INTERVIEW: Sean Wang discusses “Runners” and “The Tick.”

Republibot 3.0
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With us today is Sean Wang, artist, writer, freelance illustrator, and the creator of “Runners,” a really interesting new Science Fiction comic.  Sean, thanks for being with us today.
Thank you, Republibot! Glad to be here. And greetings, sci-fi fans!!

We’re really happy to have you! You’ve been in the professional comics industry for quite a while now, and I’d like to talk about some of your own personal history in the field, but first I have to say that you’ve got an instantly recognizable style that I’ve loved pretty much since the moment I first saw it. There’s a kind of economy to it, it’s all very layered and complex, but its never over-ornamented or cluttered. It’s like you’ve got an instinct for just the right balance between lines and the information they convey. What kind of influences helped you develop it? How much of it is just innately you, and how much of it is stuff you’ve picked up from other illustrators and artists?
As you know, I got my start in comics working on THE TICK comics back in the late 1990’s. I had a somewhat clean and cartoony look at that point, but it definitely took me a while to get there. Oddly enough, like every other aspiring artist in the mid-90’s, I started out as a Jim Lee/Todd McFarlane clone. But eventually, I realized that I just wasn’t very good at all that hatching and cross-hatching! I started gravitating to more clean-line art styles, which I think suits my storytelling better anyway. And while I wanted to simplify the linework itself, I never wanted to sacrifice detail, which I still like to get into with starship details, alien cityscapes, and other backgrounds in my sci-fi series RUNNERS.
As for artists I like, there’s Adam Hughes, Mike Mignola, Ryan Ottley (Invincible), Jeff Smith (Bone), David Petersen (MouseGuard), Eric Powell (The Goon), Philippe Buchet (Wake), and artists like Frank Cho, Scottie Young, Steve McNiven, Amanda Conner, Humberto Ramos, Masamune Shirow, and a smattering of European and manga artists as well.

So you’re working on “Runners,” now, which is your own original creation, a Science Fiction comic series. Forgive my ignorance, but I only discovered it a little while ago, and I naturally thought it was new. You’ve actually been working on this for quite some time, though, right? Tell us a little bit about how it all developed.
I came up with the concept way back in 1994-95. At the time, there weren’t any cool space adventure comics out there that I wanted to read, so I decided to do my own. I was living in Boston at the time, so I approached the local publisher New England Comics with the fully-scripted first series, RUNNERS: BAD GOODS. They weren’t looking to start any new titles, but they really liked my writing and my artwork, so they offered me work on their line of TICK comics.
I worked on THE TICK for a few years, most notable on the 6-issue TICK AND ARTHUR series, in which the Tick and Arthur join a team of equally-dysfunctional superheroes. But by 2000, I was really itching to get RUNNERS going, so I stopped doing regular work on THE TICK, although I’ve continued to do covers for them over the years.
RUNNERS made it’s debut as a short story in the Small Press Expo’s 2000 Anthology, and the first full issue of the series came out in 2002. The entire 5-issue first story arc came out between 2002-2005, with the graphic novel collection also coming out in 2005. Since then, it’s been on a slight hiatus while I’ve done some other comic projects (like the Image Comics series MELTDOWN), but I am now fully back onto RUNNERS. I’m halfway through the new story arc (in full color!), and everything is being posted for FREE as a daily webcomic at!

I have to say, It’s really good stuff. I read all the online stuff in one sitting, and was really kinda’ clamoring for more once I was done.  Where did the basic idea come from?
The basic concept is actually very similar to Firefly/Serenity in that it’s about a group of smugglers who are trying to complete runs while overcoming various obstacles along the way, including their own consciences and moral dilemmas. But Firefly was never an influence because I actually came up with the premise for RUNNERS back in 1994-95, which I think even pre-dated the Buffy television series! Since then, it’s become an easy way to describe my series to new people, but I do always worry that people will think I lifted the idea from Firefly. You can imagine my horror when the pilot for that show aired and it was about a group of smugglers in space who find a girl in a container named River, especially when my first issue is about a group of smugglers in space who find a girl in a container named Sky. Ugh. Coincidentally, both came out in the same month of 2002.
I know Wheedon is always pretty open about his influences, but I’m sure you must have been wondering if he got an early copy of Runners at that point.

For actual influences, I’ve always been a huge Star Wars and Lord of the Rings fan growing up, so I created RUNNERS as a vehicle to tell my own sci-fi epic war story. I especially loved the underworld elements of Star Wars, like the smuggler aspect (Han Solo), bounty hunters, and alien mob bosses (Jabba), as well as movies like The Godfather, Midnight Run, and The Unforgiven, so I wanted to base my series on characters that dwell and thrive in the seedy criminal underworld of the universe, while not being straight-up “bad guys” themselves. And they’re almost all aliens, which I deliberately wanted to do to make the series more visually interesting than your typical humans-in-space series.

The comics industry in the US is overwhelmingly dominated by Superheroes, and one of the things I loved about Runners was that it’s a straight-ahead Science Fiction adventure. There’s no superheroes, there’s no hokey silver-age restraint to the way the people act. I also really liked the idea that most of the principle characters seem like basically likeable folks, but they’re a bit on the morally ambiguous side. Was the concept of a non-super-heroic comic hard to get across, given the total medium domination the supers have?
Interestingly, a couple of the characters did start out as superhero concepts in my sketchbook, back when I was more into that sort of thing. The human male character, Bocce, for instance, has a weird energy appendage in place of one of this arms, and he was originally doodled as a superhero. I think I even called him Armory, of all things. Ack. Anyway, I liked the visual concept a lot, so when I created RUNNERS, I appropriated the character but attributed the arm to sci-fi technology. I think that can work with a number of characters, where “super-powers” in a sci-fi world can be attributed to alien abilities or technology.
That being said, RUNNERS isn’t really about super-powers, so I try to keep that to a minimum: just enough to make some of the characters more unique and interesting physically, but not enough to overwhelm the story itself.
The audience has been a bit tough to find though, to answer your question. I find a lot of comic readers only like super-hero fare and aren’t interested in sci-fi stories. This is mind-boggling to me since I’m pretty sure 99% of those people are big Star Wars fans, so you‘d think they’d be open to decent space adventure stories. Conversely, I’ve come across a lot of hard-core sci-fi fans who love their sci-fi in TV and movie format and are uninterested in getting their entertainment in comic format, which is equally frustrating. I remember being at one convention where three people passed by my booth dressed up in Firefly costumes. Obvious fans of the show. At the time, RUNNERS had been getting great reviews, with a number of reviewers comparing it very favorably to Firefly. One reviewer for a sci-fi mag actually said something like, “Don’t mourn Firefly. Buy RUNNERS!” Still, even with that pitch, the three people in costume had zero interest in even flipping through the book.

I think there’s that mentality of, “If it’s so good, why haven’t I heard of it before?” So people pass on what they haven’t already heard a lot of buzz about. And that’s kinda what killed Firefly. People had the chance to check that show out early on, back when it was still on TV, and support it then, but they probably didn’t believe it could be any good, so they passed. Only much later, when there was enough buzz about it, did people start to check it out in significant numbers, but by then, it was really too late. Anyway, my hope is that sci-fi fans who don’t normally read comics will be willing to give RUNNERS a chance, which is why I’m trying to spread my marketing out beyond just comic audiences to more sci-fi sites like your own.

I’ve never really understood that attitude in fans. I mean, ostensibly we’re all about Speculative Fiction, right? And that’s all about being open-minded and trying out new things and ideas, but in actual practice most people only like what they like in the genre, and refuse to try anything else. Try to get a diehard Trekie to watch *anything* other than Trek, and you may as well be trying to teach a fish to ride a bicycle. I’ve got a friend who refused to watch “Firefly” because “There’s no cowboys in space.“