Last September, Ryan Browne's "God Hates Astronauts" found a home with Image Comics after six years as a webcomic and self-published book with a devoted fan following. Filled with tigers eating cheeseburgers, parodies of TGIF sitcom stars and superheroes with exploding craniums replaced by ghostly horse heads, "God Hates Astronauts" is a delightful throwback to early 90s gross-out humor in the vein of "Ren & Stimpy," Garbage Pail Kids and Liquid Television with a healthy (unhealthy?) dose of "Robocop" for action.
A year later, the series, which follows a group of bizarre heroes preventing the DIY space expeditions of redneck astronauts, is resuming as an ongoing Image title. CBR News spoke with Browne about his plans when he returns to his eclectic cast, the Beer Hates Astronauts brew available in Chicago, learning comic storytelling from David Mazzuchelli and more.
CBR News: Ryan -- you're resuming "God Hates Astronauts" as an ongoing and I am so excited. What is the scope of the arc?
Ryan Browne: It's pretty epic in scale. There are a lot of galactic repercussions on the horizon for our group of crappy "heroes" as their history of shortsighted negligence comes home to roost. We will learn why NASA is so intent on stopping those unsanctioned astro-farmers, and a lot of things will get punched, kicked and shockingly blown-up.
Are you working with any guest artists?
I have an amazing colorist on the book, Jordan Boyd. He's coloring it better than I ever could and it is really making the art on the new series kick a ton of @$$. Other than that, I have guest covers on the first five issues -- Geof Darrow, Jim Rugg, Chris Burnham and a couple others that I have yet to announce. Their work is so crazy nuts and I am extremely honored to have them be a part of the book.
You have this great style that's a blend between Garbage Pail Kids and Lisa Frank. What got you drawing comics in the first place?
Garbage Pail Kids. I'm an absolute junky for them, and they were extremely important to developing my visual sense of humor. For many years, I wanted to be a fine artist and went to college with the intention of being a painter -- but the humorous comics and illustrations were always present in my side work. At some point, I just decided to stick to making art that was fun instead of meaningful. In college, I spent a year working with David Mazzucchelli and that's where I learned to love storytelling.
What was your best learning experience from that?
Mazz put a very strong emphasis on storytelling and communication through comics. He was very heavy on the fundamentals of character, passage of time and teaching the history of comics. I'd love to somehow take his class again!
Are there any challenges in having worked on GHA in different formats for so long? First a webcomic, then a collected edition and now single issues? Does your approach change at all?
Yeah, for sure. When I started doing the book as a webcomic I wrote every page to have a beginning, middle and end. I was posting it a page a week so I felt every page had to advance the story or be entertaining in some way. It made for an extremely dense story with most scenes lasting only a page or two. I had intended to stretch the story out a bit for the new series, but after finishing issue #1 I realize it's still pretty dense. The hope is that old fans like the new direction, and that new fans want to go back and see what happened in the first volume.
Where does the series pick up in relation to the last book? Are things picking up where they left off?
The story is designed to be a jumping on point for the series. There's a quick recap to get everyone caught up on the few important points, and then it just runs from there. It's been about two years since we last saw the gang, and stuff seems to finally be moving smoothly. Our main character, Star Grass, is in charge of stopping the would-be NASA farmers, and he and his wife, Starrior, have been successfully raising their cosmic star baby, Starlin.
GHA has a huge cast. How do you keep track of everything going on? I mean -- do you keep track?
It's pretty tough to keep track of. A lot of the side characters have been pushed into the background of the world. The new series follows about 7 or 8 characters and three main storylines: NASA, Ex-NASA and space crabs. I had this one idea to just have a page where all the background characters like Reed Spacer would just board a plane and then we would see it explode on the horizon -- but I think that would be a little too stupid. Actually, that's kind of funny. I might still do it.
I read the first issue and noticed some familiar as well as new faces, like Hennifer, who might be the creepiest and yet sweetest thing ever.
Yeah, some characters like Gnarled Winslow return, but with significant upgrades. NASA has a pretty big budget, so many of our characters are going to get high-tech. Hennifer is a half-chicken woman and the worst thing ever! The biggest new character will be the star child, Starlin. Issue two sees the introduction of Time Giraffe, a time-traveling giraffe, and Sittor, a Masters of the Universe style babysitter.
The horse drawings are pretty technically amazing. Do you draw from reference? What is your creative process like for incorporating so many diverse types of characters from the human and animal kingdom?
When I first was drawing horses, I used some reference to figure out the shapes and the mechanics of their legs. Now I just make it up. I actually think they are pretty easy to draw -- unlike cars, which are the worst things to draw in the world. I recently decided that I was never going to draw another car in GHA and the results are pretty awesome.
Speaking of the animal kingdom, you have a really fascinating cat, Simon, who makes the best facial expressions ever. Is he a source of inspiration for you?
Of course! He's in the first volume of GHA as a cat-lawyer with a jetpack! I hope to find another way to draw him into the new series. I've still got to figure out a way to make him internet famous so I can quit comics and just make cat internet memes. :(
What does a monster like that eat?
Mostly turkey necks, actually. It's damn gross.
Speaking of food, and going back to GHA, I saw that a local restaurant featured a GHA burger on their menu, as well as your beer. Can you talk about that? It's so unique to have that sort of cross-promotion with a comic!
It's pretty surreal. Half Acre brewery did a beer to tie in with "God Hates Astronauts" called Beer Hates Astronauts, and it's super delicious! It's simultaneously the best and worst promotional item ever, because I can't sell it to anyone and it's so hard to find. It's basically only available in the Chicago area, so the only way to get it is to be lucky enough to live around here.
Besides beer and burgers, you also make action figures. Are you working on any new ones?
I think so. I'd love to do a Star Grass figure, but making hand-cast and hand-painted figures is crazy expensive. We will see what happens. I hope so.
So what else do you have going on?
I have a ten-page story in "Original Sins" #3 that was written by Charles Soule. Other than that, I'm strictly working on "God Hates Astronauts" as much as I can.
Love cats with jetpacks? Hate astronauts? Check out issue #1 on September 3.