A year in Innovation

Milestones are always fun. Today I get to celebrate one!

In November of 2013 I launched my black and white sci-fi webcomic project, INNOVATION and today I’m celebrating the 60+ pages of free comics that myself and a whole slew of talented artists have brought to the internet.

INNOVATION is the story of what happens when scientists at a Google-esque facility begin innovating our world…whether we want them to or not. As technology advances toward flawless operation in the fields of robotics, physics and quantum mechanics, the only thing that can’t be counted on are the humans who created it.

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The project received a shot of adrenaline to the heart in July of 2013 after I had written five short stories. These stories, while all separate, leaned toward the world of sci-fi in genre and each had a fun twist at the end. There was a moment where I decided to tie them all together and create a small universe of my own design. I took these stories, Curiosity, Intelligence, By Design, Compliance and another that, believe it or not, has yet to be drawn by an artist and created the connective tissue of Radical Development Scientific Laboratories, Inc. (R.D.S.L.) to tie them together.

There I was with five stories that stood alone but also interconnected creating a larger mythos in the background. From there I decided, based on those initial comics, which characters would best tell the story and begin writing each of their arcs while they intertwined with one another on occasion. The goal was that each 4-6 page short comic could be its own standalone sci-fi tale, but if someone hunkered down and read them all, they’d get a much larger tale. Because I planned to work with a different artist on each short, I made the decision to run the strips in a non-linear fashion. This forced me to ensure that each story was self-contained and gave me a major “moment” to work toward at the end of each comic. This isn’t rocket science, I know…but simply an interesting gestation process.

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As the shorts were drawn I started creating a reference library so incoming artists would have character and location designs to work with in order for everything to have a consistent look. For artists who hoped to one day work on licensed, pre-existing characters, I figured this was a great place for them to test their chops.

At first glance, the world of INNOVATION can look confusing, but what I’m hoping for (and I know this can be asking a lot) is for readers to begin putting the puzzle pieces into place as they read the comic, figuring out the timelines and identifying where the beginning and ending are. I think of Innovation like this:

We have a handful of characters that we established early on in our series including the robot, Sondra, who is struggling with some serious personality issues, R.D.S.L. CEO Edison Kircher, his right hand man, Mr. Faust, the mischievous android Cygnus, the lowly lab rat Lee and a mysterious guest to the facility that I’m calling The Visitor.

In my brain I think of all the characters in a line, as seen in the scientifically-accurate design below.

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From there, a thread extends from each character that goes backward and forward in time (because our story is non-linear).

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Wherever those threads happen to intersect, that’s where our little sci-fi stories take place.

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I figured that if media-lovers are giving more of themselves to long and drawn out mystery shows, then this webcomic might scratch a similar itch. After all, people watched LOST on TV for, like, six years. (They only liked it for four years, but that’s beside the point.)

What’s INNOVATION about?

Admittedly, at first glance, it might be difficult to pick up on what the series is actually about. That’s kind of a loaded question, really. Every character has a goal (whether those are clear yet or not) and everyone has somewhere they started and somewhere they will end up. Throughout the shorts there are various items that all show up and will all be equally important as we race toward the story’s conclusion.

At it’s heart, Innovation is about technological advancement. In our real world we’ve seen a huge leap forward in the world’s technology in the past 5-10 years. And as we’ve learned throughout history, science can be used for good or bad. A drone aircraft can collect or deliver information and intelligence, and just as easily drop a bomb. It’s all in how we as a world use these breakthroughs and advances.

Ultimately, once the first story arc is complete, I plan to collect it into a PDF where readers can view the entire story in order and then they’ll say, “Oooooh! I get it.”

Is it possible to get it without reading it in order? You better believe it. (I’ve spent hours on maps and diagrams that prove to me this is true.)

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While I planned for the story to run indefinitely, I didn’t want to meander too long, so I’ve chosen an end point for the first arc. While future stories are currently planned, the project requires a steady stream of artistic contributors and those who might be interested in participating with a 4-6 page short to keep the story going are encouraged to get in touch. The first arc will run somewhere between 26-30 chapters, so in our first year, we reached the halfway mark, and I think that’s pretty awesome.

A huge thank you goes out to the artists who have already contributed to the project: Mike Hatfield, Stan ChouDamon Threet, Ken Perry, Crisuadi Crasmaru, Jay Hernandez, Paul McCallan, and Harpreet Brar.

If you’re unfamiliar with this comic and for some reason you’ve read this far, I hope it piques your interest. For a full list of INNOVATION chapters, click here or on the image below. If you have been following along with our scientific exploits, thank you. There’s more to come.

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Happy Birthday, Scud.

Thank you, Rob Schrab.

Today I celebrate the 20th birthday of Rob’s crazy, yet loveable yellow robot, Scud: The Disposable Assassin who from 1994-1998 (and then again briefly in 2008) went on a comic book romp through a future full of monsters, technology, mobsters and evil angels, all in the name of love.

For those unfamiliar with Scud, here’s your quick overview, and then I’m getting back to the mushy stuff — In the distant future, citizens are able to purchase robot assassins out of ScudCo vending machines which, after terminating their designated target, self-destruct. During his first mission, one Scud becomes aware of his self-destructing future and rather than kill his target, Jeff, a monstrous mish-mash of objects, he shoots off her arms and legs and then places her on life support at a hospital. To ensure their mutual survival, he becomes an assassin-for-hire to pay for her medical bills. You want more than that? Pick up the omnibus right here. Seriously. Stop messing around and do it already.

Okay, where were we?

One day, in 1995, an 11-year-old Wes stumbled into the Collection Connection in Wooster, Ohio, likely for the 26th time that month. Amongst the normal Marvel and DC titles that I was picking up, something different popped out at me from the racks. I’d never seen anything like it, but I knew right then that it was something special. It was Scud: The Disposable Assassin #12. The cover lacked the typical superhero publisher’s mark was replaced instead by a simple black and white photo of a fireman. It was funky. It was colorful. It was intriguing. I had to have it.

I don’t think I even made it home before I’d read the comic numerous times. Like so many comics in my youth, I was thrust right into the middle of things and even though I had absolutely no idea what was going on (sometimes I miss that feeling), I was treated to an endearing 30 pages of Scud arriving back to Earth via a space traveling locomotive and finding himself accidentally thrust into the middle of the annual Mr. Tough-Guy competition, a global Olympics of sorts to see which race of beings have the most grit. (Yes, I know what you’re thinking, and I agree…they just don’t make plots like that anymore.)

Beyond the silly characters and irreverent story lines, the book exuded creativity on every available page. On the interior credits page, a list of “suggested voice talent” came with each issue to further bring life into the characters. In this issue, one of the characters was suggested to sound like Sean Connery, another like Bob Costas. With every read, the characters came to life in my mind. The icing on the cake was that writer/artist Schrab would also suggest songs for certain scenes and list the page numbers to go with it. Never had Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries had such an impact on me until juxtaposed with robots feverishly destroying one another. These details, though small helped the world come to life, even on an extrasensory level.

The following week I went back to my comic shop. I needed more. I needed my fix of Scud. Much to my dismay, the store had no back issues and because Fireman Press was a small independent publisher, they weren’t even sure if they’d even be getting subsequent issues.

Time dragged on and I began to worry that I’d never know what happened to Scud. Keep in mind that this was back in the day before the internet was prevalent, so buying issues online was impossible and even it was, I didn’t have a credit card or checkbook to my name.

I went back to my normal programming of Spider-Man and Daredevil when just two months later, I waltzed into the store to be greeted by the cover to Scud #14.

Sure, I’d missed an issue in there, but it was completely inconsequential. I was able to hang out with Scud and his sidekicks Drywall and Oswald for another round of chaos, and again–I had no clue what was happening. All I knew was that Scud had gratuitous violence,  adult language and a ton of heart, and at the end of the day, that’s what I was in the market for.

And then it all disappeared.

As quickly as it arrived, Scud was gone from my life. Issue #15 never made it to my comic shop. In fact, no additional issues ever made it to the shop and the clerks seemed perplexed on how to get future issues of the book. I didn’t understand distribution back then, so it was a complete mystery as to how I could get my hands on the book. It was simply something I couldn’t comprehend… like the Loch Ness Monster, or the appeal of Kanye West.

What happened next, I will be forever grateful for… if Scud was off the table, then I was going to have to chase the same feeling of exhilaration I received from the comic by investigating other indie titles that came into the store, and soon I was at least giving a shot to any comic book that didn’t have Marvel or DC’s name on the cover. Black and white interior art? Even better.

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Um… How could you NOT want to read this?

Without dropping names (this article is about Scud, after all), each title gave me additional insight into what the comics medium could be… dangerous, challenging, and most importantly, fun. It was right around this time that I knew that comics were something that I wanted to be a part of. My perception had expanded and there was no going back. Of course, as I grew and matured, comics eventually fell off the radar entirely as my mind became preoccupied with things like girls, rock music and surviving high school. Oh yeah, I also stopped buying comics because the local comic shop went out of business. Looking back, in my small town, I was probably one of five people even keeping the store open in the first place.

In 2008 I made a triumphant return to reading comics. Armed with a credit card and a whole lotta back issues to read, the first thing I purchased? Scud: The Whole Shebang, a collection of all 24 issues and several one-shots. I finally learned not only how my favorite robot got his start, but also got to see the tearful ending as Scud moved Heaven and Hell in the name of love. At the ripe old age of 24, Scud blew my mind all over again.

Two years later I got into the comics writing business and Scud has been a constant source of inspiration. Schrab’s seminal work reminds me that nutty characters, mindless action, fantastic worlds and gut-wrenching emotion all have a place in comic books and in an industry that at times, feels doomed to repeat itself, a fresh idea has the potential to change lives. The Whole Shebang collection clocks in at nearly 800 pages and I’ve read it dutifully once a year. When my brain needs a shot of creative adrenaline, Scud is where I go.

When I signed my first comic book publishing contract in 2012, I wrote Mr. Schrab on Twitter to share with him the good news, and thank him for his inspiration. His congratulatory response probably meant more than he realized. Without Scud, none of the comics I’ve published would have ever been written. It’s crazy how things work out.

Thanks, Rob, for sharing your creation with us, and happy birthday, Scud.

* All art in this post is copyright Rob Schrab, posted to help you realize what you (may have) missed out on.