Our friends at Kickstart Comics have been putting out some excellent graphic novels over the last year.  I’ve been excited about each of their new releases, but when I found out about the upcoming KNOWBODYS (out in October), I freaked out a little.  See, it’s written by Matt Maiellaro, co-creator of Aqua Teen Hunger Force.  I’ve frequently gone on record with my love of ATHF (and its new incarnation as Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1), so I was really excited to see what he had brewing over at Kickstart.

I got to read a preview copy, and I loved it.  It’s the story of a husband-and-wife team of paranormal investigators, trying to save the world while not letting the kids know what they really do for a living.  There will be a full review later, but for now, I’ll just say that it’s a lot of fun.  It’s very funny, but in a different way than you might expect.  And it’s a story where the stakes are high and there are actual heroes, which is as far from the Aqua Teens as you can get.  It’s surprising and it’s really great.

And just to make things even better, I got to interview Matt Maiellaro.  (Yes, I totally freaked out.)  We talked about KNOWBODYS, Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1, andAmerica’s next favorite character.  He is, unsurprisingly, a very funny guy.

You’ve been working in TV for a long time now – what brought you to comics?  Was KNOWBODYS created specifically to be a graphic novel, or did you initially think of it in terms of a TV series?

KNOWBODYS  was an idea I had for a movie a few years back.  In the original idea, the Knowbodys were created to track down a series of mutants that had escaped a secret bio-weapons lab.  The Knowbodys had powers – but not efficient ones – more like, stupid ones.  I pitched it around a tiny bit and then put it on the shelf.  Kickstart caught wind of the idea through a friend of mine and they called, wanting to make it into a graphic novel.  Since I had never written a graphic novel, I said yes immediately.  As the project developed we ended up changing some elements to give it a more grounded tone:  we added ghosts, goblins, ghouls, the Mothman, werewolves – all the ingredients of a well-grounded story.   I wanted to add a Tree-Shark but held back on that knowing it would make its own great story up the road “Shriek of the Tree-Shark.”  So yes, it was a television series turned into a comic.

How did you come to work with artist Jesus Redondo?  Was the script finished before you had an artist, or did his style influence the way you told the story?  (And did you have any idea Sylbert Raven was going to look that disturbing?)

Jesus was recommended to me via Samantha at Kickstart.  I like how he gave the book a unique, timeless, style.  Jesus lives in Spain, doesn’t speak English, and I’m not sure if he’s ever been to New Orleans but he sure nailed it.  I saw pencils of the characters in the beginning and I felt like he was hitting the mark pretty well, so I forgot about the drawing part while I was writing the script.  So no, he didn’t influence how I wrote but I strangely found myself listening to more and more Flamenco music.

How did you approach writing KNOWBODYS as opposed to the way you write Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1?  Is it harder to write a story where you don’t have the option of, say, killing everybody and bringing them back next week?

Here is what it’s like to write Aqua Unit:  10am.  “What if Meatwad made friends with a giant, inflatable gorilla who was secretly out to sacrifice Frylock to the original Planet of the Apes film print?”  “That’s good, let’s write it.” 12noon – done.  Record it tomorrow.  Move on to next episode.  Total anti-television and anti-storytelling, yet fun.  With KNOWBODYS, I wanted to graduate to real storytelling and have the reader embark on an emotional journey with characters that they cared about.

Speaking of Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1, I just have a couple of questions I’m dying to ask.  Why the relaunch?  For me, it’s worth it for the new theme music alone, but what caused the title change?  Are you carrying the gag from “One Hundred” over into the real world?

We had to relaunch it under a new title because the ratings were so huge and we were starting to embarrass other shows on the network.  We thought a new title would curb the viewing audience but we discovered that our ratings were more enormous than ever.  As for the music, we reached out Josh Homme, who had done a voice on the show in the past, and he was game for creating a new theme.  We gave him the vibe of the new direction; 70’s style cop show and he turned in absolute gold.  For the end credit theme, we did a remix of his original instrumental stems from the open and I plugged in a Steinberger and shredded over the music.  Michael Kohler made the end-theme remix, he’s the genius sound designer behind all the shows and the movie.  We have to now change the title of the show each season.  What was the question?

There have been a couple of episodes that implied the end of the series.  (I’m thinking specifically of “The Last One”, and “The Last One Forever and Ever”.)  At the time, did anybody believe those actually were the last episodes, or do you just enjoy causing message board controversy?

We love causing controversy, as in the alleged fake bombs that shut down Boston.  We would run ads that would shut the show down every year just to give us something to giggle about.

This is probably a ridiculously nerdy question, but I have to do it.  When the show was called Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Frylock was the only one of the main characters who never died during an episode.  And now that it’s Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1, he’s died several times.  Was that a conscious change with the new incarnation?

Hurt the ones that don’t deserve it?  I don’t know.  Maybe we haven’t persecuted Frylock enough, or maybe we’ve persecuted Shake, Meatwad and Carl too much.  The audience loves it when we turn a 180 and destroy what has never been destroyed.  It’s like showing Al Gore the video footage of snow in Burbank last year; it’s unexpected.

Back to your new book, I was really surprised by the tone of KNOWBODYS – While I think fans of your TV work will really enjoy it, I was surprised by the idealism of the characters.  You have characters who really care about one another, and Derk and Betty spend the book risking their lives to do good.  On AUPS1 and your other shows, the lead characters are cynical, simple, or sometimes both.  Basically, Derk Knowbody is the exact opposite of Master Shake.  Along those lines, there’s the scene with the Hallowed Passage.  It’s just this lovely little moment before all the monster fighting.  To me, it seems like it establishes that there’s good in their world that makes it worth fighting for, and I find it really interesting.  Is there anything you want to say about that scene?

It’s a great moment in the story that defines Derk and Betty, especially Betty.  She is keeping her pregnancy a secret and is discovering what’s most important in her life, while Derk is enjoying the romance of passing souls and probably hoping they will all obey the laws of the supernatural world.

I love Gymjangle.  I realize that’s not a question.  I just feel it needs to be said.

I love Gymjangle too, thanks. America will love him in the movie as well.  I foresee a whole spin-off with Gym.

Wrapping things up, do you have anything you want to say about KNOWBODYS, and in particular, why people should be ordering it?

I want to say that KNOWBODYS embraces a global value, which is; pay attention to what is most important in your life.   And one more thing; if you visit New Orleans, you are being watched.


A Beautiful Gory Display – Kickstart Comics’ DANGER ACADEMY

By EJ Feddes On December 26, 2011


It’s been quite a year for our friends at Kickstart Comics, and they have one more release coming out this year.  Danger Academy comes out this Wednesday, and it’s a great way to wrap up 2011.  Just to give you a taste, it is a book which includes a supporting character named “Doc Violent” who leads a group of ninja librarians.  That, it should go without saying, is awesome.

 Danger Academy is an action-comedy set at a boarding school for children of spies.  It’s Hogwart’s with jet-boots and robots instead of talking owls.  (Sample lesson:  “When severing the carotid artery, it’s best to aim for an upward motion…”)  It stars John, who is essentially the son of a female version of James Bond, after he’s forcibly transferred toSpychesterAcademy.  And as you can tell from the name

 “SpychesterAcademy” (and “Doc Violent”, for that matter), it’s very much tongue-in-cheek.  (My favorite joke is the role call.  All of the students are re-named “Smith” to preserve anonymity.  The role call scene practically writes itself from there.)

 It’s a really solid blend of action and comedy.  Early on, John’s rivalry with Ernest is established.  Ernest is the son of Danger Academy’s version of Blofeld, and he’s unrelentingly nasty.  (And I just now realized that Blofeld’s first name was actually “Ernst”.  Hee!)  Of course, there’s some bad blood between John and Ernest from the very beginning.  But it goes beyond simple bullying, as Ernest is still affiliated with his father’s organization S.M.A.S.H. (“Secret Militaristic Agency of Sadistic Hatred”) this results in an attack on Spychester with surprisingly devastating consequences, and the Spychester students set out for revenge.

 There’s something kind of reminiscent of The Venture Bros. in Danger Academy – the style and the setting are very different, but the way they embrace the ridiculous genre tropes and then look at the relatable details behind them is similar.  For me, that’s a winning formula.  And I will always laugh when somebody shouts out what they’re doing in a fight – a favorite move in Danger Academy is for various characters to announce “Judo Chop!” while, you know, judo chopping.  Cracks me up every time.

 The action scenes are really exciting – the art by Dan Boultwood is more cartoony than anything we’ve seen from Kickstart so far, and I love it.  There’s a strong sense of motion, and an exaggerated dynamic quality that’s tremendously appealing.  It almost looks like a storyboard for a cartoon.  The characters are really well-designed, too.  They’re just detailed enough to be easily distinguishable without looking too busy. 

 Writer and creator Tony Lee has done a lot of work for various publishers over the last few years, and his scripts have always been clever.  He’s come up with such a great premise here, one with seemingly endless possibilities.  And if fact, though you get a complete story, Danger Academy is the only Kickstart book so far to end with a “To Be Continued…”.  I’d certainly love another volume of Danger Academy, so I hope that’s a real teaser and not just a nod to the way James Bond movies used to end (“James Bond will return in….”). 

 There’s so much fun here, and when we suddenly learn how high the stakes are, it’s a shock.  Not everybody survives the assault on Spychester, and it’s an effective dramatic moment in what had been a mostly light-hearted story up to that point.  That said, it’s tastefully handled, and shouldn’t traumatize younger readers.  Kickstart has done a fantastic job of aiming books at different audiences, and this one is completely appropriate for kids and preteens, while still being fun for folks like me.  That’s a tough balance to find, but it was only after I was done that I realized how kid-appropriate it was. 

 And what kid wouldn’t love Doc Violent and the ninja librarians?  (“Since he’s been in charge, we’ve never had a late book back.”)

 I was looking forward to Danger Academy on the strength of the concept and my familiarity with Tony Lee’s work, and I was not disappointed.  It’s funny, exciting, occasionally ridiculous, and it boasts some really appealing art.  (I can’t tell you how much I love the way Boultwood draws punching.)  It’s a great way to end a year of fine work.


Comix Portal: (P)Review:

Kickstart’s ‘Danger Academy’

Pulled from:; December 2011

Looking for a fun gift for that comics reader on your holiday shopping list? You should pick up Kickstart’s Danger Academy by Tony Lee and Dan Boultwood. It’s such a good spy story that it had James Bond-style music playing in my head as a I read it.

Here’s the book’s description: “Spychester Academy for Gifted Teens, the secret private school where the children of superspies go to be safe – but when their parents are missing, only these students can save them!”

One of the things I look for in a book is when it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There are a lot of allusions to other spy franchises and comics, such as the “Dangerous Room” or the evil organization called S.M.A.S.H., which stands for Secret Militaristic Agency of Sadistic Hatred. That group sounds SO “Bond!”

But the sequence that made me laugh out loud was that every new student gets labeled “John Smith” to protect their identities. (Eventually, they get their own codenames, like Numbers or Hand Me Down.) When one teacher took roll call for a class full of newbies, it was quite funny. They’re all named “Smith,” of course, and the script plays it for excellent comedic effect.

Don’t think that this is only a comedy, though! The action and adventure is fast-paced and pulls you from page to page. Not everyone survives, and that ups the level of our interest and uncertainty. And there are several mysteries that need solving, so there’s a lot going on! And always beware of a spy named Kitka! You just never know what she’ll do next!

Even though the students are all the children of spies, they each have their own unique personalities. Some want to be spies, some don’t, for example. The main “John Smith” in Danger Academy is the son of a famous female spy, and that turns out to be both a good and bad thing for him. He’s trying hard to reconnect with his Mom, and they link up in an unexpected way.

Of course, there are some similarities to the Harry Potter series of novels in that the school’s teachers play interesting roles in the tale and bring their own unique aspects to what’s going on. I liked the one named Doc Violent the most!

The art has something of a comic-strip or cartoon-like feel, which helps keep the tone light. It fits the feel and pacing of this story very well indeed!

I’ve always bragged on Kickstart because to date they’ve released books that have self-contained stories. Well, be careful when you start to expect things to always follow the same pattern! I won’t spoil the ending, but let’s just say that we haven’t seen the last of Spychester Academy for Gifted Teens! This book may be released this Wednesday where you are, or it could show up next week! Keep an eye out for it either way!


Comix Portal: (P)Review: Kickstart’s ‘Dead Walker’

Pulled from:; November 2011

As one of my friends likes to put it, zombies are the new vampires. They’re being explored right now like never before.

If you want to enjoy a great new take on the genre, be sure to pick up Dead Walker from Kickstart Comics!

Here’s the book’s description: “Jonathan Walker brought himself back from the dead to avenge his wife’s murder but at what cost?  While taking his revenge he must also save the world from the evil he himself created.  And, seemingly cursed to live forever, he will struggle to find new meaning in eternal life. Pencils & inks & cover by: Shannon Denton (Deadpool, The Revenant) & Matt Jacobs (Grunts w Shannon Denton), written by Christian Forte.”

If you’ve read my columns before, you know that I’m a BIG fan of Kickstart because they’re doing something unusual in the industry these days — telling self-contained stories! After reading endless storylines in ongoing comics, it’s something special to have no idea just who will survive and who won’t.

Although Christian Forte had never written a comic before, you’d never know it from his excellent script. Instead of zombies being the occasional troublemaker, the main character of Dead Walker is himself a zombie, although he’s a kind of zombie you haven’t read about before! That alone separates it from other genre hits like The Walking Dead, Zombie Tales, Marvel Zombies, Victorian Undead and Quarantined.

The plot and the pacing are terrific, pulling the readers in and not letting us go until the final page is turned. Shocks and surprises abound, from the opening sequence until the end. But don’t miss the BIG twist about halfway into the comic. It made my jaw drop open! Talk about a 180-degree turn!

The characters are engaging and interesting. For example, Jonathan has a female co-worker who does her best to support him even though he’s asking quite a lot of her, more than she ever imagined she’d have to do! Their relationship is an important one in the book, just as critical as his interaction with the “villain” of the piece, I think.

Dead Walker also shines in its art department, which is truly superb. It fits the mood perfectly and takes us to places we haven’t seen before in terms of the art, and that’s just what the reader needs when going into a new place in terms of story. Denton and Jacobs did an excellent job! Just take a look at one of the pages above!

If you’re a zombie genre fan looking for something new and different, don’t miss this comic! It’ll turn everything you know about the undead on its head … and that head won’t even fall off! The book is coming to comics shops near me tomorrow, but apparently it may be already available in other regions!