by Jarrod Jones. It takes a remarkable amount of notoriety to stand out among the denizens of the planet Heist. Meet Glane. Bandit, rogue, ex-con, target. He’s the charming criminal pariah type, armed with the swagger of John Shaft and the comically great luck of Han Solo. He’s the type of guy who never knows if his friends are going greet him with a hug or a stab. You’re going to love him.
Glane’s made some bad decisions in his life, sure. Decisions that have taken him far from Heist, just far enough away from the grip of the galaxy’s corporate overlords who keep a muddy boot on the necks of the common man. But now he’s come home to the planet that has housed Glane’s greatest gaffes—and the enemies he’s made along the way—and he’s come with a plan. He wants to steal it.
The planet. Glane wants to steal the planet.
It’s the premise to the new Vault Comics series, Heist, or How to Steal a Planet, written by Paul Tobin, illustrated by Arjuna Susini, colored by Vittorio Astone and lettered by Saida Temofonte.
So Glane’s going to steal a planet called “Heist”. A feat seemingly as impossible as the scenario itself. How in the hell does one go about doing that? I put this question to Tobin, and he laughs.
“Yeah… that was a big part of my decision-making process on the story,” he tells me. “What exactly does ‘stealing a planet’ mean? Planets are a bit challenging to keep in one’s pocket, or even hide in your backpack. So, stealing in this case does come as a bit of metaphor.”
Or does it? We’ll have to read this grimy sci-fi stunner to find out.
Ahead of the series’ November 6 debut, Paul Tobin spoke with DoomRocket about Heist, or How to Steal a Planet, his continued creative collaboration with artist Arjuna Susini, and how he’s finally come to grips with how much science fiction actually rules.
1. ‘Heist, or How to Steal a Planet’ strikes me as Steven Soderbergh directing ‘Blade Runner’ during one of his sassy, budget-be-damned phases. It’s funny, it’s grimy, it’s sleazy. It reads like you’re having quite a bit of fun writing this one, Paul—what brought ‘Heist’ to the forefront of your to-do list?
Paul Tobin: [Laughs] You basically answered the question: it’s grimy and sleazy and I wanted to delve into a science fiction world like that, and I knew Arjuna would bring the whole story to life. The way he sculpts the life of an alien metropolis really speaks to me. It feels alive with stories, like you could follow anyone on the street and they would have their own stories, too. One of the main catalysts, too, was my love for classic heist and con-man novels and movies. I’d decided I wanted to do something, and reached the stage of “what should they steal?” At first my thoughts were along the lines of “money” and “even bigger amounts of money” but then I realized I wanted to go big. Planet-sized big. So, the story of a con-man who steals a planet was born.
2. ‘Heist’ introduces us to Glane, a between-prisons hustler who can’t enter a planet’s atmosphere without somebody trying to stick a knife in his back. There’s a bit of “Kurosawa-as-adapted-by-Sturges” cowboy to him as well, but it’s not impossible to spot the altruism simmering just underneath his swagger. When you were first putting together ‘Heist’, was Glane a by-product of your world, or was Glane your captain, guiding you as you discovered this story?
PT: Honestly, it was a little bit of both. I wanted Glane to fit into the world. I wanted him to belong on the streets, to be a byproduct of a city and a world that is, as itself, a constant hustle. So from a “grand story” perspective, I think that the world of Heist is an extension (or, maybe, expansion?) of Glane’s personality, and that a world of this type is the only place that Glane could ever really feel at home. He needs the constant threats, the omnipresent awareness of other people, the billie birds infesting the streets, all the various vices on display, the burning hum of the circulations systems, the smell of the unwashed people mixing with the food carts, the whoosh of the hover cars passing dangerously low overhead, the street-cleaners on strike for the last decade, the holo-advertisements walking the sidewalks, cool air and the scent of bourbon seeping out from open doorways, all of it just another individual brick that builds the only place where Glane can feel he belongs.
3. You’re working with your ‘Made Men’ co-conspirator, artist Arjuna Susini, once more. You two go back a ways—you had first worked together on a project called ‘Small Change’, if I’m not mistaken—and now ‘Heist’. What’s the working relationship with Arjuna like to make it function so well?
PT: [Laughs] That’s a deep dive question! Small Change was indeed the first project that Arjuna and I worked on together, but it actually never made it to the stands. It fell apart for reasons I don’t remember. Sad, because it’s still a story I loved. But I also loved working with Arjuna, so when I was assembling my Made Men comic at Oni Press, I nabbed Arjuna as a teammate, and once again really loved working with him. Then, when I needed a partner for Heist, he was absolutely my first thought. Made Men was set in Detroit, and he brought such depth to the city scenes and the general populace, that I knew I had to see what he’d do with the architecture and cities of Heist. It’s funny, Arjuna works so hard and so beautifully on the pages that when I’ve shown them to a few different artists, the response has often been, “Okay, those are great, but you’re such a $&#^# for making him do all that work!”
Do you feel that working with Arjuna on these projects has honed your craft somewhat? Is consistent collaboration the lifeblood that makes the creative engines hum?
PT: Yes! I definitely think that consistent collaboration is a key element to a good book. I have confidence when I’m working with Arjuna that I wouldn’t have with almost anyone else. When I look back at my favorite collaborators, like Juan Ferreyra, Colleen Coover, Ron Chan, Matteo Lolli and others, there’s always a depth of partnerships that sustains us. I can write more challenging scripts because they’ve proven that the actions and emotions will be there, and that the life of the environments will heighten the atmosphere.
4. As it is with a lot of sci-fi, there must come world-building. And in ‘Heist’, where the coveted object glinting in Glane’s eye is the world, you’re tasked with covering as much ground as possible to get the reader oriented before going off the rails into this nutty ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ style scam. What’s your approach to world-building in ‘Heist’? When does this planet cease to be a MacGuffin and become the literal ground under your character’s feet, home to the very air they breathe?
PT: It’s a real challenge! Maybe the real challenge! World-building is something I talk about a lot with fellow writers. And in Heist, it was an even bigger part of the story, since I wanted not only the feel of a gigantic city, but a whole world, in an entire solar system, in a giant section of space, with each level having it’s own identity. What I tried to do is what I always try to do: establish the broad sweeps and get in a number of specifics, and then attach small elements, human moments, that can give life to a world. It’s all very well to say “the city has a number of levels built upon each other over hundreds of years, each of them almost a separate city with a distinct personality and an individual government or lack thereof.” I mean, things like that, it’s just background. But you can also say things like, “the billie birds were introduced as pets several decades ago, but have grown to infest the city and drive out the pigeons, clogging the circulation systems with their nest and dropping their spoor from on high, no matter where you are, so that it’s grown from a terrible nuisance to just another daily part of life, with some fashions designed around the fact that you’re gonna get stained.” Bits of info like that, to me, bring far more “life” to a world than just rote explanations of geography and politics.
5. Tell me a bit about the characters in ‘Heist’. Like ‘Ocean’s Eleven’, there’s an expansive crew of criminals and tough-types to consider, too. You and Arjuna have rounded up a posse of a proper space-time ne’er-do-wells, all with their own agendas, motivations, back stories. How much time will we get to spend with these characters before the central hustle kicks off?
PT: In addition to Glane, whose main skills are in planning and sheer audacity, there’s Gaville, Celene, and Eddy Lets. Gaville is a woman who’s a master of disguise and forgery, and she has more than a bit of a crush on Glane. On the other hand of the “how I feel about Glane” is Celene, a master gunsmith who’s pretty talented at actually using guns, too. She despises Glane, blaming him for a past betrayal that he’s honestly pretty darn blame-able for. And then there’s Eddy Lets, a master assassin who has every right to dislike Glane, because the “betrayal” that Celene blames Glane for is one of his prior cons, one that went very bad and caused not only the fall of the planet Heist, but also the death of Eddy’s mother. So, there’s a fair amount of tension in the group, but they’ve gathered together for a greater reason. We’ll get a fair bit of establishment of all these characters before the planetary heist gets into full swing, and then we fill in the blanks, with a couple major revelations, as the con progresses. My own friends in life constantly surprise me, so I think it’s important for the “friends” in comics (and novels, television, video games, etc) to surprise readers as well.
Do you feel that there comes a point in writing where the story begins to suffer from an abundance of details? How much world-building is too much?
PT: Definitely. If you dwell too much on defining a character or a world, then it just becomes a character sheet or geography lecture. The story’s always king: anything that adds to the story is gold, but anything that distracts is just dross.
6. You admitted in the announcement for ‘Heist’ that, as a writer, the sci-fi genre wasn’t something that appealed to you initially, that you didn’t grow up reading “stories about space.” ‘Star Trek’ was a passing amusement, ‘Star Wars’ didn’t do it for you… and then a book comes along comes ‘Triton’ by Daniel Torres. What was it about this book that changed your perception of science-fiction?
PT: I think that before Triton, I saw science-fiction as a genre that demanded an explanation for the science involved. Like, if I was going to have somebody fire a raygun, I needed a scientific explanation for how rayguns worked. And I’d have to study material compounds, neutrino-based fuel systems, and folding space-time geometry if anybody wanted to fire up a spaceship. Triton was a mix of genres, though, and that helped me perceive science-fiction as a backdrop, a setting, rather than any necessary compendiums of advanced science. Honestly, it’s little different if you want your story to occur in the Old West, or current Manhattan, or the neighborhood pub on Qalstar-7 on the brink of the Forlume Nebula in the year 4325. It’s still about the story and the characters. Took me a while to understand that.
You also mentioned that your experience working on ‘Prometheus/Aliens/Predator’ got you excited about the prospects of writing fiction in space, as well. What happened during that project? You were working with other writers on that project—Chris Roberson, Josh Williamson, and Chris Sebela—did they have a hand in this?
PT: Part of that was just how glorious Juan Ferreyra crafted the art. Everything felt real to me. And then when all of us writers gathered (Kelly Sue DeConnick was also on board) we’d bandy story thoughts back and forth, and… like my thoughts on how Triton changed me… all of those thoughts were about the story, never about the science. Josh never told me, “C’mon, Tobin. Unless you can build us a working model of a raygun, don’t put them in your story.”
7. How in the hell does one steal an entire damn planet, anyhow? In ‘Heist’, the eponymous globe was the final hold-out in the vast empire of a totalitarian regime, who ultimately seized it. Now Heist is completely under its thrall, including the billions and billions of people who live on it. And Glane, who has a profoundly complicated history with Heist and the conglomerate that owns it, means to take it from them. So “stealing” is meant to be a metaphor, then?
PT: [Laughs] Yeah… that was a big part of my decision-making process on the story. What exactly does “stealing a planet” mean? Planets are a bit challenging to keep in one’s pocket, or even hide in your backpack. So, stealing in this case does come as a bit of metaphor. Incidentally, I’ll mention that I was scripting the fourth issue when I made an abrupt swerve on the planet’s final fate. The new ending seems more satisfying, now.
8. You’ve said that your favorite comic as a kid was ‘The Defenders’, which culled these serious powerhouses from around the Marvel Universe and brought them down to Earth to fight bad guys. Having philosopher-god types like Silver Surfer and Doctor Strange running around with the Hulk made the metaphysical tangible. I view ‘Heist’ similarly—a comic that makes the frightening expanses of space more recognizable to us Earth-bound folks with day jobs. But is there room in ‘Heist’ to go abstract?
PT: Space is infinite, so there’s always room for anything! I think I’d prefer to keep the stories more down to earth (so to speak) though. In my writings I’m mostly concerned with “but what’s it mean to the little guy?” I love to tell stories where events happen, problems occur, villains appear, etc., etc., and then see how that affects the lives of individuals. If the Supreme Entity Cosmic Strangler is single-handedly battling the Mordhall Space Fleet, I’m less concerned about the cosmic ramifications on the Web of Life than I am with whether it’s going to interfere with Jane Everyperson making it to the grocery store in time to buy the potatoes she needs tonight, because this is the first time her new girlfriend is coming over to her apartment and she wants to make sure dinner is perfect.
9. Tell me about Brady, the Dickensian street urchin with a Miller-esque bad mouth and a heart of gold. From where inside your mind did Brady originate?
PT: Good ol’ Brady! He’s a street urchin who is both an aspiring conman and also, honestly, a fully-fledged conman at the same time. When he originally appeared in my script he was just a decent transport to get Glane from one spot in the story to another, and to help explain some of the world of Heist, but he managed to hang around, conning himself onto a few more pages here and there, until he became one of the main characters. As to the origins of his character, one thing I try to do in my stories, no matter the genre, is remember that the characters live in a world. Too often when I’m reading comics I see scenes of like, Times Square or something, and everyone in the crowds is about the same age, and roughly the same culture. That’s boring. And shallow. So I knew I wanted children to inhabit the world of Heist, and Brady became one reflection of that.
10. You clearly have more than enough material to write ‘Heist’ stories for some time. Is there a chance that a series of these space-sagas could be in the offing? A chance that Paul Tobin could ultimately become a science-fiction author after all?
PT: That would definitely be a shock ending! I definitely do enjoy playing with science fiction now, for sure. I also like horror, though, and comedy, and whimsy, and just about everything. I love combining genres, too. Maybe that’s why two of my all-time favorite science-fiction movies, Alien and The Thing, worked so well for me, because they’re essentially horror stories at heart, with science-fiction backgrounds.
‘Heist, or How to Steal a Planet’ #1 hits stores November 6. You can pre-order it now. (Diamond Code: SEP192094)
Check out this 6-page preview of ‘Heist, or How to Steal a Planet’ #1, including a Vault Vintage variant by Nathan Gooden and Tim Daniel, courtesy of Vault Comics!
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