Monday, November 24, 2014
Home  >  Features  >  Saving AIRBOY: A Conversation with James Robinson


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Airboy first took to the skies in 1942 under the pens of Charles Biro, Dick Wood, and Al Camy. Seventy-two years and multiple publishing attempts later (as recent as 2012), preeminent comic book writer James Robinson (Starman, Batman, Fantastic Four) and Greg Hinkle (Angry) team-up to take Airboy to highs he's never seen before: a night out in San Francisco full of drugs and debauchery, while on the run from nightmarish monsters. 

MightyVille's Joe Kach sat down with writer James Robinson to discuss the origins of the "All-New" Airboy, and got some details about Robinson's other Image Comics series, Saviors.

 

The Classic Airboy

 

MightyVille: So, James, the first issue of your new Image book, Saviors, just came out. But one of the biggest aspects of Image EXPO is the announcements.  So, before we get into Saviors, what can you tell us about your announced title, Airboy?

James Robinson: Well, Airboy, you know, was a public domain character. The idea of writing it … I had no ideas whatsoever. I’m known as, like, the “Golden Age Guy”, so it should have made complete sense. But it didn’t. So in the course of trying to come up with the idea, it became more about me and Greg trying to come up with the idea. And obviously, there are elements to that I’m heavily fictionalizing. But you know, it's basically us doing our own Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas … culminating in us actually encountering Airboy and him joining us in all of this. And at the same time it's a lot of crazy high jinks and us getting involved in fighting Nazis and all of the rest of it. There's also a humanist element in it, in that, you know, I'm a guy that's been in the industry for over two decades; Greg is a guy that's just starting out, it's all new for him. And then you have this third character, Airboy, who has fought in the war and finds really that it's been for nothing because he's a public domain character that no one even bothered to renew the copyright on, to keep him, you know, copyrighted. So, it's the three of us dealing with different aspects of our lives at different points, and sort’ve how we support each other whilst getting drunk, doing drugs, fornicating, and fighting Nazis.

 

Joe Kach chats with James Robinson, Photo by Ryan Cayabyab

 

That sounds … fantastic. Were you aware of Airboy before the discussions with Image Comics?

Well, I remembered Airboy when it was published by Eclipse Comics. So I assumed there was someone with the rights. Obviously, those Eclipse books, there's a copyright on those, but the actual underlying rights to the character, it's a public domain character. You could do an Airboy comic, you know?

Maybe ... not in that way. But maybe. 

[Laughs] Not in that way, no. So, that was interesting to me. And I was surprised, because he's a pretty well known character. The fact that the rights dropped, you know? I understand all those characters that Alan Moore used, and also Dynamic Forces used them, too. You know, like Black Terror. I understand why they might slip away, but I imagined him to be a bit more iconic. So that surprised me and that got me thinking about Airboy and what would he think of it all. And the fact that, you know, sitting down and explaining to him that aviation characters, really, no one cares anymore, because aviation is so .... everyone does it. Back when he was a hero, it was brave men fighting Nazis or travelling where you put on your best suit, your best dress. Now, you’re lucky if people wear pants! So that's how things have changed. All of that will be incorporated into it, while we get up to these outrageous and horrific misadventures.

 

Airboy by Dave Stevenes from Eclipse Comics

 

So, Airboy comes into your world or you go into Airboy's world?

Both ... At some point, Airboy will be drinking with us in a bar on Mission south of Caesar Chavez [in San Francisco], and at another point, we'll be in his world, running for our lives most of the time, trying to defeat cyborg Nazi robots and Storm Troopers.

That would make an awesome animated film, too. So, what were some obscure, Golden Age characters- being an expert of that era- that may have influenced some of your initial ideas about the character? Or anyone you want to talk about that we may not have heard of?

No, I mean, just the fact that there's the fun aspect that, you know, comic book creators, putting themselves in a comic, and not showing themselves in an idealized way, or in a Sci-Fi way, but really kind of baring themselves, physically and emotionally, I suppose. And just really kind of putting it all out there is something that I don't know anyone has done to the extent that Greg I plan to. But there is this humanist, real element as well. I'm very proud of the way I'm managing to juxtapose the two and keep both those plates spinning at the same time. 

 

Airboy by Greg HInkle

 

Switching gears just a little bit, over to Saviors... 

Saviors, yes.

I just read the first issue. You know, when initially announced, much like The Walking Dead at first, I was like, “Yeah, okay, an alien invasion story. We've done this before." But, I really dug it. It was not what I was expecting. The art style was a surprise.

Yes...

 

Saviors by J. Bone

 

What sort of reaction have you gotten towards the first issue so far?

Well, unfortunately, we fell a little bit into your initial thoughts, which is people were like, "Oh, it's another alien invasion story." But everyone that’s checked it out, it's been pretty across-the-board praised. When I first met J. [Bone, artist] and we were talking about doing a creator-owned book-- he is normally known for two things: One is all-age comic books, and the other is doing the finishes on Darwyn Cooke's art. So, he said to me, “This is what I'm known for. Let's do something darker, something more horror-based.” And I love that stuff. I mean, I've worked with [Mike] Mignola, and I think he was imagining something more in that sort’ve very dark, Gothic, Mike Mignola-Steve Niles school of horror comics. But, I was like, “Let’s try something different.” So, the idea of doing a book that at times is very dark and conspiratorial and all of that, but other times it’s big monsters like the 1950s. So, there’s that feel of 1950s horror films and Sci-Fi movies. That's something that you'll see. And then, you know, the first five issues have Tomas ... who's sort've been one of the major characters in the book, but the first five issues are in his town, then we go to Mexico. Issue six will be a flashback to Victorian America ... Victorian America, that doesn't even make sense, there's no queen! But you know what I mean: That period, the late 1800s. Which, actually, will show two different aliens. It'll be like a metaphor for Ellis Island and everything: It'll be an alien who's just arriving and an alien that's lived here for quite some time. And you'll see how America and the world have changed one alien and the other alien still needs to get used to it. Then we'll jump to Paris and there'll be another modern day adventure and with different characters. And then we're gonna go to Russia and then we're gonna come back to Tomas and his adventures. So, you'll see all these different characters and all these different plot threads and how they all tie together and it's one big story. 

I'm glad to hear Tomas will be back. I'm a sucker for any story with a lovable stoner as the main character…

Well, the whole pot thing, by the way, is more of a plot point than you realize. There's more to it than you think.

 

Saviors #1

 

Ooooh, okay, secret things to come! So, was this larger world part of the story initially, or is that based on the success you've had with the first issue?

Well, no, not the first issue. It was ... well, initially we were going to do five issues and see how it went. And within an issue or two of me and J. working together, the momentum, you know, the ideas, the momentum, the rest of the story that I thought "we're gonna get to this one day" ... it began to fill itself in and we had this full-fledged sort've epic. That's what changed our minds. 

I can't wait to read the rest of the story. Like I said, I really enjoyed the first issue.

Well, thank you.

Thank you James. I appreciate your time today.

It was my pleasure.

 

Any old school Airboy fans out there want to chime in on this new take? Who's reading Saviors? Let us know below!

 

More Interviews on MightyVille:

Spotlight on Mark Texeira: A Hero's Journey

Of RISING STARS and LOST TRIBES: A Conversation with Keu Cha

Five Questions with Frank Cho

 

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