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“It’s like Treasure Planet meets Club Paradise”: Jai Nitz and Tom Reilly talk Astro Hustle

Astro Hustle’s ’70s combines sci-fi themes and a sex-positive story.

It’s a great time to be a fan of sci-fi thanks to comic books like Astro Hustle. Out this March, the series features a retro look, pirates, and plenty of ’80s vibes to throw a stick at. AiPT! recently spoke to its creators, Jai Nitz and Tom Reilly, about the series’ main influences, building a world from the ground up, and much, much more.

AiPT!: How long has the idea of Astro Hustle been percolating?

Jai Nitz I went and checked! The first iteration of Astro Hustle was “saved” on April 21, 2014. By that math, right at 5 years from the first idea to the finished first issue coming out. The heart of Astro Hustle has maintained since the beginning: Disco sci-fi. The execution has changed several times, and it took me finding the perfect partner in crime, Tom Reilly, for it to coalesce into the right package. Add on Ursula Decay’s color palette and Crank’s letters, and we have one of the best comics I’ve ever been a part of.

Tom Reilly: For me, Astro Hustle officially became a thing in March of last year. The concept of it was created around five years ago, but I only learned that about five minutes ago. For a book like this to fall into my lap five years after its inception is like winning the lottery.

AiPT!: Barbarella immediately comes to mind when I view the Astro Hustle marketing material, what are its inspirations be it movies, comics, or books?

JN: I love the fashion and vibe of Barbarella. It’s like a game of telephone. We go from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century to Flash Gordon to Battlestar Galactica (people forget how disco the original iteration was) to The Ice Pirates and on. That’s the exterior. The interior is grittier and draws from comics like Chaykin’s American Flagg! and Starlin’s Dreadstar. Throw in Jaime Hernandez’s Mechanics and you’re close. I love Steve Rude’s art on Nexus, too.

TR: Barbarella was one of the many things I looked at when working on this book. The big ones were Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar for me. I also looked at Logan’s Run, Hanna-Barbera cartoons like Space Ghost and the Jetsons, and old Hollywood pirate films like Captain Blood. I tried especially hard to convey the sense of fun and adventure that you find in those movies, and combine it with all the sexy disco glitz of the various science fiction media I used as inspiration.

AiPT!: What is it about boobs, butts, and babes in sci-fi that works so well?

JN: There’s a huge difference between being sex-positive and objectifying. Disco was very sex-positive, race-inclusive, and queer. I think space-disco should be the same. One thing Chaykin has taught me is that sex is very much a part of life, and art should reflect life. Look at the first John Wick (a film I love). It has NO sex. None. It is asexual. The second installment has the tiniest hint of sex. I think that’s a conscious choice by the filmmakers. They are focusing on the violence. That’s fine. I want to focus on the glitz and glam aspects of disco… so that includes sexy women and men (and aliens).

TR: I would say it works if you do it right. As the artist of the book, it’s very important to me that what you’re looking at is sexy and fun, but still respectful and tasteful. Jai shares the same sentiment with his writing and has come up with scenes for me to draw that will hopefully be appealing to everyone. It definitely helps if the guys get in on the action, too. And the aliens, and the robots, and so on. We’re mostly tackling ’70’s sci-fi themes, and the ’70s (disco especially, where we draw most of our inspiration from) were a very sexually free period. That had a heavy influence in the media of the times, and our book shares that influence.

AiPT!: There’s some excellent onomatopoeia in the first issue. How does this come about, do you write it in or is it inspired by the letterer or artist?

JN: Comics are unique: the art and text share space. The text is art and vice versa. My goal is to always have the sound effects, word balloons, and captions enhance the art because they are the art. It’s easy to do that with Crank on the team because he’s lettered lots of my projects in the past. We are on the same page. And Tom is someone who has taken the bull by the horns when it comes to adding SFX into the art. Add on Ursula’s dynamic colors to the SFX and we have the complete package. I’m very lucky to have cohorts who share my vision.

TR: Jai is the one to originally come up with the majority of the SFX in the scripts. When drawing the page, I will hand letter these SFX where appropriate. Our letterer Crank will also add little sound effects here and there when necessary. He’s a true professional and makes these issues such a smooth read.

AiPT!: What is your collaborative process like when developing sci-fi tech and ships?

JN: It’s all Tom Reilly. I tell Tom, “It’s like Treasure Planet meets Club Paradise,” and he delivers. Points to anyone who has seen Treasure Planet. Double points to anyone who has seen Club Paradise. Tom is a machine. He’s got an endless imagination and a real desire to collaborate. He is the ultimate chef. He brings everything to the table and takes all your food allergies into account.

TR: In terms of ships and vehicles, Jai will oftentimes have a basic idea for a look, and then let me use that to do pretty much whatever I want. He’s a dream collaborator as an artist, he’ll look at anything you want to throw at him, no matter how out there and weird. As for technology, I usually just design that right on the page. That can help to make some drawings look less stiff, and it’s also a good time saver. Save for a few things, all the color choices are Ursula’s. She developed the perfect palette for this book, and I think it really ties everything together.

AiPT!: If Astro Hustle was adapted to film or TV who would you want to produce and direct?

JN:: TV show: I want my man John Rogers to be my showrunner and run the writer’s room with me. I want my pal Jonathan Frakes to direct as many episodes as possible. Or, I want Adam Glass to run the show and get Julie and Shawna Benson to run the writer’s room with me. I’d want all our biggest supporters to direct episodes: Nicholas Meyer, Stewart Raffill, and Malcolm Goodwin.

For a movie? I want my friend Duncan Jones to write and direct. He already loves the comic, let’s get him to do the movie.

TR: Jai got testimonial quotes from a good few sci-fi film and TV veterans like Nicholas Meyer, Duncan Jones, Jonathan Frakes, and Stewart Rafill. I’d love to see one of them take a stab at it!

AiPT!: Thanks for your time! Are there any other projects we should know about?

JN: Astro Hustle is creator-owned by me, Tom Reilly, Ursula Decay, and Crank! All members of the creative team have an ownership stake in the property. You work with me and that’s the case. We all succeed together and it shows. I’m getting in pages from everyone right now and I’m blown away. This is Tom’s first comic. This is Ursula’s first comic. Unbelievable.

TR: Thanks for having me! This is actually my first ever professional comic book work. So as soon as I’m done with this series I’ll be asking that same question!

You can find Astro Hustle #1 in comic shops March 6, 2019, or preorder it right now.

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