James Robinson on The Saviors

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Last weekend at Planet Comicon in Kansas City, I had the opportunity to speak with James Robinson after a panel on Saturday. Robinson currently writes both All-New Invaders and Fantastic Four at Marvel Comics. He also launched a creator owned series with J. Bone called The Saviors at Image Comics last December.

We spoke about his and J. Bone’s work on The Saviors for about fifteen minutes, discussing its origin, tone, connections of current affairs, and his collaboration with J. Bone.

CM: Where did the idea for The Saviors originate? Was this a concept you had been working on for a long time?

JR: No. I was in a fan expo a couple of years ago talking to J. Bone. He told me that because of his art style, which has an animated feel to it, he was typecast as doing children’s stories and young adult stories, charming stuff. He said that he’d really like to do a horror book. So I said that I would go off and think of something. I think he thought that I would come back with something along the lines of Mike Mignola or Steve Niles, which is great by the way, but for some reason what popped into my head was this idea of combining late 1950’s alien movies, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers with its metaphors for the Cold War and everything else with the horror elements of John Carpenter’s The Thing. And from putting all of that together came the initial seed of The Saviors. Which even since then has grown and expanded in terms of the ideas I had for the characters.

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CM: I think the art is a good fit for what you describe. It reminds me of Darwyn Cooke’s work in Parker and its relation to 50’s and 60’s cinema.

JR: There’s a lot of that. I can see some Sam Peckinpah definitely in the feel of , especially, the first five issues where they go down to Mexico. One of the things about the book though is that issue six will be set in Victorian America and will show the parallel between the aliens arriving and people arriving at Ellis Island at the turn of the century. Then in the next arc, it’ll be in Paris with an entirely different set of characters. The next one will be in Canada with a different set of characters again. Slowly you’ll see all these characters from all these arcs come together, this big tapestry that I’m painting with different characters, the plot, and everything else. Also, the aliens have been on Earth for so long that they’ve incorporated the way of life in America or in the world, so some of those become characters too in their own right.

CM: In the most recent issue, (The Saviors#3, you give a better look at the scope of the series with so many new characters being introduced from all around the world. When you were planning the series with J. Bone did you establish how long you wanted the series to run or where you would like it to end?

JR: We definitely have become quite energized by the series. We decided to keep it going and make it an ongoing book. Originally, it was just going to be the adventures of Tomas, the main character at the moment, but this larger world sort of came about and we were very excited about that. So things have changed a little bit, I initially thought the book would be more singular, but it’ll give J. a chance to constantly be changing his style a little bit and adapting the book to the different areas and characters we’ll be doing.

CM: Speaking of J. Bone, what is your process together? Do you use full script, Marvel method, or some combination?

JR: To work with J. Bone I use full script, but he has leeway. The only reason I do full script is I would rather have more ideas on the table than not enough ideas, so I just want to give him every idea in my head. But he has carte blanche to use what he wants and decide what he doesn’t. Sometimes he’s quite faithful to the script and other times he veers off and does stuff he feels is more artistically appropriate. I love that, the excitement of seeing these new ideas and the challenge of making it flow and everything else. It is somewhat structured, but there is an organic element that comes from two creators respecting each other and giving each other the freedom to do the work they want to do.

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CM: You’ve spoken a lot about the different locales in The Saviors. In three issues it’s already moved from bleak desert landscapes to a small seaside Mexican village during Dia de los Muertos. How do you and J. Bone decide where to set each part of the story?

JR: A lot of that is my suggestions and he seems very open to it. Just to give him a break, originally I was going to set the third arc in Russia, but I thought he was working so hard that I should set it in Canada where he lives, so he can draw upon easy reference for a change. He’s a really good sport, but every issue is an exercise in research. That slows him down and, I try to supply as much reference as I can, but the artist still has a lot on their plate when you throw all of these locations at them.

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CM: I’ve noticed that J. Bone’s action sequences are largely silent, besides some sound effects. In the big chase sequence in the first issue, it’s left to the reader to imagine most of the auditory elements. How did that concept for presenting action come about?

JR: It was my idea. I’m not a fan of lots of stuff going on in fight sequences. There is an argument to say that the reason you should do it is that if you don’t, then readers scan the images too quickly and don’t really take in what is going on. There is that and that’s a valid argument. But for this book I just wanted it to have the feel of a movie. You said “cinematic” earlier, and that’s something I wanted to aspire to with this book. So you’re right, there was silence in the first issue. In the second issue, the first eight pages are entirely silent. J. is very good at adding in a sound effect here or there. Initially, the only sound effect I put in the script was when the rock hits the bottom of the cliff that attracts the alien, but he put a few more sound effects in. He does them very well and incorporates them into the artwork, which makes them feel a part of the art and more organic.

CM: Another non-typical thing I’ve noticed with The Saviors is how it’s being presented. Most American comics are being marketed with sub-titles for each story or some form of clear designation between arcs. The Saviors seems to have steered away from that and is moving towards more organic breaks, where you jump between different locales and stories. Was that a purposeful choice when planning the comic? 

JR: No. It’s easy, when something works out, to say that we planned it all along, but this is the first creator-owned book I’ve done in a long time. It’s the first time I’ve worked at Image. A lot of it is trial-and-error and learning how to do it. As we get better at it, we’ll have more of an idea of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and whether that approach works. Maybe we should be doing something like, this is the next arc the way other books do. It’s a real work in progress.

CM: You mentioned this is your first work at Image. What attracted you to the publisher?

JR: I know Eric Stephenson, because he lives in San Francisco where I live. I’ve known Eric for a long time and Ron Richards, who now works there, for even longer. It’s really the logical place to go, if you want to own your property, have creative freedom, and do what you want. So that was why I chose to do it at Image. It’s been very good, a lot of fun.

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CM: There’s a palpable sense of paranoia, especially once it becomes clear that there is a worldwide conspiracy. It makes me think of current events, like the NSA revelations. Has the current political climate inspired your story?

JR: I don’t know if it’s inspired me, but it’s like how Invasion of the Body Snatchers came out and it was sort of anti-McCarthy. The general feel of the world helped me to come up with the idea, more than having started the book and having current things inspiring it now. I do think we live in a world of such uncertainty and fear. You can’t win. We’re scared of the terrorists and what they might do. We’re scared, to some degree, of our own governments and the lines they’re crossing in order to combat terrorism. Are they crossing too many line? Is it for our own good if some of our privacy is taken from us or is that too much? All of that is stuff that while it wasn’t an inspiration when I started. It’s certainly in the back of my mind when I came up with it and will certainly play into the ongoing storyline.

CM: One last question about The Saviors, giving you carte blanche to say whatever you like: I’m really enjoying the series, if you could pitch to anyone not reading the book, what would you have to say?

JR: It has lots of great tropes that we know: the alien invasion, the conspiracy theory, them having taken over the world, but I’m also trying to incorporate as much different UFO conspiracy, real stuff as I can for background. I’m incorporating it into this book as if all of it’s true to some degree. As I said, if you don’t like one character, they might be dead next issue. One thing I’ve been inspired by The Walking Dead, to some degree, and Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! was the way that you couldn’t get attached to any character. They die at the drop of the hat, when you least expect it. If you don’t like Tomas and the world he’s in now, we’re going to go to Paris and meet a whole new set of characters with a new set of experiences and skills. It’ll be set very much in the high tech world of Paris and the stylish world of Paris. The book will be constantly changing and shifting while having this overall thru line that will slowly bring all of the characters and drama together. So it’s definitely a book to jump onboard. We’ll have the first collection out for a very low price, so you can try it and, hopefully, stick with the book.

CM: Thanks for your time.

JR: Thank you.

The Saviors can be purchased physically from comic book stores or digitally at both Comixology and the Image Store.

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About chasemagnett

Chase is a mild-mannered finance guy by day and a raving comics fan by night. He has been reading comics for more than half of his life (all 23 years of it). After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with degrees in Economics and English, he has continued to research comics while writing articles and reviews online. His favorite superhero is Superman and he'll accept no other answers. Don't ask about his favorite comic unless you're ready to spend a day discussing dozens of different titles.
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