Comic Culture: Ron Randall
Today on Comic Culture, artist and writer Ron Randall discuss Trekker, his creator owned-series. Randall shares the impact science fiction had on his childhood and how it helped him create his dream series "Trekker".
- Hello, and welcome to Comic Culture.
I'm Terence Dollard,
a professor in the Department of Mass Communication
at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
My guest today is writer/artist, Ron Randall.
Ron, welcome to Comic Culture.
- Thanks, thanks for having me on the show.
- Ron, you are best known for your
creator-owned series, "Trekker".
And I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit
about the concept behind Trekker
and when you first developed that.
- The nutshell is that "Trekker" is the story of,
it's a science fiction series about a young woman
who's a bounty hunter.
That's about as concisely as I can distill it down.
I also like to say that the series is, it's sort of
conceived as being a long form journey of self-discovery.
A coming of age story, something like that.
But I cleverly disguised it as a series
of self-contained action/adventure stories.
Because part of me is still a 12 year old kid that likes
spaceships and explosions, and crash landings
on swamp planets and things like that.
It's a series that I came up with back
in the 1980's so, you know,
the bygone many years of yore,
when Dark Horse Comics was just starting out
as a little black-and-white company.
And I was already working on a regular monthly book
at DC Comics.
But Mike Richardson, the publisher
of Dark Horse came up to me,
and introduced himself saying he was starting
his own comic book company.
Right in my own backyard,
in my hometown of Portland, Oregon.
And they were interested in getting some established pros
to do some work for their line.
A lot of people were starting up little
black-and-white comic book companies back then.
And I think Mike,
who had some funds behind him
and wanted to invest those in trying to create a good,
solid line of comics.
So they made me an offer.
If I came and worked for them, they basically,
they used this phrase that's sort of like kryptonite
to a comics creator.
They said, "If you come and work for us,
we'll pay you and you can do whatever you want."
I said I'll never hear this sentence again
in my life, right?
So I set about creating, frankly,
my dream, my dream series.
Which I've always loved science fiction in a lot of forms.
When I was a kid, I loved Flash Gordon.
I stumbled across an Al Williamson
Flash Gordon illustrated and written comic book
in about 19 ,blah blah blah,
about 1967 I think.
And I, you know, had been reading comic books,
Superman comic books, sort of the standard fare.
But I had never seen anything that looked or felt like that.
It was just lushly illustrated
and a highly romantic with a capital R.
You know idealized figures
in grace, and power, and beauty.
With characters who weren't
flying around and smashing through buildings and stuff.
They were just [laughing]
running around in swamp planets
and mountain sides with blasters
and it was very stylish.
I just said, that's what I want to do.
That's what I want to be.
Growing up I was reading science fiction books
like you know "Dune", that had that expansive
epic scale to it.
I loved when the movies came out,
the "Star Wars" movies and a few years later
"Blade Runner", "Aliens",
just a wide range of different sort of things,
that science fiction could be.
I loved all that stuff.
Anyways, so, back when Dark Horse approached me,
there just weren't that many opportunities
to do those kind of comic books.
It was the mid 1980's
and it was largely a Superhero world,
of course in comics back then.
So I thought I got a chance to do something
I want to do, science fiction.
I wanted a strong female lead character,
because I had drawn comics,
you know of course that had female characters in 'em.
They tended to be relegated to the sidekick role,
the eye candy role, the love interest whatever.
But I kept thinking what it would be like
to have that character in the center of the action.
Driving the stories.
Which you know in the current landscape,
that happens a lot.
Back then again pretty rare to have
an opportunity to do that.
I wanted a series that could contain
that wide range of science fiction stuff that I liked.
I thought if I make her a bounty hunter
she can have gritty, crime, noir sort of adventures.
Like something out of "Blade Runner"
that kind of a setting.
And then she can also hope into a spaceship
and go into outer space on another quest or journey.
Anyway that's a long answer to your question,
but that was the journey,
that how I got it started.
And I will give myself credit for answering the question,
what would be my dream series pretty accurately,
because here it is 30 some years later
and I'm still very passionate
about continuing that journey.
- You mentioned some of the comics
that you were working on.
I stumbled across some of your earlier work,
I think there was "Conqueror of the Baron Planet",
I think that was the name.
- [Ron] The Baron Earth.
- Baron Earth,
and the there was, - Yeah.
An Arak story that I had came across
that you had worked on. - Yeah.
- And the one thing that struck me,
was that in both of the stories,
that I had stumbled upon,
they featured strong female characters,
within the context of the story.
And that struck me about "Trekker" as well.
And one of the other things that struck me
is that you've come up with an interesting cast
of supporting and I guess co-leads,
to Mercy's world.
And I'm wondering when you're developing the character,
how important are those secondary characters
to what you're doing?
- They're essential.
When I first conceived the idea,
I knew, as I said I knew from the very beginning,
that while like I said part of you is still 12 years old.
And I liked explosions, and action scenes,
and that sort of stuff.
But as a writer,
and as a real creator and story teller,
I needed the story to have a certain substance to it.
And that substance is the character of Mercy St. Clair
and the art, the journey that her life is on.
At the beginning of the tale,
I wanted her steeped in this sort of gritty and grim,
and sort of violent world.
With her having a very black-and-white world view.
She shoots people, she is very good at that job,
and she gets paid for it.
And that's pretty much as far as,
that's what her scope is.
She doesn't want to be bothered
by the inconveniences of,
you know being a human being
and having connections with other people.
Having perhaps an inner life
that she hasn't yet explored.
The fact that the world beyond her door
is sort of being shaped by these larger forces
that are vying for power and stuff.
None of that stuff,
she doesn't want to have anything to do with that,
that's just inconveniences.
The series is about,
about the way life has a way of prying us all open,
over time and exposing things to ourselves,
whether we want to or not.
Anyway, so I you have a series
that's sort of intentionally try's to be
be shut down.
It's very important I think to surround
that character with people who see her
in a way that she doesn't see herself.
So that the readers can get some other hints,
points of view, early on that,
this journey is going someplace.
That her life has places to go,
that there are a lot of blank spots
for her to fill in for herself.
She is a very self defining character
in lots of ways.
But you now we're all shaped over time
by the people that we meet in our lives,
by the experiences that we have.
And so those other characters,
are just as important as the experiences
as far as helping Mercy on her personal path,
of evolution and growth.
And making those secondary characters,
sort of fleshed out in having a sense
of reality, convincing-ness to them,
is also important to keep the reader,
buying into these tales as they go on.
So essential and it's important
to try to do it really well.
- And you said that Marcy is thinking of herself one way,
but other people see her another way.
So as the creator of this character
when you start to think about all these facets,
it seems like that's kind of complicated.
To come up with the character
the way the character thinks she is,
the way other people see her,
and then I guess come up
with different ways that other characters
will see those different facets
so that way everyone's not seeing the same thing.
And I'm wondering-- - Right.
- When you're crafting a story,
are you thinking about
well this person's going to appeal
to this side of the personality,
and this person will go that side,
or is it just organic.
And it just kind of comes as you're doing it.
- It's fairly organic now.
When I first started the series,
as I was saying,
I had been drawing professionally
for DC for a few years by that point.
So I felt I had a pretty good handle,
as a visual story teller,
on how to shape sort of a,
good solid action/adventure story.
But I knew I didn't have the writing experience
or the writing chops,
to be able to pull of
this sort of long form epic of a character.
And the gradual you know incremental steps of evolution,
and have the story eventually expand in scope
and scale as much as I wanted it to.
I just sort of said, well I'll get there,
as a writer I will develop as the series goes on.
And so I wanted to in the first stories,
my intention was to plant some seeds.
I would establish a character
and making references to other things,
and then figuring out,
time and space to develop those
as I got a firmer grasp on everything as I went.
So initially it was quite intentional.
She needs to have this sort of person in her life
because that relates to this aspect
of who she is, who she might become whatever.
And this person entered her life in a different function,
in a different setting
because she'll be there too
and that gives us something to...
Some one for her to bounce off of that way.
So it was setup fairly intentionally I guess, yeah.
- It's interesting because I think
you know growing up reading comics,
we might not think,
oh Louis Lane is the co-star of Superman.
She's just the damsel in distress,
- Right. - But you know ,
without that dynamic,
without having someone that
you know Clark can turn to,
He becomes a very flat one dimensional character.
And it seems that you're thinking along those lines
as you're becoming the writer/artist, as you said.
So turning from a visual story teller
to somebody who is now creating
the stories that you are illustrating,
is this something where you're sitting down
maybe employing the Marvel method.
You come up with a rough outline
or are you doing the DC method
where it's you know page by page breakdown.
Or are you just kind of saying,
well I'm gonna start on page one and see
what happens you know on page 22.
- Thank you for asking that.
At least the way that I approach it.
The idea, that last scenario you...
It's just like the nightmare scenario.
That's anathema to me.
I came up working from fully finished scripts.
You know when I first started working in comics,
I was getting fully finished script,
and working from that.
And then I've done some of the Marvel style
or the plot style scripts as well.
Either one's gonna work well,
if you've got a good solid story.
But I know that for "Trekker", for myself,
to me it's such a complicated thing to do,
to write the story, style the stories,
just issue at a time,
let alone this overall context of the series
and where does this story fit into that.
This story starts at this place,
where is Mercy as a character or whatever,
by the time this story ends.
So I need to have that all laid out pretty well.
So by this point,
again when I first started it,
I didn't have,
you know I was beginning writer,
so I knew vaguely that I wanted her
to be on this large journey,
and she was gonna have to grow and evolve,
and eventually the series
was gonna have to meet it's resolution.
I didn't know exactly what all that stuff was gonna be
I had vague ideas.
But by now I have an outline,
a rough outline for each of the stories,
between here and when the series comes to an end.
And it's several years down the road.
I've got the basic beats figured out,
I know where I'm going with this series.
So I've got that outline done.
And then for each story,
I approach it sort of the same way,
when I'm talking to artists or
you know just comic creators
at workshops and stuff.
I always say, I think the process is the same
whether you're, you know,
trying to construct a figure in a drawing,
or trying to come up with a story.
It's the same as if you're trying to build a house.
You work from the big picture
and then you work down to the smaller details.
So you start with you know, the architect's blue print.
Which is the rough block and figure.
Where you're trying to get the proportions right,
trying to position the attitude of the torso,
the arms that sort of stuff.
With a story, that's a story outline.
So I start with an outline for where this,
what this story is gonna be.
What's the sort of, the action/adventure aspect of it.
Because I try to have that shift from one story
to the next so it's not two Sci-Fi,
westerny sort of stories in a row,
where she's tracking down some mass murderer,
through the blasted waste lands.
I love that story.
I don't want to do it every time.
If that's happening one time
the next story's gonna be set in outer space,
set on the streets of the city.
In some way I like to change the settings
of the stories.
Equally important, in fact more important
to the setting is,
where is Mercy again as a character?
What is she learning in this story
that's gonna position her to take the next step
that she needs to.
What has she learned in the previous story
that is going to shape the way
that she responds in this story.
So that overall context is important.
As soon as you get that outline figured,
and then I go through,
and I will re-write the outline a couple,
two or three times.
Shifting scenes around, deleting a scene,
expanding a scene.
You know until the proportions
of the story feel right.
Just like the proportions of drawing need to feel right.
Then once that's done,
once the skeleton is there,
then I go back and I write a full script.
You know page one, panel one.
Establish a shot of this.
You know panel two.
SO I break it down bit by bit.
Sometimes I'll gloss over a few things,
if I haven't got the dialogue quite figured out,
or I don't have the action choreographed.
So I'll go through and write a draft of the script.
Go through and write another draft
of the script as necessary.
And then I show all this stuff to an editor.
You know I write all these stories,
I created the series,
I know this world well.
I believe everybody needs an objective set of eyes,
that have some professional perspective,
that they can shed on things.
'Cause a good editor is always able
to point out to me a few rough spots,
a few things that maybe don't
flow as smoothly as I'd like to,
or maybe don't even make any sense.
Or just go a little bit too much
in one direction or another.
So that's why I flush out the story.
- There's two things I wanted to touch on.
But the first is, an editor.
This has got to be tough for you
because "Trekker" is a comic
that means a lot to you.
So when you get that feedback it must be
difficult on a level.
I mean you're a professional
so you're used to getting some creative feedback.
But at the same time hearing something
that maybe you've invested a lot of time into,
getting maybe some bad news about it,
maybe it doesn't work the way
that you think it does.
How do you,
again I know you're a professional
but how does you work that dynamic
so that you're able to turn what
could potentially be a little off putting
for you into a positive,
- I think the best strategy I have
for dealing with the delicate little flower that I am
as creative person,
I bounce every step off the editor.
I've shown my editor,
who is a young woman name Alissa Sallah,
who's really bright.
One of the things I love about working
with Alissa is, she is quite a bit younger than me.
So her comic book background, the landscape
that she grew up immersed in of reading comics.
Has some things in common with mine,
we have you know touchstones.
But she also has this vast other,
levels of sensibility.
That sometimes help to refresh my own thinking.
So that I don't want "Trekker"
to ever feel like it's a story
that was created in 1986,
and it's been in a time capsule ever since.
I'm doing stories in 2019 right now.
And while I want there to be
a profound amount of continuity,
so the series holds together,
that's all in one piece.
I don't want it to feel like it's stuck
in all the exact sort of story telling,
conventions or tropes or whatever you want to call it.
That were everywhere in 1986 and 1987.
Anyways so, I'm eager to get her feedback, and her input.
I don't always necessarily agree with 100% of it.
Sometimes it's a little,
I got to go back and re-do that or something,
but by showing her the overall story outline,
the series outline first.
So she knows what I'm really about.
And then I show her the outline,
an outline is fairly malleable.
So if you think,
well I think maybe this scene
needs to be expanded a little bit more or something.
As I was saying it's sort of more of the same thought
process I've already been doing myself.
So I work on that, the outline level with her.
The I will show my editor the full script.
And we can word smith a phrase into here,
or work about a choice there.
Or change the flow of,
or the breakdown of the way some dialogue things go.
Working on the smaller details.
Its easy to do that
if you do all these corrections incrementally,
at the various steps.
That minimizes the amount of frustration,
and frankly the amount of re-working
you have to do.
Crafting a series like this is a lot of work.
And it takes a lot of time,
and I can't afford to waste time,
by doing a lot of work
that I then have to throw out the window.
Once in a wile that happens.
It's sort of unavoidable,
but as much as I can do to minimize
the chances of that happening
it just means I'm able to achieve the only goal
that really matters to me.
And that's doing more good "Trekker" stories
as often as possible. [laughs]
- And then the other question that popped up
was you said that you've everything worked out
and that you've got a few more years
to tell these stories.
When did that answer come to you?
That you knew that this was all,
not necessarily an epic,
but one big ark that your character was going on.
- It was baked in from the very beginning of the concept.
As I say one of the books that I loved
when I was coming up was
the first "Dune" novel.
It's about a character who starts off,
he's a young man,
he's got a sort of very narrow focus,
and then by the end of the story,
the scale has just expanded massively.
The "Trekker" story isn't the same as that.
Mercy's journey isn't the same as Paul's.
But I loved that sense of a story
that starts off with a narrow focus and then expands.
And brings the reader along with it,
so that you aren't initially immersed
into a world that is so vastly different
and so complicated and so multi-faceted.
That the reader has a hard time getting their bearings.
So I started Mercy on the streets of a gritty town
that looks like a lot of cities gone bad. [laughs]
That I think a lot of people could relate to,
and find a way around and connect with a character,
and those situations.
Sort of on a visceral level.
So then as the stories goes on,
we continue to have that same
common starting point, with the character and her world.
I will say that, there was time in which,
there was long hiatus when I had
to set "Trekker" aside.
I was only able to work on the story
sporadically for a while.
A short story here, a stand alone story there.
So it's coming out in a scatter shot,
And that a terrible way to try to tell a series,
while the stories are supposed to be
stand alone adventures,
yes because that's important to me.
I want each story to be a new reader friendly story
that has an entire complete adventure
within the covers of each book.
But again when you connect all those stories,
they build off of one another.
So having to continue interrupt the story,
maybe an issue would come out,
and then it would sort of disappear
without people knowing it.
That was awful.
So for several years,
in fact it was a dozen years,
I didn't do any "Trekker" stories at all,
I said I will return to "Trekker"
when I can get back and do the series
in a way that served the series,
and the readers, and myself the best.
Which is on a more steady, regular, predictable format.
So that the momentum of the series
doesn't have to keep getting interrupted
and stuff like that.
So while I was on that 12 year hiatus,
as I was getting ready to come back,
that's when I took the time to
take all the pieces that I had assembled so far,
and finish fleshing out the rest of the series.
So that by now I feel much more confident
in where I'm going and how I'm going to get there,
step by step.
- And as I recall,
you're doing things differently,
you're putting put out a book
rather than an individual issue.
So you're putting out perhaps an ark,
so that you've got that great beginning,
middle, and an end.
But it's over more pages
and you're going through,
a new means of distribution.
You're not going to Dark Horse
at this point.
You're doing this by connecting directly
to your readers via Kickstarter.
So I'm wondering how that sort of came to be
because that seems like a really interesting
way to get fans engaged,
but at the same time also
not worry about that monthly
book that's gotta come out.
Now you can just tell that whole story
and give them a complete ark.
- Yeah, I smile when you say
it's a really interesting way to do it.
It is, it's interesting.
Its all consuming. [laughing]
but it's incredibly rewarding .
As you say I was working with Dark Horse,
but because of the...
Dark Horse has always been great to work with,
on a creative level, everything.
They're really a good company,
with great production values.
And well deserved history and track record in the industry.
And "Trekker" got it's start only because
of Dark Horse and Mike being there
to help me out, at the right place at the right time.
But it's got to the point where
the publishing schedules
and the way that they need their line to work,
I wasn't able to get "Trekker" stories out with Dark Horse,
again on the pace or the timeline
that I thought really served the series
and my self the best.
So eventually I said...
I had heard about the Kickstarter,
I knew some fellow creators who were using it
as an avenue to put out books,
that, sort of like "Trekker",
weren't fitting as comfortably
into some of the established publishing houses,
you know schedules, and needs,
and whatever they wanted their line
to look like and work like.
I know some colleagues who had used
Kickstarter to successfully fund their books.
And so I thought well
I think I need to give that a try.
I felt I owed it to the series.
I crafted the first campaign
and ran it, having absolutely no idea,
what the response was gonna be.
I thought well this could
be a colossal [laughs] disaster,
waste of time, or something like that.
I was immensely gratified that it funded pretty readily.
And the support has been nice,
and growing and that's very gratifying.
And yes the way that I am working these stories,
running a Kickstarter is,
as I say to me it's an incredibly
labor intensive task.
And then the fulfillment and all that stuff.
So to do that,
to make it worth all that effort,
I want to put out a book
That's a substantial story.
So theses are trade paperbacks,
or graphic novels that are 120, 140 pages long.
And usually, actually they have one main story
a long story, like the main feature in a movie,
and there'll be a couple of shorter stories,
in the back of the book
that just flesh out some of the
secondary themes, or little bits of follow up action
after the main adventure happens.
Little anecdotal stories that I think enrich the overall
world and the setting, and that content of the stories.
Give a little bit of extra information
maybe about some of the other characters
like we were talking about,
and the continuing expanding sense
of the whole series.
I really love the flexibility
that the trade paperback format
gives me as far as the scale and scope
I can work the stories in.
And the schedule as well.
A regular monthly or even a bi-monthly schedule.
Which is what the book was when
I did it at Dark Horse.
It was pretty demanding when you're trying
to do all the work yourself.
Couldn't get away from the fact that
what's the next story gonna be
and when can I get these next five pages
into the publisher, or that sort of stuff.
This is a more,
slightly more comfortable fit.
Despite the fact that it's a lot of work. [laughs]
- So Ron we have about a minute or so left
in our conversation.
And I was wondering if someone
watching this show wanted to find out more
about "Trekker" where can they find you on the web?
- I'm all over the place.
I'm on Twitter @Ron _Randall
and Facebook you can find me,
I have Ron Randall's "Trekker" Facebook fan page.
I have my own website, RonRandall.com
You can find all of the "Trekker"
stories are archived and available
to read for free digitally,
The Kickstarter's that I run,
and I try to run one about every nine months,
eight or nine months.
You can find them all at Trekkerkickstarter.com
and I think that's pretty much,
I have an Etsy store,
you can find me online pretty easily. [laughs]
- Well Ron I want to thank you
so much for taking time out of your
schedule to talk with me today.
And I'd like to thank you at home for watching
Comic Culture. [heroic music]
We will see you again soon.