Heist: How to Steal a Planet is sort of an educational book. Only in that it walks you through the process of planning a genuine heist, from the people and locale to the reward and all the bloody work in between. But it’s so much more, and the first issue is reminiscent of Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver in that its suaveness and “cool factor” are dialed up to 10. It’s an entertaining popcorn movie a la Oceans 11 or Usual Suspects drawn before your eyes on the page.
Ahead of the book’s November 6 release, I touched base with writer Paul Tobin and artist Arjuna Susini to talk about the book’s creation, any parallels to filmmaking, the art of making great characters, and much more.
AIPT: To start out, what really created Heist? You’ve talked about how you sort of grew into Sci-Fi and your desire to go big, but the elements and characters really help the book stand out as a heist book through and through. How did those elements come together?
Paul Tobin: A lot of it came from watching old movies about cons and heists. The Sting comes to mind, and Audrey Hepburn in Charade or How To Steal A Million. And then there were a lot of real-life cons and heists I’ve read about over the years, all of them distilled into my brain to create projects like Bandette, my series about a teen thief, and now Heist. I’m a huge fan of art (mostly Impressionist paintings, though I do love other periods) and you can’t read about art throughout history without reading a lot about conmen and heists!
AIPT: Did filmmaking influence the pacing, layout, or narrative of the story at all? The movie feels and flows much like an Edgar Wright or Steven Soderbergh movie, and I’m curious as to how other Heist media played a part, if at all.
PT: I think some film pacing and narrative styles might be in my head, yes! I think there’s a little of everything that’s in my head. Visually, I asked Arjuna for a cross between Blade Runner and the Triton graphic novels from Daniel Torres, so that’s a mix of media, right there. There’s even a little Matt Helm in my head, and Diabolik, who knows what else. Heck, there’s probably even some of the Mass Effect video games. I don’t think there’s a writer alive who doesn’t get influenced by all the media they intake: there’s only writers who don’t admit it.
AIPT: Another thing that signals a classic heist story is the narration. There’s always a member of the crew telling you what’s really going on first hand, and they usually need to have a clearly defined voice that’s suave enough to bring readers aboard despite them knowing that the narrator’s not always to be trusted, and Glane certainly fits the bill. How did his voice come about?
PT: I think that’s really perceptive, the statement of Glane’s voice not really being trustworthy. Even to himself, Glane never really wants to reveal the whole truth. There’s always something a little more tucked away in the corner. I was going to say it’s the unvarnished truth that’s in the corner, but, the more I think of it, I don’t think Glane has any unvarnished truth. I think he’s just doing the best he can, and somehow believing that two things are true. The first is that all of this is just a game. The second is that games have consequences. He found out the horrible truth of that before our story even really begins, and it got a good woman killed, and a whole planet to hate him. Now Glane has to believe that the world’s biggest screw-up is still the best man for the job.
AIPT: This form of narration can heavily influence the story’s flow. Right now, it feels as though we are running through these streets along with Glane, but that we are attached at the hip. There’s plenty of room for twists and turns, but the story feels like it’s on a specific path. Has there been room to stop and explore the world or branch off away from Glane for a moment or two, or are we ride or die with him?
PT: I’m taking every opportunity to expand the world around Glane. I don’t like worlds where everything revolves around the main character. It makes the world flat. Staid. I enjoy reading and writing about worlds where myriads of events are happening, a world that feels rich, that has culinary and artistic cultures, a range of personalities all intermixing. We’re all a byproduct of our environments, so a character is all the richer for having the world around them seem real. The trick, of course, is to seed all these little world-building moments in such a way that the main story isn’t stumbling over them!
AIPT: A big portion of how characters move and interact in this world has to do with reputation. Glane clearly has a big one, and it comes with its pros and cons. One could also say that he uses it quite frequently to his advantage. Has Glane learned anything in prison, or has he simply developed an agenda?
PT: I think he’s learned humility. He ended up in prison because he, a conman, was too trusting. And it caused the downfall of an entire world. He’s got to make up for that, somehow. He’s got to get his mojo back. It’s a strange time for Glane, because the number one thing he needs is confidence in himself, but he’s the world’s number one example of hubris.
AIPT: Following up, how does Glane’s reputation influence the actions of others in this world? He’s one of the most visible people on the planet, and most people seem to hate him. In a narrative sense, would you say the world revolves around Glane? Is his reputation more of an asset or a liability?
PT: His reputation definitely influences the actions of others. Chief among them are his crew, not all of which actually like or respect him. And I feel his rep is both an asset and a liability, in that it can really hammer away at various things, but… sometimes the best tool for a job is a lock-pick, which kinda sucks if all you’re holding is a hammer.
AIPT: A lot of these questions so far have had to do with motion and framing, and there’s no place that showcases these elements better than the art. Arjuna, to start, there are some very interesting panel layouts in this first issue. I’d say it almost mimics the layout of a major city by starting out very grid-like and evolving into something more complex and layered as we dive a bit deeper, with panels branching off from each other or the sides of the page. Was there a specific intention behind some of these panel structures and what goes into that kind of decision?
Arjuna Susini: Behind these choices, there is the constant idea of giving vitality and character to this world. The basic idea was to depict many completely different species that come other planets with ecosystems completely opposed to each other with one thing in common: That they are the derelicts of their respective societies. We may not know which ones and can only intuit it from their features. One is an alien made of liquids, and one does photosynthesis but is animal. Maybe they have absolutely nothing in common beside one thing: they decided to leave their civil society (because they weren’t wanted or they didn’t feel welcomed) and they landed in this frontier world where diversity is wealth, absurd situations are the norm, and there is a new sense of balance.
Of course, they are all hardened criminals too. Perhaps also the fact that my city Livorno was born just like that, in around in the 1500 a.c. founded by the Medici ,an ancient family of Florence, and was a free port, or rather all the wanted criminals had the right to live free, they traded with the port , so that he was full of ugly people but also of so much freedom.
AIPT: Additionally, a lot of motion in the issue is conveyed through a wide variety of angles and chase scenes. You almost never see the same perspective twice on one page, and varying the height or distance of the “camera” helps keep the characters always on the move. Did you draw any of these decisions from film or did they come from somewhere else? I particularly like page where Brady and Glane are framed through what I assumed to be Eddy’s scope.
AS: This is a consequence of working with Paul, he in his scripts brings out the sense of how that particular sequence should be expressed, and my way of seeing things goes well with his poetry I guess. In the composition, I always try to comply with what must be transmitted from history through the layout. Then the diagonal compositions guide the eye of the reader by sliding it, to then stop and slow down when needed. I have a passion for perspective and I love using it to bring the look where I want.
AIPT: Whether they’re in the spotlight or in the background, there are a ton of different aliens on Planet Heist. What was your process like for coming up with so many different types of aliens on this world?
AS: Like I said earlier more or less, I tell secondary or tertiary stories. They create a buzz in the reader’s head without putting the text of what they are actually saying in hopes that readers feel the same. It’s like going to a big city that is always crowded. And I choose their character on the spot to express these “little theaters”.
AIPT: Is there a lot of collaboration between you and Vittorio Astone, the colorist for the series?
AS: We worked a lot at the beginning to find a balance on the color. He was exceptional in interpreting with his color my style that sometimes is not easy to manage. He also found exceptional graphic solutions, the 3D advertisements and all the rest. I am always really impressed when he sends me the colored pages.
AIPT: What have your primary influences been, both when drawing this world, and in general as an artist?
AS: I am passionate about the great masters of black and white in comics as well as Italian, South American, North American, and Japanese authors. Will Eisner, Frank Miller, Alberto Breccia, Sergio Toppi, Guido Buzzelli, Kazuo Koike, Hirohiko Araki, Takehiko Inoue, and among the most modern certainly Sean Gordon Murphy and Paul Pope . But there are so many I can’t list all of them here.
AIPT: For you, what’s the most important part when drawing a character?
AS: When drawing the character, I want them to be the transposition of its character without being banal but also through the simple shapes (triangle, circle, square) to find the characteristics they embody and pull them as far as possible through their acting and their gestures , which I try to study very thoroughly. I did 3 years of theater to study the dynamics of acting (and also to meet girls).
AIPT: There’s a big difference in this issue between what people are thinking, saying, and doing. Glane and Brady are almost constantly on the move, either walking, running, or fighting their way to the next location. The talk is very conversational and lighthearted because being a conman or hiring a crew requires a certain level of charm. Glane’s thoughts, however, are often a bit more vulnerable and are quickly able to reach the core of the character. All three layers seem to always be present, and they reveal a lot about the complexity of storytelling. How are the two of you as a team able to keep a balance in a story that always seems to be in a state of flux?
PT: I was able to do it by entirely trusting Arjuna! Ha ha! When we were working together on Made Men, I saw how his artistic choices always involved the world around the character. Backgrounds aren’t just templates; they’re actually, living environments, and that’s of prime importance for a series like Heist. So even while conversations and small cons are taking place, I knew Arjuna would be visually explaining the world of our story. It makes everything feel more alive.
AS: For me it is a bit like music when it is upbeat. That is, you never really close action by leaving it hanging as if it were to continue. You only close at certain times with big moments.
AIPT: You two have a history of collaboration, but haven’t worked together since Made Men, What has that collaboration been like for the two of you, and has anything changed since you’ve both gotten the chance to work on a few new projects in between?
PT: Honestly, Arjuna is one of the easiest collaborators I’ve ever worked with! Ever since day one of us teaming up, I’ve known that he’ll add in extra elements and add to the flavor of the scenes and the characters. And there’s a grit to the characters and the worlds that really appeals to me. I don’t know that I’ve changed in any way, as far as our partnership, other than being… on a daily basis… even more willing to really floor the gas pedal.
AS: Made Men for me was really important and my first real landing in the American market. When Paul asked me to draw it I was in seventh heaven, and I hoped that after we would work together again We keep in touch even when we are not working on something, and we’re friends by now, even though we’ve never met before.
AIPT: How were you able to keep the story so fast-paced throughout all 24 pages of the issue?
PT: The natural manner of having a narrator (however reliable) for a heist story helped, and mostly it was just a few tricks of the trade I’ve picked up over the years, combined with simply trusting the reader, which meant that I didn’t worry about explaining things twice, or including any “are you sure you saw this!?!?” panels, the way so many writers seem to think is necessary.
AS: As far as I’m concerned, a lot of work on composition is at the level of storyboards. That’s where you decide what space to give to a scene and how to compose it.
AIPT: What’s been your favorite part of telling this story?
PT: Working with Arjuna! It’s a blast watching the pages and the covers come in. I’ve had versions of this story in my head for years, so to actually see the world I’ve been picturing (most often better than I’ve been picturing it!) is really satisfying.
AS: Reading the new script of Paul when he sends me a new one.