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DF Interview: Brian Clevinger travels through the ages with Robo
By Byron Brewer
Atomic Robo is a self-aware robot built by a fictional version of Nikola Tesla, created by writer Brian Clevinger and artist Scott Wegener. The comic book series starring the automaton is split into several mini-series, each depicting a different era and adventure in Atomic Robo's long life-span.
How have these creators maintained a fresh sense of adventure over such a long period? Atomic Robo has become their passion or, as Clevinger put it, “Robots are cool!”
To learn more, Dynamic Forces sat down to chat with the writer. Here is what he told us.
Dynamic Forces: Brian, tell us about the creation of this character that has a string of mini-series.
Brian Clevinger: Well, Scott [Wegener] and I think that history is cool, alternate history is cool, robots are cool, sci-fi is cool, and action is fun. So, we decided to jam all that together into a comic book series designed from the ground up to be as accessible as possible to the widest audience as possible by making sure it’s always a fun time.
DF: What inspired you and co-creator artist Scott Wegener to conceive this self-aware robot?
Brian Clevinger: Do I need a reason beyond “Robots are cool?” Really, though, having a robot main character solves the majority of structural problems that plague most comics. We don’t explain how Robo has been around for so long, we don’t have to explain how he’s super tough, we don’t have to explain how he’s smart, etc. All these things “click” the moment you see him in a panel.
The context is built into the core concept and we don’t have to waste valuable page space telling you about Robo. This let’s us jump right into whatever adventure is next!
DF: For the uninitiated, tell us generally who Atomic Robo is and about his “world.”
Brian Clevinger: The quick pitch I give folks: “Take The Ghostbusters, Buckaroo Banzai, Indiana Jones, The Rocketeer. Now cram them into a robot, give that robot some pants and about a hundred years of adventure. That’s Atomic Robo.”
Robo was built by Nikola Tesla in 1923 and the comic book follows Robo’s adventures ever since. Every volume is a standalone story or collection of stories, so you can start on any volume and read them in any order. The more of them you read, the more clearly you can see how disparate events are actually interrelated.
DF: Since springing from Red 5 Comics in 2007, your character has had some fantastic adventures in some pretty far-flung time periods, even battling Lovecraftian creatures. Is it hard to constantly find new worlds to challenge Robo?
Brian Clevinger: Honestly, it’s too easy! We’ve got plans for up to Volume 20 or so. To put that into perspective, Volume 9 hasn’t been fully published yet.
And then there’s the little spin-off volumes starring secondary characters. I don’t know when we’re gonna find the time to make those.
I suspect we’ll only stop if one of us dies or if human-like AI becomes commonplace and then suddenly the idea of a robot adventurer loses its cache.
DF: What are some of your all-time favorites of Robo’s adventures?
Brian Clevinger: I can’t pick a favorite. I’m always particularly enamored with whichever one I’m working on currently because there’s always an element of discovery involved. The story never quite turns out how I expected it would, and there’s always unintended ways of tying the new material to stuff we’ve done previously.
DF: Cyborg cowboys in the 1800s??
Brian Clevinger: Seems obvious in retrospect, doesn’t it?
DF: So where is Robo headed next? Any hints?
Brian Clevinger: Let’s see, what can I give away?
Volume 10 is next. We were last in the present day back in 2013’s Vol 8, and a lot has changed in two years. Among other things, Robo discovers his global team of Action Scientists have been captured and he’s an international fugitive. So, Robo’s got to evade a manhunt while being the most famous face in history (good luck), and still manage to save the world from the latest sci-fi catastrophe.
I keep describing it as the Jason Bourne meets Pacific Rim fanfic that you never knew you always wanted.
After that, Volume 11 dives back into Robo’s past to illuminate some of his early adventures and catch up with a romance we visited in a previous volume.
From there we have a pile of stories and we’re still debating the order in which they’ll be tackled.
DF: Anything else creatively coming from Brian Clevinger you’d care to mention?
Brian Clevinger: The big thing on my radar is a new creator-owned series co-written with Atomic Robo’s editor Lee Black and drawn by Erica Henderson of Marvel’s Squirrel Girl. We’re calling it Infernal Affairs. The elevator pitch on this one is: The X-Files in Ancient China. Boom!
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Brian Clevinger for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Pages for Volume 10: Atomic Robo and the Ring of Fire will start being released this month!
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