Back Out The Side Door: Nifty Spies In Oni's The Strangers
May 13, 2013
Tune in, drop out, and take a ticket to Fantasy Island. For the weird. And the mods. And the ones who will tell you that you're a number, not a free man. The Strangers from Oni Press is a cocktail of old TV programming —shaken not stirred — with its slice of lime dipped in bath salts. Writer Chris Roberson and artist Scott Kowalchuck explain how their new funhouse works in this PREVIEWSworld exclusive.
PREVIEWSworld: The Strangers #1 from Oni Press makes me think “old school.” I’m thinking 60s psychedelic music and bad Austin Powers puns. Am I close? If not, feel free to throw rotten fruit. But seriously, how did you two tap into the weirdness?
Scott Kowalchuck: Not so much a satire of 60s pop culture, but more of an enthusiastic celebration of it. I'm a HUGE fan of everything SPYFI in the 1960s (particularly the Connery Bond's, The Avengers, and the Batman 66 TV show). The Strangers is very much our version of 1960s SPYFI, in the same way Mad Men is an examination of the era's lifestyle.
Chris Roberson: Yeah, in my head the series isn’t set in the “Sixties,” meaning the historical period itself, but in “Sixties World,” the vision of that period seen in movies like Danger: Diabolik and TV shows like The Avengers, The Prisoner, and Batman ’66. I’m approaching The Strangers as if it were a modern comic adaptation of a 60s-era TV show that never existed.
PREVIEWSworld: Tell us how the project got started.
Scott Kowalchuck: Chris approached me about doing a project late the year before last (after our editor James Lucas Jones put us in touch). Which, honestly, was one hell of a surprise. Chris has been a fave writer of mine ever since issue #1 of iZombie — to work with him was very exciting, and a little intimidating. We emailed back and forth briefly before he pitched me The Strangers. It was an incredibly tight concept, and Chris had a very specific vision from the outset.
Chris Roberson: Scott flatters me, but I’m going to flatter him right back. I knew his work from The Intrepids, as well as the “Supervillain Showdown” art tumblr that he and Dennis Culver (my collaborator on Edison Rex) used to do. When James suggested that Scott and I should work on something, I jumped at the chance. As I remember the sequence of events, I asked Scott what kinds of things he wanted to draw, and perhaps more importantly what kinds of things he DIDN’T want to draw. And then I went to my treasure chest of half-baked notions and discarded series proposals, and borrowed a little bit from here and a little bit from there, and Frankensteined them together into the general idea of The Strangers. It’s been a really fascinating process for me, because there are bits and pieces of all sorts of other ideas in the series that DIDN’T work in their original forms, but which assembled as we’ve done seem to work nicely together.
PREVIEWSworld: If we were to take Space Family Robinson and bake it with Doom Patrol, would those be similar ingredients one could find in The Strangers #1? Or would you use other spices for the recipe. And what would they be?
Chris Roberson: It was a strange kind of alchemy. Taking ideas that we loved from comics, figuring out how they would have worked as a TV show before we were born, and then translating them back into comics. There’s probably more than a little bit of Hanna-Barbera adventure cartoons in there, as well as Quinn Martin Productions and those sorts of things.
Scott Kowalchuck: I've always thought Doom Patrol was amongst the best comic series produced. So much creativity and fun in every issue, so RAD! I would say Mission Impossible + Doom Patrol x Dr. Strange / Batman '66 = The Strangers. It's a really fun cross-genre Supernatural SpyFi. Big characters, big threats, and a whole whack of fun.
PREVIEWSworld: Oni is putting a lot of muscle behind this book as there was also a Free Comic Book Day edition of The Strangers released this May. So what’s been the nature of conversations you’ve been having with the folks over at Oni?
Scott Kowalchuck: Yelling. Oh, so much yelling. Mostly at me. No, I'm completely kidding. Oni is wonderful. The editorial staff is far too good to me. We mostly are just steeped in encouragement and support. It's a terrific environment for any creative-type to prosper in. Oni has been turning out terrific work like The Sixth Gun, Stumptown, Helheim, so I'm really proud to have a book accompanying such great work.
Chris Roberson: I’ve wanted to work on a project with Oni for years. Not only do they publish great comics, some of my favorites in fact, but everything I’ve heard about them from creators who have done books there was universally positive. I’m pleased to say that nothing in my experience with them has contradicted that.
PREVIEWSworld: You must have pitched more than just the first few issues of plot for them to make such a commitment. Can you tell us a bit about what went on behind closed doors?
Scott Kowalchuck: I think it was the higher concept that attracted everyone to the project. Chris and I will, initially, be telling self-contained two-issue stories. Issue #2 will resolve #1, #4 will resolve #3, and so on. It's a fun approach giving us lots of room to quickly create the world and the threats our Strangers will face. So, yeah, lots of baddies, starting with Capricorn and his Occult cronies.
Chris Roberson: I had pitched a number of projects to Oni before finding one that stuck. But I’m immensely flattered by the faith they’ve shown in The Strangers, and Scott and I are doing everything we can to live up to it.
PREVIEWSworld: So this man known as Capricorn is the one person who knows The Strangers. It sounds like he knows where they sleep. What they eat. Is he seen stroking a white cat cradled in his arms?
Scott Kowalchuck: If only! Maybe we could have him stroking a giant mountain lion or something, Chris.
Chris Roberson: I’ll take it under advisement.
PREVIEWSworld: What drives this villain to make the lives of the superspies hell on Earth?
Scott Kowalchuck: I think they make his life hell. Any world-dominating force like Occult needs one heck of a tough adversary, and my-oh-my are the Strangers that. Each with their own supernatural power. They are one nifty group of super-spies.
Chris Roberson: Well, of course our villains are trying to take over the world, and the Strangers are the only ones in a position to stop them. So that’s got to be annoying for them.
PREVIEWSworld: Can you tell about whatever web pages you two have set up so that we can learn teaser information early?
Scott Kowalchuck: I'll be teasing what I can on scottkowalchuk.com, scottkowalchuk.tumblr.com and on twiter @scottkowalchuk. Also check in at onipress.com for regular updates.
Chris Roberson: I can be easily found on twitter @chris_roberson, and on tumblr at http://chrisroberson.tumblr.com.