Voltron: Interview with Dynamite’s Brandon Thomas

Posted: April 13, 2012 in Anime, Cartoons, Comics, Fantasy, Interviews, Science Fiction, TV, Voltron
Tags: , , , , , ,

By Todd Matthy

For readers in the Chicago area, the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) is taking place in the North Building at McCormick Place.Voltron will have a heavy presence there at booth #430 and a panel called “Form Blazing Comics” taking place on Saturday at 3:15 in room S401abc.

One of the panel’s participants is Brandon Thomas, the writer on Dynamite’s Voltron comic book. He’s taken the franchise in a very interesting direction. I recently spoke to Brandon about the direction he’s leading Voltron down. Warning there are SPOILERS for those who are waiting for the trade.

How did you discover Voltron?

Brandon Thomas: I honestly don’t remember the first time I saw it (or many of my other favorite cartoons from those days) but I remember that it was one that really spoke to me and had some of the most awesome toys around. The “Star Wars moment” hit me around the same time, so I was probably destined to always have a life-long fascination with space, alien creatures, and futuristic technology. Strangely, my love of Voltron inspired a somewhat perverse fascination with the earlier Power Rangers stuff, which started off as a somewhat snarky “this is a Voltron rip-off” emotional response, and turned into something approaching begrudging respect. But seriously, Space Explorers over high-school karate kids any day of the week. Putting Keith up against Tommy from the Power Rangers would probably be a lot like the famous scene in Indiana Jones…pretty sure Keith would just shoot him.

Wow, that turned into a strange tangent pretty quick, didn’t it? Hang on everybody…

Favorite episode? Character?

BT: Character is Keith and probably always Keith. Everybody loves the leader, right?

Episode or episodes is a little harder, as what I liked back then is not necessarily what I like now. Will pick three, cause one is too hard, but as a kid, my favorites were probably The Right Arm of Voltron (good guys getting hurt has always been traumatizing for me), The Buried Castle (Keith Kogane, forever) and Voltron vs. Voltron (heh). Oh, coincidentally (not really), those particular episodes also offer incredibly vague clues as to what you can expect in some upcoming issues.

When did you start writing comics?

BT: Started writing about comics in 2001, and had my first comic script published in 2003. Since then I’ve bounced all around the industry, doing some stuff for Marvel, a fill-in issue of Robin for DC, and having my first creator-owned book, The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury, release from Archaia. Knock on wood, but I’m hoping this year will see more comics release with my name on them than I’ve had published all together over the years.

How did you get the job of writing the comic book?

BT: I’d been working on a Project Superpowers mini for Dynamite already when word broke that they’d picked up the Voltron license. Almost exactly one year ago, I met with the Dynamite folks before C2E2 and asked them if they’d found a writer yet and they told me I could pitch for it, but that there wasn’t much time left to do so. Because of that, I thought it was a slim chance that I’d get the nod, but Dynamite and the licensors liked my initial pitch, and then I just started building it out from there until we all were comfortable with the overall direction. Then I started the final scripts, and a year later, I’ve written 12 scripts combined (for both Voltron and Year One) and I’ll be appearing on a big Voltron panel this weekend.

You never know what’s coming down the line for you, and I want to make the most of this opportunity and leave behind a run of Voltron comics that people feel great about years and years down the line.

Can you describe your writing process?

BT: Depends on the issue, but usually I start with an outline, or a few bits of dialogue, or  a general mission statement for that specific chapter, and gradually build outwards. With certain chapters, I have definite ideas about how they start or finish, or character moments that I want to start building up to, or have culminate in huge reveals. But every issue is a little different from the last one, and I always tell people that I want to make a different mistake with every script, find it and then fix it before it’s time to write the next one.

That said, I’m trusting myself more and more every month, so it’s not as necessary to obsessively outline everything, and I’m finding that I have to leave something there to surprise me as a writer, otherwise it’s impossible that you guys as readers will be surprised. If the beginning and the end are locked down, sometimes I’ll write the scenes in the middle realizing that if someone says something I wasn’t expecting, or if things veer off into another more interesting direction, I should follow it and see where it goes.

Haggar’s first appearance in the book was one way in my head, but once I started scripting it out, it turned into something else and got wrapped around an idea that wasn’t even there before. That’s always the best part, when the material or the characters surprise you, or you find out things about your story that you hadn’t quite realized were there, until the characters got in a room and helped you figure things out.

Why do you think it’s been difficult for Voltron comics to find an audience?

BT: I think that the comics industry is often in flux both creatively and unfortunately, financially, so really any book that doesn’t feature a big-time superhero will occasionally struggle to make a permanent impact on the stands. Voltron certainly has a large, vocal fanbase online, but the trick is getting those people into actual direct market comic shops to now support the book. The great thing is that the character is enjoying a modern resurgence right now with the new cartoon, the movie being in development, and Dynamite running not one, but two comic series. Think that 2012 will be a huge year for Voltron, and I’m honored to be playing even a small role in that.

What inspired making Zarkon a human?

BT: It felt like one of the tweaks that could be made without fundamentally changing the character, and also to further explore a more long-running relationship between Earth, Arus, and Doom. Those three planets share very natural connections and as we’ll soon get into, something of a secret history that’s going to have a major impact on the book down the line. Having some of the action take place on Earth was something that came up very early on, and then it was just a matter of really exploring that idea from several angles, instead of it just being an excuse to have Voltron fighting monsters with notable landmarks in the backgrounds.

Revealing that Zarkon was once an ordinary human being, and that he found himself in the middle of an long intergalactic war between Doom and Arus just gives the overall character more layers. If we went that route, I wanted it to be rooted in something real emotionally, and ultimately to give him a little depth so he’s not just the ranting, angry villain. He still is that, but this first arc gives you some reasons why, and tells you definitively why he HATES Arus and everything to do with it. At this point, people think they know why, but in issue #6 everything takes on a whole new intensity, and hopefully with that issue, you’ll find the whole story well worth telling, and you’ll know things you didn’t know before about some important characters.

So far the Voltron Force has had very little “face time” in the comic. When will they start having a central role?

BT: Absolutely, and we did know that beginning this series with a story that is essentially “the secret origin of King Zarkon” would unfortunately take away some of the focus from our core team. But this revelation and what happens because of it is essential to the larger story we wanted to tell, and I think once everyone comes to the end of it, they’ll understand exactly why and how it’s so important.

This larger arc for our characters would be impossible without them learning the true nature of things, and on top of that, a huge aspect of my initial proposal was casting the Space Explorers in a different, much more effective light. This idea they were near useless without their robot lions is something that always bugged me, even as a kid, and I thought having them chase after a captured Voltron and rescue him was an interesting change of pace.

But with the second arc, the focus is firmly back on the Voltron Force and how they respond to a new threat that will change everything for them.

You’ve mentioned that Haggar and Lotor will be appearing soon. When will the following characters appear:

Sven?

BT: That’s super classified right now, but pretty soon.

Princess Romelle?

BT: Involved with Sven’s re-appearance, so even more classified.

Stride the Tiger Fighter?

BT: Also soon, but not as soon as Sven.

Merla, Queen of Darkness?

BT: Sooner than Stride, but not by much.

Commander Hazar?

BT: No plans, but that could change.

Nanny?

BT: Not as soon as Sven or Merla, but still sooner than you think.

What character is the most difficult to write?

BT: Usually, it’s whatever character I’ve written the least so far. Finding a new character’s voice always makes me a little nervous, but once the scene is set and I put them into it, it’s just a matter of getting them going and letting their motivations and perspectives tell me how they should be written. Once I’m able to write them in a couple different scenes, I feel like I can get a decent handle on their POV at the very least, which is actually more important than whatever actually comes out of their mouth.

What do they want? Why do they want it? Who’s stopping them from getting it? That type of thing carries me a long way during the process, and without giving too much away, the last major character this happened with was Haggar. Her first appearance in the book is slightly…unusual, which only contributed even more pressure to get it just right. And the more time I spend with the character, the more I understand them, and the better the writing gets.

How did “Year One” come about? What can we expect? Will it contradict anything from the anime?

BT: Well, think right before issue #1 launched, Dynamite asked me if I had any ideas for a second Voltron series, as if the first one enjoyed a successful launch, they’d be very interested in doing another. Took me about two seconds to agree to write that one as well, and then another five before coming up with my overall “hook” for the companion series, which was an opportunity to dig into those fateful weeks and months before this team of Space Explorers was sent to Arus to “bring back Voltron.” Felt like a great opportunity to shed some light on the inner workings of the Galaxy Alliance, and what the overall mandate for the S.E.’s were in the first place. On top of that, I thought this backdrop would be perfect to also reveal that Sven used to lead the team, and that a few critical decisions/mistakes he makes are the things that not only strip him of his command, but ensure that his guys ultimately pull the “Voltron assignment.” Even as a kid I wondered if it was just blind luck that this specific team was chosen to undertake that mission, and before the first story is over, you’ll know exactly why they got the call. And it’s probably not for the reason you think…

Are there any plans for solo adventures?

BT: Probably not right away, as after spending some much time with them off-camera, I’m definitely going to ensure the next arcs includes a lot of time watching them interact with (and sometimes) clashing with one another. Which is going to be a major factor as the pressure on them is going to build exponentially as we proceed.

What characters have surprised you when writing them?

BT: Lance definitely. I’ve gone on record many times with my uncontrollable attachment to Keith, since he’s the leader type, and I always gravitate to the leader types in any ensemble. That said, the more time I spend with Lance, in both series, the more I love his own unique perspective and place within the team’s dynamic.

In the first issue of Year One, Lance is described as a blunt instrument and that’s really what he is most times. But in the second arc, you’re going to see him embrace a slightly different role that changes his relationships with both Keith and Allura primarily. Without saying too too much, there will be some major secrets being kept by a few cast members, and Lance is going to find himself in the position to know more than perhaps he should about what’s really going on. And being trusted with the things no one else is supposed to know is going to change him a little bit, taking his focus away from his own aspirations and personal gripes about not commanding his own squad of Space Explorers by now.

If you could do a crossover, who would you want Voltron to team up with or fight?

BT: Might seem completely weird, but I think it’d be fun for Voltron to somehow find his way into the same universe as Neon Genesis Evangelion. That was my favorite anime series as a teenager, and I think it really effected some of my overall perspectives on the larger possibilities of giant robot sci-fi mech craziness. I mean, could you imagine Shinji meeting Keith and how interesting that would be? Or Asuka teaming up with Allura? I don’t know, like I said, probably weird, but I’d write that in a heartbeat…

Thank you very much to Brandon Thomas for taking the time to speak with me. Get your books signed by him at C2E2!


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