Feb.19.15 at 12:00 pm

 
You've got questions. We've got answers. Let's dive right into it!

In light of no 'No Retcons or Reboots' part of the promise is there anything in the earlier stories that you wish you'd done differently, but now have to stick with, and has any of this changed how subsequent stories would have developed?

Mark

Not really! I wrote a meandering blog post earlier in the week that touches a bit on why that is, but it doesn’t say so explicitly.

Basically, it’s another advantage of telling stories out of order. As Scott and I learn more facts about Robo’s world, we’re able to insert facts and events into his past to reinforce those facts. The reader's experience, then, is merely one of new ideas being added to a body of information rather than having those ideas remove old ones.
 
If we think an established fact needs to change, there are two choices. The first is do nothing. Just leave the old version alone and try to find a different way to incorporate the new ideas into the established past. I can't think of when we've had to do that, but I'm sure we have. Y'know, part of the creative process that no one really talks about is how subtractive it is. You'll come up with ten ideas that sound great but then when you get in there and turn those ideas into the story, you turn up all kinds of difficulties with them. I think the worst thing a writer can do is to fall in love with an idea. You have to cut without remorse and without pity. I'm sure at some point, at least one of the cut plots, or characters, or ideas we've come up with in the last seven years was cut because it would've require a retcon.
 
The second option is something we use constantly.  It is, in a sense, the very essence of episodic fiction. We present new facts -- whether in the past or the present -- that cast a different light on the old information.

This is pretty easy for us since the series bounces back and forth in time. A lot of information is given to readers from characters talking about their own understanding of what has happened or what will happen. And that’s the key, really. Because all it means is showing that character’s understanding of those events to have been incomplete.

Best example: way back in Volume 1, Issue 1, Helsingard talks about the Hollow Earth. This was when we weren’t yet sure how closely we wanted Atomic Robo’s world to match our own. Hell, we didn't even know if it there was going to be a second volume, so maybe it was something we didn't have to think about at all. Well, spoiler alert, we kept making comics and it turns out we were more interested in Atomic Robo’s world matching ours as closely as possible. And that means Hollow Earth is right out of the damn question.
 
What do you do? Well, you make it so that there is a “Hollow Earth” but present new facts about it. Instead of the Earth being literally hollow, you posit that there are several subterranean cave networks located around the world. They are enormous and separate from one another. They have their own ecosystems based on billions of years of divergent evolution guided by environmental factors unlike anywhere else on Earth -- hell, unlike each other as well. Each “Hollow Earth” instance can then be its own minor interior alien worldlet, and what happens in one of them has no influence on the others.
 
Big cave networks, even if implausibly large, don’t contradict reality as we know it. And Helsingard mistaking one of these networks for the full extent of Hollow Earth doesn’t contradict revealing more Hollow Earth caves, or the denizens of those caves being very different from anything Helsingard described.
 
Boom, problem solved.
 
See, most comics are subject to retcons because they’re depicting an eternal “now.” There is no future, not really, just the illusion of one and, in its place, a “now” that is updated forever. And while that has a lot of unintended side-effects on a narrative, one of the more glaring ones is that the story’s own past can never connect to its present without constant reinvention of the past to match the newest “now.”
 
That’s a lot of weird words, so here’s an example: “Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive spider,” is an established fact of the past, but the how and when of that bite is constantly changing to match the newest “now” of Spider-Man. So, 1963’s Peter Parker was bitten by that spider in 1963, but 2015’s Peter Parker was not because his past has been continually reinvented to match his newest "now." That’s one of the reasons we keep getting new versions of old origin stories in comics and film. It’s an attempt to give the newest “now” its own past back. And we've already seen how ludicrous this can be outside of comics -- Amazing Spider-Man's origin movie when Raimi's Spider-Man origin movie is right there.
 
We don’t do that with Atomic Robo. We have stories that take place “now” of course, but they’re firmly rooted in a specific time and place. They will soon be the past because the future of Atomic Robo isn’t an illusion as it is in most mainstream comics. Atomic Robo's future, just like the real future, simply hasn’t happened yet. All we have to do is wait for it to unfold. So, 1963’s Atomic Robo could be bitten by a spider, radioactive or otherwise, back in 1963, and that fact will remain true for 2015’s Atomic Robo. And it will still be true in 2020 or 3020. No retcon needed.
 
We worked out a vague timeline of Robo’s life from activation to the “now” of 2006 when we were doing this. It wasn’t as detailed as the current timeline because we couldn’t know where Robo and his world would take us as we worked on it. But the major events were mapped out. This gave us enough structure to start writing stories with enough room between them to let us flesh it out new ideas about how to populate the blank spots of that structure as we came up with them over the years.
 

 


What happened between Robo and Hawking?

Sterling


We get this one a lot. My original idea is that they were romancing the same lady and that drove a wedge between them. 

But then we came up with Zorth Cartography in this very volume, and it’s an element of the setting that keeps finding places to crop up. So, now we’re thinking that instead of competing for love, they were competing for scientific theories to explain black holes.

Hawking’s theory “won” and Zorth Cartography faded into obscurity. The two have been bitter rivals ever since.
 

 


What plane makes up the She-Devils’ mother ship. Is it a Sunderland or a Martin PBM Mariner? 


It is indeed a Short Sunderland. Specifically the Mark IV, a.k.a. Short Seaford. I think. I’m sure Scott will correct me if he actually reads these things.





 
I seem to remember hearing that a lot of the Action Scientists are based on people Brian and Scott know.  Is there any list of who people are inspired by?  Or even just who are inspired by real people if privacy is an issue.
 
Ben
 
 
I didn't think there were too many until I started answering this question.
 
You actually just saw the first time it happens. Dr. Lewis and Dr. Martin are based on Brian and Scott. The new faces you see in Volume 4 are all based on people Scott knows. My favorites there are Ben Robbins (the Guardian Green) and Terrence (the Winston) with honorable mention, because I only met him once, to Robo's assistant Jerry based on A Different Brian Whom Scott Knows.
 
Helen's design in Volume 5 is based on Scott's wife. Powell down in Exotic Ballistics in Volume 6 is based on our very own letterer, Jeff Powell. All the She-Devils in Vol 7 are based on real ladies we've met through our comics work. Atomic Robo's "heart surgeon" is based on Phil our real life nuclear scientist buddy and Weirdness Consultant.

 

Feb.16.15 at 04:00 pm

The most interesting part of writing this comic has been watching it inform itself.

This sort of thing happens with all stories, I think. The act of writing out a story will take you down paths that never would've occurred to you. It's why you always hear "write every day." It's not just a PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE mantra, though it is that too, but it's because the writing is where all the work is.

Like, you can do *~world building~* until you're blue in the face, but that's not the work. To put it into terms of having a "real" job: worldb uilding is, at best, meticulously planning the route you will take to get to the office. It is literally the "thinking about going to work" of writing.

I mean, sure, there's a time and place and use for it. But I see so many people out there who don't know they're trapped by their own world building. They become so fixated on the world building itself that the story will never get written.

And I just want to explain to these folks, y'know, most of your world building happens by writing the damn story.

Now, fair warning, doing that means sometimes you'll have to delete something or re-write it. Oh, dear!

Uh, let's bring this back to its point: Atomic Robo the comic book informing its own premises. It's got to happen with every story, hell it happens to everything I write, but I think Atomic Robo is extra susceptible to it because of how the series interacts with time.

We're not tracking Robo's life in chronological order. So, time is already juggled up a bit. And then we can drop flashbacks into any story. And while that probably sounds simple on the surface, actually doing it is a bit like juggling chainsaws that are also juggling knives. It's why we have a timeline. That's not for you guys, it's to help us keep those chainsaws in the air.

So, with the setting being revealed to readers back and forth through its own time, we're given a little wiggle room to expand and contract the facts of the fictional setting as our ideas about them evolve while we move inexorably forward in our own time.

Hang on. Did that make any sense?

What I'm saying is: we can hint at ideas and drop plot hooks in, say, one volume that takes place in 2005, and then in another volume released years later that takes place in 1960 we can show you the payoff for those old story seeds, and we can do it with a greater understanding of the setting than we had back when we planted them. We'll have found more ways to hook the original idea into the setting in the intervening years of writing stories.

I'd cite some examples of this, but the earliest one I can think of happens across Volumes 4 and 5 and we haven't shown those to you yet. Technically there's stuff in Volume 1 that qualifies, but the payoffs for those don't hit until Volume 9, so no joy there either. 

I'm probably thinking about this stuff because I'm re-reading The Shadow From Beyond Time as it comes out while also writing our eleventh volume, The Temple of Od. Most of Shadow happens after Temple, but the weird setting ideas that get expanded upon in Temple originate in Volume 5.

Chainsaws!

Feb.12.15 at 04:25 pm
 
Welcome to another Weekly Mailbag! Where our Patrons ask questions and then, as if by an ancient and nameless magic, they get answers. Let's get to it!



Hi guys,

How important are current events to ideas for future volumes?

Thanks,

Josh

You may have noticed that almost all of our stories are historical. All of Volumes 2 through 5, then 7, and 9. Even the “present” parts of Volume 1 technically take place in 2005 or 2006 even though they were published in 2007 and 2008. Only Volumes 6, 8, and soon 10 take place firmly in the present. Generally the same day or week of their first issue’s release.

Weird, right? Did we do that on purpose? Yes! It’s dangerous as hell to work in the present when one of the central conceits of your ongoing story is that it closely mirrors the real world. Regular comic book production schedules make this difficult enough. You’ve got to have scripts done like four to six months before publication. A lot can happen in that time! And it’s even worse with Atomic Robo because I like to stay one volume ahead of Scott. That means any “present” storyline is written at least a year in advance. 

As a result, we have to structure “present” storylines so they can acknowledge reality and feel current, but they’ve also got to be agnostic enough about how reality intersects with the story that we aren’t completely derailed by unforeseen events.

We’ve found it especially helpful to tell “fast” stories in the present. That is, adventures that go from start to finish within one week.

Volume 6 happens in a few days. Volume 8 is probably 48 - 60 hours max. There’s a couple parts in Volume 10 where we have to jump a month ahead, so that’s got me a little worried. There’s also one huge plot point that seems increasingly less plausible as certain international events unfold. But it should be manageable with a little dialog magic no matter how things play out -- there’s that agnosticism, re: how we emphasize our stories’ intersections with reality.

Doing these “fast” stories keeps the action buzzing along so something interesting is always happening. But it also minimizes our window for getting screwed by current events. Yeah, it may take five months for a storyline to unfold to the audience one issue at a time, but if the whole thing takes place within the the first week of that first month, then it doesn’t matter if no one in the comic talks about The Big News That Everyone Should Be Talking About that happened during Months 2 - 5 because it hasn’t happened for the characters yet.

Then we dive back into the past with the next storyline so we can come back to the present following that one a year or two later. Doing this is just fun for us so we don’t get too bored with any one era. But, secretly, it also helps us to manage the problem of The Big News That Everyone Should Be Talking About. It lets our readers dip into the lives of these characters, so it feels more natural to catch them between these moments of our current history.



Is there anything fluffier than a cloud?

Just kittens.



If Atomic Robo were to be made into an animated series/film, who would be your first pick to voice Robo? Or Dr. Dinosaur? Or Jenkins? Or any of the other Action Scientists of Tesladyne?

Pat C.

It took us a while to figure out Robo’s voice. But Scott and I settled on Ron Livingston. It probably sounds like an odd choice, but think about it. Office Space had a great script and cast, but the whole film depends on the subtlety of Ron’s comedic ability, both as a straight man and as the joke guy. His performances in Band of Brothers and Boardwalk Empire (among others) proved that he can bring the world weariness, and most importantly do it without getting maudlin about it.

And that’s what you need for Robo. Someone who can knock out a snappy line without overselling it, and someone who can experience an intense loneliness without falling prey to it.

Doctor Dinosaur, I don’t know. But it should feel like Mark Hammill’s Joker doing an impression of Cobra Commander.

Jenkins. That’s tough. He’s got to sound like a bad ass without overdoing it or sounding like every Generic Space Marine With Stubble video game protag. Clint Eastwood is too old and weird. If Liam Neeson could turn off the accent, that might work.
 
Feb.10.15 at 02:15 pm

As you may or may not remember, we threatened you with new items in the Tesladyne Shop last week. And we have made good on those threats.

First up, we have the Camp Atvatabar T-shirt available in, like, several sizes. It looks so good even you will look good in it.

 

Then there's the Dr. Dinosaur Sticker Sheet. All proceeds from this item, like all the Dr. Dino merch, will go toward some kind of research fund blah blah blah probably something to blow up the sun. It's hard to get straight answers out of him for some reason.

Don't forget about the Dr. Dinosaur Button Pack. Stick them on to people you love. Or hate. Whichever. Just don't come crying to us when they start crying.

And the Dr. Dinosaur Poster. Are you sensing a pattern here? Like, maybe it was a terrible idea to put Dr. Dinosaur in charge of the Tesladyne Shop? Or that he's pushing out all these items with his jackass face on it because he's a vain jackass? Or that thing about blowing up the sun?

Lastly, there's my personal favorite, the SPACE poster. Get it before Dr. Dinosaur realizes we put something up for sale that won't earn him any royalties.

Feb.05.15 at 12:00 pm
Time for another installment of the Weekly Mailbag where we take questions from our Patrons every week, or whatever, and answer them! 
 
On to the questions! And, I guess, the answers!
 
Dear Tesladyne,

I just realized that in the Atomic Robo timeline, Nikola Tesla dies the same year that Marconi loses some of his patents based on Tesla's work. How does their dispute play out in a world with lightning guns and war zeppelins? What nastiness is Marconi up to before he turns his focus to Science City?

-Tom D.
 
This is one of those answers that's gonna need a quickie history lesson in front of it. Surprise, that happens fairly often with Atomic Robo.
 
Okay. Marconi is mostly known for “inventing” the radio. He did this by taking something like seventeen devices patented by Tesla and assembling them in ways previously and publically described by Tesla himself. This is like putting together bookshelves from IKEA and then claiming to have invented the bookshelf. Marconi lost the radio patent eventually, but the damage had been done and today everyone thinks of him as the father of radio.
 
What most people don’t know about Marconi is that he was into fascism. Like “pals with Mussolini” into fascism. Member of The Grand Fascist Council into it. So, yeah, just a super guy all around. Our version of Marconi plays this up by claiming that his death was faked in 1937 to allow him to direct the efforts of the Axis Space Program secreted away in the remote mountains of Venezuela.
 
If this sounds completely insane that’s because it’s one of the more obscure, but I assure you absolutely real -- UFO conspiracy theories I’ve come across. It was so absurd I knew we had to incorporate it into the history of Atomic Robo.
 
And while doing this with Marconi gives us fun stuff to play with like the secret Nazi space station and the hidden ruins of Science City, it doesn’t do much to affect the Marconi vs. Tesla shakeout because everything Marconi is getting up to post-”death” is totally secret and evil. I think canonically it's not even discovered until the 1960s.
 
He does manage to launch a secret Nazi orbital weapon in the final days of the war, so that's kind of cool. We get a hint of how that worked out in Vol 8 and we’ll get some more details on it soon.
 
By now, any alt history nerd worth a damn should be asking, “Hold up, why make Marconi the head of your space program when you’ve already got Von Braun?”
 
Because Von Braun’s experimental chemical rocket designs had already proven themselves essentially sound by 1934, and that made his work too valuable to the fatherland's build up for war. As per the completely insane UFO theory above, Marconi started working on anti-gravity, obviously a lateral move from radio. So, when Italy joins the Axis Powers in 1937, part of the deal is to give Marconi the freedom and funding to perfect this technology and launch the ultimate space weapon. Hence: faked death + secret South American space port.
 
 

 
If there was to be an Atomic Robo anime series, which studio would make it and who would direct?
 
Jon S.
 
HAHAHAHA you’re stupid for asking this stupid question because all of anime is stupid!
 
Except for the ones I like. Obviously.
 
But it’s Evangelion era Gainax for maximum “?!?!?!” Because why entertain an audience when you can baffle them into rage?
 
 

Question about Atomic Robo history.

My first exposure to the tales of Nicola Tesla came in 1984, when OMD released their wonderful song, Tesla Girls:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GH7MwYBdSvM

Now I'm wondering if Atomic Robo was involved in that song in any way. Did he write it? Was he aware of it? How does he feel about it? And just what WAS Robo up to in the 80s?

Thanks for the great comics, guys!

Rick N.
 
I figure Robo is barely familiar with most media of the last fifty or sixty years. So, uh, nope! Sorry.
 
As for what he was up to in the ‘80s, you’ll see! Uh, eventually. Volumes 10, 11, and 12 are already accounted for, but at some point after those we’ll get into the ‘80s with Atomic Robo and the Soldiers of Fortune. The idea for that one: write a love letter to all the action / super vehicle shows of the 1980s.
 
 

Hi guys,

One of my favorite things about Robo has been the use of real historical figures and events to add verisimilitude to the world you've created. Have you had a particular favorite person or event you've researched for a volume?

Thanks,

Josh
 
The cop out answer is all of them. You can’t help but become fascinated by the likes ofBass Reeves, or Edison, or Tesla, or Houdini, etc. Atomic Robo comics are a way to get paid to read up on the historical people and events I want to learn about anyway. I mean, really, that’s the whole point of being a writer.
 
Robo’s a great excuse to learn about Western history.
 
Infernal Affairs is a great excuse to learn about Chinese history.
 
We’ve got a couple Big Crazy Space sci-fi projects on the far horizon, probably nothing you’ll see until 2016 at the earliest, but those have been great excuses to learn more about the extremely strange and exciting frontiers of astrophysics and cosmology.
 
But!
 
If I had to pick a favorite, and for this question it seems I must, it’s probably Annie Oakley. She was a real firecracker.
 
 

 
That's it for the mailbag this week! If you're reading this right now, and it looks like you are, then we're already taking questions for the next installment. We can't do this without you, so hey, get on it.

 

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