Reading The Kill Lock, I was immediately gripped by the series about a group of machines cast out from their society. I was stunned by how much personality creator Livio Ramondelli imbued into every character with his photorealistic art style and no facial expressions to rely on. 

This is the first book Livio has written, but you’d never know it from the subtle yet poignant storytelling he employs throughout the first issue. I was really glad for the opportunity to interview the writer/artist about the series and taking the leap into creator-owned comics.

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What (or who) are some of the biggest inspirations on The Kill Lock?

I’ve been a sci-fi fan my entire life so of course, the huge staples like Star Wars and Blade Runner are present. I’ve been lucky enough to tour the world in recent years doing various Comic-Cons, and so I feel in love with Tokyo. There are heavy design influences from walking the Tokyo alleyways that pop up throughout the series. Ridley Scott and David Fincher’s shot design and atmospheric sensibilities are also hugely inspirational for me. And concept artists like Ryan Church and Erik Tiemens were such a huge influence when I first began digital coloring and I still study their work all the time.  

How did you pitch the series to IDW?

I actually finished the first six issues in full before pitching it. I talked to trusted friends throughout the process who gave me great feedback and suggestions. When it was finished I sent it to [Editor-In-Chief of IDW Publishing] John Barber, who passed it along to the Creator-Owned Review Committee, and there was no guarantee it would be greenlit. But I was thrilled when they said yes to it, and I’m so happy it has a home at a company I’ve loved working with for so long now. 

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After years of drawing Transformers comics, what continues to interest you in telling stories about machines?

Sci-Fi has always been such a great field for conveying modern themes with just enough distance to make them more objective. With an all-robot cast you can deal with very serious topics like murder and addiction and it can have a bit more of a dark sense of humor to it. A lot of robots die through the course of the series, and many of them in darkly funny ways. I think if it had been a human cast those scenes would be much more disturbing. 

How do you imbue so much personality into mechanical creatures?

I really tried to write them as characters first, treating them as characters who just happen to be robots. That’s one reason the first line of dialogue we see is what it is – it’s meant to be essentially the last thing you expect a robot to say. The Artisan, in particular, is a character who basically has no filter, so he’ll destroy even the sci-fi tropes you expect a character like him to exist around. A character like The Wraith, who doesn’t even have a face, is one of my favorite designs because I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of trying to convey emotion through a face that doesn’t have traditional features.

Do you think the characters’ shapes go a long way to visually define them, similarly to Ralph McQuarrie’s Star Wars designs?

Absolutely, yes. McQuarrie is an icon and his Star Wars designs are beyond classic. I think there are amazing designs being done today, but sometimes things get so complex they lose that iconic simple shape. I love that a young kid can draw a TIE Fighter or an AT-AT and you instantly know what it is. I definitely strove for strong shapes and very different colors for these four main characters. They’re all different sizes with different eye colors. I wanted them to be distinct. Receiving fan art from readers has been such a fantastic experience, seeing these characters interpreted by other people. And the pin-ups from other established artists that run in the series are also just phenomenal pieces of work.

The protagonists are cast out, bound together by the titular Kill Lock. Why weren’t they killed outright for their crimes?

The Forgers (the upper Echelon Class of their society) view the Kill Lock punishment as something of a twisted mercy sentencing. Similar to how our own society thinks life in prison is more merciful than the death penalty. The Forgers feel that allowing these criminals to wander the galaxy and have freedom is a more enlightened approach. But, as you’ll see in later issues, one of the characters that helped design the Kill Lock has deeply conflicted feelings on it. 

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Will we see more of the larger society the main characters allude to in the first issue?

We get glimpses of the homeworld, but I intentionally wanted to keep the Forgers off-screen as much as possible. I never wanted the story to be too bound-down by exposition about how their society works, unless it’s crucial to the plot. But we definitely travel to other planets and see a lot more of this universe.

What have you learned about yourself over the course of making your first creator-owned series?

Great question! I definitely found that the enjoyment of creating my own story and seeing it published was an even richer experience than I expected. I’m absolutely focused on creating more original stories now. Also, as one of the bonus features in upcoming issues, the great psychologist, Dr. Andrea Letamendi (co-host of The Arkham Sessions with Brian Ward) will be writing detailed psychological profiles of the main characters. It didn’t even occur to me that those profiles would also sort of cover aspects of myself, since all the characters came from me. So that has proven to be a very interesting and insightful experience! 

And I just want to thank everyone who has picked up this series and written me emails or sent me fan art. It’s truly meant the absolute world to me.

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Follow Livio through his website, on Twitter @LivioRamondelli and on Instagram @livioramondelli. The first issue of The Kill Lock is on sale now.

Matt Chats is an interview series featuring discussions with a creator or player in comics, diving deep into industry, process, and creative topics. Find its author, Matt O’Keefe, on Twitter and  Tumblr. Email him with questions, comments, complaints, or whatever else is on your mind at [email protected].