My friend Ron Randall is conducting a Kickstarter campaign to issue his life’s work, Trekker, in a single, awesome hardcover edition. Check it out!
I’ve been sitting on the following interview for a few months, and now is a choice time to release it to the world. At the time we did this chat, the hardcover collection was not yet in the pipeline.
Craig: Let’s start with housekeeping. What’s your preferred path for anyone hoping to get immersed in Trekker? Do you want them to see the early stuff, the current stuff, or what, and where do they go to accomplish it?
Ron: You know, that’s not as easy a question for me to answer as it probably should be. I’m happy to have readers dive in wherever. Each story is built to work as a fine introduction to the character and the world, and each volume has a complete adventure– beginning, middle and end. I feel very strongly about that. So any book should work as a fine introductory experience. But, I also construct the series so that each story builds on what’s gone before, and also points toward where we are heading next. Like each individual story, I’ve designed the series as a whole to have a beginning, a middle and an end. The character of Mercy St. Clair, the world she moves in, and the scope and scale of things grows and deepens over the course of the stories. Mercy is shaped and informed by her experiences as she goes along, the stakes rise, and so on. And I do have an endgame that we are heading toward. Still quite a way to go before Mercy gets there, though. So a reader who starts from page one and works their way through the whole series experiences a powerful cumulative affect which, I am told, is pretty rewarding.
So, all that said, all the Trekker stories to date are archived at trekkercomic.com. You can read everything there. Only, I think the stories work best when you read them in the printed book form that I intend them for. Unfortunately, the earliest stories are currently out of print, but you can find the early volumes, which are from Dark Horse Comics, on sale occasionally. And the most recent books are available on my Etsy store. Which is: www.etsy.com/shop/RonRandallArt. Lastly, you can get them and also help support the telling of the rest of the tales by joining the Kickstarter campaigns that I’m running to get the rest of the stories I have planned into print. The plan is for a series of campaigns, one roughly every eight or nine months, to produce a sequence of books. Two successful campaigns so far– each ended up doublingits original funding goal. So far so good! And, I also plan to Kickstart larger hardocver collections to get all the earlier stories back into print as well. It all depends on sustained support from the very loyal backers. You can find all that activity at trekkerkickstarter.com.
Craig: For the uninitiated, what’s the premise of Trekker in 25 words or less?
Ron: TREKKER is a long-form “coming of age” story of 23rd century bounty hunter Mercy St. Clair, told through a series of white-knuckle action-adventures.
Craig: Is Dark Horse Presents #4 (1987; 32 years ago?!) the earliest appearance? Anything interesting to say about how that came about?
Ron: Yes, that’s the first appearance. And how it came about was a perfect case of right place, right time. I had just moved back to Portland from my years in New Jersey and was working as the regular artist on DC’s monthly title, WARLORD. I was appearing as a guest at a local Comics convention, and Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley came u and introduced themselves as two guys who were “starting a comics company” right then, right there in my hometown. And they were looking for some established pros to do work for them. I was reluctant to leave a steady monthly gig on a fun book for DC. But, they uttered the fatal phrase, “If you work for us, we’ll pay you and you can do whatever you want”. I knew I’d never hear that sentence again in my life. So, I took that one opportunity to ask myself “What’s the one comic series I’d love most to do?” Over a short period of time, I answered that question by coming up with Trekker: A science fiction series about a tough, complex female bounty hunter who had a lot to learn about herself, her world, and her place in it all.
Craig: Were there the seeds of a grand plan (storytelling-wise) in those initial short installments that extend to your current work on Trekker, or did you hit the ground running and do your world-building as you went?
Ron: A little bit of both. From the beginning I new I wanted Mercy to become a “character of destiny”, and that over time, the series would expand in scope and scale. Mercy’s character would evolve and grow, shaped by the adventures she’d experience. And, eventually, there’s be a “wow” finish to it all. Essentially, I knew there’d be a climactic resolution to the tensions and threads weaving through Mercy’s life that would have huge ramifications on the world she’s a part of. But, I also knew that I was just starting out as a writer and that I wasn’t ready to tell that big of a story. Yet. So, I started with some more straight-forward action-adventures, figuring I could pull that sort of thing off well enough. And I peppered into those early stories some elements and hints that I’d develop further as I got a better hand on my craft. It’s worked out well. I was able to keep the story moving forward through each adventure, and bought myself enough time to figure out all the major beats of how I’ll get to that big resolution. I wish there hadn’t been a big, twelve-year break where I didn’t touch the series at all, but the result was that by the time I did get back to it, I’d figured out where I was going and how to get there. And, I’m pretty happy about how that outline hangs together .
Craig: I saw a clip from Cat People this week — still a great movie — and it reminded me that you based the look of Mercy on Nastassja Kinski. And it took this passage of time for me to appreciate how well you really nailed her likeness. Do you still hold that reference in your mind when you’re working with your character, or was Nastassja just a starting point and Mercy is her own thing now?
Ron: I still have Ms Kinski very much in mind as the “template” for Mercy’s look. It helps me keep things consistent over the long life of the series, and over all the changing settings and even variations in “sub-genre” we go through, Trekker is sometimes more of a Firefly-like space-western, sometimes more scifi noir like Blade Runner, sometimes more swashbuckling, like Flash Gordon or Star Wars. What holds it all together is the character, the personality, and the journey of Mercy St. Clair. Keeping her consistent and recognizible in both her look and her “emotional landscape” is pretty crucial. But, Mercy is changing, gradually, as I said earlier– she’s being shaped by her experiences, as we all are. And, I’m evolving too, as an artist. So, the way I see her and depict her evolves slightly over time as well. I think I know pretty well what her reactions will be, how she moves, the gestures and stances that fit the person she is and is becoming. So in that way, the initial look of Kinski was in deed just a starting point. But, a pretty striking and charismatic one, I think.
Craig: Ron, Re: one of your early-career co-creations, ‘The Barren Earth:’ I recall it as a back-up feature running in DC’s Warlord comic which went on to get its own mini-series (back in the day when the mini-series’ was kind of a new sales model for the company). It had a female protagonist in a science fiction setting. Was that in any way a prototype for Trekker?
Ron: You are absolutely right about that. “The Barren Earth” was written by Gary Cohn. It was my first regular gig at DC running, as you say, as a back up in Warlord for a couple of years, then getting a mini-series. I really hit the jackpot with that early project. Gary was an inventive, bold writer who was pushing for new stuff in his writing, while also harkening back to classic source material like Frank Herbert’s Dune, Edgar Rice Burrough’s sci-fi writings and such. Plenty of swash-buckling adventure and a great, expansive over-all concept to fit it into. It was all right up my alley. And, he envisioned a strong female protagonist at the center of it all. So, I designed a tough, short-haired, female action lead for the series and we were off to the races. And if that description “tough, short-haired, female action lead” sounds familiar, it absolutely was very influential when, a few years later, I had the opportunity to create a series of my own from the ground up for Dark Horse. I loved working with Gary on Barren Earth and telling the story of young Jinal né Comarr, and it was one of the springboards that Trekker came from. I don’t think I ever give that book and Gary enough credit for the influence they were as I was putting Trekker together. The two series, and the two characters, are widely different in a lot of other ways. But I don’t know that I would have had the strong drive to make the book a female-driven tale without the experience I had working with Gary on The Barren Earth. Certainly, female-driven comics, and sci-fi ones at that– were not the rule of the day back then. But, naive as I was, I wasn’t taking such crass commercial factors into account. I was just designing the series I most wanted to do. No regrets!
Craig: What kept you away from Trekker 12 years? And, what led you back?
Ron: What kept me away was harsh reality coming up against, and winning against, my naivety and idealism.When Dark Horse said I could, “Do whatever I wanted”, thatwas the way I looked at it. I designed a series I wanted to do. Not one that I thought would be commercial, or that I could convince a publisher to but, or anything of the like. I just asked what story would I most like to tell and figured if I was interested in that story, certainly a number of others would be too. So, in my very short-sighted, self-focused way I created a profoundly non-commercial series. And God bless them, Dark Horse said, “Sounds cool! Let’s do it!” Turns out, it was a hard sell. A female-driven, sci-fi, black and white comic was a rare thing, and while it found a passionate and loyal audience, we weren’t able to find them in numbers that could sustain the book. So, reluctantly I scaled down my work on Trekker from a regular, on-going series to the occasional one-shot, or short story, or Special, as I could accommodate around the other comics work I took on to make a living. But, telling what was intended to be an inter-locking series of stories in a scattershot fashion like that did no service to the series or to the readers. Sometimes, a new story wold come out and fans of the series wouldn’t hear about it. Not good! So in the end, I decided to put the project on hold until I could find a way to return to it and tell the rest of the tales without further interruptions. Twelve years latter, it dawned on my I could make it a webcomic– no overhead. A way I could re-introduce all the existing stories and then continue on with new ones. And, hopefully, eventually find its way back into print. And that’s what’s happened.
Craig: Also, as I look at the earliest Trekkers and the latest, I’m struck by the consistency of the look. You seem to have somehow resisted the urge to tamper with it, which I think is remarkable given the passage of time (and, coming from someone who keeps fiddling with character designs from story to story, and sometimes within the story!) Anyway, care to comment on that part of it?
Ron: I suppose the honest answer here is that I still really liked the original solution I came up with to that question: “What series would I most like to do”. I came up with designs for the characters, a premise, and a set of things I wanted to explore and develop that still hold my interest and passion. It helps that just about anything I’d most like to do in comics can find its way into a Trekker story. I can be in outer space one story, on gritty noir streets next time, and then in some blasted wasteland. I can introduce characters, races, creatures to keep expanding the world and add variety and interest as needed. It’s all pretty darned “elastic”.
I’ve done some very minor tweaking to outfits and fashion and some of the tech designs, but intentionally nothing to radical. It’s important to me that the characters and the world remain consistent and recognizable to a reader. Abrupt, sudden changes might be good to grab some attention for a moment, but it erodes the sense of reality I want a reader to come in with. I’ve tried to build a series with internal consistency and integrity so that a reader can buy into it and to invest in it. To believein it, so that they will care about what happens in it and want to keep coming back to find out “What’s next?” in the lives of the characters that, I hope, the reader has made an emotional connection with.
When I first returned to Trekker, I was asked in an interview if I would be “rebooting” the series. I said, “No, I’m going to tell the next story.”