A MechaTon of FUN – An Interview with CBY's own Content Editor, Wells Thompson
Wells Thompson is a co-creator and co-writer, along with co-writer Dalton Shannon, artist Fernando Pinto, colorist Mayday Trippe, and letterer Nathan Kempf for the comic MechaTon, the first issue of which is currently on Kickstarter. MechaTon is a story about fighting for your community against selfishness and authoritarianism and Wells sat down with Jimmy Gaspero of Comic Book Yeti to discuss the inspiration behind MechaTon and his experience in the comics community.
CBY: Wells, thank you very much for taking the time for this interview. Your comic MechaTon #1 is currently on Kickstarter with an end date to reach its funding goal by Saturday, June 19, 2021 at 1:00 p.m. EST. When you and co-writer Dalton Shannon first conceived MechaTon was it always going to be self-published or was there a plan to pitch it to publishers?
WT: So happy to be here! We had a pitch packet put together and quickly discovered that, for the same reasons we had all this free time to explore comic ideas and work with artists, publishers were more or less out of commission. In the height of the pandemic, we found all of two publishers that were accepting unsolicited pitches. So, rather than sit on a good idea and wait for the world to get back to normal, we took things into our own hands.
Kickstarter has put out truly incredible comics in the last few years and the community is so supportive and welcoming; once we realized we wanted to get the book out there by any means necessary, it was the obvious choice.
CBY: What have been the biggest takeaways or lessons learned from preparing a comic for Kickstarter?
WT: (Laughing) This $#!t is hard. We really had to break down the comic and look at it from every angle. It’s not enough to make a great narrative, you have to figure out marketing and how best to promote it, you have to pull out what’s cool about it and turn those into add-ons and things to get people excited about the project. You also have to use yourself as a tool. I feel like I have to be this fountain of enthusiasm and excitement every moment of every day or people won’t see what’s so special about the project. It’s a lot of work, and well worth it, but it’s far more exhausting than I initially thought it would be.
We had a little experience in making pitches and printing our own comics and even selling them in person, which we did all the time at conventions pre-Covid. Still, the amount I had to learn was staggering and I imagine it’ll serve me well on future projects, whether or not we continue to go the Kickstarter route.
CBY: What was the inspiration for MechaTon?
WT: Dalton came up with the core concept, the glove that punches things and they become a mech that beats up kaiju. That was born out of a love for Toku and Godzilla as well the trappings of anime and some superhero comics. Basically, the initial idea was just “wouldn’t this be awesome!” and it stuck in his head for years. One of my favorite books of all time is Scott Pilgrim, so when the idea came up in conversation, I immediately vibed with it. Something about the possibilities of what you can do with the glove combined with the thematic implications of using junk to make something useful really got me excited about the project.
Everything else just grew out of it naturally: the backseat gamer dynamic between Derek and Leah, the emphasis on community and sticking together, the alien in a really bad human disguise. It’s not the deepest answer, but sometimes the best ideas really do come from acting like a kid on a playground making up powers and using your imagination.
CBY: Assuming MechaTon is funded, and as of this interview it’s about ¾ of the way to its goal, what is it you hope to accomplish with this story? What do you hope readers take away from it?
WT: It’s hard to say now what will grow out of it organically, but as of right now, what I have in my head is a story about community. I really want to tell a story that inspires people to take care of their neighbors and think more about how they can help others than what they can do to get ahead themselves. Derek is the one that winds up with the glove and the actual power, but it’s his sister that helps him see the full picture and it’s only that teamwork that allows him to come out on top. It’s a lot for one story to achieve, particularly one about big trash robots punching mutated bugs, but there’s a message of kindness and optimism that I really hope shines through.
CBY: This isn’t the first time you and Dalton have collaborated on a project. Before this was the anthology, Descent into Dread, published by Caliber Comics. What is your and Dalton’s process when it comes to co-writing?
WT: We try and cross-check each other at every step. When one of us has an idea, the other tries to poke holes in it. When we write the first draft, the other tears it apart and writes the second draft. We do that back and forth until we have something we’re both really proud of. One of us takes point and makes the final call, but we switch that up every story and we’re both comfortable ceding ground to the other when the situation calls for it. It can be a little tense, especially in that first draft phase when everything is being scrutinized, but the end result is a really strong, finely edited piece that I think winds up being better than what we do individually.
It helps too that we cover each other’s bases so much. Dalton encourages me to be more creative and imaginative with how I approach a situation. He’s also really naturally funny and writes so much fun banter; sometimes the hardest part is choosing what conversations need to be cut out or trimmed down. It’s all good, but Nathan (the letterer) would kill us if we left 23 lines of dialogue on the page. Meanwhile, I encourage Dalton to approach things more thematically and ask driving questions about each of the characters, that way the plot goes where it makes sense to go and not just where we need it to go.
"I fell in love with the craft of comics the moment I started making them and it’s been one of the most creatively fulfilling things in my life."
CBY: The two of you started FourColour Media, “…a dedicated, two-man team of misfits, creating narrative comics for the love of the craft.” When did you first fall in love with the craft of making comics?
WT: Dalton introduced me to comic scriptwriting after a long stint of trying to write short fiction and novels. I still love doing that, but the act of making comics became so appealing because it’s so visually driven. When you’re able to strip everything down and just focus on the essentials, you can do more a lot faster than you can with words alone. The trade-off is control: it’s an inherently collaborative process, so what’s in my head is never exactly going to be what makes it onto the page. But, that in and of itself is exciting. Collaboration means more than one viewpoint and very often that new perspective shows you something about the work you never saw before.
FourColour is our exploration space, where we figure out what works to become better writers and collaborators. On that website, we write, draw, color, and letter everything. Each step has so much nuance and we learn something new with every page of every comic we make; that, in turn, allows us to think more as comic creators than as writers so we can incorporate higher-level panel design or sound effect lettering into the script. To finally get around to answering your question, I fell in love with the craft of comics the moment I started making them and it’s been one of the most creatively fulfilling things in my life.
CBY: For the remainder of the MechaTon creative team, there is artwork by Fernando Pinto, colors by Mayday Trippe, and lettering by Nathan Kempf. How did you go about finding the other collaborators?
WT: With great difficulty. Finding a team for MechaTon took a lot of work both because of the style we were going for and a ton of really bad luck. We actually had a full pitch packet ready to go with another creative team, but due to some unfortunate circumstances, we wound up having to start over from scratch. That turned out to be for the best: The current team is a dream to work with and I absolutely love how the comic turned out.
We found Nathan on a list of comic book professionals that had lost their jobs due to Covid. His style and willingness to innovate immediately caught our eye and we knew that he would make the book look super professional. Fernando responded to a tweet we put out asking to see portfolios for cover artists; once we saw his dynamic, cartoony figures, it was hard to see MechaTon in any other way. We found Mayday after looking up a seemingly endless stream of colorists on Twitter and really loved their use of color palettes. I’m also a massive Scott Pilgrim fan, so learning that they worked on the first colored story for the series piqued my interest immediately.
It was really important to me that the creative team not look and think exactly like I do, so I went out of the way to make sure we had international and nonbinary voices on the team, particularly since so much of the core cast of characters are nonwhite and queer. That probably made the selection process take longer, but I think it will make a difference in the quality of the comic.
CBY: You’re originally from Conway, Arkansas but now living in Nashville, Tennessee. What was life like in Conway for the young Wells Thompson and what brought you to Nashville?
WT: I went to college in Conway, but I was born and raised in Little Rock. That’s not a distinction that anyone else cares about, but just to set the record straight. Arkansas is a really beautiful state with a lot of problems, particularly with poverty and political leadership. One thing I absolutely loved about it, though, was the abundance of small, family-owned businesses and the sort of environment that fostered. I can’t tell you how many times we’d go out to eat, not because we didn’t want to cook, but because one of our friends was having a slow month and we wanted to show our support and make sure it stayed afloat. That and the natural side of it. My dad loves professional cycling and he taught me how to ride for 30+ miles at a time. We’d drive all over the state looking for new routes and interesting places to ride. It’s absolutely gorgeous.
I moved to Nashville with my wife to support her career. I’m a writer and when I want to make money I wait tables, so I can do that anywhere. Brianna is a molecular biologist, which is both important and locational, so wherever her job takes her is where we go. Nashville is great though, a nice medium-sized city with a good restaurant culture and incredible soil to grow herbs in. I’d definitely recommend a visit if you’re thinking about it.
CBY: What creators have inspired you to want to write your own comics?
WT: For me, it’s Brian Lee O’Malley with Scott Pilgrim and Seconds. Those books spoke to me and they’re so enjoyable I can go back to them whenever I feel like and devour them in an hour or so. Watchmen was pretty influential when I was first getting into comics and it’s still one of those books that makes me feel small and wonder if I could ever amount to anything so complexly woven and significant. Dan Watters inspires the hell out of me, so much of his catalogue is the kind of smartly written, philosophical, entertaining-as-hell fare I wish I could write. Neil Gaiman is so damn good he basically teaches you how to write comics as you read him. I also really love the moment-to-moment and deeply personal style of Art Spiegleman and Craig Thompson. Oh, and I wouldn’t call this an influence because I’ve still never read anything he’s written, but someone told me I write a lot like Robert Kirkman, so I guess I have that going for me, which is nice.
CBY: You’re the Content Editor for Comic Book Yeti and have written many reviews for the website. With a plethora of review sites in existence, what brought you to want to write for Comic Book Yeti?
WT: I think it was circumstance more than anything. They were looking for contributors and I was in a place where I was yearning to write more nonfiction. The format was interesting and unique and I thought it was a really approachable way to do a review, both to read and to write. I’m a very structure-focused writer myself, so the rigid structure of the reviews made sense to me.
CBY: Do you have a long-term comics goal?
WT: Aside from actually making a living? I want to get my books out. I’ve got two fully written graphic novels that need to get made. If someone told me that no one would read them, I’d still shell out the money to get them drawn because they mean that much to me. In the super long term, I’d like to help modernize comics and make them more accessible, both to audiences and creatives, but that’s so far down the line there’s no point in pontificating. For now, it’s about getting books out so I can make the money I need to get my next books out.
CBY: If you were the curator for a comics museum, which 3 books do you want to make absolutely sure are included?
WT: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Watchmen, and Coffin Bound. Between those three books lies every human emotion that’s ever been experienced and a few that we dare not dream of.