Frank Cho is a busy guy. In addition to being a Marvel Comics exclusive artist working on books like "X-Men: Schism" #2 as well as a variety of covers for the House of Ideas, Cho also co-wrote "50 Girls 50," is currently co-writing and penciling "Brutal" with Joe Keatinge and now has plans for a book he's writing and drawing himself called "Guns & Dinos" all for Image Comics.
The three-issue miniseries, which drops in November, features a group of time travelers accidentally sent back to the age of terrible thunder lizards in an attempt to get more oil back to their present. Without any kind of safety net, the characters have to figure out how to survive in a world practically designed to kill them. CBR News spoke with Cho about the concept's decade-long history, his creative process and how the projectt flowed naturally from his interests.
"It was a natural accumulation of many things," Cho said of the title. "I love dinosaurs. I love military stories. And I love science fiction. Oddly enough, Ken Burns' Civil War documentary was an early inspiration. I loved how half the story was told by letters and diary entries by the people who lived through that taxing ordeal. I especially loved Sullivan Ballou's heart-wrenching love letter to his wife Sarah. That's how I wanted 'Guns & Dinos'' story to unfold, through journal entries by the soldiers and scientists and inter-spliced with live action."
The title "Guns & Dinos" might conjure images of one long action scene featuring soldiers blasting away at T-rexes and raptors, but Cho explained the heart of the book.
"There are many characters in the story: Dr. Daniel Chang, the inventor of the space-folding technology; Colonel Norr, the unforgiving base leader; however, most of the focus will be on Quantum Engineers Dr. Mike Morger and his estranged wife Dr. Helen Schwartz," Cho told CBR News. "In some ways it's essentially a love story."
A love story from the guy best known for drawing buxom ladies and foul-mouthed anthropomorphized animals might not seem to make sense, but it turns out Cho is a big softy at heart.
"I'm a sucker for romantic stories," Cho said. "In the beginning of the book, Mike and Helen are separated and in the process of divorcing. But as the story progresses, thrown back in time and facing common hardships of survival, their love rekindles. But here's the kicker, with their love firmly reestablished, one of them [might] have to make the ultimate sacrifice at the end. If I tell this story right, it's a real tearjerker."
If it sounds like Cho has been living with these characters for a while, that's precisely the case as "Guns & Dinos" has been boucning around his head for roughly a decade.
"I've had the 'Guns & Dinos' story idea for about 10-12 years now," Cho said. "The genesis of the story started with a single image. I think I was mowing the grass or doing yard work at the time when this single image of a human arm holding a machine gun inside a T-Rex fossil came to me. Like 'Zombie King's' cow love scene [from the 2005 Image one-shot], the entire story quickly formed around this single image. For years, I tweaked and tweaked the story, constantly changing characters and minor things but always staying true to the original plot. A few times, I toyed with the idea of bringing in a co-writer and even hiring an artist. But I realized that if I wanted to tell this story right, I have to write and draw it myself."
The writer/artist went on to explain that his process involves working on both aspects of the comic at the same time.
"It's been a challenge. Most people don't know that I write as I draw," Cho explained. "The writer part and the artist part of me are in constant struggle. What may work visually may not work story-wise, so I'm constantly editing myself. There are few scenes I wish turned out better, but overall I've been happy how things are progressing."
Part of that progress has included a good deal of research into aspects of the book like the science behind time travel and dinosaur make-up.
"The science part is mainly based on real life or near future technology except for the 'time travel portion,'" Cho said. "I'm trying to portray the US military in as realistic a manner as possible within the confines of entertainment, so I've hired a military expert, Mike Nolan, to help me with the modern military equipment and language. As for dinosaurs, I often look at 'Prehistoric Times' magazine for inspiration and help."
Adding even more to his workload, Cho decided to hand letter every page of "Guns & Dinos," an old school method he prefers.
"I'm very old-fashioned when it comes to comic book art," Cho said. "I love hand lettering. To me, comic books have always been a fine marriage of pictures and letters. If time permits, I would hand letter all my comic book pages."
With so many projects on his plate, Cho has chosen some rather interesting methods of staying on top of his work.
"Two words: Crack-cocaine," Cho joked. "I'm kidding. People don't know this but I'm constantly working on three to four projects at any given time. These projects range from video game designs to paintings for an art gallery. And as of late, writing scripts for movie pitches. My goal is for every three Marvel projects I do, I try to set time aside for one creator-owned book. Quite frankly, it's downright stressful at times, but any job where you don't have to wear pants is a dream job. I'm having a blast."