April 20th is a date years in the making – the day Collin Kelly, Jackson Lanzing (Grayson) and Marcus To (Hacktivist) are launching their very first creator-owned series: Joyride. They aren’t tackling the series alone either, the three creators are joined by colorist Irma Kniivila (Captain Canuck). The Beat interviewed Kelly two years ago in advance of the series which was announced at the tail end of a documentary about the R.A.I.D. studio. Kelly, Lanzing and To all became engulfed in a sea of projects from DC Comics that led to a flood of delays on the series – but now the four-issue mini is actively in development again with the first issue out today. Aside from the incredibly brilliant artwork from industry masterminds Marcus To and Irma Kniivila, Lanzing told The Beat why you should be reading the comic book.
Can you talk about the inception of Joyride from the AT&T U-Verse Documentary in 2014 all the way to now?
Yeah, of course– it’s an incredibly long process. Basically the way that it happened, is that we had worked with Marcus on Hacktivist Volume One and we really enjoyed that process. We felt that he hit a stride and really spoke our language and we spoke his. We all felt we really hit that on Hacktivist, so it was really important that we found something else that we could work on together with that feel if possible. While we felt a lot of pride for Hacktivist, it wasn’t something that was created directly from us, it was created by Alyssa Milano – we really wanted some way to come up with a book that we actually own. Marcus was in a similar boat, he did a lot of work-for-hire but he hadn’t had his creator-owned book yet, because he just hadn’t found the right writer. I think it was Stephen Christy actually over at BOOM! Studios who whispered in my ear at a party; “hey I think Marcus might want to do a book with you.”
We reached out to Marcus and he came back to us with 48-pages of a book that he had written and drew in high school called Maximum Velocity. The story is about these kids who steal a spaceship and go into space. It was kind of this like super action-heavy really fun science fiction adventure. Weirdly enough, Collin and I had been working on a feature spec (script) at the time. We were like: “that’s interesting,” we had this story about a star ship. Out of that process we had an initial brainstorming session which is where most of our work comes from. We mostly spend our time arguing back-and-forth on an idea until we have something that we love. So, we did that on Joyride until we had Joyride— the title came out of that conversation and the characters came out of that conversation.
Then we had a book that we were getting ready to pitch. Stephen came up to us and said “hey” we are making this AT&T U-Verse documentary with F.J. Desanto (Cyborg 009)about the R.A.I.D. Studio, the royal academy of art, illustration and design. They said look it would be really great for the doc if you guys were ready to pitch this for a month or so in June at San Diego Comic-Con and film the whole thing. They were like, oh we want to get this on camera and show what it was like to pitch a book and hope to God that they liked it enough to say yes.
It has been two years now since we have been working on the book and getting the book done, which was the next book on our plate. Prepping and getting ready for this book has been stalled with the production of Hacktivist 2 which obviously took all of our time and Marcus’ time for six months.
Over the course of those two years we were trading story idea and design concepts for the series. We were prepping our minds for what we are about to embark on. We didn’t actually start getting ready to write the comic until about five months ago.
Have you changed the story at all since the series was in development again?
The core concept didn’t change – I actually have the first concept that I sent to Marcus. We still had the planet where this girl grows up on – she doesn’t want to be an outsider, but there’s nowhere else to go but Earth. This girl named Uma makes friends with a kid that is a lot more sheltered than her. The two of them make plans to get the heck off of this rock and end up getting stuck with a third kid who is a full on member of this future fascist planet sort of a version of the Nazi’s called the Allied Youth. The three of them set off on this spaceship to find adventure and maybe find somewhere they belong.
They team up with a robot on the ship called The Bot. Starting in Issue #2 they will meet a character called Coalstack the Wanderer who is the old man of our little team, the character who actually knows where they are going and what they are doing and what that will be resulting to. He himself has his own Tom Waits(by) way of getting around. Those five characters have all been there since the beginning, they are in the first document and they are still the core of the book.
Certain aspects of the book have changed overtime such as how we are planning to tell the story. If you look back at that first pitch doc it says we are going to start the book in media res and be out there to start the book in outer space. Starting in issue one to just kick it off I think we decided not to do that after writing a version of that script. It felt honestly like we were missing some of our most important introductory content. We were sacrificing clarity for adventure. We really wanted to make sure we had the first issue to let you know what that Earth was like, why these kids were leaving and what they were leaving behind and what they were running towards.
So, that was a big change and that was a big adjustment that we did, where we kind of stepped back and changed what we were planning on doing for issue one at the time that we started writing the actual individual issues. The only other changeover from when we actually pitched the book to when we made it was that when we pitched the book, the colorist was Ian Herring who had done Hacktivist with us and who is an incredible colorist. Now that we are in production we are working with Irma Kniivila who is astounding and very different from Ian. She knows how he does things and knows how to do her own thing. To me, the colors on Joyride are the star of the book. She was not the colorist on any of the pitch materials and I look back on the pitch materials and think; this book could have looked very different.
In regards to the pacing, I really thought it was interesting how you talked about setting everything on the ship first. It seems like you and co-writer Collin Kelly were balancing a lot of plot elements. Can you talk about the role and utility of pacing in this first issue?
I would actually say that pacing is something that we look at a lot especially in our work right now. We are still pretty new at writing comic books. We have been writing features and television together for eight years, almost ten years at this point. Comics we have only been doing together for about three years. Adventure comics and superhero comics and episodic comics even less. So, one thing that I have been finding a lot is that we have a lot of ideas and we have a lot of exposition and character and we want to make sure that it all fits into in this particular case, say 22-pages. That’s a lot to fit, specifically in this first issue where we are really trying to establish a lot of things we really have to be utilitarian in our thinking. We sort of had to think, alright well, where are going to spend those pages?
Where are we going to spend those cards really hard and where can we back off and let the art tell the story and let the world open up– since Marcus is so incredible and a big part of this book is being a showcase for him. So if you look at that first scene when the book opens we find Uma and Dewydd on a rooftop and Uma’s watching the news and the news is being projected against buildings.
It’s a fascist concept where everybody is watching the same fascist propaganda and out of that we get everything we need to know about; okay this is planet, they build a big shell out of the planet, they aren’t going to leave, they don’t want to leave and they reinforce that everyday and Uma doesn’t like it. We get that all in that first page and hopefully get a lot of that sense of who she is in her reaction. By the time that we get to page four, there’s just one dialogue caption and then a big double-page spread where you get to see the moon gun and see Uma on her way. From there, it was really about getting to the ship as fast and smart as we could.
Each issue has a character’s point-of-view starting with Issue #2 we are going to introduce first-person voiceover, one character per issue. In that second issue, you are going to Katrin’s perspective on what’s going on, in that third issue you are going to get Dewydd’s perspective on what’s going on, in the fourth issue, you are going to get Uma’s perspective.
A lot of the Image work right now that takes on sci-fi concepts like these seem to be very dark. There’s no DC or Marvel property right now that takes on the exact tone of your series. Is the tone of Joyride something that you were looking for in the direct market, and maybe you have this story to fill its own sort of niche.
Here’s what I think; we are very consciously trying to swim a little bit against the concept of a dark science fiction theme – I love these books – I don’t want to come out and say; I looked at the direct market and I didn’t see especially good science fiction or especially good space fiction. I loved Southern Cross for instance, which is a very dark book concerned with the darker weirder aspects of space travel. What I think we are looking to do with Joyride is channel the energy that we feel is our voice which is something maybe people haven’t encountered yet – Hacktivist is not a standard Jackson/Collin project. We like to be more exuberant, we like to throw crazy ideas at the wall, we like to grow bigger and weirder. We have so far in the comics market where we have given our voice over at other creative powers. That doesn’t mean we haven’t found our voice in projects like Hacktivist, we do – you can find that stronger in volume two with Grace.
We are coming onto Grayson now and Grayson is a great, great book – it’s my favorite book at DC right now, but ultimately we are coming into pick up a story that has already been established by Tim Seeley and Tom King who are incredible writers and have very specific voices and very specific styles that we are not going to try to copy, but we don’t want to take the book totally in our direction, but it’s already too late for that. Joyride is the one place (so far) that is definitively ours. We built it with Marcus and Marcus is more than half of the book, he is the entire visual style of this book and the genesis comes from this and the voice of how the characters are is Collin and me. It wasn’t about we’re looking for something in the direct market and we haven’t found it – it’s more let’s do our version of the sci-fi that won’t look like that. I hope what Joyride can do is sit somewhere between Lumberjanes and The Wicked and The Divine. You are reading Wic Div and it’s like a really good Radiohead track and if you want to listen to a Taylor Swift song, you pop in Joyride.
How does Marcus bring everything together on the page?
I think the biggest secret of Marcus To that most of the industry hasn’t figured out yet is that Marcus can do anything. Literally anything. If you give Marcus a challenge as an artist, he will rise to it, but maybe not in the way you think he will, but he will rise to those challenges. For instance on Hacktivist, we had a deal with Marcus; how we made sure that we were up to that task was throughout Hacktivist we gave him concepts. In Hacktivist 2 there was a thirty-panel double-page spread in Issue #5 of Hacktivist #2 and there was a bunch of stuff. We talk and then he takes it and runs in Joyride. His superpower to me is that you can give him crazy layouts and he will pull off crazy layouts and crazy stuff, but when you quiet the book down, and you just focus on acting that’s Marcus’ best strength. His acting is as far as I’m concerned the best.
Joyride #1 is available this Wednesday in comic book stores and Comixology.
Joyride #1 (of 4)
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Writers: Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly
Artist: Marcus To
Cover artist: Marcus To
Format: 32 pages, full color
On sale: April 13
Synopsis: What’s to Love: After working together on Hacktivist and Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials original graphic novel, the writing duo of Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly (“Batman and Robin Eternal”) join forces once again with artist Marcus To (“New Warriors,” “The Flash: Season Zero”) for their first creator-owned series that takes readers to the stars in this space epic with a punk-rock attitude, perfect for fans of “Young Avengers” and “Runaways.”
What It Is: In the future, Earth sucks. The stars have been blocked out for so long that people have forgotten there was anything else besides the dumb World Government Alliance watching over them, training children to join the militarized Allied Youth and eliminating all resistance with a giant ray gun. Uma Akkolyte is a girl who shoots first and leaps before she looks, and when she gets a strange message from outside the barricades of SafeSky, she jacks a spaceship and punches through the stratosphere with an unlikely crew of teens who are totally not ready for what they’re about to find.