Todd Matthy’s Writer’s Commentary on Robots vs. Princesses #1

Three years ago, I wrote about Robots vs. Princesses #1 suggesting it may have a future. It’s been a long journey since for Todd Matthy. Now published by Dynamite, he’s talking through his new issue out last week.

Hi everybody, I’m really looking forward to dissecting Robots vs. Princesses #1 with you and hope this can someday help someone make their own comic. Before going into my deep dive, I want to talk about how I approached the writing of this overall story.

I built this story like it was a wrestling angle. I’m building to a grand finale like a wrestling storyline builds toward a big match. Like every good angle (or story), we have to care about the participants. That is the purpose of this issue.

So, let’s go.

Page 1:

The mission for these first few pages is to introduce Zara and make you care about her.

Page 1, Panel 1, Zara is riding a dragon and the placement of the “Poof” and Queen Aleta yelling at her is key to let you know she’s a dreamer.

From there Zara is at high tea being scolded by the Queen. I’ve established that these two are at odds.

Panel 1.5 is an example of character development/world building in a panel. Zara’s snide remark shows she has more in common with Arya Stark than Cinderella. She’s not the type of girl that’s going to sit there and take abuse.

Also, you learn the political system of Harmonia in that there is not a “King/Queen for life” but that each kingdom shares the duty with a rotation.

Page 2:

Zara and the Queen are established, now I have to introduce the other Princesses. Even though Zara is the driving force, there are other princesses and it has to be natural. And what’s more natural than a roll call?

Page 3:

This page served two functions: first and foremost a bridge between the worlds of the Princesses and Robots. Next, establish what’s separating the two worlds.

Page 4-5:

Repeat the same process with Wheeler. Get to know his circumstances and world. In these pages you learn that Wheeler is a soldier in a robot war that is tired of fighting. You also get the robot perspective on what’s separating the two kingdoms.

Plus, you meet another robot, Gunnar. Gunnar is the trigger-happy cowboy of the Centurions.

Last, there’s a caption from an off-panel Clarisse to get you to turn the page.

About Pages 1-5: Before going further, these pages (1-5) were my pitch. So, I was trying to appeal to two audiences: a reader and an editor. If you’ll notice I tried to equal time to both sides, I did that for two reasons.

First, so the reader is both entertained and understands what they need to know so they can move forward.

For the editors, I wanted to show them that I could craft this in a way that was both entertaining and that I knew how to maximize a page count. I literally thought of these pages as a five-page comic book, with the goal of ending on a cliffhanger so readers would want to know what happens next, hence the line caption from Clarisse.

It worked, because when a gave some copies of the ashcan to the school where this series was born, my former co-workers told me that the kids wanted to know what was going to happen next. When I was told that I knew I did something right.

Page 6-7:

In these pages, I further the development of Zara’s character and world while starting her on the path to meet Wheeler at the end of the issue. I thought it would be fun to show her sneaking out by tying together everything she could to make a rope.

At the same time, I’m establishing her relationship with her best friend, Clarisse, and the consequences should she be caught sneaking out. Zara has to sell her best friend on covering for her. I also used the dialogue to get a little bit of world building in here.

I want this book to be more than a genre mash-up, I want a functioning world with a compelling history and characters that can hold up to re-readings.

And now an off-panel interruption for you to turn the page.

Page 8:

Here two things are established. First, Clarisse can be a blabbermouth, second, the Zara/Penelope rivalry.

I also do some world building with the first mention of the “Days of Fire.” Something that will come up in later issues, and another interruption to keep you reading.

Page 9:

Here we get to know Artelia. If there’s one thing I want someone to take away, is Artelia lives and dies by the phrase “knowledge is power.” Artelia is a character that grew in the writing of this series so keep your eye on her.

Artelia knowing everything allows us to move past the “Penelope ratting on Zara” problem and I thought it would be fun to have the textbook definition of a Princess be in love with a lowly squire. Keep in mind who Queen Aleta is (established in the first five pages), does anybody think she’d approve of her daughter and a squire?

Fun fact: If RvP becomes a movie I would extend this sequence with Zara repelling out of her room, sneaking around the castle, and overhearing Hansel reading his poetry to Penelope. She’d make the “gak” gesture.

“I hope your turned into a toad,” since so many fairy tales have Princesses and Princes being turned into animals, I figured those tropes would make perfect insults.

Pages 10-12:

With these pages, I wanted to do two things: establish who the Centurions are and get Wheeler into the Forbidden Woods/Beyond.

Here you get an idea of the differences between the Centurion/Decimator factions. Gunnar is further established as the burly, hotheaded cowboy while Ultimus is the calm, noble, level-headed leader.

These pages were fun because I got to write “robo-slang,” giving the robots a language of their own like they did in “Transformers.” It’s little touches like these that I think make the characters more “real.”

Pages 13-14:

I love how beautiful these pages are. Nic really outdid himself. Everything from the body language to the facial expressions and the colors shine. It’s incredible work.

Page 15:

What is a Princess story without a Princess song? Part of the fun of this series is playing with the tropes and twisting them. Plus, since this is an all-ages book, kids need something they recognize to bring them into the story. Disney Princess movies are musicals. So how do you do this in a medium without sound?

I decided to start the song with something familiar (being the standard “I Want” song) and approach it like a poem. There’s something fun about reading poetry/song lyrics and crafting the melody in your head. Plus it’s fun reading song lyrics out loud.

If I say anymore about this page, we’re getting into spoiler territory. But I got to get my Transformers influence in.

Before I move on, I’m curious as to what my friends are going to think of this considering I’m a hardcore metal fan. (I used to write about it, actually.)

Page 16:

Keep the Princess song going to simmer anticipation for Zara meeting Wheeler.

Also, if you’re a robot that’s suddenly been turned into a dragon, figuring out how to move or fly has got to be tough. Leading to…

Page 17:

Zara meets Wheeler. ‘Nuff said. I added the stars to bring a little classic Looney Tunes into the mix.

Page 18-19:

If you notice the structure of this issue is pushing Zara and Wheeler into a situation where they’ve met each other. Now, we get their reactions to each other.

Zara is curious about Wheeler, whereas he is suspicious of her. Going back to the first five pages and his life of abuse under Tyrannis, we understand that he’d be suspect of her intentions.

The next step is Zara needs to gain his trust and having her care for him after he knocks himself out on a tree branch is a logical step.

Page 21:

“Let’s play, let’s make a deal.” Zara’s found a “dragon” and while the role of pet may not be ideal, for Wheeler it’s better than living under Tyrannis.

Page 22:

Something I always liked about anime is how it can seamlessly merge cuteness and horror. What better way to do that than have a Princess hugging a robot while being spied upon Terminator-style?

For all the fun we’ve seen, evil is looming in the background, waiting to strike.

Be here next month, same RvP time, same RvP channel!

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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