Royden Lepp is the writer/artist of an evocative and intriguing new graphic novel called Rust from the good people at Archaia. A completely unique vision that mixes robots, war heroes, young boys and farmland, the world of Rust is unlike anything else you can find in comics. Royden's created a wonderful world and I think you'll enjoy hearing about it.
Jason Sacks: I'm here with Royden Lepp, the artist and writer for Rust from Archaia. Tell us what the book is about.
Royden Lepp: It basically takes place in an alternate 1930s/1940s, so it's not a real time or place that you can put your finger on. It's about the Taylor family, and they're living in this post-war era on a farm. And Roman Taylor is trying to keep his family together. He lost his dad in the War. And one day, Jet Jones crashes in a wheat field on his farm and he's being chased by a giant robot.
Roman and Jet have to work together to dismantle the robot, and Jet stays with the Taylors on the farm. But the longer he stays, the more robots keep coming. Jet Jones is full of mystery. Roman Taylor is just trying to keep the farm running. And mysteries and secrets ensue.
This is the first of a four-book series.
Sacks: Who is Jet Jones? What do we know about him? Is he a hero in that time and era?
Lepp: We know that we've seen soldiers like him in the war, in the flashback in the beginning of the book. We know that he's tied to the war in some way. But he won't talk about it with the Taylor family. He has some opinions about Roman's involvement in some of the robots he's building. Roman's trying to build a robot to help him on the farm since he doesn't have a lot of help. Jet Jones has some strong opinions on that, so we know that.
There's definitely lots of mystery in his history and his past, and the truth about who he is is bubbling up with each book.
Sacks: It looks like the farm is using old-fashioned technology. This Jet Jones, it sounds like a radio star. And you're talking about the war, but the clothes they're wearing in the war seem evocative of World War I. So the book is set in what seems to be the past, anyway?
Lepp: What I wanted the reader to feel like when they opened the book is a familiar place. And then they see these robots marching into battle and they're like, "Oh, I'm not in Kansas anymore. This is not World War I. This is not World War II. Where am I?"
That's where I want to leave the reader. It's basically this alternate universe — like maybe a "what if" sort of situation more than "where are we?"
Sacks: At the same time, you have this kid at the center of the story that we can all identify with, it seems like. I love the pictures of him wearing the jet suit and everything, too. So that's part of it, too. He's growing into being more of the person he wants to be or needs to be?
Lepp: Jet's big secret, which is part of book one, is that he is not a real boy. His desires and his dreams are quite different from the Taylor family. They slowly figure this out as well, that Jet Jones is not just not who he seems to be, but he's not even really a he.
He's a machine as well, and that's a secret that very slowly unfolds starting in book one and through book two.
Sacks: It sounds like a really unique book. Have you done other comics I might have seen?
Lepp: Not a lot. I've done some small comics and children's books. I've just been kind of dabbling in publishing. Rust is kind of my first opus, if you want to call it that.
It's this very big story. It's very epic. It's taken me a long time to tell. But I'm excited it's finally getting on the shelf, and I'm confident that people are going to love it.
Sacks: You have a real vision of this book going through book four. Do you have it all spelled out very specifically?
Lepp: Yeah, actually we have a lot of the work already done. We're pulling, though, and making sure the story is as tight as it can be, but a lot of the artwork is already done. The story is set. I know where we're going. No one's going to expect the ending.
Sacks: No one's going to expect the ending. That's always great in a book. Book One has its own ending, but it's all leading to something bigger? With revelations all the way, I'm sure.
Sacks: One of the posters that won Wondercon for me was the first Rust poster, which is this field with the kid flying over. It's such a great, evocative image. The art in the book seems so simple but has such a great complexity to it. How did you approach doing the art?
Lepp: The way that I drew Rust is just kind of what comes naturally. Doing as much drawing as this book takes, it has to come really naturally.
I want the characters' facial expressions to be readable, so I'm designing them with that in mind. I like drawing in pencil. A lot of people think Rust is inked, but it's all pencils multiplied in Photoshop to get the texture of the page, the grittiness of the pencil.
That's kind of what I'm attracted to. When I see a book and it feels rough — it feels like somebody passionately put the linework on the page — that's what I like to see. So that's kind of what I like to put in it.
Sacks: That's the kind of thing that jumped out as I was looking through it. I could tell you invested a lot of yourself in every page. The coloring is also a big part of it, I noticed. You're using a really muted palette. A lot of yellows and earth tones, I guess, is a better way of putting it. I'm sure that's by design also.
Lepp: Yeah. We originally had it in grayscale, so it was in black and white. Then the folks at Archaia said, "What if we did it in a sepia tone and made it feel even more like this echo from the past? " That really helped the story overall. It feels like an old story.
Sacks: It echoes the cornfields and the rural setting, also.
Lepp: And also the warmth of the prairies and the heat of the sun.
Sacks: What else would you like to make sure people know about the book?
Lepp: It's a really exciting story. I'm confident readers are going to love it. Last week we signed a deal with Twentieth Century Fox for a movie, and it's not even on the shelf yet. So that's unprecedented and very exciting. I'm still kind of stunned. We've got some really great talent attached to it so far. My focus is on the books, but there's already enough buzz around the book that we're actually looking to do a possible movie in the future.
Sacks: A cartoon or live-action?
Sacks: Interesting. How does that feel with your first major project?
Lepp: I'm stunned. I can only repeat it. I can only tell you how I feel. It's just –- it was literally last week. It's all happened really quickly.
Sacks: That's amazing. It means the concept really resonates with people.
pp: I hope so, yeah.
Sacks: Anyplace we can find you online?
Lepp: I've got some art online. If you Google my name, thanks to my mom and dad, my blog comes up first. So if you just Google "Royden Lepp," I've got a not very complicated site, just a blog where I throw some drawings. You can see some of my other artwork there.
Interested in reading more about Rust? Check out Jason's advance review!