REFLECTIONS: Bedard/Orfalas talk "Retro Rocket"

Sun, March 12th, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Robert Taylor, Staff Writer

REFLECTION Volume 2 Number 6

Nine years ago America was up in arms about Monica Lewinsky, "Pokemon" premiered on Kids' WB and Tony Bedard and Jason Orfalas came up with the idea for "Retro Rocket." Fast forward to today and their idea has finally come to fruition in the form of a four-part mini-series from Image Comics.

For those of you wondering why the heck I've interview Tony Bedard twice over the past three weeks, it has something to do with the fact that he is holding my season sets of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" hostage in his basement and threatening to scratch them if I don't do as he says.

That and the fact that I recently read the first issue of "Retro Rocket" and absolutely loved it, and immediately knew I had to spread the word in any way possible.

So here we are. I wrangled Bedard and artist Jason Orfalas down for an interview about "Retro Rocket" and, don't worry, it'll be at least a month until I interview Bedard next. I promise!

Robert Taylor: Hey guys, how's life?

Tony Bedard: Still getting paid to write funny-books, still married to a hot Pilates instructor…heyyy, didn't you open with the same question last time we did this?

RT: It's a new tradition. You'll get used to it.

Jason Orfalas: Still working weird hours, I don't know if I call it sleeping later and later anymore 'cause I hit the sack at 7 a.m. now.

RT: How does it finally feel to reach the end of the long journey?

JO: My God has it been what, nine years ago since we conceived "Retro Rocket?"

RT: So you thought of this idea when I was 12 and still couldn't watch TV after 9?

TB: Yeah, "Retro Rocket" has been a long time coming, all right. Almost 10 years since two fresh-faced young comics creators came up with a terrific story idea. Then Jason Orfalas and I stole it from them, and now those two creators share a shallow grave in Queens, NY!

RT: Remember how I already think you are a serial killer, Tony? Your jokes aren't helping here. Now let's go all the way back to the beginning. Tell us a little bit about the origins of the project.

TB: Jason and I met back in 1996 when we both worked for Billy Tucci's Crusade Comics. I was editing the books and Jason was penciling "Manga Shi." I loved Jason's work and his absolute commitment to his craft. And we both loved giant robot stuff, like "Mobile Suit Gundam" and "Neon Genesis Evangelion" (where do they come up with these wacky titles?!). One day, a much less wacky title popped into my head: "Retro Rocket." I figured it sounded like an old-school Gigantor-type robot trying to keep up with the new mechs on the block. Jason and I brainstormed it from there, and Jason even drew a bunch of pages for the first issue. And then I left Crusade for DC Comics, Jason left comics entirely, and "Retro Rocket" was stuck in robot limbo.

JO: Yeah, Tony and I shared the love for these Bandai model kits and we used to stop by a hobby shop on the way to the subway. The next day we'd have our Gundam toys posing on the desk. One day I expressed my interest to Tony about doing some creator-owned stuff. He talked about his ideas for "Retro Rocket" and I thought it was perfect. I immediately drew up some sketches and it took shape within a couple of weeks. Initially we thought of printing it in black and white because of costs. Back then I could only pencil. So I actually paid for the art to get inked but it took weeks for me to get a page back, which is practically the speed I'm on now doing a full color page (for you editors out there, that's just a joke). Eventually with the delays, with leaving Crusade and going our separate ways only to work again at DC from time to time, "Retro" just didn't materialize.

RT: And what has the project morphed into today?

JO: Well, Tony and I, we're a self-contained Comic Book creating machine so everyone out there better recognize. And "Retro Rocket" is finally a full color book published by Image.

TB: Well, during our time away from each other, Jason and I both learned a lot. Jason was merely a penciller when last I saw him. Now he can ink, color, letter, you name it. His artistic "toolbox" is overflowing with eye-popping new tricks - all of which are on full display in "Retro Rocket #1." Meanwhile, my writing experiences at CrossGen and Marvel taught me so much more than I used to know about pacing, dialogue and just trying to pack a book with twists and surprises. In a lot of ways, I'm very glad we didn't hit the stands back in the mid-nineties with something half-baked, 'cause now we're, like…totally baked!

RT: How much has the current incarnation changed from your original concepts?

JO: Not much, but even a little change is a lot. Over the years, as Tony refined his writing, I've learned how to fully appreciate the little nuances that make up a good comic book. And even though I'm a sucker for good action it's the emotional moments that Tony injects into the "Retro Rocket" story that gets me verklempt. Design-wise, Retro himself is basically untouched. The Global Defense Force mechs are more refined now. The design for the GDF support vehicles, their base, and the alien designs are totally new though.

TB: The basic story remains the same, although, strangely enough, it's taken on new relevance since we first thought it up. There are scenes concerning terrorism, torture, and the evils of the Internet that were merely speculative fiction back in '97, but now seem like they're ripped from today's headlines. The visual changes are actually the most exciting part. I still have copies of Jason's original design sketches. They're pretty cool, but compare them to what Jason put together for the actual printed book and you can really see how far we've come.

RT: Is the story mainly for fans of anime-type superheroics, or will it appeal to everybody?

TB: I think the appeal goes beyond the anime niche. It's one of those universal stories about a robot with a human brain and his hottie mechanic. Y'know, the sort of thing anyone who's flown a Mark V Automech or changed the oil on a cold-fusion reactor can all relate to.

RT: So I'm out.

TB: That was biting wit.

RT: Ah.

JO: It's a good story wrapped in anime elegance. The visual style serves the story. So anyone who likes a good read would enjoy the total package.

RT: What is the most fun to draw? Least fun? Easiest? Hardest?

JO: The most fun is Retro Rocket and Sparky's shorts or lack thereof. Least would be nada, I mean I even love doing the backgrounds! The easiest is debris cause you can just go crazy with it. Hardest would be the alien mechs.

RT: What's with the naked girl in the shower, Tony?

TB: Yeah, it seemed like a good idea when I first wrote it (back before I had a kid to protect from such things). It's almost a prerequisite with these kinds of stories -- a little flesh to balance out all that heavy metal. Actually, the scene you refer to is all in fun and not dirty at all. Read the book and you'll see what I mean. It's not meant to be gratuitous, or prurient, or salacious (whatever those words mean). Unless, of course, you like hot chicks in showers, in which case you should buy two copies.

RT: How was it drawing that naked girl in the shower, Jason?

JO: Absolutely gratuitous, prurient and salacious.

RT: What was your first comic book? And Tony, it's been a whole two weeks, some of these answers have to change!

TB: Last time, I said "Turok, Son of Stone," from when I was about four years old. But I didn't really grow up reading comics. Then, when I was sixteen, my girlfriend gave me a copy of "Savage Sword of Conan" that really blew my mind. I couldn't believe someone had put that much work into a comic! Then a friend slipped me "Secret Wars #1"…and I've been trapped in comics Hell ever since!

JO: My first comic book was "Iron Man and Captain America" when I was probably 7 years old. I sketched over and over and over trying to reproduce those images.

RT: What is your favorite comic book of all time?

JO: "Lone Wolf and Cub." 7,000 pages and it still left me wanting more. "The Dark Knight Returns," because it's what made me want to do comics. I Also like "Bone," "Sandman" and "The Preacher" because they show how comics isn't just for superheroes.

TB: Last time, I said "Nexus" and "Swamp Thing." This time, let me mention "Miracleman" (still the most shocking superhero comic ever). The Wachowskis ripped off the battle with Kid Miracleman wholesale in that last "Matrix" movie).

RT: Has there ever been a comic book that touched/changed your life? What was it?

TB: "Swamp Thing #50" - the climax to Alan Moore's "American Gothic" storyline. I actually recounted that one to my Dad's cancer group therapy session. There's a lesson in it about the necessity of evil: that the bad stuff is "the dark loam from which virtue springs strongest." Those poor cancer victims just looked at me like they wondered what I'd been smoking. Nevertheless, as The Jams once put it, "Alan Moore knows the score."

JO: "Batman." Because part of the Batman philosophy is that you can do amazing things if you work hard enough. Even be mistaken for having superpowers.

RT: If you could only write/draw one book for the rest of your career, what would it be? Who would you be partnered with?

JO: I don't know if I'd settle for one book but I would draw lots of books partnered with Tony Bedard. You know as an artist I spent hundreds, heck over a thousand hours so far on "Retro Rocket." It's important to have faith in the project and your partner.

TB: Last time I said it would be anything with Paul Pelletier. Now I realize what I meant to say was Jason Orfalas on our next project (more on that later).

RT: What's the best comic book movie ever made?

TB: Last time I said "The Incredibles." This time, I really must say…"The Incredibles!" Honorable mention: "Sin City."

JO: "Batman Begins." Finally it was done right! "Sin City" was something too wasn't it? The movie was shot like the comic book panel per panel.

RT: What is your weirdest convention experience?

TB: Does anyone out there know "Boximus Prime?" He's a guy who used to come to the San Diego Con dressed in a homemade Transformers costume. It looked like he made it from corrugated cardboard and spray paint. He weighed a couple hundred pounds too many, and halfway through the day he'd be panting and sweating so hard that the cardboard costume was drooping all over him like wet decals. I haven't seen Boximus the past few years…and I worry about him. I love the costume people - the stranger, the better. That James Brown-looking dude in the Superman costume is the best!

JO: I agree with that. But the weirdest has always been seeing an undeserving artist signing autographs whose lines are longer than Alex Ross'. Now that's weird. And one day I hope to be that artist.

RT: If you were remembered for only one thing in your career, what would you want it to be?

JO: You mean besides having a longer line than Alex? But seriously, I want to be remembered for being real, that I was a professional. And that people read my stuff saying; "Wow you know this guy really loved doing this book!"

TB: I always wanted to make comics, and I actually made it happen. It sure ain't Shakespeare, but I actually do what I want for a living. Remember that, and see if you can't go do the same!

Next Week: Walt Simonson!

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