By Octavio Karbank
With IDW's Rom: The Space Knight coming out this week, there couldn't possibly be a better time to talk to the minds behind the book. Sitting down with Christos Cage, Chris Ryall, and David Messina, the four of us talked about bringing Rom back to comics.
OK: So for those living under a rock, what's Rom about?
Christos Gage: Rom: The Space Knight is about an alien cyborg who comes to Earth to save us from the Dire Wraiths which are evil shape-shifting, black magic creatures; they infiltrate planets and pervert them to their own purposes. Rom is part of a group called the Solstar Order who for two centuries have been fighting the Wraith. Yet when he comes to our planet, he discovers they've hooked themselves into the planet in a way he hasn't seen before and he's got a challenge on his hands.
Chris Ryall: That about says it all. It's sort of a creepy, paranoid, conspiracy theoryish-corner of the Hasbro universe. You don't know if the person next to you is a Dire Wraith or not. Rom has a device called an Analyzer that allows him to see though their disguises, but other humans can't see that. So when Rom is killing Dire Wraiths, it looks like he's just killing humans, so he's sort of left on his own.
OK: Can you talk about the feel of the book?
CR: In terms of the feel of it, it has the feel of paranoid sci-fi films, like They Live, The Thing, or Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Yet if you put someone like a space knight in the middle of all that, who's there to help, there's the question of when can he help and when must he kill. It's that grizzled old warrior who's trying to help, but there are lots of shades of grey buried in it.
OK: Can you talk about your own relationship with science fiction?
CG: For me, it's what captivated me most as a child. The first book I really loved was Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles; I love the sort of creepy, grey-area movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where nothing was cut and dry. You didn't know whom to trust. Plus we're all Star Wars kids so I think larger than life sci-fi battles resonate with us.
CR: I'm the same way. I grew up on everything from Star Wars and Close Encounters to the B-movies like Yor: The Hunter From the Future, really cheesy stuff like that. I loved it all! It inspires your imagination. It's fun to play in that world now.
David Messina: I love sci-fi films like The Thing from Carpenter and I also really like the positivity of the character Rom. He's an old-school kind of hero; he's really someone you can trust. He's a character like Superman or the Doctor, because you know they can protect you from something scary. I enjoy finding a way to show in the pages the mix between the scary, like something Lovecraftian, and the sci-fi.
OK: Can you guys talk about the collaborative process and what that's been like?
CG: We're doing what used to be called Marvel Style. It's an interesting process that I'm kind of new to but it's worked out well for me.
DM: It's great for me. We talk about ideas and share everything; it's really exciting.
OK: It's hard to talk about Rom without acknowledging the comic that came before this one.
CR: The original comic book was the thing that captivated me as a kid. The toy was kind of a misfire. It was one of the first attempts to do an LED toy, so it was cool in that regard, but the figure itself didn't deserve for it's comic to be as good as it was. It was the era when licensed comics were getting top creators. So this book really transcended the source, and I liked it for pretty much the same reasons I do now. The stakes really felt like they mattered; characters died and didn't come back. It hit on all the things that mattered to me as a kid.
CG: I agree, I love the comic and I read the first issue when it came out. I have a complete run of it. There were some great creators who worked on it and it's amazing to be part of that tradition. We've brought on some of those creators, like Bob Layton to do some of the covers.
OK: Are there any Easter Eggs for fans who have been reading Rom since the beginning?
CR: No. I think that was the one complaint about the new Ghostbusters movie; it didn't stand on its own because it took too much time taking nods to the past amd it starts to take you out of the story. There a real risk at getting too cutsey with it and paying too much tribute. I think the spirit of the book is true to what's come before, but we didn't just want to have Easter Eggs that only other old guys get. I want it to be a thing that anyone can pick up.
OK: Why was now the best time to bring back Rom?
CR: Well I think anytime is the best time! But now? Because we were allowed to do it now! As soon as we got into business with Hasbro and once I learned that Hasbro had bought Parker Brothers, I made it my mission to bring Rom to comics. Sometimes these things take awhile to happen.
OK: What's the key to writing a character like Rom?
CG: The great thing about writing a lone wolf like Rom is when he no longer becomes a lone wolf. He comes into contact with Earth people, and even the ones who aren't shooting at him since they think he's a mass murderer from the stars, still don't understand him and he's kind of the same way. He doesn't understand Earth's culture. For example, he's baffled by the idea that there are countries and that the planet isn't ruled under one government.
CR: We're all loners in our own way, so it's easy to write that.
DM: He's definitely an underdog with everything against him. It's impossible not to love someone like this.
OK: David, can you talk about working on the book from an artistic perspective?
DM: To work with a character so beloved, was a great challenge. To find a way to be faithful to the character and bring him to the modern era, as an artist, I couldn't refuse something that exciting.
OK: What's the biggest challenge in doing the artwork for Rom?
DM: There are two. The first is being faithful to the design, because the people really love his design; the fans remember it strongly from their childhood. The second is finding the balance between sci-fi and horror; you have the two different aspects to the character and his stories.
CR: As to David getting on the book, I started working with him back in 2004 when he was working on launching Angel. I knew he could handle dark material and really bring out the humanity of the characters. He eventually moved on to do things like Star Trek, so I knew he had a good science fiction bent to his art. With Rom we wanted someone who has a style that has a classic comic book look, but also a modern coloring technique. David really bridged the gap between the stuff I used to read and the really now and current. I knew everything that David brings to comics would be great for the book.
OK: How far ahead do you have planned?
CR: We have a good plan for what we want to do for the first year.