In addition to those totally rad REDAKAIbooks, the VIZ Kids imprint is also releasing original comics based on NICKTOONS' recent update on the most seminal of anime sentai mecha, VOLTRON FORCE. The show follows a new generation of adventuresome Defenders of the Universe as they battle the terror of a newly resurrected Lotor - - and these books have the adventures too wild for TV to handle!
Last week, we interviewed the excellent REDAKAI creators...
- Aubrey Sitterson *** Nate Lovett *** Zack Turner
- Terrance Griep *** Ray-Anthony Height *** Mike Raicht
Today, we're talking to the extraordinary VOLTRON FORCE artist, Jacob Chabot. The first volume, SHELTER FROM THE STORM, is currently available here, five more volumes are scheduled for release up through next February and we've been graciously provided with some exclusive, never-before-seen art from those volumes for this interview.
Before we get to all that, though, go on and check out this dynamic trailer for the books...
AV: What’s your role in this giant VOLTRON FORCE adventure?
JACOB CHABOT: I'm the illustrator for the first book "Shelter From the Storm," and I'm now working on the sixth volume.
AV: What were you doing before you assembled into the giant space mech, as it were?
JC: Before I started on Voltron, I worked on a bunch of different stuff. I drew X-BABIES and DEADPOOL TEAM-UP for Marvel. I'm a regular contributor to the SPONGEBOB comics. And whenever I get the chance, I'm plugging away on my own book THE MIGHTY SKULLBOY ARMY - - the second volume of which just came out through Dark Horse.
AV: What have you enjoyed the most about illustrating these adventures of young heroes?
JC: The best part about drawing the book has been going through everything Voltron and remembering all the cool parts about it I loved as a kid. I've been watching episodes of both the old and the new show to try to incorporate as much actual reference from them as I can.
Also, I love drawing monsters and these books have given me plenty of chances to do that.
AV: This iteration of VOLTRON obviously isn't the same as the one you grew up with. What are some of the most significant differences between the two?
JC: Well, going back to the old show after all this time is a little rough.
It still has plenty of charm, but hasn't aged that well. The episodes are a little slow at times and plenty repetitive. It's still fun in a nostalgic way and that theme music still gets me going. Compared to the new show, it still seems a lot darker. Despite whatever edits they made, the war seems more serious, the monsters are scarier, and the villains more threatening.
With the new show, I do like how they didn't try to reinvent the wheel and instead just progressed the plot of the show forward in time. It's obviously geared for a newer audience, though.
The new show is a lot faster paced and tries to mix things up more than the standard "Voltron forms blazing sword and kills the robeast in either a single slash or an x." They've added a lot of cool new elements like Lotor being king and the new forms of Voltron that would have blown my mind as a kid.
The older characters have been hipped up a bit and the main focus of the stories are the new, younger recruits. Personally, I'd rather they focused more on the old cast of characters rather than the new kids, but that's just me being old school. I'm glad Keith and the gang are still around.
AV: So which members did you particularly like drawing?
JC: As a kid, I always liked drawing Pidge. I think it was the fact that he was a little guy with glasses, which I really identified with back then. In VOLTRON FORCE, I think my favorite would have to be Daniel. He's a feisty little punk. Plus, he's got the coolest hair out of the new kids.
AV: Obviously, though this project’s being produced stateside, VIZ has a staggering catalog of imported manga. Are you an otaku? What are some of your favorite manga titles? Have they had any influence on your work?
JC: I'm probably more than a little bit of an otaku, but I'm no expert!
I'm a huge fan of DRAGONBALL and DRAGONBALL Z. That was the watercooler show back when I had a day job and the Toriyama comics have been a big influence on me since, especially in my SKULLBOY comics. I'm also big into ASTRO BOY and other Tezuka stuff, NARUTO, and GANTZ. I just started getting into BAKUMAN, which always gets me pumped to draw awesome comics!
AV: Your art style seems to share a lot more with what we'd see in animation than what we'd see in most comics. How would you break down your illustration process and your artistic philosophy?
JC: Oh man, my artistic philosophy? We're getting deep here!
With this VOLTRON FORCE project especially, a lot of the reference I'm working from are the shows themselves, so that might attribute things looking more like animation in this case. VIZ and the Voltron people haven't been too strict about keeping things "on model", so it's still filtered through my natural style.
I guess growing up and learning to draw, I started off trying to make things look like the Saturday morning cartoons I liked to watch, and that was stuff like HE-MAN, THUNDERCATS, TRANSFORMERS, GHOSTBUSTERS, and of course, VOLTRON. Then I started getting into comics and I remember reading something that said all that extra rendering and cross hatching was just nonsense that covered up bad drawings. A simple, clean drawing was actually harder to do, so that's what I strived for.
As a teenager, I gravitated more towards looking at artists like Art Adams, Mike Wieringo, Mike Allred, and Jeff Smith. All of which are way cartoonier than standard comic stuff.
As far as my process, it's pretty standard stuff. I either get a script or start from my own scribbles and break that down into tiny, quick thumbnails of the page layouts. Usually these are four or five to a sheet of regular paper. This is where I figure out all the angles and panel arrangements. Then I start on pencils.
Depending on the project and the detail of the thumbnails, sometimes I'll blow up the roughs and use a lightbox to pencil over them to save time. After that, I pretty much always ink my own stuff.
This was something else I remember reading back when I was a kid and it stuck with me that inking was a good skill to have. I use brushes for characters and other organic type stuff and pens for doing straight lines, small details and most of the backgrounds. Last, I scan the linework into Photoshop and clean it up a bit. If I'm coloring it, which I did for about half of the VOLTRON stuff before I ran into deadlines, I do that in Photoshop too.
AV: As an artist who's drawn (pun intended) from the variety of American comics, Saturday morning cartoons and, of course, manga, what’s your take on the pros and cons of sequential art in the East and in the West?
JC: Well, my views on Eastern comics are a lot less informed and it's a lot of just looking at things from the outside, so feel free to correct me on anything. The biggest thing is that I think manga has us beat on diversity and variety. Here, it's hard to be successful in the U.S. comic industry unless you're doing superhero stuff (and even then, mostly it's strictly Marvel or DC Superhero stuff.)
Sure, there's more variety being published now than ever, but the majority of the market, what gets the media buzz, and what seems to be the driving force is overwhelmingly superheroes. Manga covers a lot more ground, and even their superheroey stuff isn't all built on the same formula.
What's their big three now?
You also get purely author-driven works with manga. You won't get forty years of DRAGONBALL drawn by people other than Toriyama like you do with Spider-Man. Which could also be a downside. Here, you have lots of people adding cool stuff to a character's legacy. A lot of the best parts of X-Men came after Lee and Kirby's initial run. And there will always be new stories for new generations to read. Which unfortunately, does make it hard for newer concepts to make any sort of impact. It comes full circle.
Ultimately, it's all just comics though.
AV: VOLTRON has obviously influenced an entire genre of followers and imitators. If an army of colossal aliens were attacking and Voltron (unfathomably) found itself in need of some giant-sized assistance, which color-coded, composite mecha would you call on to be its tag partner?
JC: You mean aside from the obvious Vehicle Voltron or the somewhat obscure three-robot Voltron? If it had to be a composite robot, and not just a big single robot like the Iron Giant or Megas XLR, I would have to say Symbionic Titan or a Transformer like Devastator or Metroplex (do Headmasters count?). I don't know if those count as color coded though.
I am taking this question very seriously.
AV: Lastly, say these books, or even this interview, get some readers curious to check out more of your work. Where can they get the rest of the Jacob Chabot experience?
JC: VOLTRON FORCE volume 1 is out now and I'm currently hard at work on volume 6! I've also got two volumes of the MIGHTY SKULLBOY ARMY out. Ultimately, you can check out my rarely updated website www.beetlebugcomics.com for any important news, old comics and sketches, and weird Valentine's Day cards.