I had the chance to pick up the first two issues of a very impressive series called Razarhawk while on the epic comics quest that was Thought Bubble in November. Best of all, as any con-going fan knows, was the chance to meet and speak to its creators Ian Matthews and Dani Abram; he does the words and she does the draws. While we were all gripped by con-fever it didn’t seem appropriate to start grilling the two of them about their influences and hard work that goes into creating a comic – especially because it was cold in that big room and I still had money left in my wallet to browse elsewhere!
So later the guys were kind enough to sling me some emails to talk about their work, and what follows is the gist of that conversation!
How did you come up with the idea for the Razarhawk series?
IAN: The idea was originally developed to be part of an anthology, so the concept was purposely simple: Giant Robot Vs Giant Monster. These genres were the sum total of my knowledge of Japanese pop/entertainment culture, which I wanted to incorporate elements of into the story for Dani’s benefit, to give her something she’d want to draw. I hadn’t known Dani very long at the time, but I did know that she was a Japan nut. Turns out, the two things she hates drawing are robots and monsters, ha! But even so, as ideas sparked more ideas, we found ourselves wanting to know more about the characters and the world, and quite quickly the concept outgrew the anthology format so we decided to self-publish.
Kitty Hawk is obviously a ‘take no prisoners’ type when it comes to saving the world, but is struggling to exorcise some personal and romantic problems along with it! Who would you say are the main sources of inspiration for her character?
IAN: I’m glad you picked up on the contrast between her professional and personal lives. Right from the beginning we wanted to create a comic that delivered plot-driven, action-packed adventures alongside grounded, soap opera stories, and Kitty’s confident-career-girl-but-hopeless-romantic character gives us a launchpad for that. The main inspiration certainly for the relationship between Kitty and Alex comes from the characters Maggie and Hopey from a comic called Love and Rockets. This is probably because I had really fallen for Love and Rockets just before the opportunity to create RazarHawk happened, so I was reading loads of it at the time. The other character that springs to mind is Starbuck from the reimagined Battlestar Galactica television series, but insofar as I explicitly did not want Kitty to be like Starbuck. Similar to Love and Rockets, I was watching a ton of BattleStar at the time, which probably made me more aware than I needed to be of the fact that they are both female pilot characters. Kitty is not impetuous like Starbuck, and acts with more professional manner. I remember making a point of writing this in my early character breakdowns, LOL. There’s probably a few other characters that have informed Kitty along the way that I can’t think of off the top of my head. I’d say there’s aspects of myself in there as well.
DANI: For me, from an art perspective, my main inspirations for her look definitely come from my balls-out-everyone-knows pure LOVE of Lara Croft, sprinkled with a little Kim Possible! What’s really funny is that no one knows Kitty quite like Ian, even me! I am learning about her along with you guys! I can’t wait to find out what she becomes! Right now, from the first two issues I can tell you she isn’t my favourite, but Ian teases me with future story lines and I just cannot wait to draw her growing a personality! She has been a very hard character to represent so far, in showing little weakness and a bucket ton of determination. I can’t wait to soften her a little and see her more human.
The opening two-part storyline nicely introduces a few of the main players – including some of the employees, both man and ape, over at Terminal 19. What else can readers expect to find out about Kitty’s relationship with this mysterious organisation?
IAN: Well, Terminal 19 is just a facet of a larger organisation known as Stratosphere Operations. The main hub of activity for this organisation is ‘Halo Base’, which is the big floating sky fortress seen in issue #1. A terminal is a kind of drop-in support centre for agents on the ground, and there are many terminals scattered throughout cities disguised as various types of buildings. Most are either un-manned or run by low level agents, but Terminal 19 is staffed by genius scientist Willis Sweeting and his three ape companions Archimedes (orangutan), Sinclair (gorilla) and Micro (monkey). Willis’ smarts should put him well above terminal grunt duty, but you’ll have to keep reading to find out more about that.
As for Kitty Hawk, she’s been working for Strat-Ops for a couple of years or so prior to issue #1 as their key test pilot, mainly involved with developing the XVE-13 RAZAR, the aircraft she flies in issues #1 and #2. She’s undoubtedly top of her game, and her incredible reflexes make her uniquely qualified to pilot crafts at speeds previously unrecorded. Of course, someone this smart and skilled is unlikely to be the puppet that a high-tech, black-ops organisation would want for.
DANI: I’m going to be naughty and say this since Ian didn’t: the monkey scientists were a happy accident! And now they are such a big part of (my love for) Razarhawk that I can’t imagine how they weren’t written in to it right from the very beginning! It’s all the little details and sub-plots that Ian’s wound into the world that makes it really exciting.
How long did it take to fully realise the Razarhawk vision from conception to print?
IAN: A little over two years going from my very first notes and ideas development, but a little under two years going from the first draft of the first story line (which spans issues #1 and 2) and initial character designs. Of course, being small press, huge chunks of those two years went by without any work getting done.
What are the easiest and most difficult things about collaborating on a comic?
IAN: For me the easiest and hardest part of collaborating is the same thing. It’s the stage of our process where we cross over. After I’ve plotted the storyline and drafted rough dialogue, we’ll then sit down together to work up what we call our ‘map’. This is a comprehensive breakdown of every page in a given issue and how the panels on the pages are laid out. I LOVE layouts! I love the infinite possibilities of panel shapes and sizes, and how they sit on a page. It’s why I love comics so much. No other medium can deliver a story to me in such a dynamic visual way. It’s the nuts and bolts of comics and I LOVE IT!! It’s the means by which a reader journeys through a comic – it’s ’storytelling’. And to me storytelling is the equal responsibility of writer and artist, so to work together at this stage makes sense. It’s a hard bastard process of drafting, re-drafting and tweaking. Sometimes things click instantly, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes we argue. Dani’s illustration skills make things a lot easier. She’s getting really good at interpreting my crappy stickman drawings, and her visualisations make me confident enough to see whether to keep or scrap any given idea. Even her tiny little rough thumbnail sketches are beautiful, and I’m jealous of her skills. Ultimately, we both work really hard to design pages that look good, that are fresh and new for our comic, but that don’t trip the reader up. It takes a while, but it’s very rewarding and we’re really proud of all of our layout efforts so far. Once the map for a whole issue is complete and signed off, I feel amazing. Dani then takes over and proceeds making lovely artwork, after which I come back in to add the word balloons and edit dialogue.
The variant covers on issues #1 and #2 are brilliant! How did these come about?
IAN: Glad you like them! We think they are brilliant too! It’s a great way to involve friends and peers. People who are awesome artists, but not necessarily involved in the comics scene. And it’s a great way to see how people with very different styles would take on our characters and world. I think the original plan was to mark each successive printing with a new cover, but we feel like we’ve designed a strong visual theme for Dani’s covers that we want to stick with. As such, we decided on one variant cover for each issue, limited to 100 copies. Huge thanks to Dan (who we coaxed out of painting retirement) and Dave (artist on the amazing small press comic Dexter’s Half Dozen) who’ve provided the variant covers so far. We’ve already asked a friend to do the issue #3 variant when it’s ready, and she said she’s toying with the idea of doing a collage, which I think is an awesome idea!!!
There’s a page on your website dedicated to the Supporters of Razarhawk, and your love for small press comics is what brings you to meet them at so many conventions. How do you feel about seeing your work out there in the big wide world?
IAN: Ha, I’m not sure that it’s quite made it to the big wide world yet. In fact I think I can still see it loitering down the road. Go on, get a move on!!
DANI: Hehe, c’mon Ian, it feels BRILLIANT! We especially love chatting to people at cons. It’s almost our favourite part of this endeavour! Having a great conversation about comics we love with strangers and then them taking a punt on your work is the best feeling! We come away from cons grinning like monkeys and super psyched for the future! In fact, I’d say that’s our most productive window! We also make many new friends!
IAN: You’re right, I bloody love it! 😀
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to write and publish their own comic?
IAN: Make sure you really love comics.
DANI: Like, love love! And make sure you really love working late nights – ooh, and stress! And make sure you hate money anyway.
What else are you guys working on, together and/or separately?
IAN: I’m 100% committed to RazarHawk at the moment. I want to get the ball rolling on the next storyline, so all other project ideas that start kicking up a fuss are being sent to their bedroom without any supper.
DANI: I’m always pretending to be tinkering away at something. Commissions, daydreaming, commissions, BAFTA acceptance speeches, one-offs, commissions… also daydreaming. I’m contributing to The Pride Adventures #2 by Joe Glass, working my butt off as a CG Animator by day (Dani’s work can be seen on The Numtums which just started on CBBC, check it out! – Vin), blogging, baking. I’d also love to finish my Worry Wart online comic properly, since it’s been left hanging a bit!
What 6 famous people (three each!), alive or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party?
IAN: Ummmmmm… Bill Murray, Frank Zappa and Andy Kaufman. I’d serve party food like cheese and pineapple on sticks, sausage rolls, iced gems and party rings. I’d probably do the introductions and then walk out and leave them to it.
DANI: Lara Croft, Wonder Woman and Ian. If I had the bowels for it I’d serve nothing but Haribo.
IAN: Wait, we’re allowed fictional people?! Iwannanothergo!!
What’s next for Razarhawk?
IAN: Well we feel like we’ve fulfilled our initial ‘Giant Robot Vs Giant Monster’ concept with the completion of the second issue and given our readers a tight, focussed, high-octane, roller coaster ride of a story in doing so. We really are proud of our comic so far and think that should you wish to just sample RazarHawk before moving on to discover more great small press comics (like Ronin Dogs, Lou Scannon, Dexter’s Half Dozen, Ironshod Ape) then issues #1 and #2 deliver a satisfying and self-contained story.
However, we’re ready to move on and expand the world of RazarHawk. The next story line will be longer and more involved, and initially we’ll be toning down the action for a bit of drama. Issue #3 will pick up the story ten months or so after the end of issue #2, during which time Alex has moved up to Halo Base to be with Kitty. However, the build of a new XVE-13 has Kitty working solidly. And the arrival of someone from Kitty’s past sparks a bit of a love triangle also. Don’t worry though action fans, it won’t all be Emmerdale in the sky – there’s a terrorist base that needs infiltrating and a rescue attempt to be made, and all sorts of revelations along the way. We hope you’ll join us for the ride.
I’d like to thank Ian and Dani for their time – check out razarhawk.com to get started on what’s gonna be a cracking series!