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HYPER FORCE NEO with Hyperactive Jarret Williams!!! (Griotvine Interview)

Written by Greg Anderson-Elysee on Tuesday, April 19 2016 and posted in Columns

HYPER FORCE NEO with Hyperactive Jarret Williams!!! (Griotvine Interview)

Comic creator Jarret Williams stops by to talk about his new book HYPER FORCE NEO, his chaotic thought process, and creating fun diverse characters.



Creator Jarrett Williams (SUPER PRO K.O.!) stops by the Griot Vine to talk about his new book HYPER FORCE NEO, in time for it's release this week! Jarrett Williams Photo 3The creator owned series from Z2 Comics follows Dean Masters, a high-school freshman who leads a crew of students in mech suits, Hyper Force Neo, against alien robots. HYPER FORCE NEO is an action-packed imagining of the high school experience we all wish we'd had and a blast to read.

A New Orleans native, Jarrett grew up watching his family work tirelessly to get out of the Magnolia projects, which inspired his own formidable work ethic. At 31, Jarrett is soon to have three creator-owned series: HYPER FORCE NEO, SUPER PRO K.O.!, and KNUCKLE UP. A mix of all the things Jarrett loved as a kid himself -- manga, video games, cartoons, and TNMT -- Jarrett's style is loud and colorful.

Without further ado...

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Greg: Hey, Jarrett Williams! Welcome to (Heard it Thru) The Griotvine, how are you today?

Jarrett Williams: I'm good. I just got out of the gym so I'm a bit figgity right now. Today was chest day, which is my fave. Happy to meet you!

Greg: Ah, dope. I'm hoping to get to the gym tomorrow. But okay, first off: What the heck did I just finish reading? (Laughs) Can you please tell us about your new book, HYPER FORCE NEO?

HFN Issue1 Cover MainJarret: (Laughs). I'm glad you had that response actually. I really wanted Hyper Force Neo to feel so different from what's currently on comic store shelves.

Hyper Force Neo tells the story of these kids that begin discovering these Neo Keys around their hometown, New Sigma City. They also discover robot helpers who sort of have been guarding these keys. The kids use them to transform into Hyper Force Neo and discover new powers, begin wielding pretty cool weapons, and even piloting Neo Mechs, which are super huge robots. They use their powers to protect the city from this vagabond alien group called the Dark Edge.

It's really energetic, over-the-top, chaotic, and just simply—a really fun story. I designed it with kids in mind but it's cool to see that a lot of adults I know are enjoying it too. The story is told over the course of one school year at New Sigma High School so you see how these characters grow over the course of 9th grade.

Greg: What inspired and influenced you to create this book and how long have you been working on it?

Jarret: There are a few inspirations. I looked at my own experiences in school and I thought a lot of them would be pretty fun to interpret in comic form.

I grew up into all sorts of books like X-men, Sentai (Power Rangers), and video games. So I wanted to do a super cool, team-based book. My other comic, Super Pro K.O., is a story where all the characters are sort of out for themselves and are trying to be the Heavyweight Champion of this pro-wrestling organization. So they're all sort of selfish (Laughs). Hyper Force Neo is a story where all the kids really have to work together for the higher-purpose of saving their city and protecting their friends and families.

I started working on it back in June 2015 but the initial concept was pretty loose—I didn't even have a name. I went overseas in August 2016 and had the chance to travel to Belgium and Hong Kong. I really focused on my outline during those long flights and my downtime. That's when I really fleshed out the main characters and put a little character bible together of everyone's likes, dislikes, favorite subjects, least favorite meals, favorite clothing brands— it got a little intense. (Laughs) But it really helped these characters become more real. It helped me figure out how they would react to each other and some of the crazy situations they encounter in the plot.

I drew this initial image around September 2015...

      HypeForceNeo QuakeShakeHypeForceNeo QuakeShake CLR

...And I felt pretty good about it so I began drawing more. I sent Z2 a pitch in September and they seemed to dig it. By the end of November, I was running full-throttle drawing it. The first issue was 48 pages giant-sized but it took way longer than I initially scheduled. I thought I'd be able to finish it in a month! Laughs. I didn't take into account that I'd need to actually design these Neo Mechs (to a level where I felt satisfied) or that they'd take me a long time to draw since I've never really drew robots before. Also, designing New Sigma City and New Sigma High School took forever too. I guess I put this pressure on myself that I'm going to be drawing these locales over and over again, then I better be satisfied with them conceptually.

So though I felt like I was working around the clock, I didn't finish the first issue until late January! I also tossed and re-edited a few scenes so I became even more obsessive than usual about everything. (Laughs) But I'm really proud of that first issue. I'm hopping between Issue 2 and Issue 3 at the moment so I have a little "comic buffer"* going (*length of time until publication versus how ahead of schedule you are).

Greg: Well I definitely think you should be proud.

HFN Issue1Clean 08 CLRSo in the beginning of the book, we jump right into a crazy Mech Suit battle and before we get lost in all the mayhem, the lead hero, Dean, decides he wants to bring us up to speed. We then see he's a normal kid running late for his first day of school and we meet his various friends and supporting cast. Can you tell us about Dean and what is his place within this dynamic story?

Jarret: Dean is my favorite. He's a bit bubbly, happy-go-lucky, friendly, and supporting of his friends. He's big on loyalty. But he's a little flawed—especially when it comes to time management and staying organized.

He's the leader of Hyper Force Neo, and without spoiling what's ahead, he's the perfect person to lead the team. His powers are a bit mysterious and due to his all-over-the-place nature, he's probably not as serious about learning more about his powers as he should be. But that's where his friends and teammates will come into play. (Laughs)

Greg: Now I may be reading too much into a particular panel, and I feel you may probably understand which one I'm referring to... is there a possibility that Dean may be a character of the LGBTQ category?

Jarret: Now I'm curious about which panel you're talking about. (Laughs!) Dean is straight. But I'm glad you're open to the possibility of an LGBTQ character existing in this story. That makes me happy for some reason. I really want this comic/world to reflect a future that is very supportive of everyone's individuality.

HFN Issue1Clean 10 CLRGreg: Ah! (Laughs) Well the page where Dean meets up with the owner of the arcade, Jareko, a heart appears in his dialogue. That, combined with the way his expression was drawn made me wonder. But then I saw it from another character later on and it made me think, "Hmm... Maybe that's not what Jarrett meant but who knows?!" (Laughs)

Jarret: Ah, I see now. That heart emoticon was just to express how much Dean loves Jareko and the arcade. It's really more of a platonic love. You also get to see how much Dean loves the Retrofit arcade when he volunteers to help at the arcade's Community Fair booth later on in the comic.

Greg: Well at least we know the book is open to possibly showcasing an LGBTQ character!

Jarret: Totally! I imagine that another human's sexuality would be the last thing to surprise characters in a comic where robots and flying cars all over the place. I definitely have some room to showcase that in Hyper Force Neo. I think in the future, humans as a whole will have a more nonchalant attitude towards such things—at least I hope so.

Greg: Okay, so we know a good bit about Dean. Can you tell us a bit about the villains, the Dark Edge?

Jarret: I won't give too much away. But the Dark Edge are a group of vagabond aliens that are also collecting Neo Keys for their leader, Lord Aelius. He's a pretty mysterious leader, and you start to really see hints as far as how his minions feel about working for him in Issue 2.

The aliens can also disguise themselves as humans too so they're students at the local school as well. Part of the fun of the series is watching how all the characters, both heroes and villains, interact at school and on the battlefield.

Greg: One thing I love in the book is the use of technology. Beyond the giant Mech Suits, we have Robots walking around without anyone batting an eye, live texts are sent throughout, and video games are also very prominent. Are you saying anything about technology within this book?

Hyper-Force-Neo-1-Featured-ImageJarret: I totally am! In the future, I really do imagine robots to be almost looked at like we view domesticated pets. I actually enjoy watching the kids talk to their robot helpers (assistants who charge their Neo Keys between battle and provide insight to their larger purpose over the series). Though I look at it from more of an idealistic standpoint, I imagine the future to be even more cluttered with information. I'm thinking Manhattan and Tokyo but times ten.

I also think kids coming up now have those sort of expectations about what the future looks like too. So when I designed pages, I kept imagining a kid getting lost in the details, looking for Easter eggs, etc.

The Retrobit Arcade in Hyper Force Neo was a location that I struggled with initially. Growing up, I loved my local arcades in New Orleans. And they're essentially nonexistent compared to 20 years ago. But while I was traveling in Hong Kong, I accidentally walked into one of those Gaming Centers. It was packed! And I clearly was the tourist just rolling through. Ha! Afterwards, I wondered how it would be if there was a resurgence in this social gaming scene in the future. Even in Savannah, there's a bar I frequent called the Chromatic Dragon. It's a great spot to game, eat, and also just grab a drink. So I figured it would make a great hangout spot for the Hyper Force Neo squads and even the local New Sigma City kids. There are even private rooms where they can hold secret meetings outside of their apartments. Of course, the establishment does not have a liquor license since this comic is for kids. Ha!

Greg: Alright, since you brought up a future cluttered with information, I want to talk a bit about your style. Quite frankly, it's extremely chaotic and so over the top that you can't help but fall in love with it. How do you go about creating the plot, your structure, for this piece? I felt like there was so much going on, like an information overload.

Jarret: I developed the plot outline and structure before I started drawing anything. I'm big on knowing where the story needs to go and where direction these characters have to head towards as well. And I kept thinking about what stood out to me about Junior High. So each individual issue tackles the Neo Key stuff but also an element distinctive about the Junior High experience. Issue 1 is the first day of school. Issue 2 sort of involves this big homework assignment the kids are focused on completing and so on. I really want the fact that these are teens to always be explored. I remember loving a lot of team-based comics but feeling like the heroes personal lives weren't really as integrated into the story as much as their heroic exploits. I really wanted there to be a fusion of their youth and hero dilemma. And I want the readers to recall their own Junior High experiences too.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm a bit obsessive when it comes to my art style. I just sorta view things like a movie that's just presented in comic form. I imagine the characters being actors in a play and I'm director— if that makes sense?

Greg: Makes sense.

HFNxa

Jarret: All the information is a bit on the fly. I'll be sketching out a page from my outline and say, it'll be cool if I presented that character's social media update here. Or this is a good spot to map out the transportation system within the city. I love world building and I didn't want readers to have to fill in all the gaps. I'm giving them a lot of information to work with. It's a lot of detail but I felt that it was different and not a cookie-cutter comic.

I'm always trying to figure out how I can challenge the norms of what I do as a comic artist and storyteller. Some artists are a lot more traditional. You know, the type of comic that has a six-panel grid, characters don't break borders, and text is just text. I'm not trying to diss that by any means. It works for a reason. But I'm somewhat bored by that a lot of the time, especially if it's an energetic story that calls for a bit more "umph" in spots. I usually end up asking myself, "Where's the style here?"

I'm really big on thinking, "Just because something has always been done that way doesn't mean has to continue to being done that way." I actually want to challenge how readers (especially kids) "read" comics. So in a lot ways, you're reading the product of that thought-process in Hyper Force Neo. I hated things that were dumbed down for me as a kid. It's definitely not a watered-down all-ages, kids comic.

Greg: Very nice. Well you did a good job on that front. I found myself really engaged in the pages, trying to catch everything going on.

And speaking of teens and showcasing their routine and lives along with their superhero gig, another aspect I loved about this first issue was how much fun the characters were having. All too often, we're introduced to stories about teens going through teen angst drama. What made you decide to write such a hyperactively positive set of characters?

hyper-force-neo-2Jarret: I'm glad you dug that too! I really wanted that to be at the core - kids just having fun. Teens, especially teens who have access to all of this information, still are teens at the end of the day. My friends and I used to constantly create adventures for ourselves. So I imagined it would be the same for these kids too. I mean, they're juggling school, clubs, sports, and also this whole "hero gig". They'd still want to have fun somewhere in there too. If I had access to a robot the size of a skyscraper, I'd be nervous but that's still a once-in-a-lifetime experience so it would be a ton of fun too!

Also, there's a lot of that angsty stuff right? I'm kinda over it. (Laughs) I get it: teens have it hard. I had acne, backne, and low self esteem. And my comic will deal with stuff like that too. But I think a balance is important too. I picked up a lot of pretty positive comics and mags in my youth like: Archie, Sonic, Nintendo Power, EGM, Animerica. There was always a hyper-awesome, fun tone to those publications and I looked forward to them each month as a means to escape. So that energy is definitely present in Hyper Force Neo.

Greg: What's in the future for HYPER FORCE NEO?

More fun. More evil aliens. More mecha-battles. And a little more drama in the mix too. Starting with Issue #2, you'll get some fun wraparound covers that really set the tone for each issue. I also am pumped for the first story arc because it goes full throttle pretty fast. I'm really excited to see how readers respond too. And I love watching how these characters grow over the course of 9th grade. I have a Summer Special idea too so if these comics do well, I'd like to tell additional stories too.

I'll be posting a lot more on my Instagram (@JarrettWilliams) so you can see art-process vids and stuff there. I'm also on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/thejarrettwilliams).





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About the Author - Greg Anderson-Elysee


Gregory Anderson-Elysee is a Brooklyn born and based filmmaker (director and editor), playwright, comic book writer, model, and part time actor. He was one of the first writers and interviewers of The Outhouse. He is the writer and creator of the upcoming book Is'nana the Were-Spider. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.


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