By Michele Brittany, West Coast Bleeding Cool Correspondent
If you are into 1980s IPs then you’ll probably be interested in the titles being released by Lion Forge. They recently released Miami Vice Remix and coming this May, the trade paperback of Knight Rider, which collects the first eight issues. The creative includes writer Geoffrey Thorne (Dark Horse Presents: Journeymen; Prodigal: Remastered), illustrator Jason Johnson (Grimm Fairy Tales), colorist Sai Studios, letterer Andworld Design, editor Shannon Eric Denton, and book designer Kristen Fitzner Denton.
Michele Brittany: Joining me are Geoff Thorne, Jason Johnson and Shannon Eric Denton – thanks guys! Lion Forge has been bringing back a few of the 1980s IPs – Miami Vice, Air Wolf – now, Knight Rider, based on the original series by Glen A. Larson. What was the logic for selecting these IPs for reboots and remixes?
Geoff Thorne: I have no idea. I was brought in after they’d already acquired the properties. I would guess that, as with nearly all of Hollywood these days, it seems, someone thought it would be a good way to bring a ready-made fan base and thus a few thousand more eyes to the projects.
Jason Johnson: I, unfortunately, had no hand in the selection process. I’m just a doodler!
Shannon Eric Denton: We really loved these properties so that was key to their acquisition. All these years later they still have die-hard fans and even people who weren’t around when they originally aired have an idea as to what they are. It was the perfect mix of good business and fandom.
GT: Again, while I had a ball writing it, the choice to grab up Knight Rider was above my pay grade. That said, the original show was hugely successful, has a large fairly rabid modern fanbase and is sort of a scifi adventure romp. What’s not to love?
JJ: As I said, I was not involved in the decision, but I didn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. I loved that show.
SED: Because there will always people who love their cars (even when they can fly), there will always be a love of buddy-adventure stories, and it’s thriller/science/romantic fiction at its finest. It had everything you could ask for as a storyteller.
MB: Can you provide a brief synopsis of the Knight Rider story in the TPB?
JJ: I’ll let Geoff handle that..he’s the scribe around these parts.
GT: Boy Meets Girl. Boy and Girl meet Bad Guys. Boy meets Car. Vroom.
MB: For those not familiar with the Knight Rider franchise, can you explain how this series fits within the Knight Rider cannon?
GT: It doesn’t. I was asked to reboot the series. While aspects of it will feel like the original series– certainly the upcoming stand-alone stories will– this is a complete reboot.
Given time all your favorite characters will make an appearance but they will likely not be in exactly the form you might remember. The mandate here was to knock the thing down to the pins and then build it back up again, not quite from scratch. That’s what I did.
This is not a continuation of the old series in ANY way. It’s more of, “What would Knight Rider be if there’d never been a show and it was all starting up right now?”
Someone called it Knight Rider: Year One. I like that. Anyone can jump in and enjoy this series. No prior knowledge required.
SED: It’s the same story but set now. Obviously since it takes place in our age of personal digital devices more powerful than anything on the show 30 years ago we’ve made some adjustments. That being said we loved the original and worked really hard not to change anything just for the sake of changing it. Geoffrey and Jason did an amazing job of making this “feel” like Knight Rider despite the differences.
MB: What research did you do to prepare for writing and illustrating this story?
GT: I watched the series. It’s on NETFLIX. And Hulu, I think.
MB: Did you face any writing and/or illustrating challenges working this IP?
GT: Not really. I don’t do nostalgia under any circumstance and I told them that up front when they approached me. They didn’t want nostalgia; they wanted new gas in the tank. It was pure fun from Day One. If anything, I wanted to cram MORE stuff into this first bit but we had time, space and budgetary constraints so the cramming will have to wait.
JJ: I will admit, I’m not normally an artist that draws much mechanical or technical art. I tend to prefer organic subjects like people and landscapes. But, I really took to drawing KITT rather quickly. It may be that I was just obsessed with the car as a kid, but I really enjoy working on that mean machine.
MB: Can you talk about the decision to not use television series star David Hasseloff’s likeness?
GT: I don’t believe the company had the likeness rights when Jason and I were hired. Since the Hoff originated the character and made him iconic, Michael should, in my mind at least, strongly resemble him, even without likeness rights.
JJ: What Geoff said. I did try to stay true to the likeness to some degree, though. I’m sure fans would not take too kindly to a drastic departure from the original.
SED: David’s great and we love him. He was kind enough to do a promo for the book even! That being said he’s a smart guy and had it in his contract he had likeness rights. So without getting into the specifics he’d have had to be compensated for his appearance in the book and we opted to spend that extra money on the guys making the comics. We’re still in contact with David and would love to do an event with him to promote the book at some point. Can’t stress enough how much we like and respect him.
MB: There’s quite a bit of needed dialogue to assist with story transition, what decisions did you make to keep the dialogue concise and not too wordy?
GT: Honestly I don’t think about writing that way. Initially this was meant for a digital audience reading the stories on tablet or laptop screens so, while I might have made some bits less “wordy” had I thought it would be in print one day, the cuts would have been minor. The story dictates what it needs and we obey.
MB: I am struck the by the use of black space – in some places, the panels are almost swallowed up by the blank space – how did those layouts come about?
GT: Initially “chapters” in this yarn were delivered as digital comics in monthly intervals so, in most cases, the bits with single dialog balloon or sound effect in a field of black were used as opening lead ins or, more frequently, as cliffhanger moments.
Shannon, Jason and the rest of the graphic editorial team did a wonderful translation from digital to dead tree format. My services in that regard mostly boiled down to, “Yep, that looks pretty awesome to me.”
JJ: It can best be explained as equal parts transitioning from digital to print format, where I needed to readjust panel size, shape, and placement as best as possible; and style. I like to play with light and dark when possible, though I rarely use shadow very heavily on the characters. I like to let the color do it’s magic.
MB: Is there a scene that you feel particularly proud of?
GT: Honestly, I love the whole thing. I always knew there was a way to update the story of Michael and KITT without gutting all the stuff that made the original fun. I think the people behind the failed TV reboots missed the point of what made the show a hit.
It was never the talking car. It was always Michael and KITT interacting, joking, fighting the good fight together. It’s a buddy cop story, not a story about a snarky AI. So I love the bits where Michael and KITT argue as much as the ones where they’re on the same page.
JJ: I particularly enjoyed drawing the car chase/shootout between Michael, Tabitha, and KITT and the bad guys. The action stuff is always fun.
SED: I got K.I.T.T. to go camping so that was fun. He also fought a helicopter but you’ll have to pick up the book to find out how that turns out. Most of the awesome scenes in the book are all Geoffrey and Jason’s.
MB: Is there anything that you wanted to include, but didn’t get to? If so, what was it?
GT: Nope. I’m good with it for now. Plenty more to come.
JJ: I wanted to include some more of KITT’s abilities, but this series was an introduction, so we can’t give away all of his tricks!
SED: This leads into your next question! See next question..
GT: The next thing will be a series of stand alone stories showing some fun KITT and Michael adventures that touch on the fallout from the first arc. Then there’s the much awaited crossover with Airwolf and then….? Well, I’ve submitted my outline for the second major arc. We’ll see if LION FORGE bites.
SED: All the stuff I couldn’t get into this book! We have a round of one-shot (episode-of-the-week) stories coming up from writers like Chuck Dixon, Adam Warren, B. Clay Moore, Joe Pruett, Frank Hanna and more with art by Jason Johnson! I’ve titled those stories Knight Rider: KnightStrikes! These will eventually lead into the Knight Rider/Airwolf crossover I’m putting together with Adam Warren.
MB: Are there any upcoming events that fans can meet and chat with you?
GT: I’ll likely be at SDCC this year on a panel or two and, if not, walking the floor buying stuff. Every year I say I won’t go. Every year I go back. It’s a sickness.
JJ: If all goes well, fans will see me at SDCC this summer. I’ll either be at the Lion Forge booth, or you’ll see me chatting with pals in Artist’s Alley or running around with my rugrats.
SED: I’ll be at Phoenix ComiCon next month. Then comes San Diego ComicCon!
GT: Just go to my website, GEOFFREYTHORNE.COM. all the social media links are there. And a lot of other fun stuff too.
SED: @ShannonDenton on Twitter as well as @lionforge @IDWPublishing.
MB: Thanks Geoffrey, Jason and Shannon! Remember that you can pick up Knight Rider in May at your local comic book shop if you don’t have it on your subscription list.
Michele Brittany is an independent popular culture scholar and semi-professional photographer and editor of James Bond and Popular Culture: Essays on the Influence of the Fictional Superspy (McFarland & Company). She regularly posts reviews and analysis on the spy/espionage genre on her blog, Spyfi & Superspies and can be followed at Twitter @mcbrittany2014.