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Charles Spano delves into the madcap punk-comics marriage of 'The Cryos'

Comic Books

Charles Spano delves into the madcap punk-comics marriage of ‘The Cryos’

The time traveling punk rock comic ‘The Cryos’ is currently crowdfunding via Kickstarter.

When I’m not writing about comic books, I’m writing about punk rock. And so when I saw The Cryos being teased on Twitter, it sort of felt like a nerdy convergence, or if my birthday also fell on Christmas one year.

The Cryos is the brainchild of Charles Spano, a writer, producer, and fellow of the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. He’s joined by artist Amilcar Pinna, colorist Triona Farrell, and letterer Becca Carey, and together they’ve made “the most punk rock comic book since What’s the Furthest Place From Here? and Deadly Class.”

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More specifically, The Cryos follows the titular no-wave band as they use “H.G. Wells’ time machine to travel 1,000 years into the future, where they must choose sides in the bi-oid revolution.” With an certain charm, intensity, and irreverence, The Cryos explores that magical marriage between punk rock and comics, and how its wonderfully dumb art and pop culture that can help us take a stance on “climate disaster, corporate greed, the perils of technology, and the nature of reality itself.”

The Cryos is currently crowdfunding via Kickstarter. The campaign promises a heap of incentives and rewards, including t-shirts, pinback badges, original art, and variant covers paying homage to “legendary album covers.” In the lead-up, I spoke with Spano about all things The Cryos, including the real connection between punk and comics, exploring and referencing album art, repurposing the time travel trope, and the book’s kickass personal soundtrack.

Toward the end, enjoy an exclusive cover reveal for Rafael Albuquerque’s own tribute variant to the Ramones’ November 1977 album Rocket to Russia (the one with “Rockaway Beach,” FYI). 

Charles Spano delves into the madcap punk-comics marriage of 'The Cryos'

AIPT: What’s the elevator pitch for The Cryos?

Charles Spano: When Ana Droid and her no-wave punk band the Cryos find H.G. Wells’ time machine in the basement of a London club that used to be a pickle factory, they leave 1982 behind and travel 1,000 years into the future, where they must choose sides in the bi-oid revolution against uber-rich tech magnate Arthur Hawkes.

AIPT: You touch on it in some press, but why do punk and comic books go so well together? What about them just seems similar (maybe to me) in scope, feeling, etc.?

CS: I think that punk and comics go so well together because both will always be outsider artforms that have been historically derided as juvenile, trivial, or unserious – which is a position that inspires confrontation and pushing against a mainstream culture that discounts your purpose. Both punk and comics have profound things to say, often in a manner that other forms of expression fail to get at because they are far more constrained by financial gatekeepers. Punk and comics are both a way to interrogate ideas with relatively minimal means of production that you can approach in a DIY way.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why punk was so formative to my perception of the world and my own principles. I think it’s because the fundamental answer that punk gives to questions designed to subjugate or cut you down is “so what?”

“You can’t even play your instruments?”
“So what?”

“What are you, some kind of loser?”
“So what if I am?”

And I think it’s clear how much this pertains to comic books when you consider the answer that comics as a medium has had to constantly supply to the mainstream.

“Your novel has pictures.”
“So what?”

“This is for kids.”
“So what if it is?

AIPT: This book’s said to have some pretty potent influences, everything from ’90s Vertigo to What’s the Furthest Place From Here. What specifically speaks to you about these influences? For me, that latter is a callback to the former, and that’s when I think good, sharp writing really and truly became a focus in comics.

The Cryos

Art from issue #1 of The Cryos. Courtesy of Charles Spano.

CS: I think there are a couple commonalities evident in ’90s Vertigo like my favorite comic ever, The Invisibles, and current descendents of Vertigo like What’s the Furthest Place From Here? I agree that there is a focus on sharp writing there, but also on really evocative art to tell the story. I think what comes through in both is a trust for the creators to build something singular and angular and interesting. I think the reason Karen Berger is one of the most important people in the history of comics is because she pioneered this notion of trusting the creators – to take you on digressions, to present you with something difficult, or labyrinthine, or that you are maybe going to have to read more than once to understand. And I feel the same thing when I read What’s the Furthest Place From Here? – it’s a sort of thrill to not know where this ride is going to take us.

AIPT: Maybe this is an obvious one, but it still has to be asked: what was your soundtrack while writing The Cryos?

CS: My favorite kind of question! The series is dedicated to Poly Styrene and Lora Logic from the X-Ray Spex, two people who have inspired me endlessly since I first heard Germfree Adolescents played on Princeton University’s radio station WPRB when I was kid. This was on an amazing show that played albums in their entirety, so I would tape them off the radio. I was too young to even realize that it was an old album, especially since it is so timeless in so many ways.

So I listened to that a lot. Brian Eno’s Here Come the Warm Jets and Another Green World for the futuristic stuff. Then Bad Brains, Germs, Black Flack, which is the scene the Cryos’ drummer Broken Rekkid is coming from, but also the Clash, PiL, the Cure, Essential Logic, Wire, Joy Division, Echo & the Bunnymen, Magazine, which is maybe more Ana and the bassist Gabe Gristle’s scene.

Also, the Dead Boys because in the Cryos’ backstory a Dead Boys show at CBGBs is what inspired them to start a band. When I was a music journalist, I wrote this retrospective on New York no-wave and everyone I interviewed who had formed a band in that scene was at the same Dead Boys show. It’s like a New York version of that Sex Pistols show in Manchester that inspired so many different people to start bands.

AIPT: Building off that last question, how do you think music translates into a visual medium like this? I just feel like punk is such a massively visual genre in the first place.

CS: I think you’re right that punk translates particularly well to a visual medium, especially punk of this time period that was so in-your-face with fashion and hair. The Cryos are from a Downtown New York City scene which is very gray and gritty, but they go to play shows in London because they feel more of a kinship with British bands. Tríona Farrell, the colorist of The Cryos, and I looked at a lot of color photos from U.K. punk. I think we tend to picture it muted, probably because of Derek Ridgers’ great black and white photos from the time, but if you look at King’s Road pictures in color or Derek Jarman films, first wave punk was very bright and bold, day-glo, and clashing. These toxic sci-fi colors. Which I love.

The Cryos

Art from issue #1 of The Cryos. Courtesy of Charles Spano.

AIPT: You also mention album art, which is essential in punk. How do you think that kind of iconography makes its way into or influences the book?

CS: Well, we really wanted The Cryos to utilize iconography the way a band does or the way something like The Invisibles did as a comic. Becca designed a title font meant to be as tied to the band’s identity and as recognizable as the font for Minor Threat or Black Flag. And then I really wanted something like the smiley face badge with blood on it from Watchmen – and the pinback badge with your favorite band on it is so intrinsic to punk, right? So Amilcar drew this Ronald Reagan-with-a-mohawk t-shirt that Ana wears, which we turned into a design for our own merch – t-shirts and badges. I love that kind of stuff. I’m the kind of person who walks around in a What’s the Furthest Place From Here? t-shirt. Outside of the story, we also decided to do a serious of variant covers that pay homage to favorite punk albums. So the kickstarter is going to have some very cool variants for comic book collectors and punks.

AIPT: What was it like working with artist Amilcar Pinna, colorist Triona Farrell, and letterer Becca Carey? What did they bring to the table?

CS: I’m someone who believes that we all created this comic together. I like to think of us as band with our variant cover artists as players from other bands who we were lucky enough to get on stage with us as well. Beyond that, all I can say is that this team is made up of pros pushing they limits of the artform they love. Amilcar has the most interesting frames and angles in comics – you feel that his panels use camera lenses. Tríona’s colors always defy expectations. And as someone who obsesses over lettering, Becca, in my mind, is in probably the top five of letterers working in comics right now.

AIPT: The book tackles “climate disaster, corporate greed, the perils of technology, and the nature of reality itself.” Is advocacy like this harder or easier in 2024, and do you think comics can make a properly punk-ian impact amid all the social noise?

CS: Well it’s hard to know what kind of dent you can kick in, isn’t it? Here’s a thing I’ve always loved about punk – by its nature, any given punk band originally seeks to have a big effect on a small community of people. To the point that as a punk band becomes more popular we worry their message becomes diluted. How many people in addition to me have listened to Iconoclast’s entire recorded output? Maybe not that many, but they were very important to me. Struggle’s first 7-inch had a major influence on my point-of-view, but how many copies did it sell? Probably not many in the big picture. In comics, look at Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s decidedly punk Channel Zero – a very DIY, black-and-white white comic, but Brian has said that he still meets people with Channel Zero tattoos. In its soul, punk is about community, so trying to make a big impact on a small number of people with this comic – whether that’s making someone think about veganism, or listen to Bad Brains’ first album, or to consider being an anarchist, or more ways they can reject corporations on a daily basis – is a worthwhile endeavor.

AIPT: The book also focuses heavily on time travel. How do you make that beloved trope feel fresh, and/or was there concern going in that it’s a little overused/overdone?

CS:Good question. My favorite time travel thing ever is Back To the Future. I’ve got James Gleick’s book Time Travel: A History, and I am someone who believes that William Gibson probably figured out time travel in his Jackpot trilogy, namely that what may eventually travel through time due to quantum computing is information, not people. But solving how time travel could be feasible is not that interesting to me, so we went back to basics. The Cryos find a real time machine built by H.G. Wells. It’s old. It’s 19th century. It clues the reader into the conceit – don’t worry about how the time travel works! They move some levers! But what it lets us do that I love is smash together a punk band from the 1980s and a G.K. Chesterton-style anarchist from the 1880s with a ’90s Steve Jobs-type computer CEO. I think that’s where this series has a Philip K. Dick quality. I want to mash up pop cultural detritus and see what ensues.

Charles Spano delves into the madcap punk-comics marriage of 'The Cryos'

A variant cover by Rafael Albuquerque. Courtesy of Charles Spano.

AIPT: Are there any pages or moments that you can/want to tease from the story?

CS: Yes. I will promise the reader android pirates. And the should prepare their 1980s pop culture knowledge for the reference on the final page of issue #1.

AIPT: Depending upon how things go, do you see a long-term future (get it?) for The Cryos?

CS: The first arc is five issues. And it tells a story that comes to a satisfying conclusion. We won’t leave you hanging at the end of the arc like it’s a “to be continued.” That said, Amilcar and I have other places we want to take these characters in future arcs, a lot of which is hinted at in interstitial ephemera pages in the first five issues. So, in success, we certainly have the story ideas for a Black Science sort of run.

AIPT: If The Cryos could have written one real-world punk song, what would it be and why?

CS: Oh interesting. Well first off I’ll say that we have music tie-ins planned down the road that will give readers the opportunity to actually hear the Cryos’ music. But if you were interviewing the Cryos back in 1982 and asked them which song they wished they had written, Ana would say “The Day the World Turned Day-Glo” by the X-Ray Spex, Broken Rekkid would claim “12XU” by Wire, and Gabe would probably dismiss the entire conversation as pointless.

If you are asking what the Cryos sound like…if we are talking current bands, check out Control Top.

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