If there’s one thing the L.A.-based writer Justin Peniston likes to do, it’s tell a story. He’s written projects for both DC and IDW, and has his own webcomic, Hunter Black. In August, Space Goat Publishing will launch Rocket Queen and the Wrench, a three-issue mini-series by Justin and artist Ramanda Kamarga. Rocket Queen is set around Katsumi, the 13-year-old daughter in a family of mech-costumed crimefighters. When the son of their mechanic discovers who they’re working for, he joins Katsumi in her quest to find her mother’s killer.
Jason Sacks for Comics Buletin: Rocket Queen has a strong focus on family. That’s obviously an important theme to you. I’m sure it’s obvious why, but I’d love to hear your reasons.
Justin Peniston: Well, I’d be lying if I said that family, particularly dysfunctional family, wasn’t a theme in a LOT of what I write. In Over My Dead Body, I revisit the concept of the father-child relationship over and over again (and isn’t that what Frankenstein is really about?). The Family Secret is about a divorced mom trying to raise her kids, at least one of whom yearns for the approval of her father.
Rocket Queen and The Wrench is no different, obviously. Each of the kids has “lost” a parent, through death or divorce, and each of them is dealing with that loss rather poorly. My family life was, shall we say, volatile when I was a kid. Drama comes from conflict, so my family had plenty of drama because there was plenty of conflict. It all came from a place of love, but there was still lots and lots of conflict, so when I seek a source for drama, family is a great place to start. I think a lot of people can relate to this particular theme in modern America, even people with relatively stable family lives.
CB: Is Kat Rocket Girl or Rocket Queen? Is she stuck at an age where she and her dad argue about what she should be called?
Peniston: Well, there are two answers to this question. In-story, Katsumi is just young…she was 11-years-old when she began operating as a superhero. The simple truth is she can’t make up her mind what she wants her superhero name to be. There’s a bit of a story there, but Kat will tell you all about it herself the story, so I won’t go into much more detail here.
CB: And Rocket Queen wasn’t the original name for the series, right?
Peniston: Right. I originally intended for the series to be called Rocket-Girl and The Wrench. I worked on it with that title for a LONG time, and just as I was getting the first issue ready and I was going to launch it through Comixology Submit, Amy Reeder’s Image book, Rocket Girl, was announced. I reached out to them to kind of get a feel for maybe sharing the name, and they already had all their ducks in a row in terms of trademark and the like.
I went back to the drawing board searching for a name. Will Orr (my Hunter Black collaborator), Jacob Bascle (who letters pretty much everything that I work on), and I each threw a bunch of names out as suggestions…but I liked the alliterative sound quality of the words “Rocket” and “Wrench.” I work around a lot of music in my day job, and “Rocket Queen” is the name of a song by Guns n’ Roses, and it sounds like the kind of name a pre-teen would come up with. Once Jacob came up with a logo that we all liked, we knew that we were sticking with Rocket Queen And The Wrench.
CB: Kat’s an interesting character. Can you tell us a bit about her?
Peniston: Kat is a huge over-achiever. She’s several grades ahead of most kids her age and she’s not one to be shy about such things. She’s terrible about hiding her light so that others can burn brightly, so to speak. Kat wants nothing more than to live up to the heroic legacy of her parents. She believes in the work that they do, and she accepts that her mother’s death is a consequence of doing the right thing, or at least she thinks that she does. Having to maintain a secret identity, plus being a real smartass, makes it difficult for her to retain friends; her only real friend besides Jamie will be introduced somewhere down the road. She’s super wary of Jamie at first as a result of that difficulty, but once she lets him in, they become fast friends. Katsumi is smart, strong, and decent. She’s also a 13-year-old girl, so she doesn’t want to be ANY of those things ALL the time.
CB: You have a few allusions to other super-heroes in Rocket Girl. How many heroes are in this world?
Peniston: Yikes. Lots. More than I’ve created so far, that’s for sure. So many superheroic tropes stem from the idea of a shared universe, it seems foolish to put these heroes into a world without any other heroes. I’ve toyed with the idea that Rocket Queen and The Wrench and The Family Secret are in the same universe, but I don’t think that’s a trigger I really want to pull. Early on, we introduce Alpha, a feral legacy hero trying to keep his city clean in the tradition of heroes like Batman and Daredevil. I have some other superhero characters for Kat and Jamie to interact with down the line.
As far as I’m concerned they exist in a fully realized superhero setting, but this is the only comic being published in that setting for the foreseeable future.
CB: Was it a specific decision to choose Ramanda Kamarga’s manga -like art for this comic?
Peniston: I cannot overstate how much I was NOT looking for a manga-like artist for Rocket Queen. I’ve never been a huge manga reader; I think I have one or two issues of the Dark Horse Akira reprints and one Lone Wolf and Cub trade. I enjoy anime here and there, but I’m just not a manga guy. The idea of using a manga style for the look of the book didn’t even occur to me. It was actually Space Goat, in their capacity as talent management, that found Ramanda for me. When I saw his samples I was intrigued, but I had my doubts. His stuff was great, but I wasn’t sure it was for me. When I saw his very first designs for Rocket Queen, I was HOOKED. She looked nothing like what was in my mind’s eye and I didn’t care. She looked BETTER. She looked perfect. I never looked back.
I’ve been lucky to work with some stellar artists in my relatively small career, but Ramanda is the artist who best gets what I want. In all we’ve done so far, I think I’ve asked for one very minor change in his work. It’s like he reads my mind…which is kind of spooky, now that I think about it.
CB: Was there a manga series that influenced this series? It seems to have a manga style setup and setting.
Peniston: Even though I’m not a manga guy, that’s not to say that we aren’t tapping into whatever makes manga work; certainly I’ve studied some of the differences between American and Japanese styles of storytelling (as presented to me by Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics and Making Comics) and I’m not afraid to use Japanese techniques in any comic I write, not just Rocket Queen. But no, there aren’t any specific manga series that inspired Rocket Queen. Rocket Queen‘s biggest inspiration is probably the Harry Potter books, to be honest.
I wanted to capture the episodic nature of the Harry Potter stories, but with each episode being something somewhat epic in scope. I also wanted young characters still learning who and what they are. Yeah, Harry Potter was a HUGE influence on Rocket Queen.
CB: Why did you move from a Comixology Submit comic to publishing through Space Goat?
Peniston: A couple of reasons. Firstly, I’m not a publisher, try as I might to be one. Too much goes into the creation, publishing, and marketing of a book. I mean, I can do it…because I did, but I don’t think I do it WELL. The guys at Space Goat have a TON of experience and know-how and wherewithal to get stuff done. I know this because I’d worked with Space Goat in the past. I have seen, first-hand, what they can do, and wanted them to do for Rocket Queen what they’ve done for Marvel and DC and so on.
Lastly, as much as I love digital comics (and I really do, I almost never buy print anymore), the opportunity to get Rocket Queen into print is one that I can’t pass up. I want the book in Previews and then in stores. It’ll just plain reach more people that way.
CB: Where do you hope that comic shops shelve this book?
Peniston: That’s a really good question. I want them to shelve it wherever they would have shelved Leave It To Chance, back in the day. Rocket Queen and The Wrench is all-ages, but it’s not a kiddie book; it really is appropriate for readers of all ages. I want them to shelve it right next to Atomic Robo, I think. You can give Atomic Robo to anyone; the subject matter isn’t inappropriate for kids at all, and it’s SMART. I don’t see anything wrong with kids reading books that contain words they have to look up, or ideas that they have to work to understand. I don’t see anything wrong with kids reading books that force them to face certain fears…I daresay that facing those fears in fiction helps to prepare kids to face them in life. Besides, Atomic Robo might be my single favorite comic currently being published. Sitting on a shelf next to Atomic Robo would make my whole year.
Rocket Queen and the Wrench #1 ships in August from Space Goat Publishing.