While many of this year’s Comic-Con attendees geeked out on The Walking Dead, Dr. Who, and superhero movie panels, I was foaming at the mouth over Drawn & Quarterly‘s advance release of the Reggie 12 anthology. Each time an issue of Giant Robot was about to hit the presses, I’d get in touch with Brian Ralph to ask him about the back-page strip and he’d always respond that it would be ready soon. I’m pretty sure that he’d start cranking on it right after getting off the phone or closing his email browser.
It was a real honor to have Reggie 12 in Giant Robot. It was also a perfect fit, as well, with Brian’s punk rock background (Fort Thunder), indie publishing past (Highwater Books), and use of vintage manga and robot toy themes (from Mighty Atom to UFO Dai Apolon). Talk about a love connection.
Seeing the strips blown up from magazine size and stock to news digest dimensions with eye-popping two-color is a real treat and, even better, Brian will be hitting the road to promote the book. To help promote both, I hit up my friend (and Professor of Sequential Art at the Savannah College of Art and Design) with some questions. He not only provided informative, funny answers but has given a never-before-seen peek into the conceptual sketches. Hot damn!
MW: The strips were originally credited to Ralph Stevenson. Why was that? Were you anticipating the hate mail we kept getting from that one reader in Arizona?
BR: At the time I imagined using a different name would be liberating and allow me to try some new things, work in new styles. But ultimately it was not a well-kept secret and my work was recognizable. But then it just became a joke and I kept it.
It did save me from that hate mail!
MW: Did you consider crediting the book to Robert Stevenson as well?
BR: I did. That was my original intention, but of course it would only confuse people and maybe even annoy them.
MW: Be honest. Did you hate how I’d bug you a couple of days before a magazine deadline asking for the new Reggie 12 comic?
BR: No, not at all. I really needed the deadline to fuel ideas.
Sometimes you guys told me that I was the last page needed, that everything else was done and you were waiting on me. I always wondered, “Really? The whole magazine is waiting on this one dumb robot pun I can’t figure out?”
MW: Where does Reggie rank in the pantheon of Brian Ralph tattoos? I’ve seen Cave-In, Daybreak, Reggie, and even the monkey shirt design you drew for us inked onto people!
BR: I’ve seen one Reggie 12 tattoo on a guy’s arm. It was pretty exciting!
Probably my favorite reggie 12 moment was when I was at a comic book convention and this guy came over to my table and in his backpack he had every single issue of Giant Robot featuring a Reggie 12 comic. It was a huge stack, very heavy to be lugging around. I signed each one.
MW: When was the last time you looked at the strips? How do they stand the test of time in your opinion?
BR: Most of the time when I look back at work I cringe and think of things I’d do differently, I really avoid looking back. But with the Reggie 12 strips I have always been really proud of them, laughed at my own jokes and ridiculousness. Maybe because the concept is so lighthearted I am able to laugh along with the audience.
MW: Do the strips come across differently seen as a collection?
BR: I really tried to pack as many jokes as possible into each page. The goal was to do something really dense and packed with jokes and robots. So I made that my goal for each strip.
I learned a lot about condensing and economy of image and text. Doing big stories and jokes in the minimal amount of space. I hope the collection will be a real experience for the reader, a substantial read in a slender package.
MW: Atom, Felix, Johnny Sokko-what are some influences that I’m not seeing?
BR: Tobor the 8th Man, Kamen Rider, Shogun Warriors, it’s all in there. Years ago I went to a comic convention and one vendor had a huge mound of ’70s manga on the ground, a pile of comics on the floor. A dollar a book. I bought stacks. When I brought everything home I just pored over it all, brought them to the drawing table, and stole heavily. Those comics were a huge influence.
MW: Now that Reggie has been dusted off, any future plans for him?
BR: I really like those characters. There’s something so funny about this goodie-two-shoes robot surrounded by an ineptness and indifference. With anything I do, I could always jump right back into that world without missing a beat.
MW: What’s in the works for your book tour? Will we get a taste of Professor Ralph?
BR: I’ll be reading some of the comics and talking about how I successfully dodged phone calls from you and Eric when the deadline was due. Yes, there will probably be a bit of the professor in there of course. I’ll give a lecture on “Deconstructing the Secrets of Enormous Robotics.”
MW: Well, the book is gorgeous. You get a copy yet?