As an artist, Tommy Lee Edwards is known for his striking, distinctive style that's influenced as much by a lot of mid-century American illustration as it is comic book tradition. Having sprung from the stable of young up-and-coming artists in the Milestone Comics stable, Edwards has worked on projects for Marvel and DC comics (such as 1985, Bullet Points, and The Question), as well as major creator-owned work (Turf, his collaboration with English television personality Jonathan Ross). As a writer, he's still new to the game. His next project is Vandroid, a resurrection of sorts of a would-be VHS cult classic that never came to be. Vandroid is co-written by Edwards and Noah Smith, with pencil art by Dan McDaid, and will be published by Dark Horse Comics this February. Edwards spoke to The Outhouse from the Dark Horse booth at New York Comic-Con, just before a schedule signing.
The Outhouse (OH): Vandroid is a project that you're actually going to be writing for another artist, which you haven't done a lot of.
Tommy Lee Edwards (TLE): Yeah. I'm writing it with a good friend of mine named Noah Smith, who's a screenwriter. This is his first comic, and I've only written a few comics because I mostly draw them. I wanted to draw this myself, but it came down to [the fact that] I didn't have time, so I just put together my dream team of who I wanted to have do it. I've always loved Dan McDaid's artwork; a Scottish guy who's mostly known for Doctor Who, and he's been drawing Catalyst Comix for Dark Horse. I love his work, so we kind of hit it off and he loved the concept.
OH: Was writing something you've been thinking about for a long time?
TLE: Yeah...I went to film school at The Arts Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA, and studied screenwriting there and always wrote, but never really had the opportunity to do much of it in comics. A little here and there, but lately...I've created a new animated TV show that I'm developing with Film Roman, they do The Simpsons, and I'm writing that, so I've been doing more writing lately. This is the first time I'm writing something for someone else to draw, so it's been really cool. A new experience for sure.
I've found that the best writers I've worked with are guys who can draw. One of the best writers I've ever worked with was Rick Veitch, who wrote The Question, which I drew for DC. That was one of the top three or four books I've ever been able to draw because he knew what I needed as an artist, he knew how to inspire me, and he knew what I didn't need! I like to have a full script. I don't like to work that "plot-to-script" way, partly because I feel like the more ideas the better, and for me to execute all the acting and stuff like that, I need all the dialogue. Also, so I can lay out the page. I put all the balloons as part of the artwork. Everything's lettered as part of the art. I like a really dense script. At the same time, working with a writer who also is artist and who's been on that side of it, they understand that you can bring things to it that you didn't think of as the writer. That's been the new experience for me. Seeing Dan come back with stuff that I didn't picture...it's mostly how he'll set up his "camera," or how he'll "shoot" a scene...at first I was a little paranoid, like "my god, this is so weird!" The first issue I asked to see Dan's layouts and would go over them, and now I'm like "it's your art, man. And now that I know we're on the same page with number one, number two is even better." Now he's working on number three, and I've been able to relax and get excited to see what shows up after he draws it.
It's so much easier to write than it is to draw! [laughs] It's like all these action scenes...like there's a scene where Vandroid fights this huge biker gang with this big semi-truck, and all this shit...this stuff
OH: You can curse.
[laughs] Ok. But this stuff is so time-consuming...Noah and I will write a scene where he's fighting all these bikers, this big crowd scene that I would hate to get in a script because I'd have to draw it, but now I just write it and Dan can draw it and it's out of my hands. I love it! [laughs]
OH: To get back to lettering, are you working with John Workman again on this?
Yeah, he's lettering Vandoid. As long as John's willing, every project I do, even this, where I'm just writing it. I can't separate him from my work. Even in this sense. But I left it up to Dan too. I asked Dan is that all right, or does he prefer a letterer? He said "who wouldn't want to work with John Workman?" So he's lettering it, and my wife Melissa's coloring it. She colored Earth X over JP Leon, and Static and stuff like that. She's been wanting to do another project, and this kind of works perfect, so I'm keeping it in the family sort of.
OH: Let's talk about the concept behind the book. It looks completely insane.
TLE: I designed a movie called The Book of Eli, directed by The Hughes Brothers, and through a producer on that, I met the composer who did the music for the Vandroid movie, Nic Nicola. They tried to make this movie in 1984, and it just never happened. They shot a certain amount of stuff, and it just has been lost. We've been finding bits of stuff. They found bits of the trailer, we found these photos, and we found the screenplay. Basically, I consider this the adaptation of a movie, but the movie has never really seen the light of day. We're staying really faithful to it, but at the same time, we're turning it into a comic, so it works in that medium. It's five issues. It's really, really tight. I think in a way, we've probably been able to do something that's better than the movie would ever have been, because it's very character-driven, it's really silly.
The story's about a guy named Chuck Carducci, who made custom vans in the 70's, and he became a rock star. Now it's 1984, and he's a big has-been. The drugs, the money, all the fame that comes from designing custom vans, as we all know. [laughs] He basically hates himself, but he's co-erced by an old college buddy of his from MIT into making this robot from this artificial intelligence that he's created for NASA, which has been deemed too dangerous; they had to shut it down. So it's [laughs] it's completely stupid, but it actually ends up becoming this really cool thing because Chuck makes the robot in his own likeness, and he's able to put everything that he always wishes he was into this machine. So it ends up being this tragic story about this guy who uploads everything of his life – he keeps journals – and he uploads and activates Vandroid through these journals, so basically Vandroid becomes conscious thinking he is Chuck, but only the good parts of Chuck, because that's all Chuck ever writes about. And a little bit of it is fabricated as well. Now all of a sudden, Vandroid is looking for Chuck's wife who Chuck hasn't seen in a year, he teams up with an old buddy of his he used to race BMX with back in the day, and it ends up where the people who are really behind creating Vandroid end up being this really evil corporation, and he ends up fighting against them, and they can't figure out the tech so they make these cyborgs out of these Vietnam vets. It's like one stupid 80's cliche after another, but its all the stuff I grew up on. It's Walter Hill meets John Carpenter. I love that stuff. The music, the way the movie looks, the way the comic reads, I'm really proud of that.
The album is coming out this fall from Ed Banger records, which is a huge publisher out of France. The movie trailer is being restored, it's this whole multimedia thing. What's cool is, like, in the comic, you can download the music from the album, and when you buy the album, you can download previews of the comic. Then you have Vandroid.com. I like that it's a multimedia kind of thing. I think that's attractive to retailers too, because they're going to get people that are fans of his music that are going to pick up the comic, and vice versa. So it'll be a new audience. That should be cool, I think.
OH: Would you like to see more comic artists try their hand at writing?
TLE: Most of my bill-paying jobs are like movie stuff, and non-comics illustration. I'm doing a bunch of paintings right now for Disney for Star Wars, but the comics will always be my favorite thing to do. I think if artists want to craft what they want to draw, especially since, like I was saying, comics are so hard to draw and so time-consuming, it might as well be exactly what you want to do. That's the way to go. Hopefully, now that I've been able to do a bit more writing, and this will be a learning experience for me as well, and whatever my next creator-owned book will be, will be all me. I was really proud of Turf, the book I did with Jonathan Ross, but my next book, I determined to be all me. That's the goal. That's probably the goal of most guys I know!