The worlds of Do-It-Yourself and comic books collide this summer with HowToons: (Re)Ignition from Image Comics. We talked to co-creator Nick Dragotta at this year's Image EXPO and learned a lot about the project and its origins. We also chatted a bit about what's coming up in East of West (by Dragotta and writer Jonathon Hickman), the Sci-Fi western currently setting comic shelves ablaze.
MightyVille: When it comes to Image EXPO, the biggest thing is always the announcements. And you announced that HowToons is coming to Image today. So why Image Comics over a traditional publisher? You mentioned briefly that other publishers were worried about the tools being used and what not. Was that the main reason or was there something else?
Nick Dragotta: Honestly, no one else would publish it. [Laughs] Image is the only publisher that is looking for material like this. There were years when I didn't have much work going on and I shopped it at San Diego or I took it to other publishers and they just kinda looked at it like they didn't get it, you know? Eric [Stephenson] was the first publisher that hit me up out of the blue and said, “What’s going on with this HowToons thing?” So, that’s “why Image”, you know? I think Eric has the foresight to see that this could be something cool.
Yeah, this definitely caught me by surprise. It seems really interesting. As a parent myself, is this something I can enjoy with my kids, or is it more geared to the younger crowd?
Absolutely! I mean this is a book that’s going to teach kids how to take everyday household goods and make toys, or simple science projects, or little engineering things, peppered with education and things like that. But we’re trying to integrate that stuff as seamlessly as possible into the story-telling. And I think, you know, mostly what I've done with it the past 10 years is just short stories. I've never really done anything very expansive. So that’s why we went out and hired Fred Van Lente, who in my opinion is one of the smartest writers in comics. I think he’s terrific. And then Tom Fowler is, in my opinion again, one of the best cartoonists. And he loves Jordie Bellaire and so do I, the colorist. It’s gonna be a beautiful book and it’s gonna be different, you know? I don’t know how it’s gonna be received, but, like, we've dug up a little kinda community of HowTooners. It’s really cool to see how kids interject and transform what we kinda put out into something new and different, and you can see them growing and learning.
The format for HowToons: (Re)Ignition … is it going to be the monthly 22-page deal?
It’s gonna be five issues, 22 pages each, finite story. Basically it’s gonna be post-apocalyptic – I hate that word because it’s so overused. The kids wake up and the world has run out of its non-renewable sources of energy, so coal and oil and all that. All the projects we’re gonna deal with are renewables: solar, wind, hyrdro … so it’s gonna be a bunch of cool projects that play right into the story.
And you know as a father, too, you maybe look for things to do with your kids. And I find, like, one thing to do is go to a toy store and spend money. Or … hopefully we can craft some stuff and make things.
There’s been a lot of complaints about an aging readership in comics. How do you feel about that and does HowToons fit into that somewhere?
I mean that’s not why we … we didn't set out to save that, or try and do that, you know? That’s not why it exists. But, I mean, I’m gonna be very proud to have my name attached to something that sits on the shelves along with all the other great “kid” material. I do think we need some newer stuff. But, you know, this is very much a children’s educational comic. I don’t know how it’ll be received, you know? So it’s not your typical … we’re not trying to sell toys or anything. So, I dunno, we’ll see. I mean, I’m with you though, readers are always getting older.
I think anything that does bring in younger kids to the comic industry’s serialized format is always going to be a good thing.
And going back to “why Image” … not many people are publishing kids’ materials. I mean, my other book is East of West: violence and such, and…
[Laughs] Alternative future of America. And that’s what I, as a 40-year old, would want to read, that’s why I’m drawing it. But also there’s this yearning for me to get this project out there. It’s like I can’t speak enough to Tom Fowler, and Fred Van Lente, and Jordie, because they’re the ones that want to take this on, they’re inspired by it, too. I think most people said, “It’s a kids book, I don’t wanna do it.” You know? But I guarantee you, the quality will be up there with the best of them.
I’m glad you brought up East of West. I’ve really been enjoying it. The first trade blew me away. I knew it was going to be good, but I didn't expect it to be that good.
Well, thank you, I appreciate that.
You created a whole world-- I love your moody art. You place the setting very well, even without any dialogue. So, when you create a new world, here a mish-mash of the old west, with techno-organic, H.R. Giger-type stuff … when you set out to do a world, or create something, is there anything you do beforehand, anything that gets the creative juices flowing before you set yourself out there.
Yeah … East of West is very much fan fiction, you know? I am so inspired by what’s going on in Japaense comics, European comics, and I really like the merging of concept art and storytelling. And I think no one does that better than Tsutomu Nihei, he did Biomega. He’s doing Knights of Sidonia now. I get really jazzed by that. I love Juan Gimenez, Metabarons. I wanna bring more imagination to it, and you know, try to push myself and grow. And I feel like East of West has very much been something I’m really educating myself with. At Marvel Comics, I just kinda followed scripts ... I just got it done, you know? But at Image, I feel … I invest much more of myself as I go with it. And me and Jonathon [Hickman, writer] have a true partnership. We really respect each other in terms of how we get there in our craft. And we just kinda bounce ideas and we change art and we change writing to do what’s best for the story.
Do you guys see East of West as an ongoing series?
Oh, it’s an ongoing. Jonathon has this current story mapped out 35-50 issues. And that’s just the first storyline. You know, if you read the book, this next arc just deals with what everyone thought were the bit players. But each bit player gets a spotlight issue and we hope that readers go, “Wow, maybe these are major players, too.” And the shit’s gonna hit the fan, you know? Not everyone’s gonna live. And we want you to care about those characters. We’re not doing the typical, you know, structure of a story. We’re just kinda seeing where it goes and we’re building this world and Jonathon has the map. And we might deviate and take different tours. But we’re heading in that one direction, towards that ending.
Cool! I can’t wait to see where that’s going.
Any funny stories about working with Hickman?
[Pause] No … he’s just the mellow, cool guy, you know? I mean Jonathon’s Jonathon: there’s no one else like him in comics. I love working with him.
Alright, thanks for your time today, Nick.
There you have it! Let us know what sort of HowToons you'd like to see below!
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