Joyride is in fact a joyride, by which I mean a delightfully fun exploration of space travel with a team of teenagers as leads. When I spoke to Lanzing and Kelly at this year’s San Diego Comic Con, their excitement about their new comic was infectious. As Lanzing said, “[The fun of the series is] the whole point. There’s a lot of science fiction stories out there, especially now with the rise of things like Saga. The genre has really blown open in comics.”
He continued, “But we thought that there was really a chance to – as fans of the original series of Star Trek and Star Wars and serials and Flash Gordon – we thought it was really an exciting opportunity to get in. Rather than doing some dark deconstruction of science fiction, to bring the fun back into it. To bring the adventure back into it. That’s why we do single issue stories in Joyride. That’s why the positivism and energy of the protagonists are so infectious.”
This positivity is important to the writing team; Lanzing offered this explanation of their optimistic approach to science fiction: “It’s because it constantly needs to fight back against a culture right now that would have you mostly look at science fiction stories as dystopias and sort of hopeless dark things. Even when you’re heading to space, the space is terrifying. We wanted to fight against that.”
The comic stars a handful of teenage characters who take a space ship for a joyride, only to find themselves involved in thrilling adventures that they never could have expected. Kelly reflected on the opportunity for brightness that these character give him: “Being able to tell stories that are youthful, positive and optimistic is really something that’s insanely important to us. Especially considering the world we live in outside of the comics that we read and the media we consume, the news, TV, the political climate, everywhere we’re looking. There’s a lot of very heavy, very serious issues on tap. And they’re absolutely important, but, then again, when it comes to your entertainment, maybe it’s good to be reminded that, sometimes, it’s okay to just get out there and have fun.”
Lanzing shifted in his seat as he reflected on the comic in the context of current news: “In the last two years, we’ve seen a political climate hit America where we’re literally talking about building a wall around the country. Where we’re talking about setting ourselves apart. Where we’re talking about cutting ourselves off. Wherever you fall on that politically, we realized that there really is a chance to talk about the other side of that.
“Okay, maybe as a government and as a people, we have to make these little weird decisions – things to keep ourselves feeling safe. But as individuals we always have a choice. As individuals, we can always move beyond those borders. As individuals, we can always reach for understanding and even reach for something more.
“And that is something that Joyride is – as we get into issues 5 through 8, which are our second arc. Where the first arc is really concerned with leaving Earth, our second arc is really going to be concerned with, ‘What do you really find out in space that helps nail on those themes, too?’”
The idea of Joyride has been long in conception; Lanzing reported, “We came up with Joyride years ago – the idea of three kids who leave a planet that’s surrounded by a giant shell, and get out and see the universe for the first time the way that an Amish kid on Rumspringa might encounter an ‘English’ for the first time. That isn’t something we came up with politically. That is something we came up with emotionally. We thought, ‘That will be a really fun way to encounter space’.”
Lanzing explained how the key characters fit that concept: “Because Kirk’s been there. Even when he going to a new place, he’s got the military. He’s got a backing, and he’s got an expertise. Uma doesn’t know what the hell is up. Catrin doesn’t even want to leave the planet. Dewydd has a curiosity. So, the reader is trying to get into that idea of why these characters leave.”
The characters in Joyride all have something that they’re carrying around in their past. They all have histories that could keep them all oppressed or down in some ways. But these teenagers are all about transcending the aspects of their lives that kept them down. That aspect of the story gives the book its power and also provides fuel for the excitement. Lanzing noted, “It’s leaving home town for the first time.” To which Kelly replied, “Exactly. The fundamental core of this is all about growing up. And how difficult it is when you feel like everything is stacked against you. You don’t need to look at the political climate or any of the wider themes to be a teenager who feels like the world is stacked against you. That’s always been the case! It just so happens that right now, there are a lot of really obvious things that we can point to. But even if the country was humming along sweetly, teenagers would still want to TTFO. Being able to key into that has been a really great thrill.”
Lanzing and Kelly are unique among writers because they’ve always worked as a team. As Lanzing recalled, “We figured out how to become friends, how to collaborate and how to make these moves together. We came into the real world in a lot of ways – together. Not just the two of us. We have a third friend named David Server. He’s been our best friend for years. He comes to Comic Con with us every year. And he’s a manager of a lot of great talent, now.
“But back in the day, we were just three kids who would pile into a car and drive out to San Diego,” Lanzing smiled as he remembered his days as a fan. “We would drive to the comic book store every week and argue about whether or not whether Kitty Pryde should be dating Peter Parker in Ultimate Spider-Man. That was our context. And then we all hit the real world together. And have adapted to it and found our way in it together. So, this is not dissimilar to Joyride. Joyride is not in any way autobiographical, and yet, in every way, it is autobiographical – if you know what I mean.”
Lanzing reflected on how this book was different from their previous project: “It’s interesting with us coming from Hacktivist, which is the same in a way. Hacktivist is a book that was our first comic together. It was very autobiographical insofar as it was about – If you take out all the hacking, it’s really just a story about how Collin and I work together. It’s a story about what it means to be friends with somebody – what it means to be unrelated but be brothers. And what it means to fight over principles.”
Kelly added: “And disagree and want to kill each other sometimes. And sometimes have to fake your own death just to get away from the other guy.”
“I do it all the time,” replied Lanzing. “It’s horrible. So, figuring out how we make that play is the fun of every book that we do. We have a very specific story to tell that you don’t get to get out of a lot of single writers. A single writer doesn’t have the life experience that we do because our specific life experience is learning to work with another person. And learning to work creatively with another person, which is a really hard thing to do.”
Kelly jumped in, adding that the important thing is “The idea of not being able to let you own ego get in the way. And I think that’s something that creates, in all of our characters, not necessarily a fundamental optimism. But we don’t write a lot of characters that are so pig-headed and so bullish about their ideas that they put themselves in a hole. We really love characters who might start there but slowly realize that people around them – the people they care about – have valid opinions, and those opinions can shape who they are.
“We think that’s what makes a human being a good human,” he continues, “whether you’re in your small circle or a larger circle. Listening, hearing, and then being able to adapt or help other people adapt to you. Just being malleable in your opinions and in your growth, we think is insanely important. And that’s something that’s in all of our work. “
Comics are a unique medium that allows for personal growth in a way that is different from any other medium. Lanzing reflected on why he and Kelly love creating comics: “No one does comics for the money. You’re doing comics because you love comic books. Because you feel like you have something to say in that medium.
“Collin and I do film and TV,” he continued. “That’s our background. That’s frankly where most of our work is right now. We’re only doing Joyride in comics. We’re waiting for a book we’re gonna be launching next year that we’re just starting work on. And we have a couple of pitches that we’re putting together. But after a long spate of DC work, between Grayson and Batman and Robin Eternal, we’re now really taking some time to go back to film and TV.”
Though movies and TV pay well, there are constraints on the work: “Something that’s very interesting about going back there is realizing…the degree to which people tell you what to do in film and TV. The degree to which there are notes systems in place to make sure that the artist is always checked. The degree to which you aren’t necessarily, especially when you’re early in your days, you’re not the primary caretaker of your work. It’s been an interesting transition back to film and TV. Because it means that things like Joyride feel even more like what they were designed to be – which is an escape for us. It’s a way for us to tell stories that come directly from our heart – that don’t have a filter outside of the filter of Marcus To, who is our collaborator and our co-creator on the thing. And he’s the perfect filter. It’s like he just pulls images out of our head, and it’s like we just pull images out of his.”
Lanzing and Kelly have nothing but praise for their talented artist, as Lanzing reported: “Wait until you see what he does with issue 5. Starting with issue five, Marcus starts inking digitally. He’s an amazing inker, and he does all of his inking on pen and paper. And he’s constantly trying to push himself to make his inking better and better and better. It’s a big thing for Marcus. So, now, we’re realizing he wasn’t happy with inks on 1 through 4. Even though, I would argue that they’re some of the best inking in comic books. He is still not happy with it, so he took it to digital to try and clean it up and do even more interesting work with it. And so far the results are stellar.”
Of course, prolific creators like Lanzing and Kelly have more projects in the pipeline. Some can’t be announced yet. “However,” Lanzing added, “People who are really engaged with what we’re doing on Hacktivist should really check out a new indie publisher called Vault Comics. Vault is a very cool, small, family-owned company doing some really exciting stuff that’s just premiering at this show. Read into why we want you to look into that on your own time. We just can’t talk about what it is yet. We’ve been working on a book with them for over a year. It’s just been slow-going because we had to wait for exactly the right artist. But we have him now. He’s outstanding. We cannot wait to get this thing started – it’s gonna be killer.”
As if that isn’t enough, “We have an animated series that hasn’t been announced yet but will be soon. We’re literally in production right now. We turned in a script this morning – it’s maddening. And we’re prepping a new pilot. We just sold a pilot with Roddenberry Entertainment. We’re prepping a new pilot now. We’re prepping a new feature. We’re all over the place right now.”
With the first trade of Joyride dropping September 27, 2016, their latest work will be flying into your LCS soon.