We need more books like NYC Mech.
Few weeks back, I reviewed the first issue of the Image published series, alongside a newly revamped DC title, in a piece that commented on the importance of first impressions. Judging by the contents of the series’ following issue, these guys are as equally concerned with their second. While the introductory chapter sold itself almost entirely on atmosphere and misdirection, issue two deepens the immersion into a New York City completely populated by robots, without resorting to the kind of paint by numbers storytelling that plagues many of the industry’s titles. You have no idea what will happen next, and more importantly, you have no idea just how it’s going to happen. And you can’t stop yourself from finding out.
Series creators and co-writers Ivan Brandon and Miles Gunter are here this week to explain themselves and their new title, bringing an assortment of images from artistic find Andy McDonald along for the ride. Enjoy.
Brandon Thomas: What things heavily influenced the creation of NYC Mech?
Ivan Brandon: Hops, barley and nicotine.
Really, it was just a desire to do something progressive within the confines of what I think a lot of creators consider to be a pretty repetitive mainstream comics diet. We saw a potential to make the kind of book that would maybe excite people rather than just appease them, and tell a fantastic multi-faceted tale through the more recognizable realm of our experiences and our environment.
Miles Gunter: Andy’s art was a main influence. It wasn’t a situation where Ivan and I had the idea for NYC Mech and went looking for the artist. The concept came out of our reaction to Andy’s work. I wanted to create a story vehicle for reflecting the things happening in my mind and in my daily life, where I could create an abstraction through the details of this other world. I think it’s the same for Ivan and Andy.
There’s some ideas built on truth in the book. When you start from truth, you have a better chance of creating resonance. There’s a specificity; an authenticity to truth that you can’t fake. And people respond to truth in art. When the artist is being true to themselves; when you know yourself. In that way, the work is influenced by my own experiments with learning how to know myself through meditation and yoga.
NYC Mech also started as a response to the work of Gainax, specifically the shows Neon Genesis Evangelion and FLCL. Not so much for the ideas, but for the form. We were inspired by the way they told stories. But these influences change. Right now we are on a completely different wavelength from when we started. And six months from now, will be different from where we are now.
Thomas: Evangelion is actually the only anime I’ve ever really hooked into, personally. What was it about the series that got you, and influenced the book?
Gunter: I love the storytelling in Evangelion. Gainax has a gift for capturing the mundane as well as the hyperdynamic. I get tired of tedious storytelling in comics. I hate flipping through a book and seeing visual information presented in ways that I’ve already seen before. A comic has to move in an interesting way. That’s one of the advantages of the medium. Look at Eduardo Risso’s work. He is constantly moving through his story world; always mixing it up visually and never just doing talking heads or other tedious techniques. I like books where the artist and writer know how to make love to your eyes.
Thomas: How do you think coming up with a story to fit your artist’s personal style, instead of vice versa, has bolstered the process thus far?
Gunter: The story world was engineered around Andy’s art. As for the story itself, those are just the ideas we felt like executing at that particular time. But yeah, we totally wanted to give Andy material that he’d enjoy drawing.
Brandon: Andy focuses on everything from the mundane to the spectacular. His drawings of the city capture every nook and cranny, but there’s also a universe of intricacy in the design of every character, every nut and bolt’s been planned out far in advance. The reaction by fans has been unanimous and resounding approval, everyone loves his work and is shocked that it’s maybe the first time they’re seeing him. At conventions now he’s got a big long line of people who want to commission pieces or just to watch him draw. There’s a certain appeal beyond the story itself to watch Andy sort of emerge on the scene, and I think a lot of our readers are very excited to watch his evolution every month into an artist that’s turning everyone’s heads.
Thomas: One of the really impressive things about the first issue is the “disconnected” introduction sequence. Was there any fear about using something decidedly non-linear to start things off?
Brandon: Well, we were definitely conscious of the ramifications, but for my part there was never really any fear over it. I was really dead-set on using the first sequence as sort of an atmospheric crash-course, submerging the reader in the feel of the world without sitting there and drawing them a map. Following that obviously, there’s a very visible breath taken and then the story starts its slow unravel. For me, it’s much more intriguing to be entertained on a level where I’m not really sure what to expect. I like the idea that readers we’ve spoken to are hooked even though they really have no idea where we’re taking them.
Gunter: That was the first scene we wrote together. We just started world building, creating space and exploring it. I think I laid down the visuals and then Ivan did the words. Then we worked it over till we were happy with it. Writing is rewriting kids!
Thomas: With 2 writers, does that mean you get twice the rewrites, and how do you guys split up the chores?
Gunter: We plot and work on the scripts via phone and email. Ivan’ll write a scene, I’ll write a scene. Sometimes we don’t rewrite each other, but most of the time we toss it back and forth for several drafts. Or I’ll hand him some ideas and he’ll script it or vice versa. After we have a working draft, we massage it up until the time we go to print.
Thomas: Mech, from what we’ve seen thus far, is definitely an ensemble. Is the title always going to focus on this first group of characters, or will the viewpoints occasionally shift?
Gunter: The viewpoints will continuously shift. We want to create the oceanic sense of NYC for the reader. So that you feel the epic everyday density of that world.
Brandon: Without spoiling anything, expect a cast of the sort you’d find in 100 Bullets for example. There are a lot of different robots and the way their paths cross sometimes is a story in and of itself. There is definitely a core group for the book, but I’m not gonna tell yet who it is.
Thomas: Is it challenging to get the audience invested in characters that might not be the main focus in a few months?
Gunter: Yeah, it’s definitely a challenge. It’s very humbling and I think it forces us to work harder to go beyond our best.
Brandon: Well, the audience never really knows at the beginning what the focus is, so they really just follow everyone equally to figure it all out. It’s a big city ensemble piece and that’s a lot of its charm, I think, the idea that anyone in the background of any panel could be an enormous part of future events. I think people want to read good characters, and we try to give them that regardless of their screen time. I have my favorites obviously, and as the story evolves there will definitely be key players that the fans get attached to, but we’ll never overtly point in anyone’s direction. Some of the most intriguing dialogue I come across in life is just a guy at a hot dog stand. In NYC Mech, you never know where the next bit of information will come from.
Thomas: What about the city of New York allows its flavor and attitude to be translated, even when the place is populated by robots?
Brandon: There’s no specific thing really, NYC’s got a completely different attitude with every twenty paces. The variation in environment makes it ideal for always moving the story into something new. The city on its own is rife with drama/romance/comedy/horror/suspense on any given day within walking distance from wherever you want to start. This gives us an enormous element of surprise and the opportunity to filter some of that random chaos to readers that have never experienced it.
Thomas: With an infinite amount of story possibilities, how do you maintain a sense of mystery and suspense without distancing the audience from the stories?
Brandon: The other day on the subway a baby (maybe a premature one in any case, not a very robust baby) was choking on the way back into the city. There are a group of drunken men on the train, headed back from a parade and this freaks them out. No one knows what to do, so they pull the emergency brake. Now they’re stuck between subway stations because they’ve panicked and blindly reacted, the rest of the train is now equally freaked and the drunk guys start to bust out the windows of the subway car, one by one. Maybe trying to grant the baby air, maybe something else. This is a true story, happened 3 days ago. If you’re on that train, whatever you were headed to, whatever you had planned has disappeared. The leading lady you had all your dialogue planned for is now completely out of your reach, and these drunks and a choking baby have taken over your reality. There’s no controlling that.
Any moment in any day is an unknown variable, and as much as anyone strutting down the street thinks they have life by the balls, they could easily get hit by a truck. Part of being in NYC is dealing with that, bobbing and weaving through everything that comes at you from every direction. That’s what the reader’s going to see now they’re living in NYC for 22 pages through the eyes of a robot.
Thomas: The “robots” are unmistakably human in this title. Are you going to maintain this grounded tone throughout the book’s life, or eventually venture into more sci-fi territory?
Gunter: Sci-fi elements aren’t something we’re interested in pursuing. We want to bring New York to you. We want you to feel like you’re there. And we want you to share in our love for this amazing place. Love is our main territory of interest.
Brandon: It’s a character driven book, so it’s less in many ways about them being robots and more about what they do. There’s never going to be any big chunk of Cliff’s Notes exposition that solves everyone’s questions in one swoop, but there are definitely rewards forthcoming for people who are into the sci-fi and are paying attention.
Thomas: You briefly commented on a sense of repetitiveness often found in mainstream comics. What do you think encourages this?
Gunter: I think it’s caused by too many people perceiving the world the same way. When I say the world, I’m talking about space and setting; how you use your environment in the telling of the story. If you’re gonna write a scene that people have seen before, like a police interrogation, then find a way to make it your own. There are so many variables making up each individual moment that can be utilized.
Another problem is people making comics informed by other comics, rather than from outside sources, or from their own experience. Listen, I don’t mean to say that everything is repetitive, but I flip through a lot of stuff on the stands and I’m not feelin’ it because of these reasons.
Brandon: I think it’s somewhat of a self perpetuating thing…the retailers tend to play it safe with their orders, not wanting to risk too much on unknown variables (and understandably so). The publishers follow suit by producing very familiar products to encourage their purchase. However as the market re-expands into the book stores, etc., we see that changing. The content for the mass buying market (like NYC Mech) is aimed at (for example) a 20-something girl who’s never seen the inside of a comic shop. The trick I think, is to create something that sort of universally delves into areas of interest for both the comic specialty store and the mainstream pop culture venues.
Thomas: I want to thank Ivan and Miles for dropping by, and remind you all that the first two issues of NYC Mech are available at a retailer near you. Back soon.