The New York Comic Con is three days of tightly packed comics action, a quick but enormous event in Gotham City. Sifting through the content, we ask some of our favorite comics creators questions on their craft in The A.V. Club’s Comics Questionnaire.
Over the past dozen years, Dave Roman has been akin to the patron saint of all-ages comics. A former comics editor for Nickelodeon Magazine, Roman developed a keen sense for crafting compelling and entertaining stories that connects well with kids and adults alike. He shared that wisdom with once-budding comics luminaries like Craig Thompson and James Kochalka, and now he’s making a name for himself with all-ages-friendly graphic novels like Teen Boat, Goosebumps, and Astronaut Academy, a series he writes and illustrates about the daily adventures of elementary school students on a space station in the future.
If an alien species discovered Astronaut Academy as the only remnant of human civilization, what would they learn from us?
Dave Roman: They would learn that humans are very random and prone to sort of scatter-brained sporadic speech patterns which—in the future I developed for the Astronaut Academy series—everyone speaks in run-on sentences. Perhaps that would be closer to the way that they speak in their civilization. They might be like “Oh, these humans are very much like us!”
The A.V. Club: Humans just evolved out of punctuation?
DR: Exactly. No punctuation, just loooong sentences that flow beautifully from one into another, perhaps creating multiple interpretations and extra layers or jokes, ideally.
AVC: So there’s more nuance to the language by just having it continue endlessly?
DR: Yes. Don’t you like how I talked about run-on sentences and answered with a one-word answer?
AVC: It sums everything up pretty well. One word can still be a sentence.
DR: You can draw it out. Yesssssssssssssssss. It’s in parsel tongue.
If my résumé included a whole summer spent reading Astronaut Academy, how could I spin that into valuable work experience?
DR: Well, for one thing, it’s the shiniest book ever published, reflective and made of a very thin sheet of metal, so you could say that you have experience with metal-working. It’s the sort of thing that sounds very impressive and no one’s really going to look that up to see what that means and you can just say, “Yeah, I did some metal-working over the summer. Played with some chrome and some gold and I have a lot of experience with that.” It sounds very fancy.
AVC: But you’re probably not going to use it in the work place.
DR: It’s something that Apple and other high-tech companies like to use in their devices, so that makes you sound like you’re really in-tune with the tech world which, of course, as a writer you have to be. It’s a prerequisite. If you actually want to read the interior of the book for extra credit, I would say that it teaches a lot about pop culture, specifically things that fell through the cracks, like the difference between Pokémon and Digimon, which is really important for the coming future, as the kids take over.
AVC: That’s something that would impress a recruiter or human resources?
DR: Pop culture is ultimately the commerce of the future. It’s just going to be Simpsons references and quotes from anime from the ’80s. The more you can digest in a very succinct, compressed package, which Astronaut Academy is, the better fluent you’ll be in that pop culture commerce of the future. It’s like bitcoin except a lot more fun.
If copyright law were no concern, what character from another game, comic, movie, etc. would you like to see crossover into Astronaut Academy?
DR: My mind immediately goes to the Ed Grimley cartoon that Martin Short produced in the late ’80s, early ’90s. As a longtime SCTV fan, that was kind of a huge thing to me. I’m sure that would get a lot of people excited to see, specifically the side characters from the Ed Grimley cartoons, like the two scientists. Honestly I would love to see them hanging out with the characters of the Macross universe, or Robotech, which is how I first discovered it. Maybe the Gatchaman characters and the Voltron characters. Basically all of the heroic teams that have vehicles that transform or wear really cool costumes and make dramatic poses as they’re fighting evil monsters.
AVC: All the ’80s Japanese space rangers.
DR: Yeah, as many of them as we could possibly get. We would want this to be The Expendables of that Japanese hero genre. Hakata Soy, the hero of Astronaut Academy, is very much a child of that sort of influence.
DR: It would definitely involve saving the world and/or some sort of city in peril, ideally with an awesome team-up between maybe a girl he had an antagonistic relationship with at first. Through the battling to save the world, they realize that they’re actually super compatible, perhaps in martial arts styling or in the type of robots that they choose to control. Perhaps those robots are also interchangeable and can transform into something really awesome, and then they realize that of course they should segue that into some really good ramen, or go for milkshakes and veggie burgers. After you’ve survived a battle together, you want to see what kind of positive things you can do with that sort of energy. You know, love is a lot like a battlefield. I think there’s a popular song that proves this to be true.
If Astronaut Academy were the main course of a meal, what would be the appetizer and what would be the dessert?
DR: The appetizer would probably be edamame, because it’s one of the cutest of the appetizers in my opinion. It’s little green beans and you pop ’em out and there are these adorable little guys in there, and Astronaut Academy are basically all chibi little characters. As a main meal, some sort of diverse stew. It’s basically like a giant smoothie, you know, because I’ve taken all these pop culture references and all these things I grew up with loving as a child—video games, anime, Calvin And Hobbes—and I’ve blended it all together. It would probably be a meal that you could take with you, so it would be an awesome protein shake that just happens to taste delicious and like it’s really bad for you—like it tastes like it’s bad for you like ice cream—but it’s actually got a bit of food for thought. A little bit of heart in there, too. The dessert would probably then be, like, an actual milkshake. You’d probably be like, “That smoothie was really good, now I want a milkshake.” And that’s futuristic because in the future we’re not going to eat food, we’re just going to drink stuff. It’ll all be just blended… space… dust.
Let’s say Astronaut Academy has been adapted into a Broadway musical. Describe the big show-stopping musical number.
DR: Ideally it would involve anti-gravity gymnastics, because that’s a big part of the classroom antics of Astronaut Academy. Something where all the audience are on wires or something that allows them to sort of lift above the stage. Ideally the entire theater would be on some sort of hydraulics that would allow for the room to sort of shift up and down, creating the sensation that everybody is in a sort of zero-gravity environment. All of this set to a song with a lot of synth to it. A lot of electronic instruments. Not unlike Phantom Of The Opera’s big numbers, but more in the sort of early Depeche Mode school of synth.
AVC: This feels a lot like the Back To The Future ride at Universal Studios.
DR: Right, exactly! You kind of want to create that “We’re flying, all together!” And maybe there are a lot of light effects or giant screen that makes you feel like you’re flying around.