It’s Papa Smurf…in SPACE! – SPACE ODDITIES #1 & 2: An Interview with Ben Robinson and Jon Williams
Co-writer and Illustrator: Jon Williams
Co-writer and Letterer: Ben Robinson
Colorist: Dan Olvera
Editor: Chuck Pineau
Comic Book Yeti contributor Byron O'Neal interviews Jon Williams and Ben Robinson about their new Kickstarter project, Space Oddities 1 & 2.
COMIC BOOK YETI: This is Byron O’Neal for Comic Book Yeti sitting down with Jon Williams and Ben Robinson, the creative minds behind the comic, Space Oddities, which is now funding for issue number two on Kickstarter.
I’m a big fan of the first issue. It hits that perfect pocket for a sci-fi structured action/comedy. For the folks out there who aren’t familiar with it yet, why don’t you give us your elevator pitch?
BEN ROBINSON: Space Oddities is an adventure/comedy story about the crew of the Aftosa: Dirk & Jorge MacSanchez. They are in the business of locating and procuring lost or “misappropriated” antiquities. A lucrative, if not stable, business until a young woman named Jhett Paxton suddenly becomes an unsolicited crew member. Jhett’s quest to find her mother will point them toward a fabled artifact of immense power and all the danger that comes with it.
Basically, it is a screwball space adventure story aspiring to be the lovechild of Indiana Jones and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Our goal is to make you laugh as much as thrill you with the story.
CBY: I’m going to put you on the spot here. Fill this in for me, fans of (blank), (blank,) and (blank) will love this book.
BR: Obviously we compare it to Indiana Jones and Hitchhiker's Guide, but talking with some of you readers we have also heard it compared to Spaceballs, Archer, and Venture Bros., which are all company we would be thrilled to keep.
JON WILLIAMS: We’ve gotten a couple Cowboy Bebops, too! That show has style to spare, so I’ll take the comparison with glee.
CBY: You’ve got a memorable cast of characters in the book. Dirk comes off a bit salty Men In Black, but my personal favorite is Woody. This guy has to be a nod to Papa Smurf right? I mean he’s blue and even got a red hat on.
BR: That is the first time I have heard that one! He does look a bit Smurfy. Woody is actually an homage to an old hippie Jon and I met working a beer tent at a renn-faire in South Lake Tahoe many years ago. He was just a super cool, laid-back, go-with-the-flow kinda guy. Woody actually has a really cool backstory that we are going to slowly work into the narrative. He will be back in issue 2.
JW: I love the Papa Smurf comparison! I wish it was a conscious decision… It was just kinda last-minute like “what can we do to not just have a bunch of white dudes running around?” It’s space, so of course there can be blue people!
CBY: You have been working together for nearly 20 years now. What is your secret sauce to maintaining a successful collaboration for that long?
BR: Being friends first has been a huge help. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and, through some effort, have gotten to a point where we are each willing to recognize when the other guy has a better idea. That isn’t to say we don’t disagree at times, but we are generally able to talk it through until we get somewhere we are both comfortable, without taking anything personally.
JW: As far as he knows...
BR: It also helps that we came up with this story concept and many of the characters about 15 years ago and have spent many a night talking about them. So, we both have a pretty consistent grip on who they are and how they would react in certain situations.
CBY: Like any good partnership, there’s lots of different duties to divvy up. Is it a divide-and-conquer model? What’s your process of co-writing look like?
BR: Once we landed on the thrust of the first six-issue arc, we sat down together and wrote a high-level outline for it. Then for each issue, we will bullet-point the main beats for that part of the story. That puts us on pretty much the same track for scripting. We each write our own script for the issue and reconvene to smash the two together. We are able to keep the best gags and the strongest moments from each version and land on something that we are both really happy with. Then Jon goes off to actually do the tough part, drawing the book. While he is doing that, I generally handle the Kickstarter and any logistics or promotion that needs to be done. After he has the art done, we pull out the inked portfolio pages and do a final pass on dialogue to make sure everything fits how the art came out.
Also in the process are Dan Olvera and Chuck Pineau. Dan does a bang-up job coloring the book. As soon as we saw his work, we knew he was the right guy for the job. Issue 2 is the first time we have worked with an editor. Chuck has been super helpful giving us feedback on the script and I am looking forward to working with him on the final drafts.
CBY: Your Geeksploration Podcast has been going on for some time now. I’m curious, given the adage of what came first, the chicken or the egg, was Space Oddities something simmering for years as well, or was this the child of an episode’s fandom rant?
BR: Space Oddities came waaay first. We originally came up with the concept as a cartoon series pitch about 15 years ago. This was the golden age of Adult Swim, with gems like Aquateen Hunger Force, Harvey Birdman, and Sea Lab. Jon was getting ready to go to college for animation and we had the idea for a sci-fi comedy adventure serial that followed a crew of space antique collectors. We continued to talk about and develop the property for years, but (as twenty-something stoners are like to do) we never actually got any further than talking and Jon drawing up a short comic where Dirk and Jorge break into the Fortress of Solitude.
The podcast got started in 2018. I think it did help with the motivation to do something with Space Oddities. Once you start a creative project and follow through, it helps light a bit of a fire under your ass that can carry you into new projects.
CBY: There are loads of geekdom references and tropes in there. I’m not going to give them away as it disincentivizes reading and discovering them, which is lots of fun. Did you write the script and then try to sneak them in or use them to wrap the world around?
BR: They generally made their way into the story organically as we were brainstorming/writing. One of the themes in the world is that creativity/originality has kinda capped and there is a premium placed on things that are “authentic,” which is a bit of a jab at modern mega-corp entertainment as well as a great plot device to allow us to sneak contemporary pop culture references into a sci-fi setting far in the future.
CBY: Jon, are you a self-taught artist, or do you have formal training?
JW: I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember, and wanting to draw comics for almost as long. So it’s a bit of both. I did go to art school and got my degree in animation, but I did the first 22 years on my own. In college, I learned just as much about doing the wrong thing as I did the right.
CBY: Who are some of your artistic inspirations?
JW: It's mostly comic artists that inspire me. I do love it, but I wish I’d taken more from other artists and mediums. I think it could have benefited me to break out of the panel a bit. Some of my favorites are Darwyn Cooke and Bruce Timm, with their animated simplicity and strong storytelling. Art Adams draws superhero comics right. Whoever he’s drawing looks like they should. The brushwork of Dave Stevens and Wally Wood changed my life.
Currently, Dan Mora is really killing it.
CBY: I looked at your Instagram feed. There’s lots of pen-and-ink sketch work there. Are you using both traditional and digital tools?
JW: Yeah, it’s been weird the last year or two incorporating new (digital) tools.
I was a staunch supporter of “traditional only” for any real work I was doing. But over time, when you get to play with digital gear, you really see how convenient it can be.
Nowadays, I am just as likely to sketch on the iPad as I am in a sketchbook, but there is no actual replacement of traditional inking tools. That’s why I’m inking the comic traditionally still. I need that tactile feel for the finished work.
CBY: Do you do all your layouts for Space Oddities on tablet, or do they start as sketches first?
JW: This time around, it’s all digital. Layouts and pencils are all on the iPad. There’s just no matching the convenience and versatility of being able to move and resize things rather than erasing and redoing 40 times till you have it just right.
CBY: Ben, I want to give lettering some props since it gets overlooked sometimes. Are you a self-taught letterer?
BR: Still learning actually. Jon did the letters for issue 1. I am going to try and take that off his plate moving forward. It is something that I have wanted to do for a while and anything I can take off Jon’s workload helps him focus on the art.
JW: Big shoes to fill! HA!
CBY: I’m always curious about this and have never asked anyone yet. As a letterer, how do you go about choosing the fonts you want to use for a project? Are you making your own? Modifying an existing bank?
BR: I’ll let Jon speak to the first issue, but for issue 2, I am more than likely going to be picking a font similar to the one we used in the first issue. It seems to fit the tone of what we are doing well.
I have started dabbling with font creation, but I don’t think it will be something we will be using in the book anytime soon. I am planning on making my own sound effects graphics though.
JW: This being the first time I’d lettered a book, I don’t have a whole lot of insight. I didn’t create my own font or anything. I honestly just found a font I liked and went for it. Maybe down the road, we’ll identify all of my mistakes and fix them.
CBY: How did you bring both Dan Olvera and Chuck Pineau onboard the project?
JW: I know I can’t do everything. It may seem insulting to letterers that I felt I could do it on my own, but I wasn’t even going to attempt coloring. I know I can’t turn out a professional quality product and there’s too much riding on it. I tried out a couple different colorists, but they just weren’t the right fit for the book. When I saw Dan’s stuff, I knew he was the guy.
BR: We didn’t use an editor for the first issue and it came out well, but we had heard a number of fellow creators singing Chuck’s praises. And, we figured it would be good to have a trained outside eye to take a look and let us know what we could improve. So far, he has been great helping us out with pacing and making sure our jokes work outside of our own heads.
CBY: You’ve got 6 issues planned for the first arc of this story. After it’s all said and done with those six, are you planning on expanding it more or do you have other comic ideas you’d like to explore?
BR: The plan is definitely to keep the story going. The first arc is very much Jhett’s story, and by the end, the crew will be pretty much where we had been imagining them for years. Right now, we are planning on having a second major arc that features Emperor Beans as the BBEG. But, before we get to that, we will probably do a few one-shot adventures with the crew.
CBY: Everyone loves a little something extra. What’s cool and unique that you’ve got going as rewards tiers for the project?
BR: One of my favorites is the custom illustrations. You can get one along with your book from either Jon or myself. Including my art as a reward tier started as a bit of a joke. I wanted to be able to provide something as a reward for the Kickstarter so we decided that we would have a tier where I would draw whatever the backer wanted and we priced it half the price of Jon’s custom illustration tier. I was surprised that I got 6 backers last time that wanted me to draw them something! This time around I already have 3 people backing at that level, two of which are returning backers from last year, so maybe I am not as bad as I thought I was.
CBY: I’ve been amazed at the pretty much universal support of the community of people pushing Kickstarter comics these days. What words of encouragement do you have for people thinking they are crazy enough to want to produce a comic on their own?
BR: DO IT!!! It is a load of fun and, like you said, the indie comic community is amazing! I am perpetually blown away that there are so many people willing to donate their time to help promote our project. We all just want to see indie books flourish. I don’t see other books on Kickstarter or IndieGoGo as competition at all. The more people know how many amazing stories are being told there the better for the scene. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other creators if you have questions or want some feedback. There is a lot of experience in this community and it is generally shared freely and enthusiastically.
CBY: What’s your favorite part about it?
BR: Aside from holding the finished book in my hands, my favorite part has been hearing from people that have read the book and loved it. You put something out into the world and you think it is pretty funny, but you don’t really know if any of the jokes landed or if the characters resonated with anyone until you get feedback. It has been wonderful hearing from folks that I have never met telling me they enjoyed the book and are excited for the next one. Nothing gets me pumped to forge ahead like that.
CBY: What’s the worst part about it?
BR: Promotion, hands down. I have never been good at selling myself and I am generally not super comfortable with public praise so it is tough to get on social media and tell everybody how great your project is and that they should spend their hard-earned money on it. But, you have to do it. The flip side of that is interviews like this. I have had a lot of fun talking to folks about the book, our process, and anything else that might come up. Most of the time, it feels like a fun chat with friends and you don’t feel like you're trying to sell yourself.
CBY: Is there anything else you’d like to touch on before we wrap up today?
BR: I just want to let everyone know where they can find Space Oddities. You can check out our website at SpaceOdditiesComic.com, find us on Twitter @SpaceOdditiesCo, and of course, we are live on Kickstarter now.
Also, if you want to check out issue 1 before committing to the Kickstarter, it is available on Comixology, Drive Thru Comics, and Global Comix.
CBY: I want to thank Jon and Ben for joining me today to talk about their project Space Oddities. I really enjoyed it and, full disclosure, I was happy to back it. Please consider giving it a look. We’ve still got some time left to get the project fully funded. On behalf of Comic Book Yeti, this is Byron O’Neal. Take care everybody.
The image(s) used in this article are from a comic strip, webcomic or the cover or interior of a comic book. The copyright for this image(s) is likely owned by either the publisher of the comic, the writer(s) and/or artist(s) who produced the comic. It is believed that the use of this image(s) qualifies as fair use under the United States copyright law. The image is used in a limited fashion in an educational manner in order to illustrate the points of the author and not for the purpose of entertainment or substituting the original work. It is believed the use of this image has had no impact on the market value of the original work.
All Space Oddities characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright Jon Williams and Ben Robinson or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED