Later this fall, Archaia releases "Rust" to the general public -- but don't let the name fool you. The all-ages title from up-and-coming creator Royden Lepp is full of polish, following the Taylor family on their humble farm and how their lives are turned upside-down with the tumultuous arrival of the jetpack-equipped and aptly named Jet Jones. The first volume of "Rust" (out of four) saw a soft release at this year's Comic-Con International at San Diego along with the exciting news of a film option from Fox, with a script by Aline Brosh McKenna and Simon Kinberg producing -- but for readers unable to make it to CCI this year, the most exciting thing will undoubtedly be getting their hands on the book itself.
"The general concept is basically that the Taylor family is living on a farm in an alternate-reality; a neither here nor there kind of setting," Lepp told CBR News. "It's post-war era. There's a war that took place and the Taylor family is basically trying to just keep their farm running. Roman Taylor is the older brother in the family and he's trying to keep his farm going, basically subsisting. One day, Jet Jones crashes into his farm field and Roman's being chased by a giant robot that's left over from the war. Mystery ensues and Roman is brought face to face with the questions and mysteries of the war. Jet Jones is full of questions and mysteries."
Lepp tells his story through the two main characters of the book: Roman Taylor and the mysterious Jet Jones. Through them, readers will slowly learn more about the world of "Rust" world and its history. "Roman is trying to keep the farm running, but he's also really fascinated with this robot technology that has been left over from the war," said Lepp. "These kind of old, rusty-looking, very rudimentary-looking robots were used in this war, and they were basically left over after the war ended and are being utilized by farmers. We don't really know who else, but we know that farmers use them. Roman Taylor is basically rebuilding his first robot in Book One. He's a little bent on creating this machine that will possibly save him and his family. He's thinking that if he can get this machine running, then he won't need his younger brother Oswald's help on the farm. Jet Jones is helping him right now on the farm, and maybe he won't need Jet Jones if he can get this robot running and helping him around the farm. That's Roman's drive in the book."
As for the enigmatic Jet Jones, Lepp isn't quite ready to let readers in on his secrets, but he did mention a few key points to the character that readers should look out for. "Jet Jones is all about mystery. We don't know what he's thinking. We know that he has a certain amount of compassion for the Taylor family. He's staying on the farm and basically helping them out," Lepp said. "He basically feels like he owes Roman a favor because he brought this robot into this field and they had to work hard to stop it from chasing them, tearing up one of his farms in the process. Jet Jones has a lot of compassion for the Taylor family, but he's also very critical of Roman's desire to resurrect this robot in the first book. He criticizes him saying, 'These machines were built to destroy human beings. Why would you want to bring one back to life here?' So they have a bit of a conflict there. Other than that, Jet Jones has a lot of mystery. He's got a past we don't know about, he's obviously got some kind of superhuman ability that isn't really defined. Roman can see it and Oswald can see it and those attributes will slowly come together throughout the arc of the story to reveal who Jet Jones really is."
Beyond the mystery of Jet Jones, readers can also look forward to the history of the world of "Rust" revealing itself through a similarly slow burn. And Lepp isn't planning to simply spell it all out for readers. "Things will be revealed gradually, but probably not to the fullest desire of what some people might want," he said. "Kind of in the way that Middle Earth in 'Lord of the Rings' is basically just this other place that is not really well defined, it's just familiar. The goal with the setting in 'Rust' was to make this place that's familiar and think, 'I know where I am," but then you see a war and you're like, 'This looks like World War I -- no, wait a second. Maybe it's World War II.' And then you see robots and you realize it's neither war, unless we're altering history. I want the reader to have that feeing of being in Oz. 'I don't know where I am anymore, but everything is familiar still.'
"'Rust' is about mystery, in a lot of ways," he continued. "There are things that are going to be kept hidden from the reader that they may never find out. Hopefully, that doesn't leave them unsatisfied. I'm quite certain that it won't, because the things that they do find out are exciting."
Lepp's creation of "Rust" and the saga of Jet Jones and the Taylor family came from a simple beginning, but evolved into a new direction that surprised even Lepp. "To be totally transparent and open, I basically created a vehicle in the story through which I could draw robots and a kid with a jetpack," said the creator. "I created a place where I knew I could create lots and lots of drawings that I would enjoy that wouldn't be a bunch of talking heads. I just created an environment I wanted to be in and that I wanted to learn more about. In doing so, the world of 'Rust' slowly became something that I hadn't even really planned on: the story of the Taylor family and the theme of family and, suddenly, whether the story had robots in it or not didn't matter as much. They served the genre, and it suddenly became more about the characters in the story than the kind of story that it was. It really started out as a 'kind' of story before it became a story."
While he is new to the comic book and graphic novel scene, Lepp is no stranger to storytelling, having a degree in classic 2D animation and teaching himself 3D animation on the fly -- all of which helped inform his work tell his story in "Rust." "I went to school for the old-style Disney page-flipping animation. That was a poor career choice because it became dead after I graduated," he said. "I learned 3D on the job -- I do 3D animation full-time. Obviously, being classically trained definitely informed my artistic ability to be able to draw, but also my pacing and panel layout in the pages is part of the reason it reads more like storyboards than traditional comics -- and that is directly because of my training. I see things visually, more cinematically, than I do comic panels. I have the freedom to do a lot of pages without dialogue because in my mind I'm thinking, if I can tell the story with the expression on the character's face and the body language and the situation, then that's great. I don't have to write anything down and people will just get the story. That's always been a goal and it's fun to do. They're definitely completely related to each other. Animation and comics go hand-in-hand. Both actually inform and help each other, skill-wise."
Lepp currently uses his 3D animation skills someplace completely rooted in the comic book realm. As an animator for The Amazing Society, Lepp spends his days animating for Marvel's Super Hero Squad video game, and since Lepp hadn't been involved with comics for a while, he said that working on SHS helped to be re-entrenched in the world of comics. "It did help to be re-immersed in, particularly, the Marvel brand," he said. "Marvel is this huge empire and working on their characters is kind of fun. I get to animate Spider-Man -- I was animating Spider-Man today! It's kind of a dream job. I grew up reading Spider-Man, so getting re-immersed in the Marvel lore has been a great experience. It doesn't necessarily inform what I've done or what I'm going to do with 'Rust,' but it does get me back into the culture. Like I said, I don't buy a lot of comics and I don't spend a lot of time in comic shops. Now, looking back, I feel like that's really helped the story of 'Rust' be really different. For people that are looking for something different, they might find it in 'Rust.'"
As a classically trained animator, artist and creator, Lepp said that the most challenging aspect of creating "Rust" was writing the story itself, thanking his Archaia editors for their help on the story. "Writing stories is hard," he said. "I'm definitely not a writer, and I'm not even sure whether I should say that. I want to tout myself as a creator and I do believe that people will enjoy 'Rust' right to the end, but I'm an artist first and a writer second. For me, the challenge of knitting the story together before it was fully planned out has been the big thing -- to take something that was just the arc of an idea, the situation and the setting, and then turn it into four 150-page stories, that's definitely been a challenge. But I've been up for the challenge and I'm having fun with it, although it's difficult. It's where I get a lot of great help from the editors at Archaia because they're concerned about the story being good. I'm so underwater on the story! I've been buried in the art on the story for so long that it's hard for me to tell what's cool, what's working and what's not. The editors at Archaia, it's great for them just to read it and tell me, 'I didn't get this, this didn't read properly, this is the best moment of the book, we need to add more of this.'
"I should follow up on my statement, too -- I say that I'm not a writer, but I do hope that people disagree with me!" Lepp continued, laughing. "I hope people read it and think it's a good story. I want to prove myself wrong in that area."
While he didn't have any new details to share on the upcoming film from Fox, Lepp did give an overview of how he found out about the news. "It's amazing! It happened before the book was even on the shelf," he recalled. "I don't fully understand how that happened, really -- how a major studio like Fox grabbed it before it even hit the shelf, but it's super-exciting and I have Archaia to thank for it. They are really my representation for the book in so many ways. Without them, it wouldn't have happened, that's for sure. There's not a whole lot else I can say. I want to say I had a lot to do with it, but I didn't. I kind of answered phone calls and said, 'Yes, that sounds great! What? Who? Fox? Yeah, that sounds good!'"