Cars are everywhere in Petrol Head, from the title to the cover to the stunning kinetic artwork. And they all come courtesy of artist Pye Parr, who also handles the book’s letters. Generally, cars tend to rank fairly high on the list of things comics artists don’t want to draw (perhaps just below horses), but Parr actually enjoys illustrating them.

And it’s a good thing he does, because his new car-heavy creator-owned comic with writer Rob Williams is an absolute stunner. The artwork is gorgeous. The designs beg to be turned into toys. The world is immersive. And the story from page to page is loaded with humor and heart. Due out in November, the book seems likely to be a breakout hit.

It’s available for pre-order now, and ahead of release, Rob and Pye both took time out to talk about this book’s origin, the designs for all those cars, and much more. You can find our chat — along with several complete pages from the over-sized first issue — below. Enjoy!

Williams, Parr talk PETROL HEAD

ZACK QUAINTANCE: How did you approach the car scenes with an eye toward making them matter and drawing the reader in?

ROB WILLIAMS: How the book came about, Pye was doing these amazing prints and posters of hot rod robots and futurist hot rods. I thought, ‘This is begging to be a comic.’ I asked if he was interested in doing that, and then it was a case of us building the cast and story. You’ve got to have a narrative drive, and you’ve got to have characters you care about. If it’s just just robots racing, no one potentially gives a shit, you know? But the main selling point of the book is those race sequences just pop off the page. I think that’s a real rarity.

Petrol Head

PYE PARR: In everything we’ve drawn so far, the outcome never really matters. The races are there to tell you about other things going on. It’s about what Petrol Head is like as a character or to escape danger or something else happening. We never really go into who is first place. I don’t care about that. 

ROB: There’s very little drama in a story about who the best racing driver is. 

PYE: Or everything ends up being like a Tom Cruise movie.

ROB: There’s some skill in that. Tom Cruise has to be the best secret agent or best fighter pilot, and it’s a skill to keep you engaged. But from our point of view, there’s a lot more immediate real estate that in our world Petrol Head is not one of the best hot rod drivers. He’s a bad design for a hot rod racing robot, which makes him an underdog and hopefully makes you care.

ZACK: Can you talk a little bit about the collaborative process on this book?

PYE: I’ve been designing random cars for ages with the vague idea of doing something or other with them. I was in lockdown, just getting very bored. So, I did some posters. Then Rob comes up to me and says, ‘These are great, let’s turn this into a story.’

Then immediately we didn’t use any of the posters. It’s more of a sort of stylistic point than them being characters in the story. His first note to me about the main character was he’s got to be a bruiser, and he’s got to literally have an engine for a head. The whole thing was just a pun immediately, which I quite like.

ROB: Sometimes titles are like pulling teeth, but this one we came up with the title Petrol Head quite early, and it pointed us in the right direction. He’s a character who belches petrol. It all ties into the underdog status of who he is. In our story, there’s a climate emergency and what’s left of humanity is living in dome cities…and we’ve got a lead character who’s obsolete who literally belches petrol out of his head. So he’s to be avoided.

In the first scene in the book, he goes to a part of the city he’s not allowed into anymore. Humans start pointing and call the police just because he’s there. He’s an old and outdated and quite a sad character when we first meet him. It’s all built out a character. His car feels right for him; it’s not a super sleek thing. It’s quite chunky. It’s all building this feeling of underdog status.

ZACK: And his best friend is a sarcastic bird who might be smarter than him, messing with all the cats on the street.

ROB: His best friend is called Dave, and before he sings, he does an ahem. I quite like that, like he’s self conscious or something. 

Petrol Head

ZACK: There’s a lot of ideas in this book, from climate change to outsourcing entertainment ideas to the masses. Did that organically come after you started?

ROB: There’s a line that’s easy to miss. One of our main characters is a super smart, 12 year-old girl, and she says, ‘They set up these racing robots with these big races to crash into one another to keep people entertained to take their mind off the fact that their entire world died. Pye and I both come from 2000 AD with that sort of satirical edge and futurism.

PYE: I like that all the robots are cynically made and designed, with the exception of Petrol Head, who is just built from leftover parts. The other robots are designed to appeal to a specific demographic. They’ve been very by made committee, which is cynical.

ROB: Our big bad guy is called The O, who was this awesome design by Pye. He’s an administrative robot, but he’s got this huge head, which he has to have to deal with being in control of the entire city.

It’s really not a meta book, but there’s one or two little meta things in it. In the race we see it doesn’t go according to plan because of something Petrol Head does — he cheats, which throws the entire plan off. Then he immediately goes, Narrative pivot!

PYE: It’s like live direction in professional wrestling.

ZACK: That’s definitely what it felt like. I also wanted to ask you specifically about the color palette you chose, which you could call rainbow apocalypse.

PYE: The unromantic answer is that I quite like orange. But yeah, I deliberately wanted to make everything false color. I’d like to say there’s a reason behind that. But there isn’t. It just sort of makes it all otherworldly. It’s constant splashes of either green smog or orange light, reminding you they’re not anywhere other than this quite artificial environment.

But frankly I just like to make everything as bright as possible.

ROB: It’s a book that blasts your eyes. Those colors really pop off the shelves.

PYE: Talking about color, years ago when I was working at 2000AD as a designer, some feedback we had from some covers we’d done was that we used too much pink. It absolutely infuriated me, because every cover we did was 90 percent black and no one ever noted that. It absolutely infuriated me. So, it’s been my mission in life to make everything as bright as possible. 

ZACK: I wanted to ask each of you what your relationship to cars is like and how it inspired this book?

PYE: I quite like motor racing and vintage cars as well. Vintage racing is something my family has always done. There’s a vintage race that happens at Goodwood every year in this country, and I’ve done that every year for 10 years or so. I’ve just got a soft spot for old technology. I’m not bothered by Formula 1, but if it’s got skinny tires and you can see weird parts of an old engine hanging out of it, I find that exciting.

ZACK: It’s much more charming.

PYE: Exactly, and you get much more idiosyncratic cars. Things aren’t designed by computers at that point. The design is more what people came up with to get around things. You get much more experimentation in the way things look. It’s far more interesting. 

ROB: I think it comes across in Petrol Head’s car. When Pye sent the designs, I was like, ‘That’s amazing, but you’re going to have to draw that in every issue.’

Petrol Head

PYE: It’s a spoiler, but I was quite happy when you don’t see the car for a little while. I could have just given it a bonnet.

ROB: Maybe in series two there will be a bonnet. There’s a spoiler for you.

ZACK: Maybe it’s getting ahead of things but have you thought about toys at all for these designs, because I personally would love them.

PYE: We’ve talked about that. It’s a bit of a pie in the sky thing, but you’ve got to talk about it because it’s quite exciting.

ROB: It sounds cynical, but I’ve done creator-owned books before. The last one I did was called Out, which is about a vampire in a prisoner of war camp. I love the story, but there are unlikely to be toys and t-shirts for that story. I love the story, but when we were putting Petrol Head together, the merchandise opportunities were apparent. It’s one of the reasons we wanted to do this book through Image, to own it ourselves. But they’re great designs, and you can just see a Petrol Head figurine on a shelf.

PYE: Or little Hot Wheels of the cars.

ZACK: That would be cool. Okay, to close, what would you like to say to perspective readers of this book?

PYE: Obviously, what will get most people into it is probably the car angle, but I think it’s important to stress that’s not all that it’s about. The car chases are the scenes that get shown because they’re big and bombastic, but that’s not the beating heart of the book.

ROB: The nice thing is when we sent it to friends and pros, over and over people just said how much fun it was and how much heart is in it. That’s the bottom line — if we’ve done our job, by the end of issue one you will hopefully care about these characters.

Petrol Head #1 is due out Nov. 8, 2023, from Image Comics.

Check out The Beat’s other recent interviews here!