‘It’s Totally Ridiculous': Ryan Browne On The New ‘God Hates Astronauts’ Ongoing At Image [Interview]
Get ready for more insanity from the Power Persons Five.
Writer/artist Ryan Browne‘s God Hates Astronauts, which started as a webcomic about crude, perhaps psychopathic superheroes battling outrageous villains and each other, and was eventually published in hardcover thanks to a massively successful Kickstarter, is coming to Image Comics as an ongoing series this August, and he promises all the silliness of what came before, though the plot may be a little more defined. We sat down with him at this year’s C2E2 show to talk about what’s in store, what has changed about the series, making deadlines, and what else might be in the pipeline.
ComicsAlliance: I remember seeing that God Hates Astronauts was coming to Image last fall. What happened between then and now?
Ryan Browne: They put out the softcover edition of God Hates Astronauts.
CA: So that was what the Kickstarter was for and what was on the Web.
CA: And this is a new series.
RB: It’s a new ongoing, monthly series that we’re going to be doing starting in August. It’s going to be an entirely new jumping-on point in the story. It’s not a reboot. There’s a little bit of a recap in the beginning, but it’s basically just a fresh start. You could pick it up without having read the webcomic or the earlier collection and be just fine.
CA: The webcomic version, which Image eventually published, and that people got as a hardcover from the Kickstarter, it ends on a note of everything about to change for these characters. There’s talk of the Power Persons Five becoming six with a new baby and so forth. Does this jump off directly from there?
RB: No, it kind of aged in real time. That book came out in October. The new one will come out in August, so it’ll be a little bit over a year since we last saw the Power Persons Five. They have their baby. Star Grass has been running NASA. We saw at the end of the last volume that he was put in charge. They’ll be dealing with the astronaut farmers. Actually dealing with them, which was something that was briefly discussed in the first volume.
CA: I just looked at a preview you’ve got, and it’s definitely different from the webcomic version of God Hates Astronauts. In that, the team was a mess. They fall apart almost at the very beginning. You kind of didn’t know what the title meant.
RB: You still kind of don’t.
CA: But now NASA’s involved and you’ve got farmers going into space. It’s cohered more. What we see at the beginning of this is an assembled team where Star Grass is definitely the leader. It’s got a different feel to it.
RB: It will, because it’s long form. The first thing I did was sit down and figure out the plot of the first five issues, and where it’s going to go in the first 10. That was a big difference for me. When I was doing the webcomic, I was thinking like two or three pages ahead, which was really stupid [laughs]. But it was just like, how can I work these jokes in that I’ve come up with?
Now I have defined characters, so I can start actually telling a plot. At first, I was a little concerned that some of the humor would be missing if I was too plot-heavy. In the time that I’ve been drawing it, it’s been going off the rails immediately. It’s totally ridiculous.
CA: As far as tone, it’s very much the same. When we see Star Grass and the rest of the Power Persons Five show up, there’s not a lot of holding back. Given that the webcomic was something you were only doing a couple pages at a time, was that hard to recapture?
RB: It made me nervous. I don’t know if it was hard. I just had to trust my instincts on it. I knew if I was just true and had fun–the whole point of the book was to have fun. The whole point of the book was just to have fun and make myself laugh. It was awesome that people other than me started liking it.
I just try to trust my instincts and my feelings on comedy, then try to bring it all together in a cohesive narrative, so when people are like, “What’s this about?” I don’t have to be like, “Well, it’s about a bunch of bears and owls and I don’t know.” That’s was always a problem with the book. When people would ask what it was about, I could never tell them, because I was like, well, it’s just some stupid jokes. I’m really trying to focus it, yet still keep it fresh, and obnoxious, and offensive, and fun.
CA: One of the things about webcomics is you get to do whatever you want. There are some precedents of webcomics jumping over to big comics publishers, but not a huge number. What kind of process did you and Image work up so you still had that freedom? What input do they have?
RB: None. Honestly, Image is awesome. They basically give you a schedule and tell you when you need to turn in your solicits, turn in your materials for going to print, but they’re extremely hands-off. They’ll lend you help when you need it, but really, I’m kind of doing it all myself again. That’s the fear. I don’t have an editor. There’s going to be a proofreader, but if this comic makes no sense, it’s all my fault. There’s no one else to blame and it’s all in my head.
I am literally doing whatever I want on it. When I have little thoughts or little ideas of things that I think are funny while I’m drawing a page, I just put them in.
CA: You’re a little insulated from that being a problem, though. Not to say what you’ve done before is nonsense, but there’s a certain stream-of-consciousness feel to it, and if people are coming into this as fans, that’s what they’re going to expect, right?
RB: I hope so. My biggest fear with the book is that I feel like I’m riding this line of being charming with these offensive, awful characters and having them be unlikable. I don’t want them to be unlikable. Even in the start of issue one, they’re already being overly violent for no reason, and overly aggressive. Kind of jerks. I’m trying to make it super-fun and super-light so that I’m not crossing that line where you’re like “I’m reading this book and I hate this guy and I want bad things to happen to him.” I want it to be charming in this weird kind of way.
CA: One of the things about the three-issue webcomic is that you’re constantly introducing new concepts and characters, like Gnarled Winslow showing up and Sullivan turning into this giant monster. Do you have to pull back on the constant introduction of new stuff because you’ve got to do this monthly and you have more issues to fill?
RB: I was thinking that it might slow down the pace of the story because the original book moves so fast. I was drawing a webcomic, so I felt like on every page, something needed to happen. Every page needed a joke. Every page needed a beginning, middle and end. Now I can extend scenes over multiple pages, and it changes the way I’m writing.
I was worried that it wouldn’t be as dense, but now as I’m working on it, I’m putting as many jokes onto every page as I can. Hopefully the story is still moving. Less will happen in each issue, but it will still have that same, dense feeling of jokes and weird moments. I know I’ve had to pare the cast down significantly, and focus in on some of the main characters. There’ll be new characters that are introduced as side characters, just like there were side characters in the first volume. Maybe they’ll come back.
I had one idea, which I’m not going to do, where you’d see all the ancillary characters get on a plane, and then you’d see it fly off and explode [laughs]. It’s just like, “Whoops! I guess they’re gone!” Or like a Transformers: The Movie homage where they’re all on a ship and someone comes in and blows them all away, just to get rid of them. But no, I think I’m going to keep them alive and use them when I can.
CA: Speaking of characters who aren’t alive, Sullivan was definitely dispatched at the end of the miniseries.
CA: But he’s the big bad guy of that series. He’s a very important part of it. Do you feel like he needs to come back, to appease his fans?
RB: I have plans. I don’t know when. I know how, but I don’t know if I’ll even do it. It may be something I save for when you least expect it or he just may never come back, but I know how he would come back.
CA: It’s been well established that characters can come back as spectral entities or with stuff grafted onto their bodies.
RB: It’s funny, because when people see the preview art, they see the character the Impossible, and they’ll say, “The Impossible died in issue two.” If you pay attention, the very next frame after The Impossible is killed, she’s standing in the background. She doesn’t say anything. She’s just standing there in the background for the rest of the book. You can do anything. It doesn’t matter it’s a comic book. [laughs]
CA: About your art process, it can maybe get a little dangerous not having an editor, without having someone constantly telling you, “This is your deadline.” When you’re doing a webcomic, you have commenters who are occasionally like, “When’s the next page coming?” But you’re really doing it on your timetable. When you’re doing a monthly ongoing series, there are deadlines you’ve got to hit. How has that been for you?
RB: Anxiety is my editor. That keeps me going. It’s also, like, drawing God Hates Astronauts is the best job I could have. That’s my dream job. It’s not work. It’s fun. Work on it’s going very fast. On weekends, I can’t wait to get back to the studio to work on it, because I’ve got ideas in my mind. So that’s not a problem for me. My goal is to get through the first year without being late, and we’ll see how that works.
I’ve already had tons of bumps in the road. I’ve got a letterer now. I’m working on figuring out coloring issues. Maybe I’m not going to color the whole thing. Working on Bedlam and working on The Manhattan Projects sped me up a lot. Those were working on deadlines that I made. That added to my confidence, and I learned how to put together a page pretty quickly.
CA: You talk about the webcomic being very off-the-cuff and it just coming together. Have you changed your writing and art process for the new series? How do they work together?
RB: I do an outline. I started with a series outline, then an issue outline, then a page outline. I have two sentences about what happens on a page. Then I do thumbnails. Then I pencil and ink, then I sit down, after I’ve got a bunch of pages in a row, I sit down and write what the dialogue is.
CA: It’s kind of like Marvel method with one guy.
RB: Yeah. There’s no point for me to sit down and write a full script where I’m describing panels. That isn’t going to help me. That’s just a waste of time. Having the freedom of not following a script, I can make edits on the fly. I’ll print out my boards will all the boxes printed out on the page, and then I’ll change my mind and I’ll white out the boxes and change them around. It kind of creates a mess, but I’m always like, this joke needs another beat. Or what if this guy said this and then said this? I’m editing all the time while I’m doing it, and hopefully by the end, it’s fun and it’s not laborious.
CA: You talked about drawing God Hates Astronauts being your dream job. If you could, would you do it forever?
RB: Yeah, I would. It’s an endless universe. I can do anything, really. The whole thing is I’ve always wanted to embrace the medium of comics, and do what you can do only in comics. You could also probably do it in animation, but I want to just have fun with what I’m doing. Make it silly. Don’t take anything too seriously.
My whole mantra in this whole thing is that everything is ridiculous, but everybody in the series takes everything deadly seriously. That is my machine. I could just go on that concept all the time.
CA: That said, you’ve done other work with writers, like these two Manhattan Projects issues. Would you want to do something where you’re switching between your creator-owned work and more collaboration, too?
RB: I’m actually writing some stuff with a couple other writers, Steve Seeley and Mike Costa. I have a lot of other ideas that wouldn’t work within the serious-but-silly universe I’ve created, so I’m kind of co-writing a couple other creator-owned things. That’s an interesting outlet for me to try different things.
As far as drawing, those things I’m co-writing, I’d love to draw, but I’ve got to focus in on what I’m doing now. That’s another way for me to get my voice out there and work on other projects.