In recent weeks, we’ve introduced you to Bad Idea, an exciting new comics publisher looking to bring back a renewed focus on “old-school” storytelling and a simplified approach to business. But they’re more than just a great gimmick, and Bad Idea is launching with some rather promising titles. There’s ENIAC, a story of a rogue A.I. from Matt Kindt, and next up on the schedule is Tankers.
Written by Robert Venditti, and with art from Juan Jose Ryp, the three-issue story follows a group of time-traveling soldiers trying to battle dinosaurs and maintain mankind’s reliance on oil. (The series is fully colored, with final coloring courtesy of Andrew Dalhouse.) It’s a totally bonkers satire that proves to be as funny and odd as it is hugely telling of our modern politics and ongoing ecological “commitment.”
Ahead of the book’s April 28 release, we sat down with Venditti to talk about writing great satire, the importance of time travel rules, working with Bad Idea, and much, much more.
And be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom for exclusive art from issue #2, due out in June.
AIPT: What’s the genesis for the book/series? Do you have a more condensed elevator pitch?
Robert Venditti: Tankers is about a crack team of mercenaries in mech combat suits who get sent back in time by the oil industry to divert the comet that killed the dinosaurs. More dinosaurs in the past means more oil in the future. Who doesn’t love that?
The book came about through conversations with Warren Simons at Bad Idea. The concept struck us as something we could get absurdist and satirical with. That appealed to me because I’d never attempted that style of story.
AIPT: Is it hard, or are you ever overly aware, of writing a story involving something “controversial” like global warming and climate change? Does that impact how the story develops and then unfolds?
RV: The background theme running through Tankers is our dependence on fossil fuels and how far we’ll go to keep the tap turned on. When I was writing, though, I stayed focused on the characters and their motivations—plus the bullets and dinosaurs—and let the satire develop organically. If I focus on satire or a “message,” then the readers will hear my voice instead of hearing the voices of the characters. I never want to take my audience out of the story.
AIPT: How do you go about balancing satire like this? Is making fun of things a way to maybe shock people into action at all, or just highlight how dumb we can be?
RV: People don’t consume entertainment because they want to be lectured. They want to be entertained. I strive to write stories that entertain, but that also have something going on beneath the surface for those who want to look deeper. If Tankers crosses their mind the next time they’re filling up at the pump, that’s probably the most I can hope for.
I should also point out that I’m no different from anyone else. I drive a car. I fly on planes. Fossil fuels power our lives. I’m just hoping for a better tomorrow.
AIPT: Time travel is a big part of the story; are there certain “rules” followed or some other past franchises/stories that informed your specific take?
RV: It’s important for a story to adhere to its own internal logic, and Tankers certainly does that. But I didn’t bog myself down thinking about time paradoxes or Back to the Future versus The Terminator. We followed Tankers rules.
AIPT: I feel like the story (at least as far as issue #1) does a good job in balancing the bonkers plot with the actual story itself. What’s the challenge of working with such a ludicrous storyline and still telling something that’s emotionally resonant?
RV: Writing something absurdist, there’s a temptation to get too absurdist. All that does is alienate the reader. The trick is to keep everything grounded in relatable characters. Each of our battle-hardened mercs has their own wants and desires. Tankers is about blood and oil, but it’s also about friendship and camaraderie. There’s even a love story. Everyone understands and has experienced those things.
AIPT: I got a kind of Aliens vibe from the first issue — were there specific influences for the overall vibe and aesthetic of the series?
RV: More than anything, Tankers is an opportunity to write a style of story I’ve never been given a chance to write. It’s absurdist, but I wouldn’t call it comedy. It’s satirical and violent, but it also has a ton of heart. In terms of my influences, I don’t know where it fits in. I wanted to take risks and challenge myself with something readers might not expect from me. I couldn’t be prouder of the result.
AIPT: Was there a specific reason to go for three issues with this story? Could this become a longer/bigger story?
RV: One of the great things about working with Bad Idea is their versatility. Their focus is story, story, story. Whatever format or page count will make for the best story, that’s what they do.
Talking with Warren [Simons] very early on, we felt that the usual 22 or 24 pages wasn’t going to cut it. This is giant machine-gun mechs versus hyper-evolved dinosaurs. Juan needs space to really deliver on all the mayhem. Structuring the series as three 32-page issues gives readers the same overall page count as four 24-page issues, but the added issue length allows for more story development and bigger action in each installment.
It also bears mentioning that each issue of Tankers, like all Bad Idea comics, will come with an eight-page backup B-side story. That’s 40 pages of content. Readers are getting their money’s worth, and then some.
As for the future of Tankers, this first series is its own complete story. But there’s plenty more we can do with these characters. If there happens to be a second series, we already know what it’ll be.
AIPT: What was the collaborative process like with Juan José Ryp?
RV: Juan is an absolute dream. I had the chance to work with him briefly years ago, and I’ve been dying to reteam with him. When I found out that he’d be drawing Tankers, I knew I didn’t need to hold back. Anyone who’s seen Juan’s work is aware of his extreme talent for big action and fine detail, but he’s also very adept at landing the more emotional moments in the series. So much of the story’s humor is communicated by Juan’s handling of the characters amidst all the over-the-top mech stomping and dino chomping. It’s a fine line to walk.
The series wouldn’t be the same without him.
AIPT: Similarly, what’s been the experience working with Bad Idea? Does helping to launch a new publisher impact what you’re doing or is it just a neat little honor?
RV: There’s some added pressure. Bad Idea is putting faith in me to help launch their publishing slate, but there are a lot of talented creators doing the same. Many of us—creators and staff both—were there when Valiant launched in 2012, so why not do it again? The difference this time is Bad Idea has an unfettered approach to everything. All the outside-the-box thinking feeds the creative process in really invigorating ways. Tankers is just the first of many projects we’re working on together.
AIPT: Why should someone pick up Tankers?
RV: It’s a great question. There are plenty of comics on the racks competing for your dollars. In the end, I think it comes down to this: If you don’t read Tankers, you’ll live. At least a while. And dying in your bed many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance—just one chance—to come back here and tell your friends that you read Tankers?
Better to just buy it now and live without the regret.
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