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Brian Clevinger: Exclusive Interview about Firestorm

Earlier this week Bleeding Cool reported that Brian Clevinger had been previously slated to write DC’s new Firestorm series but he was no longer attached to the project. If you are unfamiliar with Brian Clevinger, he is a writer best known for the webcomic 8-Bit Theater and the Eisner Award-nominated comic book Atomic Robo. If you’ve never read Atomic Robo, you should really give it a try.  It’s a super-fun comic and well worth your time.  Highly recommended!

After reading the news on Bleeding Cool, I got in touch with Brian and he agreed to be interviewed for FIRESTORM FAN.  Brian was incredibly nice and extremely generous with his time. The following interview was conducted on Wednesday morning, prior to Thursday’s announcement about the new Firestorm series by Van Sciver, Simone and Cinar.

Brian Clevinger doing funny things

It’s darn near impossible to find a picture of Brian where he isn’t doing something hilarious!

 

BACKGROUND

FIRESTORM FAN: How did you first get interested in reading comics and what were some of your favorites? What attracted you to writing comics?

BRIAN CLEVINGER: The first comic I remember buying was GI Joe vs Transformers #2. I later found some Indiana Jones and Star Wars comics that predated that one, but I don’t remember buying or reading them. But I still remember seeing GI Joe and the Transformers battling it out on a cover on a spinner rack at the 7/11. How could eight year old me resist that?!

I’m not sure what got me into writing comics. I kind of fell into it by accident and haven’t been able to stop!

FF: One of your best known creations is the webcomic 8-Bit Theater. What spawned your humorous take on Final Fantasy, and how did the popularity of 8-Bit Theater shape your career?

BC: I never played the original Final Fantasy until something like 1998. So, it was this weird and dated experience with characters who never spoke on a world-spanning quest that is hardly defined but appears to involve saving the world and maybe time travel.

So, y’know, as I’m playing the game I’ve got this on-going narrative about it in my head. Y’know, the faceless characters with no lines of dialog that you play, you can’t help but project personalities on them based on their performances, abilities, etc. It was just this weird personal story that stuck with me.

Then in 2001 I took an independent study course at the University of Florida. The basic idea was to make a comic book to test a variety of academic analyses of comics pages. The basic idea being: what was the thought process behind different elements of the page. Was it for “art” or was it to meet the practical realities of the page? Was it both? That kind of thing.

Only problem: I can’t draw. Like, you know how little kids can’t draw? I’m worse.

But then I remembered I just happened to have downloaded most of the images from Final Fantasy. I’d found them online somewhere or another over the years. So, what the hell, right? Just use those images. I only needed stand-ins so you’d know the difference between Character #1 and Character #2, etc.

And then I made it kinda funny just to keep my interest in it. And then I put it online because my professor was terrible at keeping track of his emails. And then people found it. No idea how. A few thousand at first, then tens of thousands and it peaked somewhere in the hundred thousands.

Like I said, it was accident!

But a happy one. 8BT gave me the platform, experience, and confidence to launch Atomic Robo years later.

8-Bit Theater by Brian Clevinger

FF: Another of your popular creations is Atomic Robo, a robot invented by Nikola Tesla in the 1920s. Who doesn’t love a fighting robot!?!?! Would you tell us a little about the challenges you had developing the character and getting him published? Will we see more of his adventures soon? Also, I’ve always wondered, is “Red 5 Comics” a nod to Star Wars or something else?

BC: Oh, yes. Red 5’s co-founders are fairly steeped in Star Wars. One of them ran Lucasfilm Online and the other was heavily involved in Star Wars media reviews — the prequels, comics, that sort of thing.

But, yeah. Robo! That was an idea that’d been percolating in the back of my mind since around 1996 or ’97. I finally got serious about making it into a printed comic book in 2006. After a few months of getting nowhere, I found Scott Wegener and brought him on as an artist. Scott quickly demonstrated that he was THE artist for this project, dropped a ton of great ideas at my feet, made Robo cooler, and basically became co-creator within a week.

Of course, neither of us had worked on a full print comic before, so we had no idea what we were doing. But, hell, if no one did crazy stuff without having a clue what was going on we’d still be trying to lockdown that whole “fire” thing. So, we just started making issues. We were nearly done with the first mini-series when Red 5 came along and decided to publish us.

You will definitely see more of Robo. Our fifth trade paperback will be released in July and our sixth volume of stories will begin in August. Perhaps the best thing about Robo, though, is that you can start anywhere. If you never read a single Robo comic before, start with Volume 6. If you like it, go back and read the rest in whatever order you can find them. Every volume stands alone even while building a more complete picture of Robo and his world.

As well, at some point this Fall we’ll begin releasing a “secondary” series of short stories. Basically, we have a ton of cool stories and characters that wouldn’t fit in the “main” series. This is our way of sharing that material without delaying the other Robo stuff we’re working on.

Atomic Robo by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener

FF: Avengers & the Infinity Gauntlet… how much fun was that?!?! Having the opportunity to re-imagine the Infinity Gauntlet must have been wonderful and terrifying at the same time. What was your favorite part of working on that project, and do you have any advice for other people re-imagining previously told stories?

BC: Wonderful and terrifying. That’s exactly what it was. The original Infinity Gauntlet was The Big Thing going on in comics when I was first getting interested in them as a kid. So, y’know, some fairly big shoes to fill!

I think the best part of the project was getting to work with almost all of my favorite Marvel characters at once.

They gave me so much freedom on that project, it was ridiculous. But it’s exactly what the project needed. Y’know? It wasn’t meant as a retcon or replacement or anything like that. It was meant to be a fun and accessible take on an iconic piece of Marvel history. They said I could stick as close to the original as I liked, but I was worried that would rub fans the wrong way. If it’s almost exactly like the original, then why bother? Y’know? So, I figured, we should go as far off the rails as possible. Take it as far from the original as we can while retaining the core of the story — Thanos, Gauntlet, desperate battle for the fate of the universe.

I wouldn’t say that’s good advice for re-imagining in general, but it’s what made sense for that title.

Avengers & the Infinity Gauntlet by Brian Clevinger and Brian Churilla

FF: Who would win in a fight – Rick Jones or Snapper Carr?

BC: Rick! He’s had nearly every superpower known to man for at least three minutes. C’mon. No question.

FIRESTORM

FF: How did you get the Firestorm assignment?

BC: DC called me up one day and offered it to me! They said they were looking for “a voice from outside of DC” to launch “a fun and accessible Firestorm book.” If Atomic Robo is anything, it’s wall-to-wall fun and accessible. Lots of banter, lots of sci-fi, lots of action. Sounds like a pretty good mix for Firestorm!

FF: Were you familiar with the character before taking the job? If so, do you have any favorite issues, storylines, or characters?

BC: I was familiar with him in general. I knew the basic nature of his powers, about Ronnie and Martin Stein, Ronnie’s death, Jason Rusch, and Ronnie’s resurrection. But I wasn’t familiar with the character specifically.

FF: There are a lot of strong opinions among fans regarding Ronnie Raymond versus Jason Rusch as Firestorm. Were you aware of some fans concerns surrounding who should be in charge of Firestorm? If so, did this affect the way you approached the storytelling?

BC: Very early on I was an advocate of getting Firestorm down to one dude. Or lady! DC emphasized they wanted this series to be fun and accessible, and I posited that the whole “merging” thing confuses people to whom we want the book to be accessible. I had some very loose plans for Ronnie, Jason, Stein, or Loraine (!!!) to be the “lone” Firestorm. But DC insisted that it had to be Jason and Ronnie and that their relationship would be the crux of the series.

So, okay. What do you do with that? “Who” gets to be Firestorm? There’s a good case for Ronnie, he’s the archetypal Firestorm guy after all. But there’s a good case for Jason too: he hardly had a chance and he did some pretty cool stuff as Firestorm. So, my approach was that they’d both get to be Firestorm. Both of them could use the full suite of powers, but Ronnie was a little better about the “physical” powers, i.e. flight, strength, durability, blasting, while Jason would be a little better about the “cerebral” powers, i.e. the matter and energy manipulation.

This would tie in with their conflicting personalities. Just as they’re different people, they’re slightly different Firestorms, and their approaches to problems in both their real lives and superhero lives would reflect that.

I didn’t want either of them to have the spotlight, per se, because both of them deserve it. The first storyline seemed to focus a bit more on Jason, at least when out of costume, out of necessity. Ronnie’s personal arc would be more sympathetic and interesting if the reader was watching it from another character’s perspective, so naturally Jason. I had plans in place to balance that out by making Jason’s personal arc in the second storyline more sympathetic and interesting if the reader viewed it from Ronnie’s perspective.

Balance and dualities kept coming up as themes. I didn’t mean for that to happen, but it’s natural with a character like Firestorm.

FF: Brightest Day laid a lot of groundwork for the Ronnie/Jason incarnation of Firestorm. Was your plan to use Firestorm as established in Brightest Day, or were you going to take the character in another direction?

BC: Brightest Day put down the foundation and I was given a fair amount of freedom to explore the implications from there.

Firestorm in Brightest Day

FF: Firestorm has had several incarnations (i.e. the original Firestorm, the “blank slate” incarnation, the fire elemental, Jason/Gehenna, etc). Were you planning to incorporate aspects of previous incarnations, or were your stories going to be more forward-looking?

BC: Definitely forward-looking, but with an eye to what came before. I have no interest in “putting my mark” on a character or franchise. When I’m brought on to a corporate book, all I want is what’s best for those characters. We would’ve done some new things with Ronnie, Jason, and Firestorm, but it would have been informed by their histories. You can’t move a character forward in a compelling and genuine way without respecting where he or she came from.

FF: How far along had you gotten on your Firestorm scripts? Did you write full-script or plot-first? Had you seen any artwork yet?

BC: I had a detailed outline for five issues with six options for where to take the sixth issue to lead in to the next storyline along with notes on how each of those options could tie into the others to create about two years worth of story lines.

I finished the full script for the first issue and the outline for the second by the time I got the news that the book was given to someone else. No artwork was completed.

FF: Can you tell us anything about the plots for your stories? Were you planning to use any of the classic characters or create some of your own? Thinking long-term, what stories or topics were you hoping to tackle in your Firestorm run?

BC: There’s not much I can say, really. Ronnie and Jason were always going to be central to what I was doing though.

FF: What aspects of Firestorm did you enjoy writing the most? What aspects did you find the most challenging to write?

BC: Even though I lobbied hard against it, I came to really enjoy the merging dynamic. It’s so weird and comic booky and it allowed for a lot fun interaction between the guys. The most challenging part has been giving it up. I got really attached to the guys and the idea of helping to bring them new fans.

FF: Can you tell us why you won’t be writing Firestorm?

BC: I honestly don’t know.

CAREER

FF: Looking back at the work you’ve amassed, what are you most proud of? What do you consider a high point both personally and creatively?

BC: Atomic Robo, without question. It’s everything I love about comics and storytelling wrapped up into one package.

FF: What comic books are you reading currently?

BC: Random selections from the first three Essential Captain America volumes, oddly enough. Every page of those things is filled with so much enthusiasm, sincerity, and crazy ideas. It can take a little getting used to, but once you’ve acquired the taste there’s nothing else quite like it.

FF: What projects are you working on now?

BC: More Robo! Volume 6 starts in August and I’m already writing Volume 7, plotting Volume 8, and wrapping up the scripts for the anthology.

Atomic Robo volume 6: Ghost of Station X coming in August

FF: What would your dream comic book project be?

BC: Well, technically Atomic Robo is the dream project. But I assume you mean something from the Big Two.

Right now? I don’t have an answer. I’ve been given an on-going by Marvel and DC only to lose both of them due to byzantine business decisions before either series started. It’s burned me out on corporate work and I just can’t think about it constructively.

—————

My thanks to Brian Clevinger for generously donating his time to this interview.  While I’m excited for DC’s newly-solicited Firestorm series, I also would have loved to have seen Brian’s vision.

Be sure to pick up Atomic Robo as well as other works from Brian Clevinger.  To keep up with Brian, check him out on Twitter and his website Nuklear Power.

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10 Comments

  1. Salmon says:

    You’re getting very good at these interviews. This one is excellent. It helps to have such an engaged and entertaining subject, of course. A good read!

  2. Jon says:

    Cool interview, but dammit… now there’s two lots of dead Firestorm scripts out there that I’d kill to read.

  3. lyondevereaux™ » Blog Archive » Link Ink: Collected ‘Hark! A Vagrant’ Gets a Cover, Hot Toys Does Harry Osborn … says:

    [...] Interviews: Atomic Robo co-creator Brian Clevinger discusses what would have been his take on a new Firestorm series for DC. [FirestormFan] [...]

  4. Chocotaco says:

    I really like Brian’s way of handling the merge of Jason and Ronnie.

  5. [...] Supergirl run make like the matrix version of that character and disappear. Brian Clevinger was in and then out on Firestorm. Michael Alan Nelson was in and then out on…something. The Batman announcements were mum on [...]

  6. [...] The Firestorm Fan blog sat down with Brian Clevinger recently. Among things talked about were Clevinger’s webcomic that put him on the map… FF: One of your best known creations is the webcomic 8-Bit Theater. What spawned your humorous take on Final Fantasy, and how did the popularity of 8-Bit Theater shape your career? [...]

  7. [...] propelled him into the comic book industry. As Clevinger himself admits during interviews, “8-bit Theatre gave me the platform, experience, and confidence to launch Atomic Robo years later… and Robo lead to the Marvel stuff.” But it would be wrong to belittle 8-bit Theatre [...]

  8. [...] plan for the post-BRIGHTEST DAY Firestorm series that almost was.  As you may recall from our interview with Brian a couple months back, he was asked by editors at DC Comics to write the new FIRESTORM series.  By the time he’d [...]

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