Creators Of "Ursa Minors!" Explain Their Major Idea: Slackers In Bear Suits!

Fri, June 9th, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
George A. Tramountanas, Staff Writer

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Slackers in Bear Suits – does anything else truly need to be said? How about an enticing clarification: Robotic Bear Suits…and they fight crime! That is, when they're not distracted by beer, women, comic books, and '80s pop culture. Ah bliss…

"Ursa Minors!" is a fun four-issue miniseries coming to you this month from Slave Labor Graphics (SLG). It's written by Neil Kleid ("Ninety Candles," "Brownsville," "The Intimidators") and newcomer Paul Cote with art by Fernando Pinto. In the book, the three aforementioned slackers (Tom, Richard and Harry) have fabulous suits of bear armor that grant them incredible strength, along with night vision goggles and razor sharp claws to boot. They spend their days…well, slacking and occasionally protecting the good citizens of Bigby City from dinosaurs, robotic movie directors and weird foes named after obscure Russian poets.

And if the book's description doesn't sound bizarre enough, just try having a conversation with its three creators. That said, if the book is even half as funny as their responses to our questions, readers are in for a treat. So please join us at CBR News, as we take a magic carpet ride with writers and artist of "Ursa Minors!"

So, the characters' names are Tom, Dick and Harry, huh? Who came up with these clever monikers?

NEIL KLEID: The universe, George. These names are just out there floating in the ether, waiting for some lucky, blessed writer to come along and pick them from Ideaspace and tie them together in blissful, comic book harmony.

...damn, these are some good 'shrooms.

PAUL COTE: When Neil and I were first starting out on the idea of "Ursa Minors!," we had to come up with names for our three lead characters. So, in a stroke of inspiration, I remembered an old cartoon I used to watch that featured the high jinks of three college chums named Tom, Dick and Harry, which seemed perfect for our particular trio.

Neil liked the names and we went from there. Oh, and incidentally, Richard hates being called Dick – it really grinds his gears.

FERNANDO PINTO: Yeah, Neil and Paul picked them…and these are good 'shrooms.

Neil, in talking about the art of the book, you said, "Pinto's touches include a zipper in every robotic bear suit." In response, Fernando explained, "I always wondered how Iron Man went to the bathroom in that big clunky armor, so I decided to address that."

This led me to wonder…do we get to see them "use" the zipper?

PINTO: I really hope not. I have nightmares about that sort of stuff…unless that'll bring in the lady readers. Then I'd do it gladly.

I apparently have the artistic standards of a wannabe actress that just got off the bus in L.A.

KLEID: You'd like that, wouldn't you, George? Doesn't the CBLDF have enough on its plate these days?

The zipper in Fernando's quote, by the way, refers to the zipper within us all.

...seriously. great 'shrooms.

COTE: We'll save that answer for the "Ursa Minors! vs. The Bran Lords" One-Shot.

Nothing sells a comic like bathroom humor!

So, the book has "Robotic Movie Directors?" Does this mean Michael Bay has a cameo? And which of you are a fan of Russian poets?

PINTO: Unless "brewsky" is indeed a Russian poet, I got no answer for you.

COTE: I'm not really big on classical Russian literature, the only really famous Russian I do enjoy is Pavel Chekov. Why? Two words: "Nuclear wessels." That's the kind of poetry I'm talking about!

KLEID: Well, who among us doesn't enjoy a good "Pushkin" joke, George? Is it you? It's you, isn't it? Embrace the Pushkin, George. Embrace the Yevtushenko.

No, Mister Bay does not make an appearance in our little vaudeville performance; however, some of his contemporaries and their work do – from Kevin Smith to the works of John Landis and, of course, an obscure actor-director who goes by the name of Shatner.

Though "Armageddon" was the bomb.

PINTO: I'm more of a "Bad Boys 1" fan myself…

So the three main characters are easily distracted by women, beer, and comic books? What kinds of beer and comic books? (I'll make certain assumptions about the kinds of women that distract them…) And what kinds of beer and comics do you guys like?

KLEID: Our boys (the amazing Bears One, Two and Three) dig on Red Stripe Beer – brewed, loved and fought over by Jamaicans the world over. Comics-wise, they each have their own diverse flava, as the youth today are wont to say.

Tom (a.k.a. Bear One) enjoys a good, insightful graphic novel on the weekends but spends his New Comic Wednesday poring through copies of "Betty and Veronica" with his girl, Rena, and old copies of "DNAgents" for himself.

Harry (Bear Two) is the resident fanboy whose pull list often involves three trucks and handcart, and includes titles ranging from "Ralph n' Sue: Identity Crisis Adventures" to "Ultimate Maus" – but don't even mention the word "Pre-Crisis" in his presence. There was…an incident.

Finally, Richard (Bear Three) – our English import – drools over all sorts of fare from the creators on his home island, long may her Queen randomly shoot people from the top of Big Ben. He likes "Judge Dredd," "Seven Soldiers," old copies of Escape Magazine, "Sandman," and of course, everything his dear uncle (England's finest purveyour of science fiction and erotic graphic novels) has written – from "Strangecops" to "Big City Yid."

Now me, I tend to hang my hat in the non-superhero camp with titles like Nick Bertozzi's "Rubber Necker," "Strangers in Paradise," "Queen and Country, "DMZ," "Scott Pilgrim," "Fell" and ride the line with "Planetary," Sean Wang's "Runners" and old issues of "Starman." Lately, I've been getting into big-bite graphic novels like "Bone," "Castle Waiting," "Age of Bronze" and "Finder" – you know, epic stories you can sit with and really immerse yourself into, body, soul and filthy parts.

COTE: Favorite beers – Guinness, Miller Genuine Draft, Budweiser, Red Stripe, Molson Canadian.

Favorite comics – "Scud: The Disposable Assassin," "The Tick" and, of course, "The Red Star."

PINTO: I wouldn't kick a Budweiser or a Corona out of bed, if you ask me.

As for comics, let's see – "Bodybags," "Stray Bullets," Milligan and Fegredo's "Girl," "Hellboy," "100 Bullets," "Hard Boiled," "MBQ," "Hitman," "Battle Chasers," "Obergeist," "Fray," and many, many more…

Regarding the book's content, Paul has also said that "this is a comic about guys in robotic bear suits, beer, midgets with weird sex fetishes, and loads of happy-go-lucky skull-crushing violence!"

There's a midget in Neil's "Intimidators" comic (published by Image) as well. Neil, what's with you and midgets?

KLEID: Just trying to hit all the demographics, George. Little people are people, too.

PINTO: Midgets are people – put 'em next to ninjas and you got a hit!

Well, can you give me a hint about the "weird sex fetishes?" Since the book has bear suits, does someone like to do it "Pooh Bear"-style? (okay, that sounded wrong...)

PINTO: You are a dirty, dirty man…and I love you for it.

KLEID: I'll refrain from making "honeypot" jokes here.

Thanks. And this begs the question – why bear suits? Rhino suits are more popular, aren't they? At least, that's what Doc Ock said…

PINTO: I think the word "Rhino" is owned by Richard Starking, and you don't want to mess in other people's gardens, knowhatumsayin'?

COTE: I'd like to point out that a certain Marvelous company has had a character in a rhino suit for quite some time. So instead of us making fun of a trademarked character with beer drinking contests and goofy situations at the office, we went with bear suits so we wouldn't get sued. Plus, you don't want to get Stan Lee angry…you wouldn't like him when he's angry.

KLEID: Well, originally they were ape suits. Paul and I were Instant Messaging each other one day about the potential hilarity of a trio of gorilla lawyers in Armani suits and briefcases. We were planning on going the "Law and Order: Monkey Victims Unit"-route with the series until we decided that: a) Monkeys are so 2003; b) Who doesn't like robotic bears? and c) Your mother.

And funny you should mention rhinos: back around the time Paul and I started developing "Ursa Minors!," I wrote a 96-page graphic novel entitled "Rhinoceros Jones, Underworld Hitman" with artist Marc McKenzie. Marc completed about twenty or so pages and then disappeared, but I'm really proud of that one. I have some sample pages and character sketches for any publisher that wants to take a chance on a rhino and a dream...

Do we learn the origins of the bear suits in this initial miniseries? Or is that a tale for another time?

PINTO: I dunno, but you'll get a lot of jokes about were babies come from, and that's just as good, right?

KLEID: Of course! What do you think – that we'd tell you that next issue you'll see the amazing origin of these fantastic ursine suits and then leave you hanging? You think we're bold enough to say "Next issue: How the Boys Got Their Robot Bear Suits!," and then when you get next month's installment, it's 22 more pages of sexy high jinks and non sequitur time travel jokes?

Are we that cruel? Are we not bears?

COTE: Truth be told, the origins of the wondrous suits may never be revealed because we didn't want to go a typical "origin story" that would clutter the series with unnecessary backstory. This isn't a serious comic by any stretch of the imagination.

What is the story of this miniseries?

KLEID: The touching story of three men who bond via fabulous form-fitting suits of armor that happen to resemble big, giant bears. It's the tale of three idiots, full of sound and fury, in the end signifying nothing.

It's "Seinfeld," but with Bear Suits. And ninjas. And cussing.

PINTO: Take "Citizen Kane," and replace the fat dude with a Bear. And throw some ninjas in there too. And run it for four issues.

COTE: It's a different, wacky situation in each issue for our heroes because the concept lets us play with a lot of our favorite genres, and just lets our respective imaginations run wild.

How would you characterize this book? I've heard Neil call it a "fight comic," but what does that mean?

COTE: I'd rather call it an action/comedy book, because it features funny gags and broken jaws. For the sake of brevity, we can call it a "combatcom" book.

KLEID: Actually, thinking about it more I believe that this is not so much a "fight" comic as it is an "IM Comic." A fight comic like, say, "Nextwave," "Sharknife" or "Scott Pilgrim" has that video game-mentality where shit just happens: you fight some bosses and move along with your life until more shit happens. Why are you fighting? Who knows! Big giant dragon! Attack!

An "IM Comic," however, is one of those stories you come up with over Instant Messenger with your pal at 2pm in the afternoon when you're at your day job and avoiding filling out TPS Reports or some such, hopped-up on sugar cookies, Mr. Pibb and, if you're lucky enough to have my job, mescaline. It's a comic where the structure is built between IM windows and the meat is filled in with pop culture references, hackneyed Flintstones plot devices and pure, unadulterated love of comic books.

PINTO: It's just a fun comic, man. No life-changing revelations here, just get your smoking jacket, your fez hat and bubble pipe, sit down and enjoy it. Plus, you get a whole story per issue, more bang for your buck, as the kids say. You one of those people who doesn't want to wait for a trade to get a whole story? Buy our book.

Oh and there's fighting too…

Neil and Paul, how did you two meet?

KLEID: Paul and I met on the battlefields of Bastogne, huddled together in the trenches amidst the men of Easy Company as we waited for those goldarned Huns to show their yella faces. Sitting there, pressing ourselves against one another for warmth, we began confessing our mutual love for comic books and made a solid pact that one day, if we lived out the War, we'd go in together and make a comic book.

Paul died there on the snow-covered fields, but his memory and pickled brain lives on inside Fernando's external biological hard-drive, pumping out comedy gold from beyond the grave. I salute you, Paul Cote. America salutes you.

COTE: Neil and I have known each other off-and-on for about five years. We met through the long-defunct Warren Ellis Forum on Delphi, and we immediately hit it off because of our similar interests: comic books, booze and old Saturday morning cartoons from the 1980's. The three tenets of any good friendship, I should say.

I can't argue with that. For all three of you, what was the process like working together?

PINTO: Like a heaven and orgasm sandwich…supersized!

KLEID: Turn on IM provider. Wait until Paul's hangover clears and he signs on. Chat, chat, chat. Obscure Voltron reference. Chat, chat, chat. Copy and paste into Microsoft Word. Format notes and pee jokes into workable, viable script. Email to Paul and let him add some ideas of his own. Paul sends his version back and I edit all of his stuff out and add more pee jokes and ninja fights. Send to 'Nando who draws it up all purty with a crayon and a computer he built from the bones and blood of thirty Microsoft programmers. Proof while drinking and then send to Slave Labor where they edit the hell out of it. Cry until the tears no longer burn.

PINTO: It's only the bones of 29 Microsoft programmers, the 30th dude was just the maintenance guy…but the dude just would not shut up.

COTE: I think Neil and I work so well together because we both share a twisted sense of humor and the love of a good gag involving mud wrestling, the Olsen Twins and the Kool Aid Man – oh yeah!!

So the process of hammering out the story for a particular issue is relatively painless. We just throw ideas at each other until they stick together and form a coherent blob of wackiness that ends up in the form of a script. Then we revise it, remove the nineteen other midget jokes, and send it over to Fernando to visualize with his mad penciling skillz. And that's how the magic of "Ursa Minors!" happens, more or less.

In some of the preview pages, I saw a reference to "Ice Pirates." Heh, I can't believe you'd mention that flick. What other 80's references do you include?

KLEID: Jeez, what don't we reference? In these four issues alone, you'll get a bit of "Animal House," "Quantum Leap," "My Little Pony," Howard Hesseman, "Rad Racer" and old school non-suck Nintendo, Shatner by the pound, Gallagher, Doug Henning, "Time Bandits" and…oh man, going into nostalgia overload here.

COTE: Why wouldn't we reference "Ice Pirates?" It's got a robot named Percy, and a scene where the male crewmembers get turned into eunuchs on a conveyor belt! What's not to love?

There's a brickload of references throughout the miniseries which may or may not include: William Shatner, "Harry Potter," "Star Wars," "Star Trek," Warren Ellis, Blue Oyster Cult, "Godzilla" movies. Everything and anything we could think of, we threw in. For we know no fear and want you, the discerning comics reader, to have a great damn time reading our book.

PINTO: There's so many '80s references I this, you'd think you're watching a ten hour VH1 Special full of non-celebrities trying to be witty and failing miserably…

But with fighting.

It sounds like a handy reference tool for the young'ins out there. So what are some of your favorite '80s movies, songs, and TV shows?

KLEID: Growing up in the eighties I gravitated to the usual guy fare – "GI Joe," "Transformers," "He-Man" and "Secret Wars"/"Super Powers" toys. Movie-wise, you can't go wrong with "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "The Breakfast Club" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," but I'll also admit to a fierce love for old school Roger Moore "James Bond" flicks and deep, insightful episodes of "Diff'rent Strokes" and "Airwolf."

Eighties music can kiss my ass. Except for you, New Edition. Come back soon.

PINTO: "Back to the Future" (all 3 of them), "Perfect Strangers," "ALF," "The A Team," "GI Joe," "Transformers," "Full House" and many, many more.

And yes, hair metal can kiss my ass, except for Guns N' Roses. "Appetite for Destruction," baby!

That's a lot of ass-kissing. On a semi-serious note - how did the book end up at SLG?

KLEID: Pretty straight-forward, actually. We put together a pitch packet with seven pages and the one-off teaser strips and handed them out to publishers at SPX. Half a year later, Dan Vado (President and Publisher of Slave Labor Graphics) called me back and said he was interested in publishing it.

COTE: SLG saw what we were trying to do with "Ursa Minors!" and gave us a chance. I'm glad they did, because our book really does fit in well their broad range of titles.

The book arrives in stores this month and will come out bi-monthly. How was the schedule decided?

KLEID: SLG handed that down. Suppose it makes it easier, production-wise.

PINTO: I like it this way since I'm doing pencils, inks and letters on this badboy, and there's only so much Red Bull a man can drink before you start seeing pixies with chainsaws floating around your drawing board.

COTE: I'm not unhappy with it since it gives us time to work on making each issue of "Ursa Minors!" better than the last.

I've heard mixed results sales-wise with bi-monthly schedules. Do you have any opinion on what works best between monthly/bi-monthly/trades?

PINTO: I dig 'em both, personally. And you need to have the monthlies in order to have something to put in the trades (that sounds really stupid, but most people apparently don't consider that when spouting strong opinions on the net). They both work, and usually if a book is good enough and has the appropriate support from its editorial team (which I believe we have in spades), it can surpass any format constrictions it may have.

Now it's only a matter of seeing if the readers like it…please?

KLEID: Well, I'm a huge believer in a monthly store presence, but I also think that trades/graphic novels/digests are the way to go to increase mainstream bookstore awareness. There's something alluring about the monthly "single" format, sure, but nothing gives you a quick jolly in your jockeys like hefting that big ol' book with your name on it.

I will say this – most folks think that bi-monthly means "the book isn't done/late shipping". Not true – issues one and two are in the can as we speak, and 'Nando is inking and lettering issue three (set to ship in October) right now. So we're on time, suckers. Er, I mean "adoring fans."

Love us?

Of course we do. And what gets you most excited about this book?

PINTO: The fact that it's finally getting out into the public.

And reading what people have to say on the net and other news outlets – and please guys, leave my family out of the hate mail comments, okay?

COTE: This comic is like the amalgamation of everything that's running through our crazy minds on a daily basis, and it's just a pure dose of fun that I'm only too happy to deal out in copious amounts!

KLEID: The free sensual backrub from SLG Commander-in-Chief Dan Vado with every hundred copies you buy.

That and the level of care we've taken in melding classic popular culture icons into one, as we do during the "Animal House"/"Harry Potter" tribute in issue three.

I'm serious about that, by the way.

For people who fall in love with "Ursa Minors!" (and I'm sure there will be many), do any of you have other projects in the works that readers can look forward to?

PINTO: Aside from the project we are pitching with Neil, I got a couple of things on the works for the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle" books with the guys at Mirage. And I'm finishing the pencils on a graphic novel I'm doing with my friend Jerrod Kloetzer called "New World Rising." It's a more serious crime/sci-fi book that asks the question, "What wouldn't you do if you could get away with anything?" We are planning on having a rough cut copy of it for the San Diego Con to start looking for publishing venues.

KLEID: 'Nando and I are pitching around an all-ages epic right now, but in the meantime, I am writing and drawing "Migdal David," a graphic novel about growing up with a developmental disability in an Orthodox Jewish home set to debut late '07 from Seraphic Press. It's the story of my brother David that compares and contrasts the struggles we faced educationally and religiously.

Eisner-nominated artist Scott Chantler and I are about to begin the art phase of my next graphic novel from NBM Publishing entitled "The Big Kahn," the story of deceased pulpit Rabbi David Kahn who, upon his death, is revealed to have been lying to his family and congregation for forty years – he isn't even Jewish. It's very "Six Feet Under" and focuses on how his family deals with it.

Finally, "Brownsville" artist Jake Allen and I have a few things in the pipeline: a short story in "Postcards" (an upcoming anthology) and we've broken ground on our next original graphic novel, "Dead Ronin." It's the story of an exiled samurai circa 1909 who flees Japan for gang-infested San Francisco right after the Asian-American Act is, uh, "enacted." It's currently sans publisher, but there's interest.

COTE: Since this is my first project and one that I enjoy working on, I can only hope SLG lets us to do the inevitable sequel that will have Tom, Richard, and Harry manage a little league baseball team...from Mars! Guest-starring Jason Bateman as the Ghost of Jason Bateman!

I could be kidding, or am I? Only time and profit margins will tell!

 
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