Rock Candy Mountain Vol. 1 comes out September 27, collecting issues #1-4 of this Image Comics story centering around the world’s toughest hobo and his search through post-World War II America for the mythological Rock Candy Mountain. We last spoke to series creator Kyle Starks before Mountain’s launch. With the collection on its way to shelves, we thought we’d catch up with Starks and pick his brain about the action-packed hobo tale!
AiPT!: I am very familiar with you and your work but for those who are not (and shame on them!), how did you first get into comics?
Kyle Starks: I sort of fell face first into it. I had a webcomic that I Kickstarted (Legend of Ricky Thunder) that I enjoyed making so much I did another (Sexcastle), which fell into Matt Fraction’s lap who got it printed at Image, and that book got me Rick and Morty and now here I am. It’s a ton of lucky breaks. I had zero intention of doing this as a career when I started, I just wanted to tell some stories. But like I said, here I am. It’s crazy.
AiPT!: I listened to the song “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” – it is a catchy tune. When was the first time you heard it and what inspired you to write a story about it?
Starks: I have no idea when I first heard the song, honestly. I watched a lot of old Disney stuff as a kid and there was a ton of Americana music in those? So maybe there? I don’t know. I can’t remember not knowing it. I thought it was a song that everyone had heard so I was pretty surprised when I was telling people I was making a hobo book called Rock Candy Mountain, I wasn’t getting knowing smiles back.
That’s partly why, also, I asked Dr. Newsom to write the essay in the back of Issue 1. I wanted someone smarter than me to share the history of that song and to sort of give a stepping stone to those who were unlucky enough to not have heard the song before they saw the book.
I wouldn’t say the song was the inspiration, though, by any means – the book was inspired by Wuxia films and what seemed to me a lack of an American version of them. I was inspired to write a kung fu hobo epic. Having Rock Candy Mountain be the end goal was just, to me at the time, the obvious end goal of that story. But the idea the song is about – a sinner’s heaven – isn’t beholden just to that song, either. It exists throughout history. Cookie talks about it some in Issue 2 of the book. People have always wanted a backdoor into the afterlife they want instead of the one they deserve.
AiPT!: You wrote Rock Candy Mountain and did the artwork as well. Do you prefer to do both? What are the upsides and downsides in pulling double duty on a book?
Starks: The downside is that it takes a lot longer on my end and a lot more work, obviously. The upside is everything looks just how I’d like it – and I don’t mind writing 18-panel pages for myself. I’d never do that for someone else.
I think I prefer drawing and writing. It’s the most comfortable way for me to tell my stories, but also I feel like my art style is limiting in some ways and really want to do some collaboration that isn’t someone else’s property like I do with Dead of Winter and Rick and Morty.
AiPT!: The characters stand out and are well developed. Some appear briefly but enough to make an impact. What was your process in creating them? Is there anyone that you know in real life that was an influence for any of them?
Starks: Ha, no real-life inspirations, honestly. I just think anyone or anything that exists in the story should serve a function, be as full as they can in that moment and contribute in some way to the overall experience. The only character that has any direct influence from history is Boss Flimbo who’s well-to-do. The idea of a millionaire hobo I drew from James Eads How who was the heir to money but still rode the rails. Everyone else? I mean, that’s the job, right? Make fun people for you all to read stories about.
AiPT!: Speaking of the characters, Hundred Cat is an interesting guy. Do you have plans on telling more stories involving the other hobos or will Rock Candy Mountain focus specifically on Jackson?
Starks: I would love to tell more stories about Hundred Cat. I love all my supporting characters so much but I have a special place in my heart for Babs and Hundred Cat. Who wouldn’t want to hear about the champion street fighter/world’s best cat burglar getting into shenanigans?
AiPT!: If you had to hop the rails and travel for a couple of hours to your destination, who would you want to be in the box car with you. They can be anyone you choose, alive or dead!
Starks: I would for sure want my colorist, Chris Schweizer. Not only is he maybe America’s best cartoonist and my legitimate dear friend, he’s sort of a burly, good-natured, jack-of-all-trades. I think he’d keep me alive. If I can choose from the dead also, I’d want Jack London, who wrote a great collection about his experience hopping train cars before he became the well-known author we all know.
AiPT!: You got nominated for an Eisner in 2016 for Sexcastle. Did you feel any pressure while writing Rock Candy Mountain knowing that you are on readers’ radars?
Starks: I felt a lot of pressure when Sexcastle got published by Image and was immediately optioned on what I was doing next, for sure. I had written and drawn 70 pages of a book and dropped it to do another project which eventually became Kill Them All. Getting nominated for an Eisner and not winning, however, was inspirational. I wanted my next thing to be the best thing I would do. I hope Rock Candy Mountain gets the honor of an Eisner nod. Now I feel like I’m back to my 2015 self – I just want to make fun books that are good.
AiPT!: I have a really bad habit of keeping my phone beside me for when I want to write and end up playing around on it more than I write some nights. What is your favorite way to procrastinate when you should be writing?
Starks: Right now it’s for sure Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm. I lost a year to Fallout 3 when we had our first kid and realized that video games were taking over my life so I don’t really play them anymore, despite badly wanting to. I allow myself a couple hours of Heroes to sort of clear my mind.
AiPT!: While reading Rock Candy Mountain, I had ideas of actors/actresses that I could picture playing the roles of the characters. If Rock Candy Mountain ever became a movie or TV show, is there anyone that you could see playing the characters?
Starks: Ahh, I’m so bad at this. I would be so stoked to see Rock Candy Mountain on a big screen I think I would be happy with anyone doing any role. Can we get Jamie Foxx as Hundred Cat, though?
AiPT!: Are there any other projects that you are working on now or coming up in the future that you would like to share?
Starks: I’m a busy boy, right now! Every month I’m the current and ongoing writer and occasional artist on Rick and Morty from Oni Press. Also from Oni, I am currently writing the Dead of Winter miniseries based on the wildly popular tabletop game about a dog fighting zombies. And at the end of September, Oni Press is putting out the aforementioned Kill Them All, a near 200-page love letter to ’90s action movies that, if you liked Sexcastle, you’ll love. I think, sincerely, if you like any of my books you’ll like everything I’ve done.
Thanks Kyle, it was great chatting with you! You can purchase “Rock Candy Mountain Vol. 1” through the link above and you can also check out David Brooke’s review of the first four issues that make up “Rock Candy Mountain Vol. 1.”