artist describes as nothing short of Herculean. "I tried for a while to design what I felt a Soviet superhero or God would look like," Abbinanti explained. "No matter how many times I laid it out, Atomika looked like a Soviet hero designed by an American. I work with Alex Ross a lot and I see his incredible design sensibilities, and I just couldn't nail it. So I went back and thought about the character and his motivation. He's a God and he's very vain, so [I drew him] naked like the Italian guys who tear the sleeves off of their shirts. I took it to that next level and made him naked. I wrapped him in the Soviet flag because as a teenager, I was a huge 'The Who' fan. I had 'The Kids Are Alright' poster on the wall in my room all through high school - the one where they're sitting wrapped in Union Jack. So I thought to wrap him in the Soviet flag, naked. And the star on his forehead is his birthmark from Mother Russia."

As the series protagonist - a character that due to his otherworldly power and unbridled arrogance is simultaneously appalling and enthralling - Atomika's physical design needed to be nailed perfectly. But the visual world of "Atomika" - the gothic landscapes, the hills and caverns that seem populated by monstrous flesh - is no less important to the book's success.

"I've always wanted to draw basic city stuff - most Marvel books are set in New York City and that's what I grew up with," Abbinanti said of "Atomika's" setting. "But with 'Atomika,' my approach was more like a German expressionist film where the setting was one of the characters in the book. It's cool to just let it fly with crazy warped architecture and settings. However, putting all your pages in God-like perspectives gets rough because you never feel the scope of the pages is large enough. That's why I felt I needed lots of double-paged 'Kirby' spreads. From an artist's point of view, it's a ton more work - but it's also a dream come true."

There's no question that Abbinanti's unique visual style provides the backbone for "Atomika," but the creator has had help along the way. Each issue of the series features multiple variant covers drawn by talented and well-known veterans of the comic book industry, including Glenn Fabry and Arthur Suydam. "I'd have to say that the pieces from Alex Ross, Alex Nino and Claudio Castellini are my favorites," confessed Abbinanti. "Many of the covers are from friends and for that I'm very, very grateful. The others I was just very persistent and never stopped nagging. Also, you have to pay artists - don't ask for indie price breaks."

In addition to the beautiful cover gallery, Abbinanti is joined each issue by series writer and friend Andrew Dabb. "Andrew really is a huge, huge part of the book. We met about 10 years ago when we were collaborating on a few Vertigo proposals. Well, that never worked out, but we kept in touch and when I laid out 'Atomika' I realized right away that I was going to need a great writer to craft some of the ideas I had and, more importantly, bring their own thoughts to the table. Andrew and I talk about each issue, go back and forth on some ideas, then he sends me a breakdown of the issue. I complete the issue and then Andrew writes the complete script over the panels. Let me say this - Andrew is one of the best writers in the business. I would put him in the Thunderdome against any of the so-called 'Wizard Top Ten Writers' and Andrew would hand them all their asses!"

Even with the ass-kicking Dabb and an army of talented cover artists at his whim, Abbinanti's book has not had an easy road. The current arc, titled "God is Red," is a planned 12-issue run started in 2005 and still ongoing. After some snafus with Speakeasy Comics - a publisher that Abbinanti says he felt little confidence in - the creator and artist of "Atomika" decided to release the series under his creator-owned Mercury Comics. Abbinanti broke away from Diamond for a time to distribute "Atomika" through his website and at conventions. And even though now would seem like a risky time to go back to Diamond given their new benchmark protocols, Abbinanti is doing just that - and he has few fears about the new process.

"We'll see how it goes through Diamond - there's a lot of crazy rules if you're an indy book now," Abbinanti told CBR TV during February's New York Comic Con. "I think it's good. I really do. I think to set a benchmark at 2,500 [copies] is - not to be elitist about it - I think you have to be more aggressive. You have to be more ambitious. You have to get the internet thing going, you have to come to cons, you have to get it in people's faces. I love the smaller shows - I do smaller indie shows as well, and those books are fine. But at some point, if the tipping point is that we need to get out there and this is your baby, [then] 2,500 copies is not the end of the world. I think it's almost like a Darwin type thing. You're going to weed out a lot of things, but you're going to create a bit of a leaner, meaner business."

Whether or not "Atomika" flourishes under Diamond's new Darwinian edict remains to be seen, but even failure through that distribution method won't stop Abbinanti from telling his story. The "God is Red" story arc is drawing ever-closer to its final conclusion - which will include confrontations between Atomika and his own godly son Chernobyl - and Abbinanti might even have more "Atomika" stories to tell afterwards, Diamond be damned.

"I have a big ending for the 'God is Red' story arc in issue #12, but I wanted to expand on the series to give Atomika's confrontation against the United States its own issue," said Abbinanti of "Atomika's" future plans. "After 'God is Red,' I have a two-issue ass-kicking fest called 'USSA' with Bill Sienkiewicz covers mapped out. Past that? We'll see. Some characters are meant to tell a story and move on, but I have a few more bullets in the chamber in terms of indy titles I want to explore after 'Atomika' rides into the sun."

For more information about "Atomika," including where you can buy copies of the book, get news updates and see preview images, head on over to Mercury Comics.

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