26. The Making of a Comic: 'MechaTon #1' by Wells Thompson and Fernando Pinto
A family tale with trash robots punching giant monsters!
Howdy Brave Being,
Welcome back to The Making of a Comic. I’ve just finished reading MechaTon #1 by Wells Thompson, Dalton Shannon, Fernando Pinto, Meaghan Casey, Mayday Trippe, and Nathan Kempf and let me tell you, what a fabulously fun story that has all the things I love in all ages books: action, adventure, humor, something to overcome, and companionship as salvation.
Successfully funded on Kickstarter earlier this summer, MechaTon #1 is described as Scott Pilgrim meets Pacific Rim and of course both those things speak to my nostalgia and secret love of mechs, that is giant robots. Joining me from team MechaTon are co-writer Wells Thompson and artist Fernando Pinto to tell you all about it and more!
Brittany Matter: Tell us a little bit more about MechaTon #1.
Wells Thompson: MechaTon is what happens when two kids raised on Scott Pilgrim and Gurren Lagann decide they want to make a comic. It's about a glove that turns whatever it punches into a mech and the two idiots that get their hands on it. It's fun, it's lighthearted, it's got cockroach kaiju. I don't know what more I would ever ask out of a comic.
Fernando Pinto: It’s an awesome book, and you'll be a better person for checking it out.
BM: What inspired this story?
WT: That's a question with a long and complicated answer. In terms of raw inspiration, it was one of those moments where you and your friends are hanging around and just spitballing. Dalton came up with the idea for the glove with his buddy Logan (who has a cameo in the book) and everything else followed. After a long time of working together, Dalton and I dug the idea up from the bin and saw the potential, both action wise and thematically. It's got a lot of plot points that are begging to happen and also natural themes of coming together, community, standing up for yourself, and improvising that I think we all need to hear right about now.
BM: Tell us more about your cast of characters.
WT: The main cast hasn't been fully assembled yet, but Derek and Leah are the two that we meet in this issue. Derek is...basically me if I never found writing. He's content with his low wage job and video games and he's not going to strive for much outside of that, but that doesn't stop him from just being a good dude.
Leah is an artist and the more driven of the two, but also more self absorbed and a touch arrogant. She loves her brother, but she also looks down on him just enough to cause some issues. Hex is Leah's partner and is really the only member of the squad that has their crap together. They're practical and level headed, but judgemental and, outside of their affection for Leah, somewhat cold. Also, they're a Cambodian enby witch, but that's neither here nor there. Finally, In'Za is an alien shapeshifter that created the MechaTon glove. She's who we see in the first four pages, and she's bubbly to the point of concern, overly optimistic, and blindly dedicated to revenge, but with a heart and winky face next to it.
FP: They're all really fun to draw. :)
BM: Since this story centers around siblings Derek and Leah, what was the impetus for designing this story around a brother and sister?
WT: The idea that the main characters would be siblings is so baked into MechaTon that I honestly don't know what the initial thought behind it was. I think we just wanted the dynamic of someone in the mech and someone calling the shots from outside, which later evolved into a backseat gamer dynamic. I did specifically choose to make Leah a woman because I don't like writing about people that look and act exactly like me. That's also why Leah and Derek are mixed, and Leah is queer, it's just more interesting to dive into characters that act differently and come from different backgrounds than you do.
BM: Fernando, tell us about your character design process.
FP: I tried to stick as much as I could to the guys' description, trying to imbue them with as much personality as I could. I try to keep things as expressive and energetic as I can, and the descriptions were really solid, so that sped up the process. As for the process itself, I did a couple passes and the guys gave comments on each. I think we
got to the final versions pretty quick, and then I was off to the races getting pages sketched and inked.
BM: How do y'all keep the characters consistent throughout the comic?
WT: I'm not gonna lie, I'm having an existential crisis over this question. I think it just comes down to intuition. I know what they want and what they're about, so in any given situation, it's easy to say what they would do or say. I've heard other writers say they hear the voice in their heads and, while I'm not ready to admit that level of psychosis, I'd be lying if I said there wasn't some truth to that. When you start moving these characters through their world, they become a small part of you, so on a gut level, you know how to keep them uniform in the story.
FP: As for the art part of that, I just keep the character sheet close by on my desk. Which sounds pretty basic, but it's a huge help as I try and get the pages done quickly. Otherwise I'm like "So what was Derek's hair like?" about 5 times a page.
BM: Who's your favorite character and why?
WT: They're all my favorite, but if I had to choose, it'd probably be Leah. She feels the most real to me and she naturally gets a lot of the best lines. It's easy to be clever when you're bouncing off an idiot. Her arc is also really exciting to think about; it's gonna be a long time before we get to dig into her plot, but it gets crazy and there’s nothing more fun as a writer than working in those little breadcrumbs that eventually lead to something cool!
FP: The mechas! I love me some big robots. Plus, with how the story and the gloves powers are set, I get to play around with it as the story goes. Really looking forward to that.
BM: How did y'all find your groove in working together and with such a big team?
WT: With a lot of effort. Dalton and I work together constantly on comic scripts, which didn't stop this one from being a major challenge. We are often at odds with how we want the story to flow, but that winds up creating a much better story than what either of us individually would be putting out. Working with Fernando is a dream, his art is so dynamic and it's exactly the kind of energy that MechaTon needs to work. This first issue was slow going, but now that we have an idea of the flow and how everyone works, we're getting pages made a lot faster. It helps that everyone's instincts are really good. It doesn't usually take more than a draft or two to get it right.
FP: For me it was pretty easy, the scripts are really specific and detailed, and the guys are really receptive to my input and ideas. So it's been pretty smooth sailing so far.
BM: When y'all brought in Meaghan Casey and MayDay Trippe on colors as well as Nathan Kempf on lettering, what did each of them bring to MechaTon that you weren't expecting?
WT: Meaghan is really good at creating high contrast and emphasizing exactly what needs to be seen on every panel. I really love the warmth and energy she brings to the characters and backgrounds. I remember the first thing Nathan did on the comic was the page where Diheadipod bursts onto the page and we saw not only what he did with the titles, which were dynamic and beautiful and exactly what we needed, but also what he did with the monster's screeching, which was this cool static-y effect that I'd never seen in a comic before, and I knew I had the right guy.
FP: It's been awesome. I wouldn't say I wasn't expecting how awesome it's been though. The dudes know what they're doing.
BM: What have y'all learned from each other that you'll take into your future work?
WT: Artists need at least a couple of reference photos and everyone needs the freedom to express themselves in the work. Structure is a fine line to walk and you need to know how much is stifling to a creator and how much is giving so much freedom it's overwhelming.
FP: More than learning, I hope we get to work together on more stuff in the future. It's been a blast!
BM: What are your top recommendations for other comic book creative teams on how to best work together while making comics?
WT: A comics partnership is like a romantic relationship: you need clear communication and a lot of mutual respect and trust. You also need to know when that trust is compromised and when it's time to find a new partner—trying to make something work that very clearly isn't working will only hurt both of you in the long run. We learned this the hard way as we worked our way through a combined 6 artists and colorists to find the right team for this book.
FP: Communication is key. Be honest. Listen. And have fun with it.
Get the Scoop on Wells and Fernando
BM: Where are you when inspiration strikes?
WT: AAAAHHHH! I have no real answer to this. Sometimes I'm on a walk, sometimes I'm at work, sometimes I'm dead asleep. If I had a consistent way to make inspiration happen, I would do that thing every day. I think most often it comes from interesting conversations I have with either Dalton or my wife; a story I wrote for Kat Calamia's bisexual anthology called "Gay Panic" came pretty directly from my wife's experience in college as a bisexual woman and I've written two whole graphic novel scripts based on ideas Dalton and I fleshed out on road trips to comic conventions. That's not a hard rule, I've also written a few comics based on single images in my head or just a cool scene that I thought should happen in a certain genre. Inspiration is squidgy and if you're selling it in a bottle, holy crap will I buy some.
FP: Usually looking at a comic or any cool art, really. Then I just have to get drawing. It's why I still haven't finished Arcane. I see that and it makes me want to draw! So look at cool stuff, guys! And when things just aren't flowing, taking a little bit of time off, going for a walk, going to get a coffee, talking to cool people, or taking a nap, and then getting back to it.
BM: How do y'all practice self-care while juggling life and making comics?
WT: I go on lots of walks in my neighborhood, garden during the spring and summer, and take care of my five cats and whatever fosters are in my bathroom at any given point (yes, I know that's a lot of cats, die mad). I also take one day a week where I do nothing comics or work related and, during the week, once the clock hits 7, I stop working and be with my wife and play video games or watch TV. Boundaries are important and it's taken me too many instances of burnout to figure that out.
FP: Therapy is the main one. Once a week. Been doing it for 2 years now and I can't recommend it enough if you're able to do it (Which sadly is not everyone's case). If you stick with it it can do wonders for you. And going to the gym helps a lot as well.
BM: What are you each working on lately?
WT: I have my hands in a lot of cookie jars right now. I just finished editing the MechaTon #3 script, I've written a couple of short scripts for upcoming anthologies (one a seafaring horror story, the other a magical realist slice of life thing exploring bi-erasure), and I have a script I'm working on that's something like Rime of the Ancient Mariner meets the Titanomachy. Most directly, we're working on a couple of new Kickstarters, one we'll be unveiling sometime early next year and the other the follow up to MechaTon #2. That one actually has a pre-launch page already and launches January 13th!
FP: Preparing for Mechaton 2, and inking the second volume of the graphic
novel "Rise of the Kung Fu Dragon master", which is written by Chris
Mancini and was financed through Kickstarter earlier this year..
You can also check out my webcomic Gunpunch which comes out every
Monday and Wednesday on my website and social media.
BM: How can folks get a hold of MechaTon #1 and what's next for the series?
WT: The most direct way to get MechaTon right now is through my gumroad store, but people will also have the opportunity to grab it on the next Kickstarter (link in the answer above). If you're in the Nashville area, you can pick up a copy in a bunch of different comic shops, and if you should so happen to catch us at a convention, we'll be selling it there as well, but online is definitely the most reliable way to get your hands on a copy. We have a lot in store for MechaTon, including up to 3 issues next year. If their campaigns go well, I can quit my job and this and other comics really consistently, which would truly be a dream come true.
BM: Amazing, so many options to get this fantastic first issue. I myself am looking forward to see what Derek and Leah get up to in MechaTon #2!
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