Member # 2776
Speakeasy Comics and writer, artists and visionary Frank Espinosa bring you a stunning debut series this August - Rocketo!
Journey to the Hidden Sea is a multi-issue graphic series by artist Frank Espinosa that follows the life and adventures of Rocketo Garrison, world-famous explorer and mapmaker. Set 2,000 years into a mythical future, the world as we know it has been destroyed in a catastrophe and its magnetic field distorted. The only way for mankind to now navigate through the broken land masses is by the unique abilities of the Mappers, a genetically engineered group of men and women who act as human compasses.
Issue #0 introduces Rocketo Garrison as a young boy on the Island of Kova where he lives with his mother and father, a maker of the specialized equipment the explorers use and a renown Mapper himself. One day as Rocketo reads about the fabled land of Ultamo and the role it played in the world's destruction, the young boy is profoundly changed and his lifelong adventure as a Mapper begins. The following issues of Book One follow Rocketo as he grows to manhood, his terrible experiences in the Solarium Wars and his great adventure into the forbidden Hidden Sea.
Created, written and illustrated by Frank Espinosa, Rocketo #0 also features "lyrics" by Marie Taylor. Espinosa is a world-class animator having redesigned the complete Looney Tunes characters in 1992 making them one of the top grossing properties of all time; fashioned a series of Looney Tunes US Postage Stamps and designed the Baby Looney Tunes characters, among other achievements.
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Member # 2776
TALKING ROCKETO WITH FRANK ESPINOSA
by Chris Arrant
You've seen his work around. From television to magazines, most of you have even got his artwork delivered to your door. But do you know him?
Frank Espinosa is a world-class animator with many credits under his name. From re-designing the complete Looney Tunes characters in 1992, to creating series of Looney Tunes US Postage stamps. If that weren't enough, he also designed the Baby Looney Tunes characters. Stepping away from Warner Brothers and his animation work, Espinosa has set his sights on the genre of comics with Rocketo from Speakeasy Comics.
Created, written and illustrated by Espinosa, Rocketo tells the story of Rocketo Garrison, a world-famous explorer and mapmaker in a world far different from our own. Set 2000 years in a mythical future, Rocketo features Garrison's exploits through his career exploring the uncharted world that was once Earth as we know it. His art style is one part Yves Chaland and one part Flash Gordon, without losing any originality in his vital work.
Newsarama had the opportunity to speak with the cartoonist from his California home to find out what going on inside Rocketo and inside himself.
Newsarama: The main character's name is Rocketo Garrison. Issue #1 starts at his small beginning as a young boy. Can you tell us what he's like?
Frank Espinosa: Before his compass lights, Rocketo is much like any other young boy, except that he has this incredible genetic gift that makes his natural sense of curiosity ten fold.. So he reads tons of books on old myths and explorers, he asks tons of questions, and loves to explore the small Island where he is born.
We get to see how he spends his time with his parents, and how he gets to learn certain values that will help him later on in his Journeys. Because the Rocketo series is a long saga of this explorer's life, I wanted to start with his youth and work my way to Rocketo as an older man. The last journey, called Rocketo: Journey to ULTAMO takes place when Rocketo is in his late fifties, maybe even a bit older. So I wanted the audience to understand this character from start to finish. As the stories progress there will be more flashbacks to his youth and his friends on the island where he grew up. Right now it's broad strokes to get him moving and ready for Journey to the Hidden Sea.
NRAMA: Emerging from the wreckage of civilization are a group of genetically engineered men and women called 'Mappers'. Can you tell us more about them, and how they relate to society?
FE:The Mappers is the common name for a group of genetically engineered men, who are really the only way to move around in this world when it comes to long term exploration. They are tuned into the New Earth in ways that seem almost mystical. They can read the waves of the ocean, look at clouds and read the air patterns of far off mountain ranges, and have an incredible library of the stars stored into their DNA. Every blade of grass tells them a story. Since this world has no magnetic field, compasses are useless. They just spin crazy in all directions. The Mappers always know where they are at all times, they are firmly grounded. They also make these maps that really act as a store house of information. Only other Mappers can activate these maps, using a special genetic compass-like tattoo that is part of their bodies. This compass also can act like a beacon to light the way for others. And gives them other powers as well. The maps, known as holographic projection maps, also store a sort of genetic memory so to speak; a Mapper can pass down his thoughts, what he has seen, heard, or experience into the maps sort of like a quick download of information. Other Mappers can access this and know the full story. That way the information is passed on. We shall see later how the maps are actually made, but that is much later in the story line of the Journey to the Hidden Sea.
As far as they relate to society… well the Mappers have a code that makes them neutral to any wars, or political party they are always neutral. Well not always.
They are also not the only genetic men around… there are earthmen who look like giant "Easter Island" statues come to life… who communicate with the ground. They are the doctors of this world, they heal everything with plants they grow from their own bodies. Then there are the Birdmen who fly around raiding ships off the coast of what used to be South Africa... Tigermen roam the desert plains... and lots more.
NRAMA: Rocketo is set 2000 years in the future, where we find the world horribly misshapen by a catastrophe and a distortion of the globe's magnetic fields. Can you tell us what the world's like in Rocketo?
FE: Well the world has been shattered; continents have been broken into scattered pieces, and mankind has to re-explore the Earth. What was America is now know as St.Giles, and it has fragmented itself into small individual countries. Lots of open land, with giant grass ten feet high in some places; swamps, rivers everywhere, and some small towns powered by giant windmills, it's actually quite peaceful. Sort of like the Wild West before the taming of it. South America is really unexplored and Rocketo will go there on his next Journey. Africa is know as Venedicto and is sort of at the stage of exploration it was during the 1800's of our time… lots of open spaces with strange giant men walking around... plus other surprises.
NRAMA: Rocketo also features lyrics by Marie Taylor. Can you tell us about Marie Taylor, and how your collaboration with her came to be?
FE: Marie is a godsend, we met when I was at Warner Bros. Consumer Products. I was the art director there and I was working on a book called the Character Design Manual, which amazingly enough will be out in the stores at some point soon. Anyway, I hired Marie at the time to sort my jumbled brain into some cohesive sense. And she did it so well that after she finished the manual, I told her about this crazy world I was creating. She jumped right in. By the way she really is the co-writer; she wanted the "lyrics by" credit because she was taking my words and making them more lyrical... an act worthy of Hercules. I will change the credits in the future issues to reflect that. Its nice to pick up the phone (she lives in Sacramento.) and be able to say, 'the Commonwealth has just attacked the Royalist in Zagorah' and she knows exactly what I mean... even though I have no clue. She is a mind reader and a muse.
NRAMA: How did Rocketo land at Speakeasy Comics, and how many issues do you have planned?
FE: Two names: Alex Ross and Darwyn Cooke. I showed my stuff to Alex and he liked it. My confidence in it was kind of low, but he took me to see Adam Fortier [President of Speakeasy Comics] during a recent Convention in Long Beach, and Alex did a great pitch for me. Darwyn Cooke was also present, and I later learned he really said some nice things about the book. So Rocketo really has two great godfathers… and I will always remember that.
Add to that Adam, who is the publisher I been looking for all my life. Straight to the point, and honest... what a combination! The man makes a decision and goes with it. That is amazing coming from the corporate background I came from. And Chris Stone was also present during the Alex Ross pitch and, Chris gave it his thumbs up. Chris is an amazing guy!
The Rocketo books are really one long story of a explorer's life on this new world called Lucerne. The books are Rocketo: Journey to the Hidden Sea, Rocketo: Journey to the New World, Rocketo: Journey to the Broken Moon, and Rocketo: Journey to Ultamo. Adam and I see them as 12 books each and then that’s it -- finished. Kind of like the Tin Tin books.
But maybe the books will be shorter in length...instead of 12 maybe 10, that should save some life in me.. I plotted out the first three Journeys. The last book, is the darkest part of the stories and we see what happens to Rocketo in the end.
NRAMA: How did your ideas that became Rocketo form?
Everything I liked as a kid.. Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon... Captain Easy by Roy Crane, Frank Robbin's Johnny Hazard, Peanuts... the list goes on and on...
FE: I wanted people to get to know the character of Rocketo a little better than some other comic book space characters we seen. I wanted to show his life during many stages, through turmoils, happiness, low points and high. He also makes huge mistakes that get him into lots of trouble later on. But he manages to find the light in all of it.
At first all these places like Venedicto, St.Giles, and Lucerne, where different planets that Rocketo would travel too. But I felt that one has been done to death, and believe it or not I think about this stuff quite a bit and asked myself questions like, well, the gravity is different, and the atmosphere and so on, and that was way to much. So I made it simpler by having it all take place on one world: Earth. All I had to do now was shatter it to pieces. So that exploring it would be fun again; re-discovering our world, with all its cultures.
NRAMA: A majority of your career has been in animation. Have you done any previous work in comic books?
FE: Actually a majority of my career started was in designing all sorts of products that eventually will wind up in giant landfills. Actually I am very happy with some of the work I did. I did the Bugs Bunny stamp and all the rest of that series, designed the Baby Looney Tunes way before they were on television, when they were just for product.
I wrote the previously mentioned character manual, and much more. I was in charge of an amazing crew who called themselves Murderer's Row… David Williams who has a comic coming out soon, with Sandi Collora. There was Jerome Moore, Chickako Mori, many more, that was a great base of super talent. Things have changed now. Plus I got to meet Masanori Hase who is an amazing designer and a great comic artist in his own right; Masanori does all the production for the Rocketo book. And I would be lost without his knowledge of computers. In the early days I worked in small animation houses in New York. Worked at Disney Florida for a bit. And Then Disney in New York.
Meanwhile I was animating this short little experimental films that were hard to put together, because we did not have Flash animation in those days. I would love to try my hand at animation again. Years ago, and I mean 'years ago' I had a small press comic with a partner, Juan Ortiz, called Rescue Comics.
There is a sort of pre-Rocketo in it called 'Major Rocket'; but the character was really a goof on old space opera stuff. Didn't have much of a goal except to chase villains and beat them up…but I thought he had promise, so when I wanted to get back into comics I took the mothballs away from Major Rocket and reinvented the character. By the way, comics and animation have always been my first love. They are really part of the same ideal both are an art form. Great mediums for telling stories.
NRAMA: Rocketo #0 premiered recently at San Diego Comic-Con. How was the reception from the fans, and how was your experience at the convention?
FE: This was my first convention, on the other side of the table so to speak, and I had a ball. I met all the great talent at Speakeasy, and got to meet all the artists and writers - Ethen Beaver, Charles Satterlee, Dawn Brown, and all the others who made my stay there a great experience. Then I got to meet Samuel Hiti whose work I love.
So all in all it was a great experience, plus talking to the fans that brought Issue #0 was wonderful, as I got to know them a little more. I hope they stick around they will have lots of fun.
NRAMA: Coming from the world of animation, is the creation of comics, especially your own creations, make it more personal and engaging for you?
FE: You bet. This is my baby right now, and I love exploring this world. I can tell this story at the pace I need to, slow down when I need to and not have to answer to focus groups for approval on character colors. Not to many places around in animation where one can be really creative. But there is one little studio in San Francisco that has caught my eye… called Ghostbot. Those guys are amazing! They seem to be having a lot of fun at what they are doing and treating it like the art form that it is. I would love to work with them on animating some Rocketo stuff, or anything else they have. Rocketo really is a sort of personal journey also, A mapper who has lost his way… getting back to his roots. Doing what he loves to do, regardless. I make comics… and tell stories. Everything else just pays my cable bill.
Rocketo pays my spirit.
Member # 2776
Comic fans come in many different types. There are those who primarily check out the most recent super hero fare, those that gravitate towards more independent styled product, while still others prefer the storytelling styles of the Golden and Silver Age masters. For Cuban born comic creator Frank Espinosa, he's hoping to capture a bit of all three audiences with his new Speakeasy series "Rocketo," in stores today.
As you'll soon see from the preview pages included with this interview, "Rocketo" doesn't look or sound like your typical comic published today. It really does share something with the three different types of comic fare described above. With "Rocketo," Espinosa is hoping to bring back the swashbuckling adventure stories of yesteryear, but with a modern flavor.
Espinosa told CBR News that "Rocketo" takes place on Earth 2000 years after a major cataclysm has split the continents of the Earth into grat pieces, ultimately creating a brand new world called Lucerne. "The cataclysm also destroyed the magnetic field of the earth, which makes it impossible to navigate long distances because compasses are now useless," Espinosa explained to CBR News. "The men that were left, the few, they started to play around with genetics. They wanted to repopulate the planet, so they started to come up with bizarre combinations of humans. Some of them were bird men, some were dog men, some were tiger men, etc. The last combination that they came up with was what they called the Mappers. They're like human compasses. They know where they are on that planet at all times. They can look at a cloud and can see the movement in the cloud and know there's a landmass up ahead, etc. Very mystical, kind of Zen like guys."
"Rocketo" #3 Rough sketches by Espinosa.
On the arm of the Mappers can be found what looks like a tattoo, but it's actually something far more powerful. It's a lens that's grown into their flesh and moves around, acting like a compass. "The Mappers are the explorers of this world and when man started to come out of this cataclysm they needed to explore, so they designed these guys to go out and lead the exploration ships, but also designed them so that they could adapt to any environment," explained Espinosa. "They're genetic structure would actually change. If they were to jump into the ocean, their genetic structure would alter and they'd grow gills, or if you threw them into the bottom of a volcano they'd turn into blue-steeled men. They're the ultimate explorers."
The series takes place hundreds of years after the Mappers were designed and by this time they've forgotten many of the gifts they were given by the original creator so our star, Rocketo, is busy rediscovering those powers. "The 'Journey to the Hidden Sea' is really Rocketo's story about how he rediscovers what the original Mappers were like and what their powers were like. In true super hero tradition, he becomes the one to carry on the tradition of the line and, at the end, he's able to do all the things the original guys could do. That's the basic setting, but the book is really about just one guy, Rocketo, and how he grows up, the exploration and journeys he goes on, how he makes mistakes in life, how he does good and what happens to him in the end."
As a series, "Rocketo" is planned to last 48 issues, with each twelve-issue series making up one book. There are four books total, which are:
Book 1 - "Journey to the Hidden Sea"
Book 2 - "Journey to the New World"
Book 3 - "Journey to the Broken Moon"
Book 4 - "Journey to Ultamo"
"I wanted to do two stories where Rocketo discovered the world, then I wanted to play around with Rocketo in space. Kind of like Jules Verne did with his books," said Espinosa. "He spent a lot of time exploring Earth, but then he goes and explores space. The moon has been shattered too and has been floating around in tiny little pieces. Visually, I thought that would be a lot of fun to explore."
Espinosa said that the story of famed American test pilot Chuck Yeager was a huge influence on "Rocketo." "The third book, 'Journey to the Broken Moon,' is a wink from me to one of my favorite films, 'The Right Stuff,' since in this world Rocketo will be the first man in outer space, much like Yeager was really the first astronaut."
Espinosa explained that there's a possibility of some short stories to bridge one book to another, should he find a story compelling enough to tell, but said that once the series is finished there really won't be much more to say. "I might want to revisit the world again, but not with Rocketo," said Espinosa. "I think that world is fascinating in itself with all these cultures that have sprouted up. That might be kind of fun to explore further."
The art style employed by Espinosa for this series is rather unique to comics. It's as though his background in commercial illustration (amongst which saw Espionza redesign the Looney Tunes characters for Warner Bros. in 1992 & 2002) has been squished together with influences from French artists and American cartoonists he grew up admiring. "The best description of my art was given to me by a fellow artist named Ethan Beavers who does 'Mutation' for Speakeasy," said Espinosa. "He's a wonderful artist, I have to note that. He wrote a really nice thing about 'Rocketo' #0 and called it 'Jazz for the eyes.' I thought that was perfect. In a way it is because it's all very free form. I do very light pencils, then I just let my ink lay. Because I come from an animation background, I try to put down the movement and energy. For instance, I try to get the feeling of the hand rather than just drawing a hand. It's really more about movement than it is actual drawing. I keep a lot out of my drawings. I try to keep it simple." You might think by keeping things simple that would mean the work is easier. You'd be wrong. "It turns out that thinking of what not to put in when I'm composing a page takes up just as much time had I included everything! All art is communication and when you're trying to communicate a particular expression or gesture, it takes time."
The coloring in "Rocketo" is different than is traditionally seen in the American comics market and Espinosa thinks that's probably the Latin in him coming through. "The colors just kind of happened with 'Rocketo,'" said Espinosa. "I look at the European stuff a lot. I love that stuff. I love how they can tell a very serious story with very funny illustrations. I like that. I wanted the coloring to be as loose as my line work. I experimented a lot and found that when I was doing heavy coloring, it stiffened up my drawings.
Character studies and panel art.
I really wanted to keep that almost as a first impression. I struggled with it a lot, doing tons of tests with Rocketo, changing the color of his pants and shirts and changing the way I colored his pants, so I decided one day to relax about it and the page began to talk to me. It just kind of grew organically."
Espinosa hopes that audiences see "Rocketo" as a return to the adventure serials of the early 20th Century. "'Flash Gordon' and 'Buck Rogers' were big influences with that whole adventure, larger than life thing. Originally, this was supposed to take place in space and Rocketo was a space guy who would visit a planet called Lucerne, then he'd go to another planet. He'd visit the tiger men on one planet, the birdmen on another, etc… it was very Flash Gordon. Then I said to myself, 'That's been done already!' So, I decided to change things up a bit. Which is how we come to the world that Rocketo inhabits now. I decided to place it on Earth and all those planets I created previously became countries and continents and places on Earth. That was much more fun for me because one the origins of this idea sprang from the fact we've been around as a civilization for thousands of years and we're still exploring this world. These people are just starting to explore their world and they have plenty to check out. Explorers have always been fascinating because they don't have an agenda like they're going to defeat evil.
"'Rocketo' really does go back to those early days of adventure stories," continued Espinosa. "I always describe this as 'Captain Easy' meets 'Flash Gordon' which meets 'Peanuts' which meets 'Popeye.' In fact, I've always thought Popeye was one of the greatest adventure strips. The early 'Popeye's.' They're funny and the story telling was incredible. There's a lot of that in 'Rocketo.' I just wanted to bring back all that old style adventure in a way that still had a human face to it.
"Hidden Sea" Concept Art
I wanted to write a story where you do get to meet Rocketo when he's young and as you go through each book he gets older, so by the end of the last book he's an older man."
Originally, Espinosa had intended "Rocketo" to be a bi-monthly book clocking in at 64 pages each. Then he met with Speakeasy chief Adam Fortier who suggested he split the issues up and make it a monthly book, which works better in the direct market. Epsinoza got hooked up with Speakeasy through his friend Alex Ross. "Alex is a good friend of mine and he used to come by the Warner Bros. studios and would give little lectures," said Espinosa. "So, I spoke with Alex over dinner when he was down here for the [Wizard World] Long Beach convention and he asked me to bring some of my work with me. He really liked it and saw right through it. He said come to the con and I'll introduce you to some people I know. I went and, sure enough, he introduced me to Adam. Darwyn Cooke was there and I found out later Darwyn really liked what I was showing Adam and really did a lot of championing for me. So, I had two big champions on my side. Two days later Adam called me up and asked for a synopsis. Two days after that he told me he wanted to pick this up. I was floored because I had been shopping it around for about a year."