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DF Interview: Jimmie Robinson builds ‘world of mystery’ in The Empty
By Byron Brewer
In an apocalyptic world we never made, of poison and decay, lives a girl called Tanoor. Her village is all that remains of humanity as they struggle against mutant beasts and rotting bones.
But Tanoor finds a chance to save her people when a stranger drifts into town … a stranger armed with the power to grow life from death, a stranger who could change the world—if Tanoor can keep her alive in the deadly world of … The Empty!
Cartoonist Jimmie Robinson brings to Image Comics his wondrous “world of mystery” and a clash of cultures such as never before seen on the comics page. And Dynamic Forces is here for you, its readers, with all the latest info.
Dynamic Forces: Jimmie, tell us a little about how this apocalyptic yet enchanting world of Tanoor and friends came about.
Jimmie Robinson: This started out based on a very short story I did in the 1990s called Lila’s Garden. At the time it was pretty much following the standard fantasy and sword & sorcery platform, etc. I’m an underdog character kind of guy, so I like stories where the odds are stacked against the hero. The stories followed a girl and her enchanted/talking watering pail – which could grow almost anything. The setting looked like any Medieval period, with castles and villages and such. But when I decided to brush up some new life to Lila’s Garden, I made a lot of changes. I switched it to a desolate landscape, but I wanted to add the element of hope. I added more mystery to the situation. Why is the landscape so barren? Why is it called “The Empty”? Why does Tannor look so different from Lila?
After coming off my series, Five Weapons, I had a hunger for more mystery and plot twists, but I also wanted a world of mystery – where things are pretty strange. But not strange as in otherworldly or unidentifiable. I wanted something subtle, and just slightly off. That’s one of the great characteristics of comics, that we can build, create and present worlds of the imagination, combined with story and visuals.
DF: As a cartoonist, do you find it easier or more difficult to be in charge of almost everything, as you are here?
Jimmie Robinson: I love that I am in total control from creation to completion. My enemy is always TIME. I tend to work with others because it is more efficient to get the books done. I worked with Paul Little on Bomb Queen and Five Weapons because doing it all would put my work way behind schedule. And even with Paul’s help I would sometimes get behind on my deadlines. Paul is a good guy and not only has he saved me time, but he’s also a good colorist with clever ideas. He makes the books better.
Now I’m taking the entire book by the reigns, but that’s mainly due to having some time to work ahead. I don’t always have the luxury. Sadly, this extra time came about because I ended up canceling the series of Five Weapons before it ended. That gave me plenty of months to get on top of things. So I figured, I would do it all myself. This way all the sacrifice would be on me. I feel bad asking others to help on my books when I have no upfront money to pay them. I offer payment on the backend (profits), but when those profits dwindle, or the series doesn’t pay off well enough it leaves me in a bad position. I don’t mind sacrificing for MY creations, but it’s not fair to ask that of others. However, I am in a unique position that I can do everything. All I need is the time.
DF: In working on The Empty, at some point has there been anything Writer Jimmie would like Artist Jimmie to change or do differently … or vice versa?
Jimmie Robinson: Not really, but the decision to free float the text can be challenging. There are no word balloons, so the art has to be created in a way that leaves open space in the art for the dialogue. So the art becomes more of a design challenge than anything else. Often the writer side of me will self-edit and make a change in the script, but the artist side of me knows how to morph and adapt the differences. I’m actually glad I can do both because the process is fluid for me. It’s not rigid or confined. If the writer side of me changes a scene, dialogue or a panel layout, then the artist side of me accommodates like squeezing air on one side of a balloon as you watch it fill the other.
In fact, I would say the changes happen because of the symbiotic relationship I have of art and story in my head. I can alter a page and see the changes ripple down the issues in my head. It’s not a surprise for me, because I am both writer and artist.
DF: I know that Vaankam seems to be suffering from ground/water table poisoning connected to plant roots which bring poison from “The Empty,” but without spoilers could you give us any more background at all? Was whatever happened man-made or “world”-made?
Jimmie Robinson: Yeah, that’s a spoiler so I’ll have to pass on that one. It’s a bit of both. We discover a lot of mysteries in the next few issues. And ultimately we come to learn what it really means to be in “The Empty”, not just by geography but also by identification of the self. Yeah, there’s a lot more than meets the eye here. This is not a Conan the Barbarian just rambling along in a series of fantasy-based adventures.
DF: Can you give us a thumbnail summation of how you perceive Tanoor and her position in her “tribe” of people? She is pretty free to defy the people’s guard and mouth off to the Elders!
Jimmie Robinson: Tanoor is a warrior and hunter for the village of Vaankam. I view her character as the type who takes chances. She isn’t afraid of new things. She travels so she sees more of the world and has a wider view of reality. In many ways, she is the classic adventurer in folklore and myth. And Lila, who comes from a different world, would be seen as the herald to adventure. So yeah, Tanoor is a rebel and represents a new generation of thinking outside of the box.
I’ve given Tanoor the luxury of mouthing off to the town Elders because in their desperate situation they must depend on her for survival. Nobody else in town will venture into The Empty to hunt for food, thus she becomes an important figure.
DF: Elephant in the room: What the heck are those boards tied on Tanoor, and why does she appear bruised (almost like with a whip) and bandaged?
Jimmie Robinson: Tanoor is a hunter and gatherer. She is also a fighter and survivor, so I wanted to put plenty of battle scars on her. The metal boards strapped to her arms are both weapon and shield. I didn’t want a character who always wins with nothing to show for it. However, I will address how she got a lot of the scars in future issues. Life is hard in The Empty. Even the other people in her village have a few scars and sores. Nobody is living a good life here. It’s all about survival.
I also wanted Tanoor’s character to look beaten down. The bandages serve as a costume and a reminder that she is a fighter. She takes a lot of damage. She is stitched up, cut, scarred, bruised, her hair is a mess and there’s not one clean square inch of skin on her. In fact, I tone down her female attributes because I don’t want her sexuality to get in the way. This is not a sexy warrior princess story. Haha!
DF: Lila is a charming creation. She obviously has some supernatural talent, since she can make things grow in the poison soils. Is what she “is” connected to why her own people were apparently trying to kill her? Or is there more here than meets the eye?
Jimmie Robinson: I’ll leave for the readers to discover some of that, because the reasons she is not wanted in her world are still under a shroud of mystery. And some of those reasons are more basic than the grandiose adventure she might be having in The Empty. In short, the reason why she ends up in The Empty (they want to kill her) becomes less important than what she discovers in The Empty. But trust me, it will all come around full circle.
As for her supernatural talents, even Lila will discover she has yet to tap the real truth and her connection to The Empty. I’m rather excited for the upcoming issues.
DF: Elephant in the room #2: What are those rings around the giraffe necks of Lila and her people? In her flashback, everyone was wearing one.
Jimmie Robinson: Yup. It’s easy to see that Lila’s people are very different from everyone else. They have extended necks and they have huge eyes. This is symbolic of the world Lila comes from. The fragile necks and eyes to the side of the head indicate that her people are not predators. They are not hunters or warriors who typically have their eyes forward. They have no need of such physical traits.
The gold rings around their necks are part of the mysteries we discover in this miniseries. However, it’s also just a culture indicator of Lila’s people, just like some communities in Asia and Africa. I just wanted to take things a little further.
DF: It’s strange that neither Tanoor nor Lila are aware of any other lands outside their own. Will this be addressed?
Jimmie Robinson: Very much so. In fact, it is the collision of these two worlds that will bring everything together in a way nobody could imagine. That’s the fun of doing a miniseries. As a creator, I must lay the cards on the table in such a way that it pays off quickly. I don’t have the luxury of dragging things along in a decompressed structure. However, I will say that nothing is wrapped up in a pretty pink bow at the end. There is plenty of story that can continue after this arc and mystery of The Empty is wrapped up.
I also wanted this to be a clash of cultures – which is something we still experience in our lives today. A lot of people do not travel – even in this global village we have today. Lila and Tanoor are two extremes. One side lives like the 1% in luxury and comfort in a paradise of bounty, whereas the other lives in The Empty where daily survival is commonplace and death lurks in every corner. People can read into that however they wish. First world meets third world or whatever. That’s the beauty of a good story.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Jimmie Robinson for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Empty #1 from Image Comics hits stores February 11th!
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