MARS. The near future-ish. A bomb takes out a city block on Harrison Station. The media rush to blame the local terrestrials (re:aliens,) however Superintendent Denton Coyle has a feeling that it may not be so simple… or maybe that feeling is Coyle’s hangover gut bomb. It’s unclear… like a 50/50 shot, it’s a mistake or explosive diarrhea. Maybe it’s both? In other words, it’s yet another Tuesday on Mars.
Out this March from Oni Press, Redline is written by Neal Holman with art by Clayton McCormack and Kelly Fitzpatrick.
I got a chance to talk to the team about this upcoming intriguing new series.
Graphic Policy: So where did the idea for Redline come from and how long has this been in the process of being put together?
Neal Holman: Years ago, I was doing research for a police procedural pitch, interviewing anyone who would talk to me online. I stumbled into meeting some people in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI), who opened my eyes to a different world of detective stories. The police pitch stumbled and died, but I kept my research thinking I might use it later on. Fast forward a bit, I was working on a Mars colony pitch but couldn’t find an angle that I liked. Everything felt a little too forced. (I did way, way too much research on the soil content of Mars.) It wasn’t until I started thinking of it from a military lens that the pitch began to come together. I dug up my old research, and it was a fairly easy write from there on out.
GP: With sci-fi series, I personally think the look and design can be as important as the story itself. How did you all work together to put together this futuristic world?
NH: I gave Clay and Kelly a bunch of vague and probably contradictory notes to begin with, and they crushed it.
Clayton McCormack: Neal made it pretty clear right away that this was not a sleek, clean vision of the future, but one where technology is constantly busted and bulky. He also presented the Mars colony as being not too different from the way modern desert warfare looks and feels, so what we tried to do was create a future that definitely had more sci-fi leanings, but was also very relatable. So for me that meant making a lot of the weapons, vehicles and uniforms feel futuristic but still plausible.
Kelly Fitzpatrick: As a colorist, I’m typically last to the team equation. I took notes from Clay and Neal and I sent back some pages. We talked a bit about aliens and environment and uniforms, but overall it was a really smooth process- especially after the first issue. :)
GP: The colors are very limited in many ways yet avoids the stereotypical red you sometimes see with stories set on Mars instead going more for browns and even some green. Was this a specific choice to avoid the stereotypical Mars style?
KF: I wanted something dusty and gritty outside to conflict with the sterile environments inside. Mars isn’t super red in reality anyway. Keeping the colors muted helps create diversity when changing between places.
GP: How scoped out is this world that you put together? Is there some bible you created?
NH: I have a loose bible starting at the first Mars landing and progressing through the decades up to the start of Issue One. It is written in my weirdo shorthand and hopefully will never be seen by anyone else.
CM: I’ve seen Neal’s bible – it’s like John Doe’s diary in Se7en but with rocket ship drawings and all done in crayon.
GP: I noticed the military all have American flags on their chest and it’s not some united world government you sometimes see in sci-fi stories. Was there a specific reason you went that route?
NH: I personally don’t believe we will ever be under one utopian (or dystopian) world government. There may be joint task forces and etc, but our power structures are pretty set in stone. In later issues, we will start to hear about other countries getting their own footholds on Mars.
CM: Maybe I’m just a cynic, but I have no reason to think colonizing Mars would be different from any other colonizing in history. Maybe they work together in GETTING to Mars, but once they get there, it’s all countries for themselves.
GP: What are some of the influences to the series as far as stories or look?
NH: From comics – Queen & Country, Powers, Criminal, Hawkeye (Matt Fraction/David Aja version)
From books – The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Stranger in a Strange Land,
From TV – The Sandbaggers, The Wire, True Detective (Season One), Justified, a billion episodes of Dateline
From Film – Three Kings, The Hurt Locker, Waltz with Bashir, a ton more I’m blanking on.
Working on Archer with Adam Reed has greatly influenced how I think about story and dialogue.
CM: I actually had been thinking about Italian Westerns a lot for the overall feel. Those movies do a great job of really accenting how hot and gross the desert is, constantly dusty, constantly sweaty, and for me that’s Coyle in a nutshell. He’s in a constant state of discomfort. For the more futuristic aspect, I had a little bit of Elysium in mind, as well as Dredd – both futuristic, but still fairly relatable in their designs of tech and buildings etc.
KF: I’m a big fan of Matt Hollingsworth! I love his grit that he’s incorporated into several of his books. I also try and make all of my books look separate with their own identities. I wanted to incorporate something like The Wake meets Pretty Deadly. It seemed more western.
GP: I think some of the best sci-fi is allegories for what’s going on in the world. After reading the first issue, I get the feeling there’s quite a few real world issues this series touch upon. Am I reading too much into it?
NH: There are some definite ties to the present, sure, but honestly, I was really thinking more about world history in general, which is pretty loaded with these types of occupation and conflict. I also started writing it sometime in 2014, so anything that seems topical is a coincidence. My goal, however, was to push these larger themes to the background, while the mystery unfolds in the foreground. That said, our aliens (the Locals) aren’t representative of any group of people or people at all, really.
Lots of sci-fi either goes the Avatar route with sympathetic, human-like aliens or the Aliens route, where they’re more or less hungry sharks. Both of those opposing viewpoints are how colonists in our story view the Locals as well. We have no Teal’c or Seven of Nine to give us perspective. Some of us want peace. Others just want to bomb the Locals off the planet. The Locals are intelligent. They have a society. They have clothes and technology. They can move rocks with what seems to be telepathy. They may help you…but they also may disembowel your daughter and wear her intestines as a belt. It’s that last bit that gives the war hawks all the ammo they need.
GP: The first issue feels like a sci-fi Sheriff of Babylon in some ways. Both are really crime stories set in a war zone. What is it about a war zone that opens it up to a crime story so well?
NH: Tom King will probably answer that better than I can, but I think it’s that right now, war imagery is something we are very, very used to seeing. It is omnipresent. That familiarity is an easy entry point to story, but rather than focusing on WAR in all caps, we are centered on a mystery.
CM: I also think that there is an inherent sense of lawlessness that comes with a war zone, fewer rules (or at least more rules being broken), power in flux, much more of a world of grey than black and white that really lends itself to that crime/noir genre.
GP: The first issue had some solid comedy to it. Was that something you specifically wanted to add?
NH: Absolutely. I am a huge fan of dramas that have solid jokes, moments of sincere levity – the “peaks and valleys.” My favorite comedies all have dramatic veins. Conversely, anytime I watch a movie or show and it’s all doom and gloom and insanely serious, at a certain point I tap out. Everyone points to The Wire for being this earth shaking series – and rightly so – but I rarely ever see anyone acknowledge the humor in it. There are some solid jokes in that series, and I think that goes a long way into making you care about those characters.
GP: All of the characters have very unique, diverse, and solid designs about them. These aren’t generic soldiers in their armor. How did you come up with all of the specific characters? Was some of that done in the writing or was it more collaborative?
NH: Thanks! Most of the main cast are based on people I’ve known or a combination of personalities. Design-wise, Clay took the reigns there.
CM: Thanks, I appreciate it! Neal went out of his way to make sure that even background soldiers had some character to them, and I think his description of the main cast, as well as the way he wrote each of them, made my job a lot easier. For instance Coyle read as road-weary and desert-worn, so his gruff beard, constant slouch, and receding hairline felt pretty appropriate. And Simon is more or less the lighter, comic relief character, a little less cynical overall, so I tried to make him brighter and a little more animated when I could (just to name a few).
KF: I’m a big fan of using skin tone to differentiate characters! I actively make sure even the background characters have slightly different skin tones in all of my books. Everyone has a different skin tone in reality- so why should comics be white washed?
GP: Any plans on doing more stories set in this world?
NH: I would love, love to do the next arc (and more,) but we need to see if sales can justify it.
CM: I hope so, if sales warrant it – so as the man once said, “get your ass to mars!”
GP: Any advice you have for folks wanting to get into comics?
NH: Keep writing and keep being your own worst critic. You have to be brutally objective about what’s working and what’s not and more importantly, why. If you’re on the art side, don’t ever stop going to figure drawing classes, and keep your online portfolio current.
And don’t be an ass. The world has enough.
CM: Don’t let anything stop you from just going out and making comics. I can speak from experience in saying that I wouldn’t be doing this interview right now if I hadn’t decided to start producing and publishing my own book about 8 years ago. I guarantee you you’ll learn a ton, and your work will just keep getting better. There’s never been a better time to get out and there and do it, so get out there and do it!
KF: Use social media! I can’t stress that enough. It’s a great tool to show you are a human being and that you are passionate. Twitter is my preferred go-to.
GP: Any other projects you all want to plug?
NH: Archer Season Eight debuts April 5th on FX, and it’s probably our best looking season to date.
KF: I’m really excited about the newest issues of Bitch Planet, Josie and the Pussycats, Shade the Changing Girl, Rockstars, and Supergirl: Being Super! Go check out my work!