The Saviors, by writer James Robinson and artist J. Bone, is a wholly unique take on the alien invasion story, starring a reluctant hero that’s happier to get high than he is to save the world. The collected edition is now available from Image Comics, so I couldn’t wait to speak to the creators of this subversive sci-fi tale!
AiPT!: Can you please tell us a little bit about how this collaboration got started?
Robinson: Basically I met Jay at a convention and asked if he was interested in working with me. I had already worked with him, of course, on the Shade #4 where he finished Darwyn Cooke’s pencils. However, I immediately got the sense I wanted to do more with him, and that was the seed of The Saviors. Jay, said that he was always categorized as doing lighter, funnier stuff or stories for a younger audience. He wanted to do something more serious and scary. And so we started to put our story together, heavily influenced by the science fiction movies and writing of the 1950s.
Bone: I believe it started at a dinner arranged by Darwyn during a Toronto comic convention. I’d inked Cooke on his chapter of James’ recent (at the time) Starman story. We got to talking and James asked me what I’d like to draw. I mentioned that I’d always wanted to tell a monster/horror story but with my cartoony style. After that initial meeting we spoke on the phone a lot and through email to hammer out exactly what sort of story we wanted to tell.
AiPT!: James, what is it about J.’s art that made him the right choice for this story?
Robinson: It wasn’t like that. Jay and I shaped the story together, so his style was always just there and a part of it. I will say how much I loved the slightly more “animation” style he used and all the shadows and stark images. It really added to the project.
AiPT!: J., what was it about James’ story that attracted you to the project?
Bone: We built up a lot of the groundwork together so I already knew what was coming. But then what I really loved about the script was how James fleshed out the characters. My job was to interpret his words in a way that (hopefully) added to the story. It was a nice challenge to ‘act’ through drawing. I worked to give people their own body language as much as I could. To think about who they are and what they might be presenting visually as they spoke. Character acting and location research are two of my favourite elements in drawing comics.
In Saviors I got to work on both those skills.
AiPT!: Tomas Ramirez is a unique choice of protagonist. When we meet him, he appears genuinely satisfied with how his life is going, and when he comes face-to-face with the sci-fi weirdness, he doesn’t seem interested in becoming any sort of hero. What makes him the right choice for this story?
Robinson: I’ve always been a fan of stories where heroes have the drama pushed on them. I love North By Northwest, in the way that all Cary Grant does is call a waiter for a phone to call his mother at the exact wrong time. This leads to the insane adventure he’s goes on in Hitchcock’s film.
I wanted the same sort of thing in Saviors, where Tomas happens to see something that sets him on his adventure and so has to find the hero in him. It also borrows from Roy Thinnes’ character in the 1960s TV show The Invaders which was also an influence.
Bone: That’s a really good question. I think of Tomas as the loner, rebel character from many ‘50s B-movies. You know, the hot shot who shoots his mouth off at the cops and then when giant ants attack no one will believe him. Only in our version Tomas actually seems to get along with the sheriff and doesn’t believe what he sees with his own eyes. What makes him right for the story – besides his smoking habit being a key ingredient in the alien-laser-blaster experiment? His casual ease with people helps him form quick bonds, especially with Sonya. That’s a useful ability when traveling and joining gangs of alien fighters.
AiPT!: While the book is not entirely monochromatic, there is certainly a limited color palette. How does the lack of color (or a colorist) fit in to the overall vision for this comic?
Robinson: It was a stylistic idea we had from the get-go. Using color as mood more than anything too literal. It’s something I think both Jay and I were familiar with due to our childhood (his in Canada and mine in England) where single color comic stories are more in evidence. (At least they were in my childhood, I can’t say what it’s like now.)
Bone: This question goes hand-in-hand with the lettering, but it was all about budget. If we hired a colorist that was going to come out of the advance. Maybe I’m also a raging egomaniac and don’t like other people touching my drawings (I’m kidding. I’m not a raging egomaniac.) From an artistic standpoint the limited palette let us start the comic like an old black and white movie. Then as the series progressed it was James’ idea to change the hue to suit the environment. Terracotta in Mexico, blue in the ocean and then finally a golden sunrise. I tried to keep the color areas as geometric as possible and help direct the reader’s eye. The monochromatic palette was useful in that it’s not distracting.
AiPT!: One of the most interesting moments in the story comes at the moment that Tomas accepts the crazy conspiracy that has been revealed to him as reality, owing largely to all of the movies he’s seen. I thought that was a brilliant move, not just because of how self-aware it is, but because sci-fi and fantasy stories often seem to take so much time giving protagonists time to wrap their heads around what is happening to them that the plot can stall a bit. Avoiding that trope allowed the plot to move faster, to great effect. Were there any other sci-fi tropes that you were consciously avoiding?
Robinson: I was definitely trying to avoid certain films. Although there’s a definite They Live vibe to Saviors I was trying to avoid anything that was too similar. The same with the aforementioned The Invaders. As to Tomas’s acceptance of things based on the films he’s seen — I honestly think a lot of people would react that way nowadays. I remember a crazy rumor circulating when the The X-Files first started that it was secretly financed by the Government to prepare America for the revelation that aliens were proven to be out there. It’s funny now, but it isn’t so terribly hard to believe. I think we as a world would more readily accept aliens now, that a hundred years ago when it would cause far more widespread panic.
Bone: One of the things I really wanted to do was tell an alien invasion story where the aliens believe what they’re doing is the best thing for humans. We’ve really made a mess of our planet and they’re trying to fix it. But they’re doing it in secret and as a result there’s resistance. That story’s been told but then usually the aliens end up harvesting us for food or stealing our moms. Our aliens still fight dirty but they genuinely think they’re doing the right thing. I don’t know that we intentionally avoided tropes so much as found ways to mess with existing ideas. Heroic George Clooney guy saves our hero but doesn’t save the day. Science guy gets chomped and Sonya has to work on a hunch and her own limited (?) knowledge of the blasterthingy. And the loner/stoner guy ends up being the key to destroying the aliens and, kind of, a savior.
AiPT!: J., there don’t seem to be many artists these days that letter their own work, but the lettering in “The Saviors” does seem to be uniquely your own. Why is it important to you to take on this responsibility yourself?
Bone: I really like the job of lettering. When I first started out I hand lettered my comics (Solar Stella, Alison Dare). I felt like it was important for me to know how to do every job involved in the production of a comic book. Obviously with more mainstream books I’ve worked on I’m part of a bigger team and the other tasks are done by professionals. But when the opportunity to do it myself is there it’s something I enjoy.
AiPT!: James, in both The Saviors and your recent Airboy miniseries with Greg Hinkle (which I loved), drug use has been a key plot point. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, but in “The Saviors,” marijuana is portrayed as, well, not particularly harmful, to say the least. Meanwhile, in Airboy, some very different drugs nearly ruin your life – metafictional you, at least. How do you feel about the way that drugs, particularly marijuana, are portrayed in fiction?
Robinson: Honestly, I think we’re a cross-roads in history when it comes to pot laws. As I write this, so mj got legalized in Nevada and two other states. It’s a natural weed with no known fatalities. It was only initially demonized so Hearst forests would get used for paper instead of the cheaper and better hemp. Weed is a comedy prop in countless comedies. Even as far back as the film Trading Places, weed is seen/shown as “naughty” more than dangerous. Nowadays, it isn’t even seen as a crime in movies. Heroes and good guys and favorable protagonists are often shown smoking. Why, Seth Rogen wouldn’t have a career if not for portraying good guys who enjoy weed. And the health benefits are undeniable. Hell, doesn’t even George Bush smoke it for his glaucoma? I think so.
Very different from coke and some other harder drugs. I think all drugs should be legalized, so getting treatment for addiction is easier and users aren’t associated with the criminal class. However, having said that, I do think some harder drugs can send you into a spiral of self-destruction (as shown in Airboy). Although I’m not saying some hallucinogens don’t have their place.
Bone: I’d like to just throw in here that Airboy is truly a fantastic, honest examination by James of his own life and of hero worship. I love that series. And Hinkle’s art is incredible.
AiPT!: It’s been about two years, as of this writing, since the release of The Saviors #5, yet to my knowledge, this is the first time that the series has been collected. Comic book readers have become accustomed to getting collected editions mere months after the release of their single issues, so why did The Saviors have such a long wait?
Robinson: I think Jay and I were taking time to see what our next step would be with the series. I think we’re both trying to decide, honestly. It will be interesting to see how we feel when/if we get response from the trade’s release.
Bone: That’s on me. I wanted extra material in the back and to make a few art changes…but I didn’t get around to finishing all of that until recently. I could say that life gets in the way, but really it was a matter of sitting down and making some decisions about what to scan and include. I finally had time, and a deadline, where I could sit down and clean up my rough drawings so they’re presentable.
AiPT!: The fifth and, to my knowledge, final issue of the series teased more of The Saviors to come, but it doesn’t seem like a sixth issue ever materialized. Have we seen the last of Tomas Ramirez? If not, can you tell us a little bit about the future of this series?
Robinson: The series was intended to have different stars and central protagonists, arc by arc. Slowing the different characters and plots and stories would start to meet up and cross-over. We had plans to take the cast of The Saviors all over the world. Like I say, let’s see how Jay and I feel later on.
Bone: I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Tomas or that gang of survivors. The next issues were going to involve different characters dealing with the invasion in an earlier time and a different country. It was a lot of work (enjoyable, but drawing comics is still work) and I know that I needed a break. One year leads to three and then suddenly you’re wondering why you haven’t been drawing more of that alien invasion comic. I’ve been enjoying inking but looking over the pages and art as I did some edits has brought back that fondness I have for Tomas.