Hold on to your hats, race fans -- things are about to take off like a bullet in "Rodd Racer," an 80-page one-shot written and drawn by Toby Cypress. Published through Image Comics and hitting stores in July, "Rodd Racer" is set in a future packed with people, gangsters and racers who take part in the Thunder Valley Rally, the book follows its titular character as he strives to win, dodge the bullets of the city's killers and make peace with some of the poorer decisions he's made in recent times. Originally planned as one huge chase sequence, Cypress' story evolved into a classically-designed science-fiction explosion as well as an exercise in single-creator comics. CBR News talked about this 80-page giant with Cypress and got the inside track on the city, the race, Rodd himself and the process involved in tackling such a large project single handedly.
"Rodd Racer is a circus-level stunt driver and local celebrity-turned-champion racer," Cypress told CBR News. "Racers are the highest level of celebrity in this city, though not necessarily the best people. A good racer will sacrifice everything for celebrity, and 'almost' everything to win. Rodd finds himself in a bad situation when his desire for glory and popularity have left him in debt to the city's most powerful gangster, Sidd Vicious. He soon realizes that he must learn how to be a champion, and for that, he has to sacrifice much more of himself while being chased by a mysterious hitman."
In his world, Rodd and his fellow drivers have been elevated to the type of super star status we generally see reserved for football, basketball and baseball stars. Indeed, as the series opens, the racers are all gearing up for their version of the Super Bowl.
"Thunder Alley Rally is the biggest event of the year, it's the championship derby that crowns the city's best racer," Cypress said. "The course winds through the city's concrete canyon streets, beneath neon lights, through dark tunnels and over narrow bridges. Thunder Alley Rally is a course through the entire city and its boroughs of individual personality. The city is a character in itself, like NYC, which has several boroughs, and each its own personality."
To help give his city a futuristic look, Cypress not only packed it with cars and corruption, but also reached into the past for inspiration.
"'Rodd Racer' takes place in a stylized future," Cypress said. "In a huge city run by gangsters and weak politicians, street rally derby racing is the big entertainment of this world, where hot rodders are like gladiators and celebrities. Giant air ships float above the city to broadcast racing events to radio. It's often considered that the golden age of sci-fi started around 1938-1939 with John W. Campbell's 'Astounding Science Fiction' magazine. The world of 'Rodd Racer' is imagined as if created during this time frame. I knew I wanted to create a world, a living city. The cool thing when creating your own material, is, you create your own rules. So my big goal was to create the feeling of 'epic.' [Stanley] Kubrick, Fritz Lang and [Jack] Kirby created an 'epic' sense of their worlds. Individuals had impact on the world around them. My goal with 'Racer' was to create a deeper sense of the world, and hopefully describe feelings and challenges we all feel every so often."
That sense of creation was very important to Cypress when building the world of "Rodd Racer." Working from a loose outline, he would sketch and draw the series' pages as they came to him, letting the work speak for itself instead of nailing it down right away.
"It's tough for me to write the whole story ahead of time because I think visually, and often I'll wake up with a new inspiration that directs me to approach a scene in an entirely different direction," Cypress said. "My work is fluid. When I write the story along with drawing it, I'm always keeping aware of rhythm, pacing, design, and if I feel inspired to have a long quiet sequence or a spontaneous 10-page crash sequence, then it's an exciting feeling. I think it comes through in the finished work, compared to most stories which feel overly structured or stiff."
In addition to keeping the process loose and creative, Cypress also had aspirations to be the sole creator on the work, noting that many of his favorite comics were the result of an individual creative voice.
"I feel like the best comics I've ever read are created by one person," Cypress said. "Hugo Pratt, Alex Toth, Milton Caniff, Moebius, Joe Kubert, Katsuhiro Otomo, Hergé. Some of these creators worked with assistants or writing partners, but their work is often their vision, and their names are the only ones on their work. Moebius worked with a brilliant creator in Jordowski, but I feel like the two of them are split parts of one person. Alex Toth mostly worked with others, but his best stuff is the stuff he's written and designed without collaboration. My hope with 'Rodd Racer' was to tap into this creative force and create for myself. To me, the very best of the very best are singular visions of art. I feel like it's important for an artist to be capable of writing and drawing their own work in comics. Collaboration is unique and a great way to tell stories, but I think it's important for me to tell my own stories every once in a while."
Another goal of Cypress' in bringing Rodd and his world to life was creating the longest car chase in the world of comics. That desire almost overtook the project, but Cypress reined things in and used a familiar storytelling device to make it all work.
"I always loved films like 'Bullit' and 'The French Connection,' which had great chase sequences. I wanted to do a 10-page story entirely designed as a chase. I decided to expand it to 80 pages and make it the longest chase sequence ever, but I felt it was a bit silly. So I decided to use an old device of film noire to tell the story through flashback. In my research, I was relieved to see movies like 'Grand Prix' and 'Le Mans' use a similar technique to tell a story between racing sequences. I feel like 'Rodd Racer' is an homage to movies like these for their technique, as well as 'Buck Rogers' or 'Out of the Past' for their fantasy and noire stylization respectively."
Even with so much going on, Cypress maintained a solid center when it came to the overall theme of the book, never straying far from the concept of redemption and perseverance in the face of overwhelming opposition.
"The story becomes sort of man versus the world when it becomes clear that the entire world is designed to defeat dreams," Cypress said. "I think we all feel like that sometimes, especially when we are attempting to do something new. Sometimes, we just feel abandoned by our own mistakes or our own ego and it feels like the world is simply working against us."
"Rodd Racer" roars into stores this July