By Jarrod Jones. When I flip through the debut issue of IDW Publishing’s Helena Crash, I see crazy car chases, wild visuals, a hero that’s destined for legend and at least one action figure, and a manic energy that somehow makes me incredibly hyper. But mostly, I see the coffee.
Helena Crash, from Fabian Rangel, Jr. and Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, is a story set in a futuristic world where the natural environment has been squandered by its citizens, where crops are near impossible to harvest in order to meet an increasing demand. In this world, instead of fixing the problem, the powers that be just outlaw the stuff that grows. Or, at least, the coffee.
Yes, as insane as that sounds, this is a world that has outlawed coffee. And that’s where our hero, Helena Crash, comes in. Helena’s a courier, one that funnels the illicit beans to the (presumably very tired) populace around her. Armed a katana blade and ready to nip any foolishness in the bud at a second’s notice. And with mutant mob bosses and armies of hoodlums chomping at the bit to control the trajectory of Helena’s destiny, foolishness abounds.
“It’s a lot like playing with toys as a kid,” Rangel tells me. “Warwick and I are pretty much just thinking of the coolest toys imaginable and then throwing them all together in a huge fight with cool vehicles and weapons.” Needless to say, It’s a comic fueled by awesome coffee as much as it is wanton havoc.
DoomRocket celebrates the debut of Helena Crash with its creators, Messrs. Rangel, Jr. and Johnson-Cadwell, who took time out of their schedules to speak to me about their new series from IDW.
1. The concept of ‘Helena Crash’ is one that’s near and dear to my heart — a daredevil courier schleps illicitly obtained coffee through a scorched 21st Century heckhole. Where did this concept come from?
Fabian Rangel, Jr.: Half of it came from seeing some vehicle drawing Warwick had done, and just being inspired by those. There was also a little germ of an idea I had in mind about a woman courier delivering something that is mundane in our present. I had also read an article about how global warming was going to make coffee harder to grow, and all of these factors just collided to make this thing.
2. Let’s talk about Helena herself. At a cursory glance, it seems she comes from the synthesis of Amy Winehouse, Beatrix Kiddo, and Roxy Rocket — who inspired Helena, and how will those inspirations chart her trajectory through this story? Because mayhem is definitely on its way.
FRJ: Yeah, you pretty much nailed it! Amy and The Bride mixed with bike messengers/bounty hunters/baristas. The events of the series all stem from the stubbornness of the people that hire her. She had a good thing going prior to this story. In another time she could have worked at a pawn shop or antique shop, but in this future her interests become a dangerous game.
Warwick Johnson-Cadwell: Helena’s look harkens back to the 1950’s with car racing, gangs, and cheap movies. She has ‘the original’ rebel heart and those three women listed pretty well represent part of Helena’s DNA.
3. Helena procures choice beans from an underground roastery beneath an old training gym, curated by a grizzled fellow named Hemingway. There we find what looks like a cupping bar, a commercial drum roaster, and we see deep red berries thrive under contained greenhouse tents. Tell me about your fascination with coffee, because it’s obvious you’ve done your homework.
FRJ: I love coffee. I drink a lot of coffee, and I actually can’t write without it nowadays (as bad as that sounds). It is the fuel for the storytelling fire in my brain. When I read that article about coffee becoming scarce, my imagination automatically started wondering about a new prohibition era, and how wild it would be in a sci-fi world. I just figure with something like coffee, if it was criminalized, people would adapt.
WJC: It’s a deep seated love.
4. That brings me to the precautions Helena and Hemingway have to take to make sure their coffee enterprise is kept under wraps. Roasting coffee kicks out a lot of emissions, mostly particulates and other airborne chaff — so how in the heck are they funneling out this mess? Does Hemingway use an afterburner? And if it’s underground, where do the fumes spill out?
FRJ: Don’t think about it too hard! We don’t really get into the specifics of avoiding the law in this first volume, but if we get to do more, that would play a big part. I wanted this first story to feel low stakes. Helena isn’t trying to to save the world or save the city, she’s just trying to pay her bills and stay alive.
WJC: That’s Fabian’s department but at a guess I’d reckon the cops would always be on the lookout for dumped canisters of delicious, sweet-smelling compressed coffee fumes.
5. Helena Crash is set in this vibrant, gorgeously realized world, where characters have this richness to them, a presence of their own. (I especially can’t wait to find out more about the White Demon.) What was the collaborative process like? Where do the ideas take root — do they begin with sketches or the written word?
FRJ: It’s easy to think of new characters when you’re working with someone as talented as Warwick. I knew that no matter what I thought of, he would surpass my expectations. Once we had the idea to set this in a Samurai Jack/Star Wars kind of world, the sky was the limit as far as characters went.
WJC: These guys usually start with a line of introduction from Fabian, I put my thoughts down and we look at what’s there. Changes are made to suit the character but these guys burst to life in the script and how they act on the page defines them more than a character sketch in the end.
6. The work you’ve both put into ‘Helena Crash’ seems to be the logical culmination of a few things: Fabian, your work on ‘Space Riders’ over at Black Mask definitely informs this book’s scope and verve, and Warwick, your output over on Titan’s ‘Tank Girl’ series has made the pages of ‘Crash’ feel absolutely ferocious. Both of you are clearly passionate about the things you’re into, as those things are bleeding into this series. What do you two discuss when you’re hammering out plots and concepts? How much of you goes into ‘Helena Crash’?
FRJ: It’s a lot like playing with toys as a kid. Warwick and I are pretty much just thinking of the coolest toys imaginable and then throwing them all together in a huge fight with cool vehicles and weapons. We’re both into the same things, mostly monsters, and so we’re just mashing up everything we think is cool. As far as the story itself, there’s a couple of older films that directly influenced it, but if I tell you what they are, it’ll spoil it!
WJC: Thinking about it there isn’t a load of discussion about a lot of this stuff. We have very similar taste in some areas and throw up surprises in others. I think the combination makes for an intuitive process and keeps things lively.
7. Warwick, you’ve said that among your inspirations — Mike Mignola, Frank Frazetta, and others — lie filmmakers like Sergio Leone and Steven Spielberg. Then you mention the nucleus, Genndy Tartakovsky, who creates a bridge between these creators. They are all conceptual storytellers. When you’re visualizing a sequence, how do you let those influences guide you?
WJC: It’s not something that’s easy to avoid, these guys are the people I look up to and learn from. They are masters of storytelling. And it’s great to get to make these decisions in the work.
8. With the first issue of ‘Helena Crash’, we’ve come to know the seedier underbelly of Helena’s world. But who’s in charge here? Will we see the powers that be come into focus in future issues? I’m interested in learning more about the jackheads who outlawed coffee in the first place.
FRJ: In this story we really only meet the criminal bosses of two quarters of the city, Rojo and White Demon. We don’t touch on the police force of this city, but if we get to do more Helena Crash, we will see some repercussions from the events of this story. Right now, everything you see [here] is happening under the radar.
WJC: They are there all right, and I doubt that the activities of these first few issues will have gone unnoticed by the jackheads. Helena’s good but they’ve left a big ol’ mess.
9. Fabian, I know you enjoy vinyl and you enjoy listening to music when you’re writing. You even supplied the introductory issue of ‘Helena Crash’ with a quick playlist. What do you listen to when you’re not writing (which I know is technically “never”)?
FRJ: Ha! I mostly listen to punk and hardcore, but over the last few years I’ve gotten more into hip-hop, rap, metal and thrash. Plus, movie scores. I’m super into all the stuff Waxwork Records is doing. Right now, the bands I’m listening to the most are The Menzingers, Power Trip, Iron Reagan, and Run The Jewels.
10. So I have to know — what’s Sailor Mouth coffee? Does Hemingway roast a lovely single origin bean from some far off wonderful land? Don’t break my heart and tell me it’s some kinda blend.
FRJ: Sailor Mouth is something Hemingway came up with to describe Helena (even though we actually don’t have her swearing a lot in the comic). As far as what kind of coffee it is, I have no idea. Again, if we get to do more, we would see a little more of where this stuff is coming from.
‘Helena Crash’ #1 is in stores today.
Special thanks to Steven Scott at IDW Publishing for putting this together so quickly.