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CASTING LIGHT ON EDISON
This June, writer David Hopkins of “Karma Incorporated” (Viper Comics) and artist Brock Rizy will be the proud fathers of a little girl. No, not like that. They’ve teamed up to create” Emily Edison,” an original graphic novel from Viper Comics featuring a super-powered teenager who splits time between school and inter-dementional combat. And for the first time Hopkins and Rizy talk about the process of creating the book and share exclusive art.
What did you learn from your last series, “Karma Incorporated,” that helped this one go more smoothly?
HOPKINS: I learned how to relax and enjoy the writing process. With “Karma Incorporated,” I nitpicked the dialogue and story, maybe even a little too much. I had more confidence working on “Emily Edison”. The two are very, very different stories. “Karma Incorporated” is about adults and adult problems – marriages, careers, and life choices, all set within a story about con artists. I’m 28, and the story reads like a midlife crisis. While Emily Edison is about teenagers, kids dealing with divorce, and plays out as an adventure fantasy/superhero story. A common theme might be a focus on suburban families, but that’s been my muse for almost everything I write.
Working with Brock is a different experience than working with Tom (Kurzanski). Since Brock and I both live in the area, it meant we could meet in person to discuss details, which was very helpful. Tom read over each script after I wrote them, offering suggestions and revisions. Brock has been more like a script partner and co-writer. Every aspect of the story was discussed and agreed upon between us. Both team efforts, I love working with these artists, but both different.
What influence does anime have you on your style? Other influences?
RIZY: Specifically, I was watching “FLCL” and “Samurai Jack” around the time I was imagining the action and the look for “Emily Edison.” That really shows in the fighting and the humor. Megaman box art I gawked at as a kid seems to be the earliest and most lasting influence in my rendering.
The films of Koji Morimoto and a heavy dose of “Hellboy” affected my “Emily Edison” drawing style for a little while, but after the first issue I started to settle into my own thing. David suggested I’d read a lot of Jack Kirby, but it’s more like I read work by guys who are into Kirby. The character designs tend to come from people I’ve met or seen, especially cute girls. Which is useful when you’re drawing a book about … cute girls. Designing Emily and her half-sister was a snap because I’d met them or seen them on TV (and it doesn’t suck to have to draw them repeatedly). Eventually, like everything else in the book, they evolved beyond their influences.
What changes when you have a teen girl as the central character?
HOPKINS: Emily is a spaz, and that affects all aspects of her character. Where she shops (Delia’s), what she likes (puppies and MTV), how she talks (she likes to make up her own words), to how she approaches relationships (lots of daydreaming, very little action).
Girls spaz out differently than guys do. It’s like guys become acutely aware of their audience and they start performing. Whereas with girls, they adopt an I-don’t-care-who’s-watching attitude and they get silly, but always with their other girlfriends around. I think I unconsciously based Emily off Amanda Bynes, as far as mannerisms and attitude. A cute goofball.
RIZY: It’s hard to say this late in the project what specifically that was. She sort of lives as a separate entity somewhere in the space between David’s and my brain. We just put her in a situation and record her reactions. Most of her manner and all of that was established by David during our discussions and in his script. When it came time to write her cute little quips in the action pages, I just had to follow his lead.
It came pretty easily. David communicated a clear concept of who Emily was by the time we began. As action planner, I had to keep in mind that she was a young and clumsy fighter. That she was going to pout and get grossed out by big monsters with tentacles. And that she wasn’t always going to be powerful enough to win. She would always be powerful enough to be cute.
I’d heard you set out to write this for your daughter?
HOPKINS: Kennedy was only a few weeks old when Brock and I first started talking about “Emily Edison.” I’d be holding Kennedy while we discussed what to do in issue one. My stories deal with family. I put a lot of my own affection for being a dad into creating Emily. Brock and I really love this character.
We knew we wanted to work together on something, before we knew it’d be Emily. I made a list of ideas, and this was the one we kept coming back to. Once Brock started drawing the character, I could see Emily taking on a life of her own.
I want my daughter to be able to read and enjoy something I’ve written before she’s a teenager. It’s a shame there aren’t more all-age comics. Between Brock and myself, I tend to keep everything kid-friendly, while Brock pushes those boundaries. It makes for a good creative balance. All ages shouldn’t mean “tame.” Emily Edison certainly isn’t. Nor does it mean parents will automatically approve. Some moms and dads might hate the book, but their kids will love it.
What’s the biggest obstacle in doing an action comic?
HOPKINS: A lot of action comics don’t have any action in them. That’s crap. We solved the problem easily with “Emily Edison.” In the script, I would basically write something like, “Hey Brock, pages 13 through 20, Emily fights a huge tentacled monster. Have fun.” And he’d go from there. Brock does the most entertaining action sequences I’ve ever read. Why should I get in the way of that? And each fight is unique, with its own look and approach.
The only real obstacle was developing the story elements in fewer pages, since we wanted more space for Emily to fight tentacled monsters. I scripted it almost as I would a short story, with that sort of economy.
RIZY: David always allowed me more room to move than I thought I’d have. He used his space so concisely, naturally cramming so much character into such a tight space. I was always pleasantly surprised, but (and I’m sure he feels the same about the writing) the confines of the comic book can be creatively constricting. These battles could’ve gone on for 60 pages each. On the other hand, it ensures that David and I are delivering our best ideas to the reader. Ideas like including ourselves as characters in the book. (We both have gigantic egos.)
Being a teacher, how easy was it to write the segments with Emily in school?
HOPKINS: I spend every day surrounded by teenagers. Interesting creatures, but I’ve been a little hesitant to write about high school simply because I try to keep my teaching and my writing separate to maintain my sanity. As a teacher, I probably notice things other writers miss. They approach the story from how they remember their high school experience, while I write from how I saw it only a few hours ago. Their perspective is spoiled by a certain idealism and nostalgia.
“Freaks and Geeks” is probably the only television show I’ve seen that gets remotely close to the high school experience on all levels with parents, teachers, and students. Emily is not a good student. She’s always asleep in class. And I have a few students like that. When she isn’t tired, Emily’s challenging the teacher. Because I know Emily, it was easy to imagine what kind of student she’d be. I try to keep the classroom scenes to a minimum. If for no other reason, that’s a bitch to ask an artist to draw a class full of students for several pages. I mean, Brock was already drawing a gazillion badbots in chapter one.
Are you the visual inspiration for Emily’s school teacher?
HOPKINS: Yeah. Brock is in the story too. And my wife. And our friends Steven, Kevin, Adam, Miranda and a bunch of other people. Emily Edison has a crush on Tom! We packed the story with our friends. It’s fun. And not all of them will survive to the end of the story, which is even more fun. I tend to view Mr. Hopkins as simply another character in the story. I pulled the dialogue from actual classroom lectures I’ve given. And I tried to maintain that detached amusement I have when dealing with my students.
There’s a pretty dramatic style shift between the two settings in the first issue.
RIZY: The book is an inter-dimensional custody battle, which switches between two worlds, and that was the quickest way of indicating the change in location. I’d made some color scripts for some short films I intend to make, collectively called ¡Bike_Gang! They were in a cut paper style – flat color vector objects, with drop shadows added. David liked it and suggested the look for the covers. I agreed and thought I might try using it as backgrounds for the alternate universe. Then I tried it out on one of the characters and decided to make it totally cut paper. Characters that come to Emily’s earth-like dimension retain that cut paper style. Emily is the only one who changes to match the look of each universe on account of being sired by an “Earth” parent and delivered by an alternaverse parent. It’s probably the most appealing thing about the book, visually. Okay, second most. After all the lovely freckle-faced ladies.
Was it fun to draw all that action? How did you approach the fight scenes?
RIZY: Hell yes, it was fun. My approach is instinctive. I just sit down and think my thoughts. Once you get Emily in a battle, the action just happens. I pick the vital snapshots and draw them. Out of respect to Emily, I tried to choose the snapshots in which you couldn’t see up her skirt.
How did you approach the coloring aspect for the book?
RIZY: It’s all vector graphics and animation styling. It should look like a cartoon series’ cels chopped up and arranged like a comic book.
Besides that, with each new chapter comes a color scheme shift most evident in the action scenes. In the first issue, Emily battles the Badbots in the late afternoon after school. Lots of oranges and browns. In the second issue, it’s a nighttime super-powered pillow fight with her half-sister, Koo. A purple sky draped behind grays and blues. The book is pretty brightly colored, even in the dark. It’s a bit like ice cream; people might try to lick the pages.
What was the hardest part about this project?
HOPKINS: The first issue was particularly challenging. In that, Brock and I were learning how to work together. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t want to just throw a script at someone, and say, “Draw this!” What’s the fun in that? Brock is a storyteller. He’s incredibly imaginative and offbeat. I don’t want to only see Brock’s artwork. I want to see our collective story – the one only we can tell.
However, I’d say the hardest part is still to come. “Emily Edison” needs to find her audience. Is it too indie for the superhero readers, too superhero for the indie crowd? Not to mention, there’s a lot of manga fans who would dig on it. This graphic novel is good. I know that, without doubt. But we need to get it in the hands of people who also like it.
RIZY: When Viper suggested that we go straight to trade, I had a hard time deciding if we should do that. Not just because David and I had carefully constructed the structure of the book based on individual issues. I knew the new deadline was going to cause me a lot of stress and strain. And it has, it’s been like two and a half solid months of the 24-hour comic day. I was worried that the artwork might suffer, but I think it’s made it better. At this point, I’m glad I convinced myself I could do it. The intense pressure of the deadline should be equally good for the book’s business and creative quality. It also provides an adequate excuse for my lacking a love life.
Why are so many alias/hero names are alliterative?
HOPKINS: As I remember it, the name came easily. I knew I wanted her first name to be “Emily”. And since her father is an inventor, putting them in the Edison family made sense. The alliteration trend goes back to the 1930s and ’40s: Lex Luthor, Clark Kent, Lois Lane. Then there’s also Billy Batson, Captain Marvel. Stan Lee did it all the time with his characters. It’s a tradition, and I wanted to pay homage. Emily wouldn’t ever take a superhero code name. In her own mind, she’s super enough already.
This was originally going to be a monthly, but it’s being released as a trade.
HOPKINS: When we first submitted “Emily Ediso”n to Viper Comics, they weren’t doing straight to trade paperback. They would release three or four issues, wait a few months and then come out with the trade. So when we got the green light, I wrote the series with that in mind. In fact, Brock and I worked very hard to make sure each issue could stand alone. If a kid comes in, buys issue three, he or she should be able to enjoy it without having to get the first two issues. Right? I want to make it worth their time and money.
However, as Viper continued to grow as a company and because of high sales with the trades, they started looking at the straight-to-trade route. Which also appealed to me, because I like the trade format. The idea of someone reading 144 pages of Emily Edison in one sitting is cool. Fortunately, the four issues work well if read separately or as a complete story arc. The bad thing is Brock had to double his efforts to meet the new deadline.
How do you think Emily Edison fits into the current indie trends?
HOPKINS: Most importantly, Emily Edison is part of a return to fun comics. People will have fun reading this book. I think about creators like Jim Mahfood, Dave Crosland, Jim Rugg, Eric Powell and Bryan Lee O’Malley.
Clearly, in Emily Edison, there’s also a deeper message about divorce and how it affects kids, but it’s not like I’m trying to preach to anyone. I also look to “Project: SUPERIOR” (Adhouse Books) as a nice trend, super heroes with an indie sensibility.
RIZY: I don’t know enough about the trends to address that, so here goes: It’s got super-powered mainstream appeal, and the individuality of independent comic books. David and I did not quell our quirks while creating Emily’s world and guiding her journey through it. It’s a unique take on the superhero genre, considering the inter-dimensional custody battle aspects. We aren’t embarrassed about the “superhero” part, either. We unabashedly embraced Emily’s powers and created the kind of action book we wanted to read. The kind that, I don’t know… has action in it.
For more information on Hokpkins and Rizy, check out www.emilyedison.com.