One of my favorite, funnest assignments ever.
I’m just gonna throw out a few random thoughts, here, excuse me if they are muddled.
It was kind of a weird assignment, in a way. I was asked to write the book, the idea was that Grant Morrison had come up with some outlines for character revamps, and didn’t have the time to write them. So they wanted ‘dream matches’ for creators to take those books on.
I was not really interested at first. I like things about the Atom, but he was never a huge favorite. And his stories had turned really unpleasant, and just kept going down that black hole, following Identity Crisis. Also, no offense to Grant, but I didn’t really have any interest in being anyone’s proxy, I just didn’t feel that would play to my strengths or interest.
They said a couple things that made me change my thinking. First, we could start the character over with a new guy in the suit. Second, he would be Asian, and third, they wanted something really fresh and new.
I looked and couldn’t find a single Asian male lead in any recent mainstream comic that wasn’t a kung fu or martial arts comic and even THOSE were pretty scarce in recent years. There was really a gap there. Additionally, I had been doing a lot of cons and had seen so many Asian readers who would ask for more characters that looked a little bit like them. One of the weirdest things in the industry is how many Asian creators there are, and yet we have so very very few Asian lead books (again, excluding excellent work done in independent comics, of course, just talking the superhero stuff).
And when they existed, there was a lot of martial arts stuff, that was almost all that these characters had in the way of personalities sometimes.
I don’t exclude myself from this criticism AT ALL, by the way, it’s been pointed out that most of the Asian females I have created have been martial artists and it’s absolutely correct, and something I am trying to fix. I love those things, I love all that culture AND the cinematic martial arts stuff of so many countries but it’s clearly messed up if EVERY character is just that. It’s problematic in the extreme.
Anyway, I had so many readers and so many creator friends who were Asian, and still there was so little of that represented in the big name books. And coincidentally I had just been to a couple conventions in Canada, particularly Calgary, where the readership was in huge part Asian.
But additionally, I love science, and had just read a book about new advances in micro-photography, all about these AMAZING landscapes that are all around us, but too small to see. I thought if we could figure out how to translate that, and put it into a science guy, not a geek, really, but a voracious lover of science, that that would be tremendous fun. I was sick of grim and gritty, I wanted a hero.
Here it got a LITTLE weird…recently, Grant Morrison did an interview where his objection to the book was that I was trying to be him.
I’m sorry, Grant, not even close. I love you, but no, I wasn’t.
Here’s how this went: Grant had done an outline, a synopsis, with some story beats and some ideas for the new series.
To say it was sparse would be kind. It was very thin, very few details. It had some cool story beats but nothing that really made a character. I think Grant was leaving that to whomever took over the book.
As the same time, I had been asked just weeks before to pitch a KID FLASH book, featuring Bart. I loved this idea, but I wanted to do something different…my thinking was that Bart would be able to process information faster than anyone on Earth, because he was raised on pure information in the future.
So he reads every book in every language.
Suddenly, he’s the world’s most knowledgeable person, but still has the maturity of a young kid.
From there, he decides to go to university early.
I wrote up a long pitch, with story ideas.
That book got held up, so I used the entire thing, almost every bit of it, and plopped Ryan Choi in it.
So the pitch was my pitch. To be honest, I didn’t even finish reading Grant’s. I’m sure it was brilliant, but the pitch I had in mind was just so much fun I didn’t need the outside material. Again, NOTHING against Grant, he’s achieved so much more than I likely ever will, and he’s been nothing but great to me.
But the truth is the truth. There are two bits I remember that made it into the series-Grant created and named Panda Potter, and it was his idea to have mini-aliens attack the Oval Office. Both great, fun ideas. I used them immediately.
The bigger truth is, I have my own brand of weird. Anyone who has read my Secret Six, Deadpool, Simpsons, or Welcome To Tranquility is aware of that. I love Grant, but he was not my influence on any of that stuff.
The influence was Steve Gerber, a hero of mine to this day. Steve was doing this stuff long before any of the Vertigo Brits were even writing comics, I think, and he had a massive influence on my brain and still does. When I look at influences, it’s not really the guys that most people think of first these days—it was people like Steve, Dwayne McDuffie, Beau Smith, talented guys who didn’t always get the credit they deserved.
The book is so completely stuff to the brim with everything I love; kaiu, science, robots, gymnastics, time flux, weird fantasy, flirting, strange forgotten corners of the DCU…I might as well have signed my name on every page.
Anyway, I had been hoping to get a manga artist, or perhaps a Chinese studio. I really hoped to work with my wonderful, gifted friends at Udon Studios, who are some of the best and most distinctive artists in comics. Their founder, Erik Ko, is one of my dearest friends, and he often helped with translations in the middle of the night and extra source material on China. He is a complete doll.
But weirdly, we ended up with a very traditional choice. He did a great job, but I feel the book didn’t sing until Mike Norton showed up…he was a brilliant, clean artist, but he also loved drawing the weird stuff. I couldn’t stump him.
And that’s how Ryan was born.
One of the surprising things is how Ryan permeated outside of the United States. Every time I go to an Asian country, it’s clear that the local readers miss him and want him back. Especially Singapore…just every time, a long line of people with ATOM comics to be signed. Makes me happy!
And I’ve spoken about this, but when my small town hosted a bunch of comics-loving Japanese teens, someone told them I wrote American comics, and those kids knew Ryan Choi, but not Wonder Woman (this baffled me for a while…until I realized Ryan had shown up in animation a couple times).
But beyond all that, I just think he was fun, a fun character with a joy for life, a guy who did the right thing and wasn’t full of misery or selfishness.
As a side note, I wanted Ryan to have a style note in his comics, something like the FLASH FACTS that used to appear in Flash comics. I know it was a nostalgia note, but I came up with the idea that Ryan would think of quotes from people he admired during stress situations. I do that myself sometimes, and Ryan is super-smart with an amazing memory.
So he would have a little quote caption box for comedians and philosophers, but especially scientists.
That was a BLAST, but also a pain in the ass because I had to personally get permission to use those quotes from the people themselves. We had famous scientists, magicians, and comedians, along with DCU figures thrown in for fun, people like Michael Shermer, Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, Penn Jillette, Arthur C. Clarke, guys from Nasa and other science agencies, that was just hugely cool.
And we felt sorta vindicated…Entertainment Weekly called the series, “A MIND-BLOWER, BEST NEW ONGOING COMIC OF THE YEAR.”
Just random Atom thoughts. One of the great things has been seeing Ryan make it onto the DC animated universe. I love that.