In a past year of major changes as far as diversity of comic characters, one publisher has been flying under the radar, rethinking their past characters, and created new ones as well. Aspen Comics long ago shed the “sexy heroine” stereotype, and instead have been focusing on interesting stories and characters.
For the company, 2015 seems to be all about change, the first of which was the reworking of their character Kiani. Now, the company is focusing on the all-ages crowd with their new series Psycho Bonkers by Vince Hernandez and Adam Archer.
We got a chance to talk to Vince about the new series staring a teenage girl, and what else we can expect from the “new” Aspeb.
Graphic Policy: So tell us about what folks can expect in Psycho Bonkers?
Vince Hernandez: Well, to get rid of all the silly puns right off the bat, I’ll say that readers will be in for one heck of a ride! But, seriously, this is my ode to the fun and thrilling Saturday morning cartoons and video games we used to watch as kids, with big over-the-top concepts and thrilling adventure. I just wanted to have fun with this one.
Readers will be introduced to Shine, a precocious young racer who—along with the help of her sentient Bonk Racer and robotic assistant—is looking to win the race of all races, the Super Bonk Rally. Along the way, we will discover the tragedy that made her the girl she is today, and why it’s so important that she win the big race.
The book will be told over the course of the five legs of the race, and I hope readers will gravitate towards this breakneck style of storytelling as they learn more about our lead heroine and the importance of this one race.
VH: I grew up in the eighties, so for me, Knight Rider was an early inspiration that I always wanted to explore more. Primarily, I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of a sentient vehicle that could communicate with its driver. But while Knight Rider was a more adult-themed story, I thought mine could encompass a more all-ages feel. Another inspiration for this story are the races you find in video games like Mario Kart, where you feel like you live or die with these characters and their fate, and the near-impossibility of the challenges set before them. I thought it would make for an exciting concept.
GP: There are two things that immediately stand out about the announcement for the series, it’s an all-ages series, and it stars a teenage girl. What was the thinking behind the decision for those?
VH: Well, anyone who is a fan of my work knows I’m no stranger to working with a female, teenage lead heroine. My past books, like Trish Out of Water, and my most recent series, Damsels in Excess, have featured teenage lead heroines. The difference here, as you mentioned, is the all-ages factor that is certainly something we’re looking to expand upon at Aspen. I think this series coming out now was a culmination of us looking for something with a broader appeal and the right timing for an all-ages series following our Halloween ComicFest Ernie coloring book. We’ve been trending in that direction for some time now.
GP: I noticed the style of the comic is much more “cartoon” like; it seems to have more of a manga influence. Was there discussion in the art style and how it fits the possible audience?
VH: These types of choices always come down to what will fit the overall feel of the story. For Psycho Bonkers, it was evident that the artist needed to be able to capture the hyper-stylized look of a fictional world while keying in on the story’s vital character moments. Adam Archer became our natural choice at that point, as his work fits the bill and then some!
GP: There’s lots of talk about moving “comics forward.” The big two get lots of coverage when they do something progressive with their characters or series. Aspen has been a company that’s had a lot of female led series, and character-wise has been very female focused from my observation. Why do you think folks overlook what you, indie creators, and other publishers have been doing for years and get so excited when the big two catches up?
VH: I think naturally people keep their attention on the larger publishers and consider us an afterthought when, you’re correct, a lot of these things we’ve been doing for years. We’ve been using female creators and featuring female heroines since 2004. But, I think a lot of people have a misconception that because Michael Turner founded our company, we’re just a company that focuses on sexy heroines. This, of course, is a woefully outdated perception of our line of books.
But, that’s okay. We’re never ones to try and stand on a soapbox about things that should be considered normal in our industry. Gender equality and diversity are not hot topic items to be cashed in on, but real life ideals that should be the basis for how every publisher operates.
GP: You’ve shaken up the character Kiani a bit, there’s this series, is making comics for a broader readership something that’s foremost on your mind now?
VH: Without question! Delving more into what I mentioned above, we had talks about how we could achieve an even broader appeal with our flagship titles, and with Fathom: Kiani starting up again early this year, it was the perfect launching pad for this new appeal and her new design.
VH: We’re doing so across the board on our lineup of titles, and fans can expect to see more of these changes in the near future. It’s time to accept that with the huge following that comics are bringing in, we need to ensure that we’re making our characters as accessible as possible while staying true to the story and the creator’s vision for the title.
GP: In that talk, there’s discussion of having broad content, but not a lot about how to actually get it out there beyond the current readership. How do you think the industry can improve in expanding the readership?
VH: I think, as publishers, we tend to over-think ourselves and try to turn everything into a news byte or an initiative in order to pull in new readers. But, call me old-fashioned—I still think the only surefire way to keep fans satisfied and grow your readership is to put out compelling stories and quality products. Everything else is just smoke and mirrors.
GP: Has digital shifted your plans at all?
VH: It hasn’t shifted our plans, but it has offered new avenues for us to explore and capitalize on. Also, digital offers us a great opportunity to reach markets where we might not necessarily be sold, so there are a lot of benefits to that platform.
GP: Are there more exciting plans for Aspen this year you can hint about?
VH: Absolutely – we have two Fathom and Soulfire spinoff titles that will feature all new casts of characters and set a new tone for those two flagship series: Fathom Blue and Eternal Soulfire. We’ll also be debuting new series like Lola XOXO: The Wasteland Madam by Siya Oum, The Four Points by Scott Lobdell and Jordan Gunderson, Psycho Bonkers by myself and Adam Archer, the return of JT Krul’s Jirni, and two exciting new concepts I can’t reveal yet by writers that will surprise some people. Stay tuned!