Redline was one of the freshest new comic series I’ve read in awhile as it captured character incredibly well via dialogue and gritty art. The premise is a strong one too: Set on Mars in a future where the military is trying to get things in order, while some shadowy aliens are mucking things up. I recently had the opportunity to speak to the creative team behind the series – writer Neal Holman, artist Clayton McCormack and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick – and just in time too, as issue #2 hits stands this Wednesday!
AiPT!: How did you team up on this project? Did you know each other in some capacity before creating Redline?
Clayton McCormack: I had met Robin [Herrera from ONI Press] at NYCC a few years ago, and we had been talking about working on a project together when she suggested I might be a good fit for Redline, and after reading the script I definitely agreed. I got the vibe right away, and realized Neal was definitely a total nerdlinger in desperate need of a swirly, so I was sold!
Neal Holman: James Lucas Jones and Robin Herrera from ONI Press put us all together. I had thrown James several pitches earlier in the year, and Redline was the winner from that bunch. Once I had a script ready, he and Robin started throwing portfolios to me. Clay was my instant favorite. With Kelly, I don’t think we even looked at portfolios. Her name came up, and we all agreed, she’d be great. Crank was a no-brainer.
In all honesty, you never know how it’s going to work when you slap four strangers together and say, “Be a team.” People can be dicks. Luckily, we’re either not dicks or we’re the same kind of dicks … or maybe I’m the dick and they all hate me? This would explain why Clay holds me upside down and shakes me for change. Sidenote, who has change these days? And who NEEDS it???
Kelly Fitzpatrick: I was shown the pages from Robin and James at Oni and I knew I wanted to work on it. I could see the palette in my head and what I wanted to do with the pages before I even chatted with everyone. I was lucky we were all in the same headspace. I did not know anyone other than the lovely people at Oni before starting on this project.
AiPT!: Redline feels very much like a hop and a skip from being a TV show. It feels very realized and fully formed right out of the gate. If it was picked up by a TV channel, who would you want directing the pilot?
McCormack: I’d put Joe Carnahan pretty high on the list – he’s got a great sense for action, drama, comedy, and how they can all work together.
Holman: Ohhhhh, man, that is a tough one. Off the top of my head, Chris Morris, who wrote/directed the absolutely phenomenal Four Lions would be a great fit. I will watch anything Cary Fukunaga does. Tricia Brock would kill it. Neil Marshall, holy shit, NEIL MARSHALL??? Ideally, you’d get someone who isn’t shooting a straight comedy. You don’t want it “wacky.” If you treat it more like a drama, the jokes land harder, because the stakes feel higher.
AiPT!: When was the first moment you fell in love with comics?
Holman: As a kid, Uncanny X-Men #234 – first X-book I ever bought. They were living in Australia for some odd reason, fighting The Brood and some guy who could vomit fire. Pretty rad. Look up that cover, it’s all sorts of great.
As a teenager, I picked up Will Eisner’s Comics & Sequential Art, which then led me to his A Contract With God. It’s still on my shelf today.
As an adult, somewhere between Bendis/Oeming’s Powers and Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country. Those two books brought me back into loving the medium. I still read in feast or famine mode. Either I’m reading a lot of comics or maybe just one.
Fitzpatrick: Comics as a medium is a different answer than comic book characters. I think I first fell in love with comics around middle school. I was starting to become addicted to manga and Jhonen Vasquez’s work pretty simultaneously. I was reading a bunch of stuff by Clamp and other women creators in Japan and really morbid content in America around age 11. I basically loved the idea that comics wasn’t JUST about superheroes. You could do anything with it.
McCormack: I had always been into more comic-y stuff (Ghostbusters, Transformers, etc.), but when a cousin of mine dropped an issue of Spider-Man in front of me when I was around 7 or 8, I was off to the races. I fell out of buying comics for a while in college, but my love for the medium and characters never went away.
AiPT!: Kelly and Clayton, your covers have an interesting bottom border. Can you explain why you use this visual?
Fitzpatrick: Clayton started it and I decided I wanted every border a different color. 😛
McCormack: I wanted a bit of a different look for the design, something that we could plug in little gags to each issue if we wanted – It sort of felt a bit like caution tape to me as well, which I thought was cool.
AiPT!: Kelly, with a comic like this that’s a bit more realistic and gritty, do you have a certain palette you go to? And a follow-up, do you ever die to splash some pop of color into a dreary scene?
Fitzpatrick: I never have a palette I “go to”. I try to create different palettes for each of my books. I obviously have my own personal aesthetics and preferences (which is what I think defines every successful artist). I feel like I use color thoughtfully. I do splash yellows, magentas and purples for impact quite often in the book, but I only use it emotively. There’s always a purpose.
AiPT!: Is there a part of the comic-creating process you love the best? And a part you don’t like?
Kelly Fitzpatrick: I love it all, but some parts are more challenging than others and that varies from project to project and day to day. Some days I’m really about color corrections and page setups and other days I just want to render. Sometimes it’s hard communicating an idea or getting a hold of team members for projects, other times everything runs smoothly on that front.
McCormack: I always forget how long it takes to do layouts. They’re really the most important part of the job, because that’s where most of the really work is done, but man, it takes forever sometimes. Inking is my favorite part, no question.
Holman: I love writing when I know where I’m going. That said, I hate, hate, hate outlining. It’s necessary, it’s totally necessary, but I hate it.
AiPT!: Neal, I love your use of dialogue to imbue a sense of character. How do you approach writing dialogue? There must be x, y, z, you’re looking to inform the reader and progress plot, but at the same time it has to flow. That must be hard!
Holman: Thanks! Adam Reed put together a guideline for Archer freelance writers years and years ago, and – if I recall correctly – it said something like, “Every line of dialogue should either move the plot forward or be a great joke or preferably, both.” I try to measure dialogue through that context, as well as acting it out loud if it’s a lengthy or impactful line. The goal is always to kill as much exposition as possible. I’m okay with people not knowing exactly what’s going on. As long as you have an idea, that’s fine.
AiPT!: There are some incredible classics using Mars in science fiction, are there any works you tapped for inspiration or consumed before tackling this project?
Holman: I tried to avoid them when I was writing. Too much information, too many influences can muddy the waters and you can get into a game of writing to be different rather than writing for story. Since then, I’ll watch or read whatever. The Martian is great (book and film.) The Expanse is next on my list.
McCormack: Not Mars specifically, no – Neal’s concept made it clear we were going for something more relatable and desert warfare-y, so I tried to make things grounded, but also not forgetting we were on a different planet. I was looking more at stuff like Elysium and Dredd for the world, and Italian Westerns for the feel.
AiPT!: Seeing as this book is heavily involved with a military, have any of you served? How do you approach a comic like this and keep it honest even if it’s science fiction?
Fitzpatrick: My father was in the Army for 21 years – so I’m an Army brat. I was raised around people in the military for the first 1/3 of my life (the formative years) so I’m pretty used to being around military and ex-military.
Holman: My dad was in the Army before I was born, but that’s about as close as it comes for me, personally. That said, I do have some good friends in various branches, and they are all master vulgarians. When I was thinking about this project, I didn’t see a way to do it without that language. There’s an art to it, this kind of gallows humor, and I honestly don’t come close to matching it. Hopefully, the spirit is there, though. As for keeping it honest, I’m not sure. I just try to follow the story to its natural end, and try not to bullshit anyone.
AiPT!: In the perfect world, how long would Redline run for?
Holman: I think we could do three arcs and that would be super fun without overstaying our welcome. For now, I’m just thankful we have this first series. It’s a complete arc, so if this is all we get, then that’s fine too.
McCormack: That depends on whether or not I can kick my crippling Faberge egg habit.
AiPT!: What’s your favorite method of procrastination?
Holman: Twitter. And right now, Girl Scout cookies.
McCormack: YouTube. 100%.
Fitzpatrick: Not getting out of bed to actually work.