Since last October, writers Jason Baxter and Mac Hamilton
and artist Derek Charm
have been telling the story of Trip Fantastic
-- a self-destructive celebrity stuntman battling against pretty much everything, up to and including himself -- as a webcomic
. This week, though, the creators have taken to Kickstarter
to raise money to print and distribute the first two issues to comic book stores, going so far as to offer up an EP of original music to sweeten the deal.
Considering that Trip Fantastic
isn't just one of the most dynamic, action-packed and beautifully done new webcomics of the past year, but also the only comic I've ever read where the creators cite Baywatch Nights
(Season 2) as an influence, it's pretty exciting. That's why today, ComicsAlliance spoke to the creators to get an idea of what went into the creation of Trip Fantastic
, why they chose to go with Kickstarter, and the pop culture artifacts that influenced their book.ComicsAlliance: First up, let's hit the basics: How would you describe Trip Fantastic, and how much of it was done watching the Surf Jams Joker episode of Batman '66?
: Trip Fantastic
is a project Derek, Mac, and myself began when Derek was still living in Seattle. It was initially conceived as a broadsheet, Wednesday-comics-style adventure story told in serialized one-page installments. The zine it was intended to be published in never got off the ground, but we were committed to the idea, especially as it got weirder and more twisted after (literal) years of brainstorming over long-distance phone conversations.
The surfing episode of Batman
'66 -- which never seems to lose its hilarity, no matter how many times we watch it -- was of course an influence. As were a lot of other weird things: new French extremism, the '90s Superboy run, Slash Maraud
, the biography of Evel Knievel, real-life encounters with strung-out rock stars.
: We are borderline obsessed with that episode of Batman
, so it's an underlying part of almost anything either of us do. The basic idea back then was a riff on that amazing Jimmy Olsen comic where he fights different versions of himself (we were also obsessed with Jimmy Olsen). That fell through, I moved to New York, but we still kept talking about the idea, and the character eventually morphed from cute, plucky Jimmy Olsen type to the worst collection of celebrity personality traits we could imagine, which suddenly made the story much weirder and bigger.
It would be negligent of me not to list Baywatch Nights
among our sources of inspiration.
: Ahem: Baywatch Nights: Season Two
, of which -- through a bizarre chain of twitter encounters -- we were able to make Mark Millar a fan of
CA: I'm honestly really curious as to how Baywatch Nights was an influence.
: Hmm well, that show is definitely fearless and at time weirdly hallucinatory, so we definitely picked up on that. And I'd say Stuart Asbjornsen's occasionally stunning cinematography definitely informed the look of the comic. We really wanted to capture that pastel-soaked, permanent magic hour look that so many beach-set 90s shows (Thunder in Paradise
being another example) had in spades.
CA: How would you describe the story? The minicomic that you did is very much a sort of straightforward action comedy, but the full-sized comic on the web goes from stunts to escapes to psychodrama and hallucinations, then right back to action.
: The story is ultimately an attempt to wrap a series of increasingly ridiculous action set pieces around a narrative skeleton that addresses some heavy themes (death, self-destructive impulses, etc.) in what is hopefully a self-aware, blatantly silly manner. We definitely wanted to capture the vibe that some of the best episodes of the Venture Brothers
achieve, where these archetypal, cartoonish characters are plunged into deeply unsettling scenarios, to the point where you can't help but laugh. I think our collective sense of humor is a little dark, and we definitely set out to make a comic as deliriously over-the-top as possible.
: Right, and the mini comic was sort of an attempt to do a really straight forward, silly, self contained thing to contrast the increasingly complex world the main comic was becoming. We worked on that one sort of Marvel-style, where I just drew whatever and sent it to Jason and Mac to figure out what was going on. The jet packs were a holdover from the original one-page comic.
CA: I imagine that over-the-top silliness helps when your protagonist is, as you said, the embodiment of some pretty awful traits. I mean, in the first issue, he's a drug-addled lunatic who wants to use a kid as a human shield, but he's still pretty fun to read about.
: Perfect! Glad he came across like that. He is truly despicable, but hopefully in a way that's compelling or amusing. Trip's actions will become more alarming, desperate, and hilarious as the story continues.
CA: With the Kickstarter, the plan is to get wide distribution for #1 and #2, but you've been putting it up as a webcomic since last October. What's the experience of putting it on the web been like, and why did you want to shift to print?
: Response to the online version has been overwhelmingly positive, and we tried to heighten the experience by incorporating animated .gifs into panels and pages
to suggest flashing lights at a rave, hallucinatory moments, and weird lighting as much as the story allowed. But, we always intended this to be a print project, which is why the issues are divided up and presented the way they are. Our original plan was to promote this more like you would a band, where you sort of gain a following doing the free stuff, and then offer something physical down the line for the comic shop crowd.
CA: Is that what led to the Kickstarter including a soundtrack EP?
: Yeah, totally. Same idea with the t-shirts, which we'll be hand-screening at a Seattle-based studio/vintage store/venue. I'm pretty plugged in to the Seattle music community, and I'm trying to use all my savvy to promote this comic in what's hopefully a novel or cool way. Our release party for the limited printing of issue one had a DJ (Reed from the band Beat Connection
), projections, live silkscreening, and free beer.
I play in an electronic band called USF
(formerly Universal Studios Florida
), so putting together a collection of songs to accompany the comic was a no-brainer. With the music, the Kickstarter video, and the two versions of the comic, we're really going for a multi-media smorgasbord.
CA: Are you worried that the comic might lose something in the transition to print? You talked about the animation on certain pages, which really adds to the surrealism and the bright, flashing pop-art feel of the comic, but doesn't translate to a static format.
: I feel like they offer different experiences, with print we're able to have things like impactful page-turns, double page spreads, back-up material and back cover gags that give it value as an object of itself. Also, it's often easier to hand someone a comic and have them actually read it, than it is to pass along a link.
CA: Since we're on the subject of Trip in different media, you mentioned the Kickstarter video earlier. I really liked it for how it was this great combination of that static comic art turned into animation that you got from those '60s Marvel cartoons, retro-VHS interference and the grand weirdness of all the stuff that happens in your comic, like Trip being accused of innovating a new STD. Are there any plans to do more of that?
: Oh yeah, hopefully! It was really fun to work on and allowed me to put my 2D animation degree to use in a way I haven't for years, plus Jason provided an amazing soundtrack to work off of. I'd love to do more stuff like that as time permits. I'm glad you mentioned the '60s Marvel "animation" vibe, that was something we were definitely going for.
CA: So what's the plan after the Kickstarter?
: As for the direction of the comic, the third (of four) issues is an extended riff on The Wizard of Oz
that starts out in halftone black-and-white and then bursts into vibrant, psychedelic color with a hallucination scene. There will be mutants, T-eye-gers, "sobriety bullets," and Himalayan luxury opium dens. It will also include the point at which the narrative starts to congeal and the in media res opening of issue one makes sense. The fourth issue is going to be nonstop balls-to-the-wall action. And obviously someday we'd love to see the whole 200-page story in a collected edition from a publisher we respect, but until then, we're going grassroots/DIY on the motherf***er.
: Yeah, get these two printed and out there, and to continue debuting the remaining two issues online. I'm about 2/3 done with drawing the first segment of Issue 3, but Jason and Mac have had it written in its entirety for months now.
: It's a four-part story with a very definite ending (we have the last page and the final three words of the comic pinned down). It does, however, leave off on a note that could lead to further adventures.
CA: How are you planning on getting the book distributed?
: We're going to contact as many stores across the country as possible. The zines and remaining copies of the first run of issue #1 are already consigned at a couple really cool, indie-minded stores (Floating World in Portland, Desert Island in Brooklyn), along with Cairo, which is that multi-use venue/arts space I mentioned earlier, and is kind a linchpin for the Seattle art community. We'll also pursue alternative spots like that -- zine shops, arts spaces, record stores, wherever our weird-ass product is accepted. We'll also, schedules willing -- since Mac works most of the week, Derek has a demanding Manhattan Spider-Man t-shirt-designing gig, and I work full-time as publicist for a record label -- be making convention appearances where we can.
CA: One last question: In addition to Baywatch Nights, you mentioned Thunder In Paradise as an inspiration for Trip Fantastic. Which part led more directly to your comic: the stern, confident pursuit of justice (in a super-boat) embodied by Hulk Hogan as Randolph J. "Hurricane" Spencer,, or Chris Lemmon's easy wisecracking (also in a super-boat) as Martin Brubaker?
: I spent a year in grade school pretending to be Hogan during recess. Not exaggerating. Those movies really got
to me as a kid.
: I know Jason's a Bru fan, but I'm going to have to go with Hogan. Also, the idea of a universe that allows for there to be a full Batcave-like command center inside a speed boat
: Speaking for myself, it is easily
Bru's smarminess. But overall, it's really impossible to top that shirtless fight on the docks from the pilot. Midair nutshot, man. Midair nutshot.
The Trip Fantastic
kickstarter runs until July 27, and 95 pages are already available to read online
. Check it out!