Brian Clevinger stops by the Outhouse to discuss his hit indie series Atomic Robo!
Among the horde of brooding, angsty and cookie cutter titles exists something truly unique. A title brilliant in its irreverence, which hearkens back to bygone eras when science fiction allowed the mind to wander along the impossible. Within the scope of this title has existed such wild phantasms as a genius dinosaur, walking pyramids, extra-dimensional creatures, and an evil Thomas Edison. The star of this sci fi/action/fantasy/comedy is a wise-cracking, genius, and slightly immature talking robot named Atomic Robo. The chronicler of this barely-contained craziness is one Brian Clevinger.
For Clevinger, the creation of Atomic Robo stemmed from a feeling that there was a serious dearth of quality stories being told within the medium. As he tells it, "I didn't get 'into' comics until middle school. Unfortunately for me, this was right when THE NINETIES started... The '90s were a weird time for comics. The majority of the output was spurred by the speculator market, which was the idea that comics were a financial investment, that their worth was only in collectability and not in their actual content... That's something of a problem in a storytelling medium!...But, y'know, I was 13 or so at the time so I had no idea (at first). I read all the "big" Marvel titles at the time. I only kept up with it for about two years before being driven away by the quality of most of the stories I was seeing. Great stuff was being made back then, but I had no idea what or where it was.... The end result is that it wasn't until college that I got back into buying comics."
In listening to Clevinger's thoughts on the status of comics during his early years of collecting, my understanding of why he developed Atomic Robo began to coalesce. I wondered if he felt that the current market shared similar pitfalls with the errant decade of the 90's. "[While the] speculator boom only lasted a few years...we're still being damaged by it. The people making the most important decisions about the futures of the most recognized comics characters today came up through the industry in the '90s. Some of them are convinced the best way to bring comics back from the brink is to go back to '90s-like product. It's a disaster waiting to happen." In other words, spectacle has replaced quality as the nexus for creative output.
So what is missing in today's comics? For a clue into Clevinger's thoughts on this question, it is important to delve into what comics he is currently reading. "These days I find myself drawn to Lee / Kirby stuff from the '60s. In this era, it's so rejuvenating as a reader and creator to see as much enthusiasm and energy as those guys could put into a single page." This last thought really answers the questions of what is missing from comics today, and what Clevinger wants to reintroduce with the creation of Atomic Robo: a sense of wonder, adventure, and a flourish of imagination. "Atomic Robo is the comic book (co-creator and artist) Scott Wegener and I wanted to read. No one else was making it, so we did. It's as simple as that."
The success of Atomic Robo (published by Red 5) proves that the marketplace had a real vacuum that needed to be filled. "Most print comics, I'm very sorry to say, are not fun. Or, when they are fun, they're careful to couch it in terms to make it "safe." You see this kind of cynical pre-packaged "fun" in a lot of books. It's as if they're afraid someone might mistake comics for a storytelling medium where anything is possible. I think people respond so strongly and positively to Robo because it's just fun. And unapologetically fun at that."
Much of the entertainment value emanating from Atomic Robo is due to an infusion of science and pseudoscience that permeates every issue. For example, in Atomic Robo: Revenge of the Vampire Dimension #1, Atomic Robo uses quantum mechanics to find a dimension of vampire like creatures. So where does Clevinger come up with all his scientific jargon? "My favorite programs growing up were Cosmos, Nova, and Newton's Apple. And that interest in science never went away. ... I'll see a link to some crazy fool idea on an unrelated article. Open it in a new tab, repeat as needed, and follow those rabbit holes until I stop finding amazing stuff...We like to use real world science as a jumping off point, but we're not beholden to real science. Our credo is "Plausible, not realism." You need look no further for an illustration of that than Atomic Robo himself. Everything about him is currently impossible, but scientifically plausible, so no one complains."
Clevinger's clever use of science and historic time periods has led to the creation of, and appearances by, some very memorable characters such as Dr. Dinosaur and of course, Thomas Edison. In fact, in the world of Atomic Robo, Thomas Edison is the sworn nemesis of Nikola Tesla (Atomic Robo's creator and father figure). This being the case I had to ask him, "What is Robo's beef with Thomas Edison?" to which he answered, "None whatever! But he was kind of a jerk. Many rich men are. But, since Robo was built by Tesla, it's only natural that we take the side 'against' Edison." This is just one example of how Clevinger ingeniously warps reality and history to create a wonderous fantasy world. Another example is the way he uses time period and genres to recreate twists on concepts like the standard WWII war story, "The Shadow" era gangster stories, and of course 60's style sci-fi movies.
Another one of Clevinger's more popular characters who appears in Atomic Robo is the previously mentioned Dr. Dinosaur. This self-proclaimed genius and anti-mammal raptor styled-dinosaur proclaims that Nickelodeon, "will crumble and fall before the heavy weight of his genius". The character first appears in Atomic Robo vol. 3. Dr. Dinosaur almost immediately became one of my favorite characters to appear in the Robo series, so I had to know if he would appear again in future issues. "Soon! He'll probably be in our Free Comic Book Day story for 2012. He'll also be the principle villain for an upcoming mini-series. Volume 8 or 9, so that translates to late 2012 or early 2013."
Luckily for those readers who are seeking a series a break from the standard comic fare, Atomic Robo has an even brighter future ahead. "The first issue of the new volume, ATOMIC ROBO AND THE GHOST OF STATION X, comes out on 9/7. I've already written the series after that and we're deciding on which one to do after that." Enjoy!
Written or Contributed by: Jeff Haas, Outhouse Contributor