Posted April 13, 2015 at 12:04 pm

Here’s the best links turned up by my research and general internetting last week. I offer this as a service to you weirdo degenerates who unaccountably do not follow me on Twitter.

World’s first head transplant "could result in a hitherto never experienced level and quality of insanity.” - Science Alert

Augmented vision while driving couldn’t possibly backfire and especially not at highway speeds oh my god what are you people thinking? - The Verge

Quantum communication gets a little more possible with fibers that can bring light to a practical standstill. -


Posted April 2, 2015 at 09:43 am
It's time for another MAILBAG.
What you do is: you become one of our Patrons. And then you send us letters. And we address them here for everyone to see.
Let's get rolling.
I'm curious why you guys decided not to have weird science filter into the mainstream universe a bit more.  I mean, sure, you've included enough secret societies and everything to make it plausible (heck ALAN by himself would work just fine as a reason), but, before you included all that, you had to decide "Are we going to have a world where Action Science has changed everything or one where Action Science is more hidden and hasn't affected the landscape of the world so much?"
I'm curious why you went with hidden science.  Also, if you're planning on making it less hidden anytime soon.
It’s a question of accessibility. That’s the feature of this series that we championed above all others. It informed the shape of everything we’ve done. It’s why Robo is a robot. You never need to see the origin story. You see a robot on the page and you never question why it’s strong, or invulnerable, or ageless, so we never have to waste time talking about it.
The robot main character lets us build a big and complex continuity across 100+ years without retcons or compressions. That means every story counts and with a little planning every story fits with all the others without any of them getting in the way. And that means readers can start anywhere and read the rest in any order. That’s less of a concern now as the whole comic goes online. But back when print was the only option, you could never be sure that any individual reader would have access to the whole catalog.
Anyway! A big part of how all that history fits together seamlessly is by making sure that it closely resembles our own so we don’t have to devote a lot of space to explaining How Things Are to everyone. Memory and Wikipedia do it for us. Super duper crazy science has to be suppressed or destroyed in the course of these super duper crazy science adventures to keep the world recognizable so we don’t have to keep reminding readers about Kennedy’s second term or when the Fourth Reich claimed Antarctica in 1972.
I mean, sure, that stuff is fertile ground for fun and interesting alternate history stories, they just aren’t the ones we’re doing with Atomic Robo!
Modern stories are going to be a little different. Volume 10 is our first glimpse of a little thing we’re calling Weird Future, the new ongoing “now” of Atomic Robo’s continuity. It’s not that this will be an era where the “hidden” science will become revealed at last. Rather, it’s clear that our immediate future of the real world is going to become very strange. It seems like every day I read articles about emergent technologies that would’ve been considered ridiculous as recently as a year ago. We'll have to let things get a weirder just to keep up.
We've seen a large number of maniacs, mad scientists and explosions in Atomic Robo.
What I gotta ask is if there have been any initiatives made by Tesladyne to reach out to the potentially deranged and help them? Be it to save out on the massive explosions that tend to be an end result of their experiments and/or projects.
With the general awareness of mental health these days, it's bound to have happened at least one, right?
-Kyle M.
Well, there’s a very in-depth psych evaluation for potential Tesladyne staff and their immediate families, but there’s only so much that can be done to screen for these sorts of things in the general populace.
And, really, there just aren’t that many mad scientists. It may seem like there are, but it’s only because we don’t do comics about days when Robo is bored out of his mind waiting for the results of the latest experiment to come back from the lab.
We've gotten hints that Robo, at some point, got extra A/V stuff wired into him -- the brain phone, getting RSS feeds in his head, watching TV with no screen. This begs all sorts of questions.
Is Robo a WiFi hotspot?  Can he 'speak' Bluetooth?  Does he have IR emitters so he can act as a universal remote?
Unrelated: Is canonical George dead?
What, no love for Canonical Ananth?
Without spoiling anything for readers diving into the Atomic Mythos for the first time via this website, there are events in Volume 8 that put the ultimate fate of, uh, 95% of the Action Scientists into the Question Mark Zone.
My philosophy is that these guys aren't dead until the comic tells us they are. They have become Schrödinger's cast.
As for the other stuff.
WiFi, yes.
Bluetooth, yes.
Universal Remote, no. But he does have a cell phone in there.
Has the transition to webcomic changed how you do each page? Before a reader would read each issue as it was released, but once the website is caught up readers will be reading a page at a time. So in a way each page is its own issue.
Does the fact that we are currently using more DC than ever before have something to do with Edison? Or has he moved on to bigger and better things?
Oh, and a third question, will we ever find out where Edison's Robot came from?
Thanks, Timothy T.
It’s funny, the webcomic transition is pretty much meaningless on my end because I was already writing Atomic Robo like a webcomic.
It’s a habit I picked up without knowing it until Greg Rucka told me. I tend to structure my pages to be specific units that will be experienced separate from all other pages because I spent ~10 years writing a webcomic.
Back in the wild days of 8-bit Theater I made sure there were several gags per page. With Atomic Robo there’s less of an emphasis on “gags” because it’s not primarily a comedy series. Still, something important happens on every page. Which you ought to be doing anyway, because my god, what was the point of that page otherwise?
I suppose the big thing is that there’s a sense of completeness to each page. It means pacing things so there is a natural pause at the end of each page. Even if the scene keeps going on the next page(s).
As for Direct Current, we use it so much because it’s so handy! Alternating Current is not a miracle technology for all applications as some Tesla nerds would have you believe. In certain contexts, it’s unquestionably superior to Direct Current. But DC is unquestionably superior to AC in other contexts. Having access to both of them is pretty great.
As for Edison’s robot, he built it! Probably the most successful out of what I assume to be Edison’s many attempts to build a better Robo.
Fun Fact. The robot is called the Dynamic Electro Consciousness Engine or DE-CE or “dee-cee” haha get it. Yeah, that was dumb.
Posted March 28, 2015 at 10:23 pm

Wish we could've made it out to ECCC. It's probably tied with HeroesCon as our favorite convention. There's just too much happening on the home front right now for us to jet over to the Worst Coast.


Hope everyone's having a good time over there and to see see you at the next ECCC.

Posted March 23, 2015 at 12:00 pm

First, here's some kind words about Atomic Robo from the dorks at GeekDad.

Second, here's the madman at Funranium telling you what's-what.

Third, you may have noticed last week's livestream died. Our private test run earlier in the week went smoothly, but setting up the real one was a nightmare. We eventually called it off but kept poking at it to find out WHY WHYYYYYYYYY.

And I think we figured it out. We'll run a new sorta open test soon and see how this new set up copes with other human being looking at it.

Posted March 19, 2015 at 02:16 pm

Whoops! Meant to advertise this earlier in the week, but I've been up against a hell of a deadline for The Phantom and kinda sorta forgot about everything else in the world.

We're gonna do a live stream for our Patrons tomorrow, Friday March 20th, at 7:30pm Eastern.

Scott and Brian will take questions from whomever the hell shows up while Scott draws an all new cover. I think it's a cover? Whatever, it'll look cool and you'll see it happen as if by magic before your very eyes.

Stay tuned to this website, our Twitters here and here, and Patron feed for the URL when the event looms nigh.

Posted March 13, 2015 at 10:55 am

Just a quick note for everyone who wanted to know when Atomic Robo and the Knights of the Golden Circle would be available through Amazon. Uh, it is!

You can also buy it online through Midtown Comics or your favorite online retailer. Definitely check your local shop too.

The collected edition is not yet on comiXology, but we're working on that. Meanwhile you can grab the individual issues if you're getting impatient.

Baron Heinrich von Helsingard is poised to conquer the Old West with his invincible army of automatic soldiers and the war zeppelin Basilisk. Atomic Robo, Doc Holliday, and U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves are all that stand between him and total conquest. But they're outmanned, they're outgunned, they have no good plans, and there's no way out alive. Oh, and Robo's nearly out of nuclear fuel because it's 1884.

Posted March 12, 2015 at 11:00 am
It's that time again.

MAILBAG. Where Patrons send us mail and then we answer it in public. The few sacrifice for the many!

Just one question this week, but it leads to a big dang rambling answer. Hope you guys and gals enjoy.

You guys do tons research but what’s the most unexpected thing you came across? Thanks!

B. K.

Y’know, I sat down with this question a couples weeks ago and thought, “Oh, this’ll be easy.”

WRONG-O. But I’ve finally got an answer. It might be a big sprawly one, but here it goes.

It seems like we’ve always been working toward the internet. Not explicitly, I don’t think it was ever the plan, but an internet accomplishes a great deal of what every civilization was trying to get done. 

Now, it’s dangerous to look back at history and assign motivations or values that simply weren’t there. Or to argue for a grand scheme to explain the course of history. History isn’t even linear, not really. History is a network with billions of nodes that are all growing new nodes and every node is tugging on all the others forward and backward through time.

But what you find in every society, in every corner of the globe, throughout all of history, is a constant and practical interest in making both communication and computation faster and more accurate. And the more complex your civilization becomes, the more you need both of those things. Complexity demands greater and more specializations, and that means sharing more kinds of information with more people. The specialization then increases the complexity of your economy and you need more and better computation to keep track of all its moving parts and to coordinate the re-assembly of all that discreet specialized knowledge into whole working things from walls to roads to pencils.

The intersection of increased specialization with increased computation drives innovation. Think about it. If we’re individually responsible for all the ingredients of our own survival, there’s not a lot of time available to experiment. But if you have, for example, architects who don’t have to worry about hunting or growing food, then those guys have a lot more time to work out the art and theory of their trade. And the more they can model mathematically, the more experimentation they can do because they don’t have to use as much time, materials, and manpower/energy building prototypes to find out what works by trial and error.

And that’s happening in every trade. And then every facet of every trade.

Those innovations in increasingly subdivided fields of all human activity then drive the need for yet more communication and more computation. On and on.

So, at all stages of organization, we were incentivized to find more and better ways to communicate and to calculate.

“You mean to tell me the Egyptians were trying to build computers?”

Well, no. Not as we think of them. But wherever you find permanent structures, you find machines designed to output new information based on various inputs. They were far too specialized to be anything like a computer, but they are computing. The most obvious ones were calendars built to output the time of day/week/month/year using astronomical input based on observations dating back who knows how long because prehistoric societies used memorative arts to remember and to teach everything to every generation before someone invented the idea of writing it down.

The ancient world is full of devices that compute, from megascale calendars to compasses. But they were never computers as we understand them. The idea probably didn’t occur to anyone until Ada Lovelace.

People had been building calculators for ages. Babbage’s Difference Engine was just the latest in a line of mechanical calculators. His proposed Analytical Engine was another calculator, but one that could deal with irrational numbers. Babbage figured the best way to feed this machine information was via digital on/off bits of information read from punch cards. Babbage and the few folks who understood what he was talking about went as far as figuring out that bits could represent numbers and variables so the machine could work equations. It was Lovelace who made the connection that those bits of digital information could represent anything, any information at all, so the machine that could read bits and do work upon them. Properly equipped to express the output, the same machine could play back music, or display a book, or maps of the Earth, or an accounting spreadsheet.

Babbage’s Analytical Engine was so advanced that very few people understood its significance, and none of them were the people Babbage needed to help pay to build the damn thing. And Lovelace’s ideas about the Analytical Engine were even more advanced such that NO ONE understood them, not even Babbage. Or, if he did, the total math dork that he was, it never occurred to him that universal computability was at all interesting.

To put this into a modern context, it would have been Steve Jobs inventing the iPad and insisting it was only useful to do your taxes.

We’ve had binary for a few thousand years. And we’ve known for at least 500-ish years that the easiest way to make machines work on information is through binary -- it’s easier to design and less error prone to build ten different on/off switches than one switch with ten settings.

So, how often did this happen? Tesla had an innate understanding of electromagnetic principles, but we only know that because he was lucky enough to successfully express some of them. How many Teslas were wasted in history?

Babbage and Lovelace happened to be rich geniuses and happened to intersect each others lives, and happened to invent computers while solving some other problem entirely. And even then it’s another 70 - 100 years before anyone else understands their ideas enough to do anything with them.

Did anyone else figure it out before them? Someone unlucky enough to not be born rich? Or to be born before the Industrial Revolution? Someone trying to eke out a life despite the wild flashes of pure agonizing certainty that you can build a machine to work ideas the way a farmer works land?

Did I answer the question somewhere in there? Here it goes again: I did not expect to find every civilization working on their own versions of the internet. From writing to mail to the telegraph to email to texts. We’re just trying to be heard.
Posted March 5, 2015 at 11:00 am
You might have missed it, but I shared some behind the scenes Secret History of Atomic Robo on Twitter yesterday. It's the story of where we came up with this issue. There's eleven tweets in all, numbered for your convenience, and they start right here!

Meanwhile! Did you know we take questions from our Patrons and answer some of them every week? It's true! Here's the latest pile of questions that get answers.


I have two questions I was curious about and hoped you might answer in your mailbag one week.

(1) Do you guys have any favorite real or fictional robots?

(2) Did teen Robo ever make a mixtape for someone he was crushing on? If so, what was on it?


Vanessa L.

I suppose it would be unfair to mention Atomic Robo for either part of that first question, so let’s take him off the table.

Favorite real robot, for me, right now, is the Curiosity Rover. Chang’e 3 is a close second just for how its mission ended. It might take a robot mission to Europa or Titan to trump these guys.

Fictional robot is a toughie! Might have to go with G1 era cartoon Optimus Prime.
Did they do mixtapes when Robo was teenagerish? I think he kinda jumped over that stage of development anyway. Like, he was activated and already late teens or early twenties. Maybe a bit childish, especially for that era, but hell, the guy just needed some life experience!

Will we ever see the origin of Robo's bug phobia? Will we see more undead Edison? How about Ada Birch?


Edison? Oh my, yes.

Ada? Well. People who are not explicitly in Volume 10 might be dead. Or alive! We’ll make the call on a case-by-case basis when the time comes. I’m inclined to side with most of these guys living. It should be more interesting to see how familiar faces have adapted to the new status quo we’ll introduce than to just kill a ton of the cast off panel.

I don’t think there’s a definitive “origin” to Robo’s bug phobia. I tend to think of it as something that developed over time. The rest of us, we have skin and hair to keep things from getting into us and we have immune systems to destroy the few things that get through.

Robo does not! So, for him, I think it’s just the idea that it’s statistically inevitable that things are going to get into his body where they will be crushed to death and their gross bug goo and organs will be gunking up his insides and there’s nothing he can do about it other than try not to OBSESSIVELY AND VIVIDLY PICTURE THAT GOING ON ALL THE TIME.

Harder than it sounds.

First off, thanks for making such a great character and such awesome stories. I have been buying single issues, trade paperbacks, and electronic issues and whole volumes via Comixology. Atomic Robo is really one of the best books out now, and I'm grateful to have come across it. So, on to my question now...What kind of failures, or setbacks have you guys run into prior to your Atomic Robo success? Thanks for your time!


Well, Atomic Robo was rejected by every publisher we approached. Before that, my dumb novel was rejected by every publisher I approached.
The default state of this business is failure and setback. It's why when there's a success, it gets franchised to hell, i.e. Wolverine being in every Marvel comic book, then it was Deadpool, now it's putting "Avengers" on the cover, etc.

Failures and setbacks are discouraging as hell when they hit you, and after enough of them they make you want to pack up and quit. But they're a sign that you're participating. People who don't try don't even get to fail. Failures and setbacks are a step up. Everyone who is succeeding in this business is failing. Almost every single corporate gig I got after my success with Atomic Robo went belly up before the first issue was released. This new The Phantom mini-series from Dynamite is the first one in five years that might actually come out in full.
You just don't hear about the failures. No one puts out a press release for My Pitch Was Rejected because that's not news. Because, again, failure and setback is the default state.

Are there any plans to do stories of the original Ironhide?  I would really be interested in learning about him.


So, some years back we got the idea to do Tesla’s 11. Step 1: who the hell is on that team? That was largely a matter of researching a bunch of cool historical scientists and adventurers to find a batch of them who would be alive and at an appropriate age within a plausible window toward the end of the 19th century.

We only came up with seven. And we had to cheat for one of them -- Wong Kei-ying died in 1886 but we figured, hey, why not fake your death and come to America for a while? We're lucky to be able to use history as a guide without being shackled to it.
Anyway, seven characters instead of eleven. Just as well since it’s hard enough to satisfactorily share screen time across just that many characters.

An unintended side-effect of this "wide net" approach to the casting call was accidentally inventing prior action science teams! See, a lot of the cool historical scientists and adventurers we looked into were born too early to make the cut for Tesla’s late 19th century team. So, you start to imagine different teams they were on. Mid-19th century. Early 19th-century. And their American, European, Asian, and African contemporaries. And then you keep working backwards. Renaissance, Crusades, Greece, Sumeria.

Uh, where was I?

Right, the original Ironhide. Like I was saying, we totally made room to tell that guy’s story, and a few dozen others, by accident. We already have some vague thoughts about what to do with the first Ironhide. But our Real Science Adventures spin-off series is in something of a limbo. It’s a matter of figuring out when, where, and how to make them. I think it's just to early in this new Webcomic Phase to tell how that stuff will play out yet.
Posted February 24, 2015 at 01:00 pm

I'm not saying that your life is woefully incomplete without these latest additions to the Teslayne Online Shop, but I am thinking it.

First up, this delightful sticker series! These suckers are perfect for laptops or iPads or anywhere you find a flat surface.

Next, we have the classic Robo + Bomb image you all know and love. Check out that son of a gun.

And finally some nice juice propaganda that definitely isn't printed with human blood haha where'd you get that crazy idea?


Posted February 19, 2015 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?


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?


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.
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.


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