Neal Holman is perhaps best known as the art director and a producer on comic spy action animation, Archer. He's also behind award-winning [adult swim] series' Sealab 2021 and Frisky Dingo too.
But starting this March, he'll also be turning his hand to comics, as he writes the new series, Redline, from Oni. The series will feature art from Clayton McCormack and colourist Kelly Fitzpatrick.
I caught up with Holman to ask him a bit more about Redline and what readers might expect from the series, and in what ways it may be similar and different from his other work.
Joe Glass: For those who don't know, explain to us what Redline is.
Neal Holman: Redline is a military noir set on Mars, somewhere in the near future. When the book starts, we're in a very tense ceasefire with the Locals (re:aliens). A bomb sets that ceasefire on its ear, and our POV – Superintendent Denton Coyle – investigates, trying to figure out why what seems to be the obvious answer doesn't fit. The goal was to do a very grounded, noir-esque story set on Mars. We have larger themes about war and conquest and distortion of media, but the POV is very much an eye-level picture. And we make few diahrrea jokes, because I cannot stand "grimdark" stories where no one ever smiles or cracks a joke.
JG: You've worked on Archer, which is a hugely popular show. Can readers expect a similar experience in Redline?
NH: Similar-ish, in that characters tend to take some very serious situations with mostly a whiskey and a smile. I've worked with Adam Reed (Archer creator/writer) for almost 15 years now, so I'm positive there are Reed-isms that show up in my writing. He's easily my biggest influence on how I think about story and dialogue. That said, it's not Archer: Mars. This is very much its own thing, written for expressly for a comic audience. There are stakes at play in Redline that wouldn't work on a primetime cartoon in today's market.
JG: One of the things Archer is most popular for is how well it uses the tropes of the action/spy genre, among others, as well as the comedy. Can we expect similar fun with the tropes of sci-fi here?
NH: Some sci-fi tropes and some noir tropes are unavoidable, I think, but hopefully, they won't come across as too by-the-numbers in Redline. The goal is to take the things you love and let them inform your work but not actually be the work… hopefully, we've come close to that mark.
Similar to Archer, the comedy in Redline comes from character rather than a spoof of genre. The overall plot of Archer is generally comedic, whereas Redline skews more toward drama.
JG: Redline seems to have a feel of not just the obvious sci-fi to it, but also modern war movies. Has that been an influence too?
NH: The idea started years and years ago, when I was doing some general information research on police procedures for a different pitch. I spoke with a few people in branches of the military that opened my eyes to an entirely different version of detective stories. The original pitch floundered and died, but the military research stuck with me. Later, I was developing another pitch about Mars colonization, but was struggling to find the right ground-level entry to the story. I dug up the old research and the story of Redline took shape pretty quickly from there.
JG: The aliens in Redline are kept pretty mysterious in the first issue. Was that a deliberate move?
NH: The Locals are kept on the outskirts of the story intentionally. We will not get to know them. They may help you, they may wear your lungs as a hat for seemingly no reason other than they needed a new hat. The temptation in sci-fi is to give the aliens human attributes, so we can empathize with them and identify with their character arcs. While I think that's a natural instinct, it's also a bit arrogant. We're assuming whatever species we find out there will be like us. Some of this is touched on in the book as well.
JG: What are you most hoping readers take away after reading the series?
NH: Without saying too much, I hope they have a noir whodunnit that doesn't get bogged down in everyone being sad all the time (i.e. True Detective, Season 02.) The thematic take aways… I think it's best to leave that to the reader at this point. Later, I'll be glad to talk more about it.