FlameCon 2018: Writers Ben Kahn and Rachel Silverstein Talk Their New Comic, Renegade Rule
FlameCon 2018 marked the debut of the creator owned comic book Renegade Rule #1. It’s a slice of life comic about an all female VR eSports team called Manhattan Mist featuring the team members Amanda, Sasha, Jessie, and Tonya. It is written by Ben Kahn (Heavenly Blues) and Rachel Silverstein, a J.D. student and member of Marvel’s Agents of GIRL with art by Sam Beck (Verse).
At the convention, I got the latest scoop from Ben Kahn and Rachel Silverstein on this exciting new book.
Graphic Policy: How did you all meet creatively and decide to work on this comic together. Ben, I know you’ve done a lot of solo books in the past so why did you want to bring on Rachel as a co-writer?
Ben Kahn: We met at the first Five Points festival last year.
Rachel Silverstein: It was totally random, and Ben was one of those hecklers, who had a table. And I walked by, and he said, “Hey, buy my comic.” And I bought the first two issue. Then, we somehow got into the topic of Judaism on Twitter, and I was in Israel at the time. Then, we kind of became friends after that.
BK: Rachel was in law school. I’ve been there when I wanted to make a comic and didn’t have the resources to sink into it, and I’m like, “Hell, let me pay it forward.” Because I had read scripts by her and knew she was an amazing writer. This will not stand if she goes out and becomes a lawyer without ever gracing the comic book pages. We’re gonna make something happen.
What does Rachel like? Girls and video games. There’s a comic there somewhere.
GP: Renegade Rule is all about video games. What has your experience been of gaming over the years?
BK: I feel like the old fogey. [in cranky old man voice] Back in my day, platformers and JRPGs ruled the land. I was into more of the single player games. I loved all these fantastical plots and worlds. I don’t really like the gameplay as much. I wish I could find a medium that only did the plots and the characterization. And then I found comics, and that was all I cared about.
I always enjoyed Halo growing up. It’s probably the biggest influence on me. I spent a lot of middle school playing Halo at a friend’s house until two in the morning.
GP: Me too.
BK: For me, with a lot of the modern games like Team Fortress, Overwatch, and Fortnite, I’m an outsider looking in. Especially the fandom element and the culture that builds around it. I’ve never played Overwatch except at [Rachel’s] house a few times. But I read all the comics, watch all the cinematics, read all the wikis. So, I was definitely intrigued at the idea of having this fun, fictional crazy world to throw on top of a sports story narrative [in Renegade Rule].
RS: For me, I would never call myself a gamer, but when Overwatch came out, I remember seeing the first posts on Tumblr of the cinematic for Widowmaker and Tracer. I was like “This looks really gay. What is it?” I thought it was a movie.
BK: Let the record show that Rachel is wearing a Pharah hat and a color matching jacket.
RS: And a D. Va backpack. I was like, “What is this?” So, I watched a lot of gameplay and thought it was really cool. I actually bought an Xbox One just so I could play Overwatch. That’s pretty much the only thing I’ve gotten into that’s relevant to Renegade Rule. When Ben wanted to make a comic with similar elements to a video game, I figured, “I can do this. I can totally do this.”
GP: Why did you guys decide to do a VR game?
BK: I just think it would be super fucking boring to have characters holding controllers for twenty pages.
RS: We also wanted it to be a little futuristic. We could add the element of them moving around and have action in it.
BK: It’s like that .hack//Sign/Ready Player One old school trope of the VR game, especially with the sports movie narrative of physicality and training. There’s a real physical element to the gameplay beyond them holding controllers.
GP: Break that whole workout scene with Amanda, the team leader, towards the end of comic because when I think of video games, I think of just sitting on the couch. But she’s pumping iron and stuff.
RS: We wanted to make it so they’re not sitting on a couch and wanted to add an element where they have to maintain their physical bodies and have the dexterity to play a video game.
BK: Because I love exercise. It’s a part of my daily routine. I went on a whole run before coming to the convention. I wanted to capture the sense of pushing yourself, and Amanda wanting to overcome her limits and being better than she is. We were trying to get the invigorating feeling of training and communicating that on the page.
GP: Renegade Rule is a self-published comic. What have been some of the challenges of doing it by yourselves?
RS: Nothing at all.
BK: Nothing unexpected. I’ve gone through the production process enough to know what it’s going to be, and our whole hope was to have issue one ready for FlameCon.
RS: Sam [Beck] really came through with that. We have to give her kudos. We never gave her a time frame to do anything. We were like “Do it at your own pace. There’s no rush”, and then we were going to be at FlameCon so let’s debut it here.
It was halfway through June, and she said she took on a few other projects. And we were like “Can you have this done by the beginning of August?”, and she did an amazing job considering the time crunch.
BK: Sam’s work on the book was so good. I look at the pages, and the colors are stunning and the atmosphere and the characters. There are some facial expressions that just make me laugh looking at them. I can’t say enough good things about Sam’s art. The girls feel like real people, and a lot of that is the way Sam brought them to life and communicated their attitudes from their fashions to their faces to the way they carry themselves. The acting she’s able to do through an image is fantastic.
GP: How were you all able to get her join Renegade Rule? Why was she the best artist for the project?
RS: We actually search on Twitter. We looked at the #VisibleWomen hashtag. I remember I saw it and sent a link to her Twitter and said, “Ben, this the artist we need. Please make this happen.” It actually worked. She was the first person we asked and was like “Okay”. We were really lucky.
GP: I love the team name Manhattan Mist and that you named it after a character’s vape. Which member of Manhattan Mist are you, and why?
BK: We read the script out loud.
RS: We sit down to write it together. We Skype together.
BK: We’re writing every panel together. When we break down who reads what voices, Rachel reads as Amanda and Tonya, and I read for Jessie and Sasha. I feel like that’s a good breakdown personality-wise.
GP: So you treat it like a stage play.
RS: Yeah, whenever we try to think of emphasis when we bold the words for lettering, we try to read the script in different voices.
BK: We figure out the best way to read the line and then figuring out the best way to communicate that line to the reader. That’s always been a big part of my writing process. Reading the dialogue out loud and then seeing how it sounds. That’s why I’ve been kicked out of a lot of coffee shops, but I think it’s worth it for the dialogue.
RS: But to answer your question, I would definitely be a Tonya. When I had sent the PDF of Renegade Rule to one of my friends, I asked, “What are your thoughts?” And all she said back was “When you think that you’re Sasha, but really you’re Tonya.” That is so accurate. I think a lot of people would relate to that. Everyone wants to think that they’re this badass who picks up all the girls. But you’re really just the one in the bar going “I’m gonna die alone.”
GP: So relatable.
BK: I think I’ve always been more of a Jessie. I’m not quite always on the ball. “Yeah, yeah that thing we’re doing, but also that thing that has nothing to do with that relevant thing.” Jessie is all about the sloth videos.
GP: I like the romances set up in Renegade Rule #1. You’ve got Jessie and her boyfriend and Amanda with her crush on Gabby. What role will romance play in the book going forward?
BK: In sports stories, you’ve seen the rivals that launch a thousand fan fics. So, we thought what if that subtext was very textual. We want to do that love story with a rival story.
RS: We’re doing cliche. Number one enemy becomes the love interest.
BK: I think this is gonna have a few more punches to the face than the cliche love story.
RS: We have a lot of big things planned for Amanda and Gabby.
BK: It’s gonna be fun because these are two very driven, very competitive, very compassionate women that are gonna find a lot in common. Sparks and punches will fly to use my marketing poster line.
GP: Do you find writing the action/video game scenes or the slice of life scenes more enjoyable?
RS: I love the slice of life stuff.
BK: The slice of life stuff is really fun. I always love that intersection between fantastic and mundane so it feels unique to write an eight page stretch of friends hanging out at a bar. Action is fun, especially when we get to play with because what I like about having the video game motif is we get to have very epic sci-fi action visuals without having to do the whole epic sci-fi war part. Fuck it, lizard man, cyborg, and ninja that’s who they’re gonna fight this issue.
GP: Can you guys tease out any of the teams that Manhattan Mist is facing?
RS: Yes. We spent a long time coming up with teams, and we trashed a couple of them. The big thing for us was coming up with the names.
BK: Let’s see, we’ve got their Y-chromosome doppelgangers, the Nashville Banjos coming up. It’s the Mist, but with slightly relationship dynamics. They can very much get in the heads of our girls.
RS: Then, we’ve got the Brooklyn Sharpshooters, who are the best team.
BK: Their colors are purple and gold. ‘Cause even in Brooklyn, it’s totally not a take on the L.A. Lakers. One thing I like, starting in issue two, is the differing play styles and the philosophy behind it. There’s the Santa Fe Shinobi, who represent regimented training in all areas. It’ll be fun putting that up against a bunch of friends and that mess around, have fun play style of the Manhattan Mist.
GP: I have one last question. Ben, you have the Heavenly Blues trade coming out from Scout Comics in December. Why should fans of Renegade Rule pick up Heavenly Blues?
RS: Why shouldn’t they?
BK: So, the basic plot of Heavenly Blues is about a group of thieves in Hell from throughout history, who team up to pull the ultimate heist on Heaven. If you like a team full of chaotic scoundrels who come together to be more than the sum of their parts going up against impossible odds and pulling off an impossible job, Heavenly Blues is the book for you. Also, it has weaponized gay kissing. I guess if you can’t imagine that you’re just gonna have to buy the book.
Buy a physical copy of Renegade Rule #1 on Etsy.
Follow Ben Kahn on Twitter.
Follow Rachel Silverstein on Twitter.