Talking Comics with Tim | Chris Roberson on 'Edison Rex,' 'Aliens'

Given that Monkeybrain Comics just celebrated its second anniversary, on the heels of Co-Publisher Allison Baker joining IDW, it struck me as the ideal time to quiz Co-Publisher Chris Roberson.

In addition to discussing the new status quo for Monkeybrain (which surprisingly stays much the same as before, as Roberson explains), we also delve into Edison Rex -- Issue 16 arrives Wednesday -- and dig into the writer's first work for Dark Horse, Aliens: Fire and Stone, which debuts Sept. 24.

Tim O'Shea:  It is so great that IDW hired Allison Baker away from Monkeybrain, but how does that impact the management of Monkeybrain?

Chris Roberson: Not much at all, actually. She and I have always had day jobs, with her working in political media and me writing, and Monkeybrain from the beginning has been something we do in what we laughingly call our “free time” on nights and weekends. She’ll just be doing a different day job now.

So it’s not a question of IDW hiring Allison “away from Monkeybrain.” She’s still co-owner and co-publisher, and always will be. It’s just that when she tells me what to do now, she’ll sometimes be doing it from San Diego, in the beach-side apartment that we’re alternatively referring to as our “vacation home” or as the “Monkeybrain Comics San Diego offices.”

Am I right in thinking you were planning for Allison's shift to IDW, given that you took over sending out press releases for Monkeybrain?

Yeah, Allison is still the brains of the operation and will be handling all of the stuff for which I am ill-suited (contracts, royalties, etc.), but I took over some of the PR stuff to lighten her load a little bit as she gets ramped up with her new position at IDW. But nine times out of 10, when you see a tweet or a Tumblr post from the Monkeybrain account, it’s Allison that wrote it.

This past week, Monkeybrain celebrated its second anniversary. Reflecting on what Monkeybrain has accomplished in the past two years, what are you most pleased or surprised to have seen occur among the entities many successes?I think that one of the things that Allison and I are both proudest of, in terms of what Monkeybrain has been able to accomplish, is the way in which we’ve helped raise the profile of a lot of talented writers and artists who maybe weren’t getting the attention that their talents merited. That feels pretty awesome.

I think what stands out most to me is how Monkeybrain has been an ally for creators having another platform to release their own creator-owned work. How honored were you when folks like Jim Rugg came to you wanting to re-release Street Angel, or Anina Bennett/Paul Guinan with Heartbreakers?

Incredibly honored, and honestly just flattered that they would be willing to consider it. Giving creators an avenue to make their backlist available to new readers was in the plan from the very beginning of Monkeybrain, and our hope is that readers who might have missed those titles when they were originally coming out might discover them now for the first time, and see what they’ve been missing!

Even in the ever-growing digital age, there are still readers that wish to wait for the trade. With two trade paperbacks out for Edison Rex, do you think the audience is growing as a result of those releases?

I hope so! It’s hard to say with much certainty, but I know anecdotally that I have heard of readers who had never encountered the series digitally, but were introduced to it through the print collections. I think there’s a lot of overlap there, of course, with people who prefer to read single issues in digital form and then get print collections. Or sample something digitally and then pick up the trade. Or any number of other combinations. The main thing with Monkeybrain from the beginning has been our desire to make these comics available to readers in whichever format they prefer.

Without giving too much away, Edison has a traitor on his team, someone who misses the team's formerly wicked ways. Without spoiling your plans for the series, will Edison learn about this betrayal soon, or is this something you want to explore further down the road (with other more pressing plots to address)?

That is an excellent question. Ask me again on Wednesday when Issue 16 is out!

I love the Edison Rex homage covers that have been created in recent months by Dennis Culver. By any chance have you or Dennis heard from any of the folks you are paying tribute to -- for instance, I would love to know if Jaime/Xaime reacted to the Love and Rockets homage?

Not that I know of, no. But I’m not sure if a lot of readers picked up on this, but the structure of that entire issue was an homage to Jaime Hernandez’s Locas stories. Not so much in terms of content, but in the different narrative styles we used for the different segments. It was an idea that Dennis and I had early on, and it was an enormous amount of fun to do. I had just finished rereading all of the Locas stories, which are inarguably some of the best comics that humanity has yet produced.

Can you hint at what we can look forward to in Edison Rex?

There is no status quo in Edison Rex, for one thing. Everything is about to change in the next couple of issues, and things get really crazy after that. Dennis and I have big, big plans for where things are heading. We’ve been planting seeds and hanging guns up on the mantle since the series began, and those seeds are about to sprout and those guns are going to go off, if you’ll excuse the tortured metaphor!

Scott Allie recently tweeted about your upcoming Aliens: Fire and Stone work in an interesting way: "Just read the final issue of Aliens: Fire & Stone. We asked @chris_roberson for a Twilight Zone ending. We got one. Bravo." Without giving anything away, care to discuss what he meant by Twilight Zone?

Well, one of the things that Scott and I discussed from pretty much the first moment that I was brought onto the Aliens project was that we wanted to get back to the “haunted house” feel of the original film, and away from the more militaristic vibe that the franchise took on with the second film and beyond. I love Colonial Marines and logged a LOT of hours playing as one in the Aliens Vs. Predators 2 game on my PC years ago. But the characters in our new series are not people trained to deal with dangerous combat situations. They are blue collar workers, technicians, engineers, teachers, and so on. And so the vibe of our story, from beginning to end, isn’t about big action showdowns, but about a different kind of survival, or lack thereof. That’s probably the most definite I can get without venturing into spoiler territory!

Secondly, what is it like to work with a widely respected and experienced editor like Allie?

It’s fantastic, of course! I’ve been a fan of Dark Horse since the earliest days of the company, and a fan of the stuff that Scott has done since he came onboard, so it’s been a real thrill to be a part of it. And everyone on the team, from my direct editor Philip Simon to my collaborator Patric Reynolds and on, has been just an absolute pleasure to work with!

CBR interviewed you about this upcoming Aliens work back in March. Then you noted: "Dark Horse got their hands on some production bible stuff from the studio, and we got to see a little bit of that." As a fan of the original films, how thrilling was it to get ahold of that material or what little you got to see of it.

I’ve just been continually impressed with how detailed everything that we’ve seen from Fox about the Aliens universe is. They really do take that universe seriously! And that’s been a very useful resource, but also kind of a challenge, because there are high standards we have to reach!

Also, in that interview, you mention going back and rewatching the films for inspiration/background on the project. What was it like to watch the films through the eyes of a veteran writer (as opposed to your mindset when you first saw them years ago)?

I actually rewatched and re-rewatched (sometimes repeatedly) all of the films, but the first two in particular. And it is kind of humbling to see how perfectly put together both Alien and Aliens are from a narrative standpoint, and what a phenomenal job that the filmmakers and screenwriters and in particular Sigourney Weaver did in developing Ripley as a character. And just as a viewer who tends to pay attention to the nuts and bolts of filmmaking, it’s pretty remarkable that those two films haven’t really aged at all in the intervening decades. They look as good or better than anything that’s in theaters now!

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