Wild Blue Yonder writer and co-creator Mike Raicht talks about the inspiration and origin behind the popular pulp/sci-fi title from IDW Publishing. ALSO: Check out our exclusive sketch gallery featuring art by Wild Blue Yonder artist Zach Howard.
In the teenaged fighter pilot Cola, Raicht, Howard, and Harrison have created a strong and believable female protagonist who is not without her flaws, an aeronautical savant who is nonetheless vulnerable because of her youthful impulsiveness, a seemingly willful overconfidence in her abilities, and a devil-may-care attitude that is almost assuredly meant to hide the anxieties brought on by a life immersed in combat.
Initially funded via a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $16,000, Mike Raicht, Zach Howard, and Austin Harrison’s six-issue miniseries Wild Blue Yonder is set in a post-apocalyptic future world ravaged by war and pollution. The title’s protagonist is Cola, a talented young fighter pilot who uses her prodigious air combat skills to protect her family and The Dawn, their airborne aircraft carrier and home. Cola’s family must face The Judge and his airborne fleet as they scramble for resources that are growing ever scarcer. Battles are waged between The Dawn and The Judge’s flying fortresses as jet-pack warriors and fighter planes fight for fuel, food, and anything and everything else they need to survive.
Writer and co-creator Mike Raicht recently took time from his busy schedule to talk to us about all things Wild Blue Yonder in the lead-up to the miniseries’ third issue’s release last week.
The Comixverse: In our very first conversation back in 2011, you talked about the idea for Wild Blue Yonder and how it was originally supposed to be published by Th3rd World. But then you had that successful Kickstarter campaign and the book eventually ended up at IDW Publishing. Tell us about the development process and how the book ended up where it did.
Mike Raicht: I came up with the concept along with a group of other pitches for Th3rd World over 5 years ago. I wrote the first issue of [Wild Blue Yonder] around the same time. Zach and I met while working on an Exiles one-shot for Marvel and we really hit it off. We started talking about possibly developing a new property together and I pitched [Wild Blue Yonder] to him. He really dug it and had a ton of great ideas about the world that took the concept even farther. We were excited to work on it but the reality of the situation was that we both needed to make money and working on a creator-owned project for close to a year was not something Zach could feasibly do. So as we worked on other things it was always kind of put on the back burner.
With the rise of Kickstarter, it gave Zach and I a chance to possibly take the project on while giving fans of Zach’s work (and mine!) a chance to get some cool stuff and back us if they would like to see the book become a reality. At that point, Zach was also working on a very cool project called The Dread of Bete Noire with Austin Harrison. Austin is a great story developer and business guy out in Hollywood. Zach suggested bringing him on. We all hit it off and we started to get the Kickstarter ready.
So we prepped our work and launched the Kickstarter. Zach has always had a great relationship with IDW’s Chris Ryall and was showing him our work on the book. He really dug it and spoke with us about publishing the book with them and also helping us bring Nelson Daniel on as our colorist. It was a great opportunity to reach a lot of people, and we knew we wanted Nelson to work with Zach on the look of the book, so we took it.
TCV: Wild Blue Yonder features a very detailed world with a sense of history. Where did the basic ideas for Wild Blue Yonder come from?
MR: I don’t really know. It was just one of those things. I was coming up with ideas and it kind of just came to me. I always remember my grandmother singing the “Wild Blue Yonder” song to me as a kid before bedtime. [“Wild Blue Yonder” is the colloquial name for the U.S. Army Air Corps/U.S. Air Force song—ed.] It really stuck with me. She would also tell me about her brothers, who were both pilots in World War II, and about my grandfather who was a Navy gunner on a battleship at 17. She was also serving as an army nurse in New York City at the time. It all seemed so amazing to me as a 7 or 8 year old. I had no idea what the horrors of war really entailed. Planes zipping around and giant floating fortresses sounded pretty cool to me. So I took some of those ideas and combined them with my love of post-apocalyptic stories and suddenly I just had a vision of jetpack warriors flying around between air barges fighting with crow bars and axes. I was excited to write that story. I wanted to create something I wanted to read.
After that there was still a lot of work to do setting up the world with Zach and Austin, but the initial germ of the idea happened awhile ago.
TCV: Wild Blue Yonder‘s character and vehicle designs have a retro-future, World War II feel to them. What design influences did you draw upon, and how much interaction is there between yourself, Austin, and Zach when it comes to coming up with the designs?
MR: Zach took all of our ideas and pushed them to a whole new level. I have the easy part of the job when I’m describing something in the script. I wanted planes that could zig and zag, that could move up down and all around. And also could carry jetpackers into battle. Zach has to make it a real, plausible world and he has done that times 10.
Zach was also very insistent that our tech made sense and that it could work. That was really important to him. His only other request was that he wanted Cola’s jet to be a P-38. [The Lockheed P-38 Lightning—ed.] We obviously have Cola’s plane and the Dawn’s rundown tech, but each group we meet in the air will have a different vibe just based off of how they developed things and their available resources when they started to make their air barges. The Judge and his fleet are a bit more advanced because they evolved from a more advanced military base.
I think we all wanted it to feel pulp and really lived in. That was the most important thing. We wanted it to feel like a world that has existed for awhile. These ships have been floating for generations now. We are living in a place where no one alive remembers the world as it was before.
TCV: With three people involved in the core task of creating the basics of the book, what is the give and take like? Is this a case where Cola is “your character”, Tug is “Zach’s character,” Austin has his own characters, and so on and so forth?
MR: With this story, and with other stories we are working on together this might not be the case, I brought a lot of the world and characters to the discussion to begin with. Then we all worked on developing the characters and the world from there. We just talk about it and work it out in our minds. Austin and I then spent a lot of time talking characters and their lives. How they became who they are. What their motivations are, etc.
Then, I go off and rework the outline and we play with that again. There is some give and take. We try to make sure everyone’s concerns are addressed and added into the mix or dismissed. It can be stressful sometimes, but the end result is something we believe in. Then, in the end, I sit down and write the story. I’ll send that over and Austin and sometimes Zach will send back story notes. We discuss those a bit. Then I’ll take another pass and hopefully we end up with something really tight in the end.
TCV: The reader response to Wild Blue Yonder has been overwhelmingly positive. What are you finding most surprising about the reaction to the book?
MR: I think the best thing about the book is that they are surprised it has a solid, character driven story happening along with the bad ass visuals. Everyone knows Zach’s art is some of the best around. Or if they didn’t, they do now.
One thing we’ve been especially excited about is the reaction from female readers. We love writing Cola and it has been great to hear that readers are relating to her and Tug. We wanted to make all of these characters real, grounded people living in a fantastical world. Hopefully, everyone continues to stick with us because we really love telling stories in this world.
TCV: What was the inspiration for Cola? A casual observer would probably say that—unless you’re a creator with the kind of long-established familiarity on the level of, say, a Greg Rucka or a Gail Simone or a Brian K. Vaughan—selling a comic book, a non-superhero IP at that, with a female lead is something of an uphill battle. What does Wild Blue Yonder‘s reception suggest to you about the current comics audience?
MR: Cola is just an average late teenage young woman who happens to fly a jet fighter. I always approach her as a young woman and teenager first and then a pilot second. She has known no other life so to her, this is every day normal. Her life continues on while also serving as a protector of the Dawn. She should have good and bad days, first loves and arguments with her mom just like any teen would. I know a lot of strong women in my life and I try to use them as a guide in writing her.
But this isn’t just Cola’s story, it is the story of her family and how they survive together. It is a tale about Tug and his search to belong. And finally it is about The Judge’s desire to save his people no matter what the cost. There are a lot of stories to grab onto. Our lead, Cola, is really our window into that world like you said. I love reading books and seeing movies about families struggling to survive together. I think that will grab anyone.
I do think there is a plenty of room for all sorts of stories in comics. I think readers are eager for well done books, no matter what the genre. Our main goal this entire time is to create the best book we can. If it is as good as we know it can be, readers will come give it a try. If nothing else, they will open it based on seeing Zach and Nelson’s artwork which is perpetually gorgeous.
TCV: What’s next for Wild Blue Yonder after the miniseries?
MR: Well, we’ve added an issue to the original storyline, making this initial story six issues total. We wanted to give Zach some space to breathe on our ending. We also have been killing him with over-sized stories which has caused us to fall behind a bit, but telling this story right has always been our main goal. After that we’ll just have to see. We’d love to just keep it going if the readers stay behind it. We could tell stories in this universe for years to come very easily.
TCV: You, Zach, and Austin have formed Noble Transmission. What exactly is it?
MR: Noble Transmission is a place for Zach, Austin and I to keep on creating together. Hopefully, as we build more worlds it will grow as well. And most importantly, people who check out a Noble Transmission book will know how hard we’re working to give them as cool of a reading experience as we can.
We really have a great energy right now and we’re hoping to use that to create more books for comic readers to check out.
TCV: Noble Transmission currently has two other titles listed on its website apart from Wild Blue Yonder, Buck and The Dread of Bete Noire. Both look very interesting and are quite distinct from each other. When can we expect to see these two titles in print?
MR: We are really into writing and creating all sorts of stories. We think we have something to say in a lot of genres including horror and superheroes. Both Buck and Dread are possible follow ups but we’re keeping our options open and trying to develop a few different things. Buck and Dread are properties that Zach and Austin have really been more instrumental in creating. I’m excited to dive into them with them once the time is right.
Right now we’re focused on making Wild Blue Yonder the best book is can be. After that, we’ll have to see.
MR: The Stuff of Legend and The Pack will both continue on with Th3rd World. I’ll continue to be a co-writer and writer on both. The Pack trade is going to hit this October and I’m really pumped to get that in front of more people. I think it is a fun book and if people ask for it we will try to do some more werewolf stories in the future.
The Stuff of Legend is something that Brian Smith, Charles Paul Wilson III, and Mike Devito and Jon Conkling from Th3rd World love working on together. We have two more volumes left in our tale about the adventures of Max, Jester and the rest. There is a lot left to tell, but people seem to be really into, just like we are, which is a huge blessing.
TCV: Let’s say Wild Blue Yonder gets picked up and greenlit for a feature film adaptation. Would you rather it be done as a high-end animated film along the lines of, say, The Incredibles, or a more conventional live-action feature? Who’d you want to see direct it? Who would you cast as Cola?
MR: Either would be amazing. I do think that with Zach and Nelson, we are seeing a very close to animated feel for what that world could be. I would probably like to see this world come to life in live action just so I could see Scram kick some ass with his ax and jetpack.
I’m not really sure about a director or who to cast as Cola. My mind’s eye tends to stay with whatever Zach has drawn. That becomes the reality of the world to me. I could see a lot of people being Cola. As long as they are tough enough and confident enough with a little bit of snarkiness, I’m sure they could nail it.
Wild Blue Yonder artist Zach Howard has generously provided the Comixverse with several pieces of exclusive art. Check out the gallery below: