This past month we attended the first Nova Con event in Northern Virginia. It was held at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in McLean, Virginia. The show, although small in comparison to any of the Comic Cons held across the country, was well organized and featured a number of events and artists.
In visiting one of the outlets there we met Kenneth Centers and Rob Farinholt, co-authors of the graphic novel Astropunk. We decided to interview them as their work is relatively new and get some insight into how they developed this entry into the popular world of artistic story telling.
TAEM- Ken, how did you meet up with Rob before the start of this venture?
KC- Rob and I first met at a now defunct gaming, card, and comic shop in Newport News, called Guild of Adventure Gaming, back when we were 17 or so. We were both pretty heavy into table top role playing games and our social circles frequented the same hobby store, so we eventually started playing RPG’s together.
TAEM- Rob, what is the basis of the storyline, and who were your greatest influences to get it started?
RF- The impetus for the idea was to create Astropunk as a role-playing game. Ken was trying to write comics at the time, and I was working on the setting for the game. So I had done a ton of world building, and reached out to Ken for help with some setting and rules stuff. But then Ken convinced me to take Astropunk into the comics space, and we worked out a storyline focusing on Mars. As for influences into the storyline, movies like Chinatown were a huge influence, but also real-world issues with water rights (which of course the film Chinatown also tackles). So, I’d say the inspiration is one-half films like Chinatown, Blade Runner, and Bond films, and one-half real-world causes.
TAEM- Ken, what made you and Rob choose the sci-fi genre to write your storyline in? Do both of you favor this genre and how do you compare it with other graphic novel settings?
KC- Astropunk was never conceived as anything other than a Sci-fi story. We draw heavily from a few genres under the Science Fiction banner. As for favoring sci-fi over other genres, I would say that I certainly do. I wouldn’t say science fiction is superior to other genres, only that it was superior for Astropunk. Rob and I are currently working on a period piece bit of alternate history, inspired by Lovecraft, so for us, it’s whatever fits the story best.
TAEM- Rob, please describe the characters you work with who has influenced their creations for you?
RF- Our protagonist is Leslie Den, she’s a Terran Marshal originally from Earth. When we first meet her in Murder on Mars #1, she’s a woman alone, similar to the myth of the wild-west law man in a one-horse town. The Terran Marshal service is stretched thin, and as humanity continues to move throughout the solar system, they are only getting thinner in the amount of resources they can bring to bear on any off-world colony. So, she’s a bit James Bond, Deckard, Ellen Ripley, J.J Gittes, and Philip Marlowe. She’s resourceful, very good at her job, and yet equally self-destructive, stubborn, and beneath her burned out persona, idealistic. And it is this idealism that drives her through the story as things continue to progressively get worse for her.
TAEM- Please also tell us about the series ‘Murder on Mars #1’, and its sequel, ‘Murder on Mars #2’.
RF- Murder on Mars deals with the death of a prominent philanthropist and industrialist. Which, if you haven’t read issue #1 is a touch of a spoiler, but rest assured, that by the end of the first issue that is made abundantly clear. There are also a couple of other plot threads that take place in Murder on Mars. We have an indigenous people rising up against their corporate overlords, a corporate struggle over Martian resources, etc.
TAEM- Ken, Tell our readers about the Kickstarter programs for this series and how it is succeeding.
KC- Well, we’ve run two successful Kickstarter campaigns, which has its own challenges. We view Kickstarter as a means to pre-sell, or pre-order the book, a way that we can engage directly with our fan base, and as a platform with a built-in audience of indie comic fans who are always looking for something new. With our first campaign we had come out of pocket for all production costs on the first issue and were simply looking to raise funds for a large print run, so our goal was about half of what we were looking for with the second Kickstarter. Our second campaign folded in some production costs of issue #2, and so it was a bit more challenging to reach our goal, but with help of some very loyal friends and family we got there.
TAEM- What made you choose this method to garnish support for your work?
KC- So, for indie comic creators it can be very challenging to find an audience for your work, but Kickstarter has kind of already done that for you. So many quality indie comics have been funded through Kickstarter that over the years the website has become almost a market place for people looking for something different than what your local comic shop can offer. All anyone has to do is click around the Kickstarter Comics tab for a few minutes and they are quickly inundated with dozens of really rad comic ideas that would never see the light of day if it were solely up to the comics industry. Kickstarter also lets us reach people from all over the world with our product, we’ve had return readers now from Australia, Germany, Norway, England, and of course all over the U.S and Canada. As two small time guys, we couldn’t ever get that kind of reach if we had to pay for it ourselves.
RF- Ken and I have been telling stories with each other for the better part of two decades, in the form of Role Playing Games. When we were younger we wrote some Marvel Fan-Fiction together, and so it seems like all of our combined experiences had been leading us to this. But, Astropunk is the first complete work that we have done together, though we have plans for many more in the future.
TAEM- Ken, where can our readers find this new series and who are the publishers for it?
KC- We are in the process of negotiating a website building fee, and getting that up and running, so in the meantime you can check out issue #1 at astropunk.bigcartel.com where you can also score a couple of homage prints to some of our influences. Or you can reach us directly through Twitter: @AstropunkComic or on Facebook at facebook.com/AstropunkMars. We are entirely self-published, independent comics creators, many people would assume that because of that our book might be relatively slap-dash in production or appearance. But, I can assure your readers that we take this very seriously, and have devoted not just hundreds of hours into this project, but have hundreds more to give.
TAEM- Rob, are there any more issues for the series planned, and what other projects do you foresee in the future for both of you?
RF- Astropunk: Murder on Mars is just the first arc of a 4-arc story that spans 20 total issues. When we sat down to plot things out, we wanted to capture the style and naming convention of the old pulp and dime store novels. So, each arc has its own subtitle, with the first obviously being Murder on Mars. But, and this might be a touch of a spoiler, as Leslie Dent (our heroine) continues to find herself in various situations, it will cause her to leave Mars and so to that note, each arc will take place in various locations.
Right now, Ken and I are working on an upcoming horror title called The Elect, with Astropunk Editor and Letter, Shawn M. Greenleaf, and Maine artist of Escape From Jesus Island fame, Mortimer Glum. As Ken mentioned earlier, it is an alt-history period piece, inspired by Lovecraft. We are both very much looking forward to being able to show it off.
TAEM-Rob and Ken, we want to thank you both for your time with this interview and wish you much luck in all that you do. Please keep in touch with us as I am sure that all of our readers will be interested in your progress.