By Jarrod Jones. God Hates Astronauts is about as buck wild as comics get. It’s a saga that has featured characters with names such as Gnarled Winslow, 3-D Cowboy, and King Tiger Eating a Cheeseburger, and no, none of that is supposed to make sense.
That’s why God Hates Astronauts has become such a cult hit. Creator Ryan Browne took his love for Milk & Cheese, Space Ghost: Coast to Coast, and The Tick, distilled them down to their purest essence, threw in some of the more wonderfully disturbing bits of his own id, and made a comic virtually unlike any other. What started on a whim as a 24-hour comic back in 2007, Browne’s senses-smooshing epic has taken on a life of its own, going on to become a wildly popular webseries, and then later, an Image Comics monthly series. And now it’s back.
Browne has unleashed a Kickstarter into the wild to get yet another balls-out installment of God Hates Astronauts in our grubby little mitts. This installment, concerning Astronauts narrator 3-D Cowboy as he begins his prison stretch for killing Charles Soule — yes, that Charles Soule — features a murderer’s row of artists, all of whom have put their own stamp on Browne’s increasingly gonzo mega-structure: Paolo Rivera, James Harren, Greg Smallwood, Zander Cannon, Robert Wilson IV, Andy McDonald, Ryan Lee, Rob Guillory, Chris Burnham, Buster Moody, and Joe Quinones. I’ve seen the pages — it’s just as unwieldy and unexpected as that sounds. Ryan Browne wouldn’t have it any other way.
“When artists agreed to work on it, I then asked what characters they wanted to draw and how many pages they had time for. So I didn’t get to chose which characters were in the book, which became a fun experiment,” Ryan told me earlier in April. “Two artists wanted to draw a completely unimportant joke character named Count Stockula–who didn’t have a back story or personality or frankly anything but a joke name. That was pretty darn fun.”
Ryan Browne took the time to chat with me about God Hates Astronauts: 3-D Cowboy’s 2-D Spectacular, the legions of artists he brought on for it, and the Kickstarter that made it possible.
1. You have ‘Curse Words’ firing on all cylinders, you just released ‘Trash Bridge’ at this year’s ECCC with Steve Seeley and Jim Terry, and all of a sudden you’re putting together an 80-page hardcover for ‘God Hates Astronauts’ with a Kickstarter and everything. What’s the deal — do you just hate free time or what?
Ryan Browne: I know! What am I doing?! Really it’s just a coincidence that these projects are all happening to come together at the same time. I started the current God Hates Astronauts hardcover in October but didn’t want to launch the Kickstarter until the artists completed their pages–and that just so happened to be the same window that Jim Terry had to draw issue one of Trash Bridge.
2. What’s the story behind ‘3-D Cowboy’s 2-D Spectacular’?
RB: As you mentioned before, my full-time job is drawing Curse Words for Image Comics–and that is honestly way more than a full-time job. OY! But I really wanted to do more in the world of God Hates Astronauts so I came up with the idea of tricking my friends to draw short stories that I would write. Thus, 3-D Cowboy’s 2-D Special was born! I write it, draw the framework of the story, and then other amazing artists like James Harren, Paolo Rivera, Chris Burnham, and others draw short stories from 2 to 9 pages long. Dude. It’s so good.
3. Last we saw 3-D Cowboy, he’d been tossed in the hoosegow for killing Charles Soule. How the ever-lovin’ heck did you get Mr. Soule to agree to write this hardcover’s introduction? Was there an apology involved?
RB: Yes, Charles was killed at the end of God Hates Astronauts volume 3–that’s why 3-D Cowboy is now narrating stories from prison. He’s a murderer! But, Charles didn’t really get his skull crushed in by a bottle of grain alcohol–he’s alive and well and writes our book, Curse Words! Charles hasn’t written his introduction yet (waiting to the last minute I guess) so I don’t know if it will be ghostly and angry–but I’d assume it will be. Writing an introduction for the cowboy that murdered you? That’s crazy stuff!
4. There are a lot of incentives to Kickstart this project, chief amongst them being the variety of ways you’ll gladly wreck somebody’s hardcover just for supporting the project. And there are more than a few takers on that offer — how are you preparing to destroy all these books? And how does one personalize destruction?
RB: Some involve pyrotechnics so I will be doing those in a field in the suburbs somewhere. Hopefully I won’t burn everything down! Gonna have to hop over the boarder to Indiana to get some serious fire power! Other books are just going to be thrown out the window, or defaced with drawings of facial hair, or will spend the night in bed with me. Gonna be a fun ole’ time destroying the hell out of these super limited books!
5. You’ve said in the past that you enjoy drawing animal heads on the human body, which is plain to see by your comics work — and it is glorious. What animal head haven’t you drawn on a human body, and which animal/human combo do you think would be an outright mockery of nature and should never exist?
RB: Y’know, it’s funny, but I don’t have any characters that have a cat head on a human body–and I love drawing cats! What’s wrong with me? Honestly I don’t think there would be any animal combo that’d go too far. All nature is beautiful!
6. 3-D Millennial plays a big part in this hardcover. This kid’s a punk, but he’s 3-D Cowboy’s punk. And if ‘God Hates Astronauts’ is ever going to have somebody narrating this insanity back to the reader ever again, 3-D Millennial will definitely need to get his shit together. How do you get kids — or just a character like 3-D Millennial — to respect a dad-gum thing these days?
RB: Well that’s what this book is about, actually. The tale of a father and his crappy son finding common ground through storytelling in a prison visitation zone. Towards the end of the book, 3-D Millennial actually makes an attempt to tell stories himself. It’s pretty awful and fun.
7. You’ve been writing more scripts for artists lately than you ever have before — ‘Project Superpowers: Hero Killers’, ‘Trash Bridge’, and now for ‘3-D Cowboy’s 2-D Spectacular’. How has this changed the way you make comics?
RB: It is so fantastic to write for other artists. It’s soooo much easier then figuring out how to draw and tell stories that make sense. I spend a few days writing a script and then it takes an artist a month to make it happen? What a scam!
8. You have twelve artists working on this book, all of them awesome. What was coordinating this book like? Did you write pages for each individual artist as they agreed to the project and tied it all together later, or was there always a master plan in place? Would you do another book like this again?
RB: I’m hoping to make a sequel to this book down the road. When artists agreed to work on it, I then asked what characters they wanted to draw and how many pages they had time for. So I didn’t get to chose which characters were in the book, which became a fun experiment. Two artists wanted to draw a completely unimportant joke character named Count Stockula–who didn’t have a back story or personality or frankly anything but a joke name. That was pretty darn fun.
9. Favorite guest on ‘Space Ghost: Coast to Coast’, please.
RB: Tough question. Bob & David? Weird Al? Joel Hodgson? Are any of those the right answer?
10. So can you spoil where you snuck Simon [Browne’s cat] into ‘3-D Cowboy’s 2-D Spectacular’? C’mon, I know he’s in there!
RB: NO! I’LL NEVER TELL!
The Kickstarter for ‘God Hates Astronauts: 3-D Cowboy’s 2-D Spectacular’ wraps up in less than two days. Consider kicking in for it!