CBM Interview: Brian Clevinger

Posted: March 11, 2015 in Atomic Robo, Baer, Brian Clevinger, CBM Interview, Red 5, Webcomic
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Atomic Robo is a comic series created by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener. If you’re unfamiliar with it, please do yourself a favor and get familiar. It’s a fun, exciting and hilarious story with an insanely likable cast of heroes and villains. Recently Clevinger, the comic’s writer, posted a series of anecdotes on Twitter that explained some dealings he’d had in trying to adapt the character for the big screen, years ago (check him out on Twitter to see his comments). Amongst the notes from the studio was the need for Robo (a loveable, heroic robot) to have a kid sidekick. Eventually, the project fell apart, but not before some interesting meetings with the creators.

Brian Baer (frequent writer for Comic Book Media) was recently able to speak to Mr. Clevinger about his experiences dealing with a major studio and getting that close to seeing an adaptation of his beloved character.

I’d like to thank Brian Clevinger for agreeing to the interview and providing some insight into the difficult and frustrating process of adaptation.

Another thanks goes to Brian Baer for taking the lead with this interview. With that, I’ll turn things over to the two Brians. Enjoy!

So, how much does Hollywood suck?
Quite a lot. I didn’t realize it until everyone was talking about the Oscars, but I only saw one Hollywood film released in 2014. And that was Guardians of the Galaxy. And that was more of a professional curiosity to see if it lived up to half the hype it was getting. It didn’t, by the way, but I see why folks enjoyed it and I don’t mean to take that from them.

Let’s just say I’m going to look for certain elements in adventure stories to consider them successful. Y’know, if you make sausage all day, you’re going to have more opinions about sausage than most folks. Now, GotG had a lot of those elements, and where they went astray or failed to land, it was pretty clearly outside the control of the people actually making the movie. All art is compromise. Sometimes that’s artists compromising with each other, with themselves, or with the limits of reality. But compromising with someone who has no business with the creative process is always painful and awkward. And that’s Hollywood.

How did the possibility of adapting Atomic Robo into film come about?

Basically, these guys got a hold of some Atomic Robo comics and they loved it and they wanted to see if we were interested in making a movie. This isn’t even a paraphrase of how it went: “We love everything about this book because it’s unlike everything else out there. Now, here’s what we need to change to make it like everything else so we can make a movie.”
To their credit, I think the strategy was to put together a pitch that would look marketable to the kinds of dead eyed execs who decide what movies get made, and then covertly pull off an actually decent adaptation before anyone realized what we’d done with their money. At least, that’s what I tell myself, because the guys we dealt with were pretty reasonable.
You spoke about this recently on Twitter, but how did the process go? Were there any strange demands from the studio?

The kid action scientist was the only thing, I think, that we couldn’t stand. Scott and I each had a nervous breakdown on this point, but luckily at different times, so there was always someone there to talk the other one down. I was definitely the first to crack. It was probably within hours of them suggesting it.

Who needs kids when
you’ve got Jenkins?

I mean, I get that movies have to be their own thing. That they have to be different from the comics because it’s a different medium and things that make sense in one will not necessarily translate to the other. Totally get it! But there’s no way it makes sense for Robo to have a child on staff. Especially on a field team where he or she would be regularly exposed to monsters, killer robots, lava, lasers, explosions, and bullets. If there is any real sense of lethality or danger to the story, you cannot be in a position where you decide it’s totally cool to put a kid in the middle of that.

But we cooked up this really fun scenario that put the kid in the middle of all that danger AND without making Robo look like a negligent monster. We liked it so much that we used it as the basis for one of our Free Comic Book Day stories a few years later.

What was your “elevator pitch”?

Fan favorite, Dr. Dinosaur.

I do not even remember. There were several drafts and I honestly don’t remember which one was the finalized version.

What did you learn from the process? Would you ever try to move Atomic Robo into another media again?
I think the main thing we learned is that we don’t have the temperament for these sorts of deals. There’s not a lot of money in comics, so there’s not a lot of risk, so you’ve got more freedom. No one feels pressured to make stupid artless compromises. Y’know?

Not that we’re against expanding the Atomic Robo “brand” into other media. Hell, we already did with the Atomic Robo tabletop roleplaying game through Evil Hat Productions. And there’s more in development right now. And we’ve talked with some other Hollywood types about another Robo movie without anything like a child action scientist being mentioned, so that’s nice.

We were really burned with that first touch of Hollywood though. The guys we were talking to were great. Their one “bad” idea about the kid turned out fine. I mean, we ended up liking it enough to make it one of our most popular comics, and I could see going with that angle on a movie if we “had” to. We made it work. But the studio passed in what I recall was a weird and confusing way even to the Hollywood guys who deal with these folks every day. That was the most demoralizing part. I think the coping mechanism we developed from that experience has been to take a very relaxed view about these kinds of offers. If something happens and we make some more money, that’s great. If it doesn’t, we’re busy making some of the best adventure comics around, so whatever.

This may be the most perfect gag I’ve ever seen.
In anything.

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