Totally, thoroughly, and unequivocally eclipsed by the torrent of news and exclusives concerning the Big Two at this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego was the announcement of a new four-issue miniseries from Archaia Studios Press entitled "The Engineer."
The brainchild of co-writer/artist/co-creator Brian Churilla and co-writer/colorist/co-creator Jeremy Shepherd, "The Engineer" may have failed to turn very many heads in San Diego, but when it hits the stands this November, the title may catch more than a few comics fans by surprise. Equal parts "Hellboy," "Dr. Who" and an homage to those classic EC horror and science fiction comics from the 1950s, "The Engineer" is at once familiar yet at the same time thoroughly unlike any other comic book currently being produced.
"The Engineer is a Russian cosmonaut who also happens to be the last human being in the universe," Jeremy Shepherd said. "The Engineer is certainly not your typical comic book hero. For starters, he's bald, wears glasses and a loud red trench coat, and is at the mercy of a trio of amorphous witches. And, of course, he has to chase pieces of a reality-manipulating device called the Konstrukt through different dimensions to resurrect his former existence all while being assisted, or hindered, by an automaton/manservant/robo-butler -- think Data from 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' meets Mork from 'Mork and Mindy.'"
"It's hard to compare 'The Engineer' to anything, really," agreed Brian Churilla. "'Dr. Who?' Anyone who likes fast-paced, fun, pulpy sci-fi? I mean, it's got everything: giant stone creatures, amorphous witches, crab monsters, antlered primates, hordes of undead automatons, vast sentient entities, giant bat monsters, little bat monsters, etc., etc., etc. Did I mention that I love monsters?"
The idea that the Engineer is not your typical hero, or even all that heroic, or really even all that nice of a guy to begin with, is one that both Shepherd and Churilla are looking forward to playing up in their new series. "The Engineer is a bit of a megalomaniacal, irredeemable wiseass – actually, he's kind of a total jerk," Churilla said. "But he's a lovable jerk. Jeremy and I actually thought that by making the Engineer something of a jerk it would also make him a more dynamic, complex character. He is a moral character, though, but his actions are constantly resulting in catastrophe. He's a very conflicted, tortured character, as you are going to discover as the series progresses."
Shepherd added, "We try and balance this by making fun of him whenever we get the chance. Brian and I have actually had a lot of fun thus far going back and looking for places in the script where we can insert anything humorous, the more absurd the better. I think in some ways it's how we keep him humble. We really don't feel bad about doing terrible things to the Engineer because he is such a jerk."
"You should have no doubt, at least at the beginning of the series, that the Engineer's motivations are entirely selfish," Shepherd continued. "However, this is part of the fun in writing the story, because although his motivations are selfish, his selfish actions stand to directly affect us all in a good way. Okay, I'll stop beating around the bush and just come out and say it: his motivation in recovering the last few pieces of the Konstukt is to resurrect the Earth, which has been destroyed by an entity called the Lahar, and reunite himself with his family. The by-product is that we all get our lives back when the world is resurrected. Not too bad for selfish motivation, huh?"
Although the Engineer harkens back to the days of mad scientists, bizarre creatures, strange alien worlds, and unfathomable space gods, both Churilla and Shepherd said they would hesitate to describe their book as being either "old school" or old-fashioned.
"I really prefer the term 'timeless,'" Churilla said.
"I'm actually a little leery of the label 'old school,'" Sheperd added. "It's a loaded term and while it may be accurate in many ways, such as in a lot of Brian's influences, it's definitely not in others, such as Brian's panel layouts. I feel it could possibly even turn off potential readers, and no one wants that. However, it does remind me of all the things I loved about comics when I first started reading them way back when. What drew me to comics were the worlds, the fantastic adventures, all embarked upon by larger than life characters; all of which you have in "The Engineer." It's a fast-paced, action packed, fun read. It's the kind of book I would be attracted to if I saw it on the shelf."
Aside from illustrating a graphic novel called "Watchdogs" for Platinum Studios, "The Engineer" is Churilla's – who describes himself as a "freelance shark" in the fields of advertising, animation, film and television for many years – first foray into the world of comics; while Shepherd worked as a colorist for several years in the mid to late 1990s for such studios as Extreme, Top Cow, and Liquid!, before leaving the industry behind for a period of eight years until he moved back to Portland, Oregon, and hooked up with Churilla.
"When I moved back to Portland, I started seeing Brian's work around town on concert posters" Shepherd said. "Initially, Brian was just going to be work for hire, but after meeting him we really hit it off and decided to try and write something just to see if we could collaborate.
"It began with an e-mail from Brian saying 'come up with an idea/premise that includes the following...' I don't remember the entire list, but it did include catacombs, the ocean, zombies, steam powered machines, and monsters, of course. I do remember that we quickly fell into a routine where one of us would have an idea for 'The Engineer' and e-mail it off to the other, who would then cut/add/embellish on the original idea until it's difficult to say what were my ideas and what were Brian's.
"More to the point," Shepherd continued. "There were definitely times were Brian would say, 'I want to draw whatever,' and we would adjust the script in a way to incorporate whatever it was that Brian wanted to draw. We had a lot of fun figuring out how to include a giant bat-like creature (loosely based on Brian's dog) into the story so that it made sense. Check out the second issue to see how we did it. And then the crab-people were another challenge altogether."
In addition to the November release of the first issue of "The Engineer" miniseries, with subsequent issues to follow from ASP on a bi-monthly schedule, that month will also see the Engineer appear in a somewhat humorous 10-page story in Image's "Popgun" anthology, entitled "Egg-Centric."
Churilla and Shepherd say they have the Engineer's adventures planned out well beyond the events of the first miniseries and hope to to continue his adventures in the future, but for now are just trying to remain optimistic that readers will give their new series a shot.
"The overall story is pretty open-ended," Churilla said. "The 'Konstrukt' mini has a definite conclusion, but the story could go on forever. The possibilities in it are limitless."
To which Shepherd added, "In the bigger sense, we just hope to entertain people with the book, give them something that people will enjoy reading, want more of, make them laugh, etc. The first miniseries is about getting the Engineer out there and intriguing people further so that they want to see more of his adventures."
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