When NASA needs enforcers to stop the growing number of amateur redneck astronauts from taking off into outer space in homemade rockets, there's only one team right for the job: the Power Person Five. Led by Star Fighter, whose powers don't really have anything to do with stars, the group includes his wife, Starrior, a hammerhead shark/ape hybrid named Craymok, a shirtless, mustachioed chap known as The Anti-Mugger and The Impossible, whose powers allow her to do impossible things -- like kick two bears in the face at once -- when needed.
Although their mission is clear -- no yokels in space -- the team struggles to remain on task, frequently becoming distracted with extramarital love affairs, disembodied glowing cow heads, Carl Winslow and a gang of murderous owls. Meanwhile, their nemesis, John L. Sullivan (yes, the boxing fellow of the Overly Manly Man meme) has a grudge to settle against the heroes and an army of voodoo bears to back him up. Can the Power Person Five overcome their infighting to defeat the evil John L. Sullivan, or will vengeance be his? Find out between the delightfully twisted pages of Ryan Browne's "God Hates Astronauts."
Browne started this project six years ago and has since seen the book grow from a comic he drew at the rate of one page per hour for 24 hours, to a webcomic with a strange and supportive following, to a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign that allowed Browne to publish all of the content in a hardcover volume. Now, Browne takes his magnum opus to Image Comics for the softcover edition which includes the complete series, two-page origin stories for each of the characters and pin-ups drawn by a line-up of comic book luminaries which includes Chris Burnham, Mike Norton, Rebekah Isaacs and others.
Browne spoke with CBR News about his hopes for a humor comic resurgence, the joys and pitfalls of self-publishing and the potential to turn "God Hates Astronauts" into an ongoing series.
CBR News: "God Hates Astronauts" was a self-published comic, eventually backed by an incredibly successful Kickstarter. How did the book get to Image?
Ryan Browne: I met Ron Richards at Image right after the Kickstarter had finished. I had just signed on to be the replacement artist for Riley [Rossmo] on "Bedlam," and Ron wanted to meet me and welcome me to the Image publishing world. At the time, I knew that the publicity and success of the Kickstarter would help open some doors to talking with publishers and I knew that I wanted to get out of the self-publishing game. Things just worked out timing-wise that I got some face time with Ron right when my shipment of hardcovers came in, so I could just hand him the book and see what he thought. The rest is history!
Does this mean that you're completely done with self-publishing?
For a while at least. I certainly will never publish a hardcover book again. The fulfillment of the Kickstarter just about killed my back, so it's all softcovers from here. I have this other book called "Blast Furnace: Recreational Thief" which is small and softcover. I plan on finishing the second volume at some point and launching a Kickstarter for it, but other than that, I'm hoping Image and I can work together more in the future. The biggest problem with self-publishing is that it's a ton of work that isn't just making comics. At this point, I've put in the time and just want to make comics and cut out all the time that is spent on the business side.
Are there any design differences in the Image release?
Well, the colors on the cover a little different, and there are fewer end pages from the hardcover, but the content is all exactly the same. I didn't want to add any new stuff because it would be unfair to the people who backed the Kickstarter. Honestly, there are 176 pages of content in it already -- so I'll just save new stuff for the next volume.
It seems like humor comics have been pretty underrepresented in the mainstream for a while, but now we're seeing books like yours, stuff like "Axe Cop" and "Sex Criminals." Do you feel like a humor revival is on the way?
I sure hope so. Humor is amazingly popular in almost every other medium, yet something about the store-going comic reader doesn't really jive with it. I really see a bright future in comics with snarky humor books. There is such a huge demand for that kind of stuff on the Internet and on TV with Adult Swim -- especially when it comes to teenagers. I think it's a really great way to get younger people back into comic book stores. In the '80s, everything got super serious in comics, and humor was pushed to the indie spinner rack. There are exceptions, of course, but the general feeling of "comics need to be bad ass" has been so dominant for so long that people forget that some comics should be flat-out fun. It's the perfect medium for comedy. As a comic creator, you control the entire universe -- the way the story is told, the pacing and the one-two reveal of your joke. The page flip of a comic is the greatest setup to punchline transition, ever.
"God Hates Astronauts" sprung from 24-Hour Comics Day, where creators create 24-page comics with each page being drawn in an hour. Are you still doing this? The technique really seemed to unlock some beautiful weirdness.
I actually have done six of them and my lifetime and thus, like Lieutenant Murtaugh, I am getting too old for that $#!+. I did feel that it was one of the more mind-expanding forms of creating comics and so have worked in that improv style ever since. Last year, I made this comic called "Blast Furnace: Recreational Thief" over a six-month period. I drew a page a day, an hour per page, for six-months straight, intentionally not planning any aspect of the story. It still stands as my favorite thing that I have ever done, and I have started working on "Blast Furnace 2: The Search For More Money" whenever I have a down moment. I actually posted the first volume as a daily webcomic at www.blastfurnacecomic.com if you are interested.
What's next for "God Hates Astronauts?" Do you have any plans to turn it into an ongoing series?
Well, first I need to continue my work on "Bedlam" and the occasional fill-in on "Manhattan Projects." When my plate is finally cleared, I hope to do a new ongoing with Image. I do think that a lot of that is dependent on how this softcover trade sells, so we will see. If it bombs, I guess I can always take the next volume the Kickstarter route, but I'd prefer to have the book reach the wider audience in comic book stores.
When we next see the crew, there will be a lot of changes. I've been writing it for the past month or so, and I realize that the super-fast pacing of the first volume has made it difficult to find room to handle all the characters that I have thrown into this universe. I'm kind of considering writing some character out, soap opera-style, in order to focus it more. I really have a million ideas, so now it's just picking the best ones and figuring out how they all work together. The tough thing with any comedy is how you keep the story interesting and moving forward while still making it feel fresh and funny. I think I need to figure out how to do that pretty soon.
If you carried it into an ongoing, would you continue working with any of the artists you've collaborated with in the past on the book?
The plan right now is to stop coloring the book myself. I am really, really slow at coloring, so at this point I plan on hiring Greg and Fake Petre (who did the Gnarled Winslow origin in the book) to color it. We've started to work together -- they colored the "God Hates Astronauts" beer label and the "Youngblood" parody -- and it's going well so far. I'm sure once I figure out how an ongoing comic works, I will have some of my friends who contributed to this book work on more origins as back up features and or issue covers.
"God Hates Astronauts" arrives in stores October 9 and should probably inspire at least one person to make an Admiral Tiger Eating a Cheeseburger costume.