As Brent mentioned on his blog, he finished the art for ASTRONAUT DAD a few days ago. The entire story is done, all 160 pages -- making it my largest comic book project thus far.
The original idea was to do something reminiscent of the Silver Age Fantastic Four. The kids would be super adventurers, and the parents would be involved in NASA. It was a weak premise. Eventually, I made an important decision to strip away the adventure/fantasy aspects and make it more personal. I re-focused on the families, specifically how children perceive their fathers as the kids come of age. (Tangent: These two people had an interesting discussion on this aspect of ASTRONAUT DAD. Click here.)
I did about six months of research on NASA and the Cold War, took extensive notes, bought old copies of LIFE magazine, watched quite a few documentaries, and read Tom Wolfe's THE RIGHT STUFF. I put together character outlines and a detailed treatment of the plot. The first draft of this script only took a month. Actually, I think (my memory is fuzzy) I wrote the last chapter in one day, one very long day.
Brent would find this amusing. I looked through some old emails. Before I met Brent, I first approached another artist. Here's what I said in the email: "It's a coming-of-age story about three astronaut families during 1963. The draw back? It's 144 pages, and would be a real bitch to draw." (Obviously, we've added some pages. Mostly chapter breaks, title page, etc., the page count stayed pretty rigid throughout the editing process.)
The instant I met Brent I knew he'd be perfect for ASTRONAUT DAD. His art style is nostalgic of Jack Kirby without feeling derivative. And like all the artists I work with, it's "cartoony" and highly expressive. (Before starting the art, I mentioned to Brent the importance of subtly and emotional depth, numerous times -- and kept referencing the work of Will Eisner.) Brent had to decline at first, because he was working on an early version of DUMMY'S GUIDE TO DANGER with Jason Burns and then later HORRORWOOD with Brandon Terrell. Around 2005, patience paid off, and he agreed to illustrate ASTRONAUT DAD.
From an early email to Brent: "For me, this story is about doing something meaningful. I think it's the only story I've written that doesn't have somebody punching or pulling a gun on somebody else."
Justin Stewart joined our team as the letterer. He's a good friend and an absolute professional. It's never easy to be the last person in an assembly line, but he was fast and skillful. In a digest-sized comic, Justin produced something highly readable with a good sense of balance and placement. All the while, he never ever crowded out the art. And thank god, no typos. To me, that is the very definition of a great letterer.
I started my first rewrite when Brent came on board. For this rewrite, I printed the script, kept it in a 2" binder, and made a ton of notes. Then due to a corrupted file, I lost the document on my computer and I had to retype the entire thing from the edited version in my binder. It was a pain, but it was probably the best thing that could happen to the story. I caught so much while retyping.
After an adaptation ANTIGONE with Silent Devil, publisher Christian Beranek called to ask what I would like to work on next. (I've mentioned this story a few times on this blog and with friends.) I never had an editor approach me for a story before. It was a great moment. It was like being handed a blank check. You will let me do whatever I want? I told him about ASTRONAUT DAD. "Let's do it." It was that easy, and it might never be that easy again. We decided to divide the story into two graphic novels. Each volume would be three chapters, and priced at an affordable $5.95. We wanted to have the two books released within six months of each other.
Now that ASTRONAUT DAD was going to be published, I went for a second rewrite. I called in a favor with Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir (website). I offered to help them with their website if they would read ASTRONAUT DAD, give some notes and a little friendly mentorship, which they were happy to do.
Volume one came out mid-November 2007. We debuted the book at Wizard World Texas (photo set).
After that, there were some delays. I'd like to blame the economy. Brent was in a position where he needed to take as much freelance work as was available, which left little time to work on ASTRONAUT DAD. I wasn't worried. I knew we'd finish this book. For anyone who gave me a hard time, I'd remind them that some Marvel Comics have had longer delays -- and Brent is creating something three times longer, penciling and inking, with no page rate. So, shut up.
During this time, there were some major changes at Silent Devil. Christian obtained a sweet job working with Ahmet Zappa and Harris Katleman. They signed a multi-year deal with Walt Disney Studios to create Kingdom Comics. Silent Devil still exists, but (as far as I understand) is not actively publishing titles like they used to.
The delay, the changes at Silent Devil, and me recently acquiring a literary agent (more info about that later) opened a new opportunity for ASTRONAUT DAD. Brent and I talked about re-publishing the graphic novel as one single volume with a larger publisher. Josh Fialkov did it with ELK'S RUN, moving from his own label "Hoarse and Buggy" to Speakeasy to Random House's Villard imprint. We were so close to completion we decided to finish everything first, then solicit the project. As Brent said on his blog, "Now the real journey begins for this story." Time to find another publisher for ASTRONAUT DAD. Anyone interested? Talk to this guy. [UPDATE 02/26/12: Don't talk to that guy. He's no longer a literary agent... and we published it ourselves. Read about it here and here.]