Titanium Rain: Anxiety for Postmodern Warfare - Part 2

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One of the books Archaia Comics is resuming this summer is Titanium Rain, by the husband and wife duo of Josh Finney and Kat Rocha. Seems like doing a futuristic book on cyborg fighter pilots is the magic recipe for a solid marriage: these two don’t stop talking – which is why we’re splitting this interview up into two parts! But hey, it’s a great read filled with fun anecdotes, so let’s dive into it right away…

Continued from Part One

BROKEN FRONTIER: Titanium Rain has a very distinct visual look and feel. Why did you go for a super-polished 3D style, and how does it fit the tone of the book?

JOSH FINNEY: Well, from day one, I wanted the book to look like nothing else on the shelf.  As with anything Kat and I do, I wanted our style to be innovative, unique, and immediately recognizable as ours.  The choice to use 3D elements was an easy one.  I've long been an avid 3D modeller and a number of the things seen in Titanium Rain were vehicles and hardware that I'd built long before the book was even in the idea stage.  And, of course, once Titanium Rain was up and running, it was an excuse to build an entire world of futuristic military hardware.  C'mon... how cool is that?

As for why we chose a super-polished look, it was important to us that the book maintained a certain level of realism.  For a time, we seriously did consider doing Titanium Rain in more of a high-end mange style, but it kept conflicting with the story.  This is a story set in the middle of a global war, and it's set in the VERY near future.  It needed to look gritty.  The technology needed to look just one step beyond now.  And the violence had to look brutally ugly.  That was one thing the manga style absolutely couldn't convey.  No matter how good it looked, that slick anime style acted something like a filter because everything looked too stylized, took the viewer out of the horror of the moment.

KAT ROCHA: I think sometimes people forget that the artwork in comics does more than just illustrate the story.  Lately you increasingly have comics where the artwork is more of a storyboard for the script of the book.  They forget that the art itself is a storytelling tool and your audience's reaction to what you are trying to convey can be altered depending on how the art and layout are done.

For me, realism is what got me into art and wanting to be an artist. When I was in Junior High I would stare at the Tim Bradstreet covers of my Masquerade Clan books (tells you how much of a geek I am) and wished I could draw like that.  Some of the black and white drawings in the AD&D handbook furthered that drive.  I wanted to know how the artist was able to convey so much with just a few strokes of his pen.  It looked so real and effortless; I wanted to do that too.

BF: Is the entire art process done on the computer?

Josh: Yes.  We call it digital realism.  It's a mix of photo-referenced digital painting, wacom pencils, collage effects, and 3D modelling.  The process is rather complex.  There's a lot of collaboration involved.  Everything starts with me doing a rough panel layout, then the initial brush work for an image.  Then Kat will come in and add her pencils and shading.  Then I take the image, do the backgrounds, add any 3D elements that are required, and do one last pass with the digital brush.  Kat and I will bounce panels back and forth between each other anywhere from two to three times per. 

BF: Archaia also has a bit of a tradition of re-releasing material, they did it over a year ago with The Devil’s Panties, and continue to release European material on the US market. Any chance of the company republishing your first book, Utopiates?

Josh: There has been talk of this happening.  In fact, when Kat and I were first approached by Archaia, Utopiates was the project they wanted.  The plan was to put the first four issues to trade with re-mastered art and another twenty pages of story.  Then we would finish the tale with a second mini-series.  This could still eventually happen.
BF: Was it easier getting Titanium Rain written and drawn after already having Utopiates under your belt?

Josh: Absolutely.  From day one I knew Utopiates was going to be a learning experience.  It was our first book and our first experience with a publisher, so a period of trial and error was a given.  As artists, Kat and I really got to master our work flow and develop the cooperative process we now use to create our books.  Our style tightened, our turn-around time improved, and I learned just how much coffee I could ingest before hallucinations set in due to extreme sleep-deprivation. It’s always good to know your limits.

In addition, as a writer, taking four scripts and translating them into complete books did wonders for how I work, and how I realize a narrative.  Anyone who enters comics from a fiction background tends to over-write, and I certainly did.  Utopiates taught me a lot about how to construct an effective scene.  I've since developed a much stronger sense of when words are not needed and how to let the pictures tell the story.

Kat: I guess every creator has the same story. That first book is always a learning experience.

BF: And what about the publishing side? How invaluable is it to have a self-published book along with you to show what you’re made of?

Josh: Actually, we've never self-published.  It may be a possibility in the future if we hit a roadblock in terms of creative control, but so far we've always worked with an established publisher.

Kat: I suppose each has its pros and cons. Though we have never self published, we have many friends who do. You keep more of the profits and you have total creative control.  The downside is now you're not just responsible for producing a quality book, but also managing all the things a publisher does -- marketing, printing, shipping, conventions.  Josh's coffee addiction aside, everyone needs to sleep at some point.

BF: Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner and Michael Oeming & Taki Soma are a few examples, but generally, there aren’t that many people out there who create comics as a couple. What are the benefits of such a unique collaborative process?

Josh: Free back rubs?

Kat: Yeah...the back rubs are nice.  Also having a work partner who shares your taste in music, podcasts, and movies is a perk.  Unless Josh is writing, we run episodes of Mystery Science Theatre in the background while working.  I can't think of many work environments where that'd be okay.  And then, of course, there is the sneaking up on me in my sleep thing. [Laughs]

BF: You’ve noted that the book has a strong sci-fi flair, with an eye for biotech and robotics. Did you read too many issues of Wired magazine, or is a possibly dystopian future something that keeps you up at night? Are we headed towards a future where man and machine merge – literally?

Josh: Ah...well see, now we're getting to one of the core themes of Titanium Rain -- human evolution, and how that evolution is inextricably tied to technology.  For all the hype we're getting these days about the "dangers of technology" or the "impending robot apocalypse," I find most of this speculation pretty silly.  I realize that "the robots are coming for you" articles are en vogue right now amongst websites like Wired and Gizmodo, but for all their pseudo-intellectual hyperbole, at the end of the day I get the sense these coffee-house academics are just playing on people's fears.  But then again, there's no shortage of that, now is there? 

And I suppose the assumption that intelligent machines would be hostile says more about the person making that assumption, rather than the reality of the situation.  The fact of the matter is, machines don't feel hate or love.  There is no embedded app for fear or conquest.  These are human drives, and in most cases, a chemical reaction that occurs in the brain.  Machines are tools.  They don't make moral judgements.  And even if they did, their decisions would be based on data, not emotion.  So really, this brings it all back to us.  Humanity.  Fear of technology is fear of ourselves.  Fear of what we are capable of.  And ultimately, that fear has EVERYTHING to do with the responsibility these things represent. 

In recent years, Luddite attitudes have seen a resurgence globally.  Evangelicals wanting to wipe evolution from the public schools, or ban stem-cell research.  Environmentalists who want to regulate the world back to a 17th century plantation state.  Radical Islamists who want to bomb the world back to a 16th century religious state.  And there's the endless parade of fear-mongers who make a career out of scaring the hell out of us with so-called "pop-science docu-tainment." 

But really, what do these views represent?  Why the war on knowledge?  Why the desire to quash innovation?  Because these are people who either fear or don't want the responsibility that these innovations bring.  They ascribe to dogmas that believe humanity should remain in the dark, should remain children... as if dodging hard choices has ever lead to anything good.

It's a known fact now that our ancestors were primitive tool users.  That the technology early man was so dependent on preceded him.  And there is a lot of evidence to suggest Homo Sapiens would have never come to be if not for that technology.  So in essence, a man/machine symbiosis is our natural state.  This is how we've always been.  This is what we are.  So are we going to step up like adults and own the situation and handle things responsibly?  Or huddle like scared children in the shadows of fear and ignorance?

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