Tomas Ramirez loves life in his small town. His simple job as a gas station attendant leaves him with plenty of time to hang out at the local bar with his friends, watch the jets from the nearby military base and get high whenever he wants. Although Tomas doesn't want his life to change, what he sees one fateful night will forever alter his perceptions of the world, launching him into a conspiracy of alien invasion where he must take his harshest toke yet -- saving the world.
Written by James Robinson with art by J. Bone, "The Saviors" promises to be one of the most exciting new series in 2014. With the first issue on sale now from Image Comics, Robinson and Bone spoke with CBR News, revealing more about their unlikely hero and the daunting task ahead of him.
CBR News: How did "The Saviors" come into existence?
James Robinson: I had not been exclusive at DC for quite some time, even though I was working for them and it probably felt like I was to a lot of people reading my work, but I had met J. Bone in Canada at Fan Expo a couple of years ago and we'd talked about doing something then. The one thing he said is that his style is more known for being a young adult/animation style and he wanted to do something a bit more serious that could get his artwork reexamined. With that, I went off and slowly put together this idea of doing an alien invasion comic that kind of borrowed elements from the old "Invaders" TV show and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," but also had enough gore and violent horror and scares that it would also feel like John Carpenter's "The Thing." As I began to develop the idea, some other aspects came to mind like the idea of it having a large cast. You won't know who lives or dies and in that way I admit fully to having borrowed from the formula of Robert Kirkman on "Walking Dead," but I'm also borrowing from Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks." Those are the influences, and J. Bone has stepped up and done a style that while consistent with his past work -- clean lines, vaguely European -- he sort of added in a Pixar-like quality so it feels very much like animation art. It adds to the strange juxtaposition of a dark, scary story.
Did you have a clear idea in mind on how the visuals looked for your story?
Robinson: I conceived it for J. specifically. This is me developing something for him. I always knew to some degree the style I was going to get, but I'm delighted but the more mature, polished edge he's added to his style from work prior to this.
Has J. contributed to the development of the story?
Robinson: Not especially. We've sort of left each other to our respective talents. Obviously I run ideas by him to see which direction he'd prefer the story to go in. If I say hypothetically, and this isn't actually going to happen, "Hey, we're going to do four issues in the Amazon jungle" and he hates drawing trees, he isn't going to be as happy doing those issues. Down the line we will be taking the characters to Paris and when I told J., he said it sounded like fun. So there is a degree of us running ideas past each other and we talk together about the kind of style we want.
Let's talk a little about the cast of characters. Tomas Ramirez, the main character, is a gas station attendant who uncovers a secret alien invasion. Is he prepared to deal with it?
Robinson: I can safely say that Tomas never fully accepts what fate has thrown at him. He really is the epitome of the slacker who just wants to make as much money as he needs to have a few drinks at a bar, buy a bit of pot, rent some DVDs and get stoned. He has no ambitions in life and he's completely happy with that. Then, out of nowhere, fate throws this alien invasion at him and his whole life is turned upside down. As we progress, we will meet other characters. For instance, no one really knows this yet and it will make sense down the line, but the CBLDF story that J. and I did together in the last annual -- that's a character we will meet in issue #3. Some characters are more trained for this weird kind of shadow war they're fighting against the aliens; some are not. Tomas is certainly one of those that isn't, he's a babe in the woods. It will take many issues and many adventures and misadventures before he starts to accept his fate a bit more readily and learn the skills he'll need to go about this long, dangerous future.
What kind of skills?
Robinson: He's never killed anything before, for one. But just that sense of suspicion -- the skills of a spy, where you have to work out who you can trust and who you can't when everyone has, on the surface, a familiar face. There's a sort of naivety that he has to lose, and a more mature wisdom he needs to build. He also needs physical skills, like how to avoid a giant monster when it's chasing you through the desert, or when you're in a small Mexican coastal town and everyone is dressed for Day of the Dead and you have to spot the alien among them.
Is it safe to say that readers shouldn't get too attached to any one character?
Robinson: Yes and no. Originally I thought that no one was safe, we would kill anyone, but there was one character I'd intended to kill and I said to J., "You know, I really don't want to kill this guy." He was glad because he was getting attached to him too. Already I'm backtracking on the idea I had when I put the book together. Characters will die, sometimes completely in unexpected moments, though.
J., what do you think gets readers attached to characters? Why do we want to see certain people survive?
J. Bone: There's a hero character that was only going to be used once and then... disposed of. He's our, and Tomas', introduction to what's really going on. And he's kinda just cool. He's Han Solo. You don't kill Han Solo.
I don't think you can ever guess whom readers, or an audience, are going to like. A lot of stories require the "ordinary man" character to bring us into the world. They represent the reader and then you create other characters for them to interact with. Usually it's those other characters that become favorites.
When I started drawing Tomas, the main character in the book, I was concerned about people not liking him. I like him. I really tried to find visual things to make him interesting -- he's tall and kind of skinny. Maybe a little manic, maybe a slob. I figured if I made him a real guy on the page readers might be less inclined to dismiss him as the cypher character. I also based him on a friend of mine who's 6'5" or so. That way if I'm not sure how Tomas would act I think "What would Hoffman do?" and draw Tomas doing that.
But, as I said, you never know who'll become the popular character. In the end it'll probably be the guy we killed or the bad guys that readers respond best to.
It seems like quite a few genres are mixing in "The Saviors" -- Sci-Fi, some action, some comedy -- what elements are important to you in storytelling?
Robinson: I like writing good stories. I've written a lot of superheroes, I've written an erotic murder mystery with explicit sex in it -- I just try to come up with something compelling. "The Saviors" with its aliens and monsters but also that intrigue feel of it, it's stuff that I really love. One of the other influences that I have for this series is the very early "Doctor Strange" by Steve Ditko. It was much more conspiracy-like, cult followers in the back streets of Middle Eastern cities, before it sort of went completely cosmic and went into other dimensions. Although it's science fiction, there are lots of other things that add to it and give it a unique feel all its own.
There's the undercurrent conspiracy plot -- did you do any research about alien conspiracies?
Robinson: Yeah, I actually did do a bit of that. I was reading up on David Icke and his lizard men and that stuff is referenced to some degree. I'm trying to bring some of that into it, but I also want to make this a very contained world that is mine and J.'s.
Bone: Oddly enough I had not heard of David Icke until I was nearly finished the art on the first issue of "The Saviors." I listen to "The Skeptics Guide To the Universe" podcast while I work and they talked about him. I immediately read a bunch of his writing on his website, and became familiar with his beliefs. It was a fantastic surprise when his name popped up in James' script in issue #2. No doubt fate and manipulation by our reptilian overlords created this so-called "coincidence."
I say "oddly enough" because I've read a lot of UFO conspiracy books. My best friend watches "Ancient Aliens" and I'm fascinated by how much some people are willing to attribute to extraterrestrial forces (rather than more natural, and foolishly human characteristics). It's odd that in all my UFO reading I'd never come across David Icke's name.
When conceptualizing the specific look for the aliens I looked at a lot of animals trying to find the balance between reptile, insect and arthropod. I also love monster movies so there's a little bit of "Cloverfield," "Super 8," and Guy Davis' creature design in the final alien. Frankly, I'm glad they're shape-shifters because it lets me try new designs every other issue or so.
In the end I used the head of a dunkleosteus as my anchor point for all transformations. I've got a dunkleosteus toy I use for reference. And if you don't know about dunk, you really need to check it out. It's a prehistoric fish with an armor plated skull and the second most powerful bite force of any known animal. It's one of my favorite prehistoric creatures.
James, what has it been like coming back to creator-owned work?
Robinson: Exciting. It's a little bit of a shock. There's a plus and a minus to working on creator-owned books, and the minus is, admittedly, a very small minus, but when you work at Image you own it and they make it very clear that it's your project. You have to make sure you get everything done yourself. It's not like Image does a lot of the stuff for you. When you work at a mainstream company, they hold your hand the whole time. Re-learning that sense of self-discipline where you don't have editors calling you up asking for the scripts or the art. If you don't do it, you're the one hurting your own work. Learning how to self-support again was a bit of a learning curve but apart from that, it's been great. I've known [Image publisher] Eric Stephenson for quite some time so all of that was very smooth. I've talked to Eric about other projects in the future with other artists while continuing "The Saviors." I might be, fingers crossed, announcing something in January.
J., James mentioned that the idea for "The Saviors" was a mutual thing between the two of you -- how has your art for the story changed from concept to final product?
Bone: That is a good question. When I first started work on the book I wanted to draw a dark and gritty horror comic. I would sit down to design the characters trying for "real" -- but it wasn't working for me. I just wasn't comfortable working like that. So I grabbed the designs I liked and cartooned them -- really went exaggerated with body shapes and expressions. Only after I got that out of my system was I able to get my approach to the characters and the book.
So what's different is that I'm not really going for "horror" so much as "monster movie." The scary part will be what these aliens are doing here on earth and not knowing whom our main characters can trust.
The artwork has this great style. Was that something you'd always envisioned for "The Saviors?"
Bone: I wanted to do something different with my art for "The Saviors." A while back one of my art friends suggested penciling exactly as I would if I were to ink with a brush -- which is my preferred inking tool. But to then ink my work with a dead line -- that is, no thick and thin. It took me a while to get used to seeing my art finished in such a way but I think it helps make the book less "cartoony" -- that word being the one most often used to describe my art. There are still areas of black and shadows but the art feels lighter. I think.
There's also an element of me trying to capture the setting, which is very pulpy. So many old '50s monster alien invasion films are set in a desert town with the sheriff and group of teenagers saving the world. The book is a modern setting but my love of those old movies is coming out in the art. In my mind it's a '50s monster movie retold for today's audience with more "realistic" monster effects.
"The Saviors" #1 is on sale now from Image. #2 goes on sale January 29.