“If you build a product that is exciting and bulletproof,” “Wild Blue Yonder” co-creator Zach Howard explains to me during a recent call, “fans will fall in love with it and it’ll be around for, hopefully, a generation or two.”
Illustrator Howard and co-creator Austin Harrison hope their high-flying, post-apocalyptic adventure miniseries, which launches in June, resonates with fans across multiple media, beyond the launch of the IDW comic penned by fellow co-creator and writer Mike Raicht. Harrison and Howard have a completed screenplay ready for “Wild Blue Yonder” in the hopes of reaching more than just comics audiences (and you get the impression speaking to them that they’d like to conquer your eyeballs in more than just those ways). They want their tale of sky pirates and adventurers to a new “Indiana Jones,” a place where they can hang generation and genre-defining stories.
“Wild Blue Yonder” was their attempt to avoid being, in Harrison’s words “a cog” at either DC or Marvel, allowing them to create their own story, not being a slave to major corporate structures. That nearly decade-long timeline wouldn’t have been acceptable at one of the other publishers, according to Howard: “I understand, they have to pump out books nonstop, but I knew very early on when I was drawing Batman that I was miserable. So that’s one of the reasons I went to Indie where I could develop a story and get the people who are committed to getting the best story possible rather than as fast as possible.”
Howard has worked as an illustrator on “The Cape” and “Justice League Unlimited” while Harrison worked at Hasbro to bring “Transformers” back to the small screen, later creating his own company MediaTrip. Howard says their collaboration began seven years ago after he and Mike Raicht wrapped up some “X-Men” spinoff after which Raicht pitched him the whole “Mad Max” in the sky thing. Howard says he wanted to work on it, but time, money, and resources put things on hold until he was able to bring in Harrison in 2012, whose story editing skills were able to get “Wild Blue Yonder” into shape. Last year, the trio ran a successful Kickstarter campaign
The five-issue miniseries is set around the magnificent, antiquated, jury-rigged flying machines humanity is forced to rely on in the wake of a global environmental catastrophe that forces them to take to the skies and caves to survive. The book focuses on Cola and her extended family of survivors who scavenge for parts and food while contending with pirates and other dangerous types. Howard describes it as a “Mad Max”-style story where one of the biggest threats is getting lung cancer from the blighted Earth below, inspired equally by “Top Gun.” To hear them talk about it, you can’t help but conjure up images of high-flying dogfights between rickety, deadly machines and the crazy people flying them. Their enthusiasm over the phone is infectious (Harrison already has visions of a 3D IMAX film in his head).
Harrison and Howard tell me about Cola, the series’ plucky and tough heroine who wants nothing more than to protect her extended family aboard The Dawn, her flying fortress home; and Tug, the jetpack-wearing warrior who becomes conflicted about his mission when he meets Cola and her crew; there’s the very zen Scram, another jetpack warrior whose silence belies the fact that he “knows his purpose and just wants to protect his family even if he has to kill other people, put his life on the line, and in doing that he’s a very centered character psychologically,” Howard says. “And that’s where a lot of our comedic relief comes from.”
“[This] is the ultimate struggle,” Howard says, “there are people that live in mines and build fuel and food, for the people in the air, in hopes that they will be take on as crew at some point in time.” The series is based on the new class system pitting the haves against the starving have-nots. “Even good people can get pushed to the point, if your kid is starving you’re going to do whatever you can. It becomes survival of the fittest, and there are so many avenues with story that you can play that.”
The duo has an all-ages book called “Buck” coming up next (you can see art for it at http://nobletransmission.com/), but Howard assures me that they’ve devoted their full time and energy to the creation of “Wild Blue Yonder.” Collaborating with writer Mike Raicht, they say they’ve been deliberate and meticulous in the creation of this world full of cast-off planes and jets ready to be discovered by the brave (or desperate). Howard and Harrison have been working on “Wild Blue Yonder” for something like ten years now between regular gigs working for the Big Two, they tell me.
It’s their passion project, and it’s taking flight.
The first issue of “Wild Blue Yonder” launches on June 12 from IDW.