CIRCUIT-BREAKER pairs Kevin McCarthy and Kyle Baker on a curious tale: in the wake of World War IV, anti-robot sentiment in Japan is at an all-time high, and robo-terrorists lurk in the shadows, waiting to strike. Chiren, a young robot girl, must deal with keeping her status as a robot secret, live her life with her mechanist grandfather, and also infiltrate a robo-terrorist group in an attempt to save the day. Rendered in a style inspired by Osamu Tezuka, CIRCUIT-BREAKER debuted this week. Here, McCarthy and Baker discuss the series.
IMAGE COMICS: CIRCUIT-BREAKER is set after World War IV, and stars Chiren, a young robot girl who ends up fighting robo-terrorists. What's the world like at this point in time? What's the status quo for humanity?
KEVIN McCARTHY: At the outset of the series, we learn that the rest of the world has been devastated in a war that Japan won, thanks in large part to robot soldiers that defended its shores against an invading army of superheroes from the West, culminating in a final battle that's detailed in our third issue. Gracious in victory, Japan accepts any and all surviving refugees and becomes a multicultural melting pot of the remains of humankind, huddled together in a crowded super-city presaged by countess manga and anime.
Where the story picks up, we find robots marginalized by a society that no longer has much need of them, or worse, still remembers when they were the enemy and resents them. Without a definite function to perform, some of these robots revert to their original programming and start fighting back against a perceived new enemy. They reject humanity, calling themselves the "Prime Numbers Gang" because they choose a prime number to go by when they join. And since a prime number is "only divisible by one and itself," our hero Chiren (herself a robot in disguise) is tasked by their remorseful creator with taking them down.
KYLE BAKER: Visually, I wanted a very futuristic high-tech look and at the same time I assumed there would still be some older structures remaining intact. I also thought that the world should be overrun by trademarks. I Live in New York, and the city just looks like a big pile of trademarks and brands.
IC: "Pinocchio" is often a go-to in these kinds of stories, but it feels like you're rejecting that in favor of having a character who is pretty comfortable in her skin, synthetic or otherwise. What kind of person is Chiren at the start of the story?
McCARTHY: She's just your average Japanese teenager. She attends Shinjuku Ward Ushigome Number 1 junior high school, and is on the baseball team. And you're right, she doesn't aspire to be a "real girl" because in her mind she already is real, and hopefully, a likable hero that readers will root for. If anything, she's more like Clark Kent in that she could clobber the baseball every time she steps up to the plate, but has to hold back in order to maintain her "secret identity" as a robot.
Unlike the other robots in this story, Chiren looks like a human. She needs to, in order to operate in an atmosphere of machine mistrust. But her appearance, and her privileged status as the "granddaughter" of a renowned mechanist, has inoculated her against some of the harsher realities of artificial life in the year 20XX. With each encounter she has with a "robo-terrorist" she begins to see they sort of have a right to be hostile; that the humans aren't all right and Prime Numbers isn't all wrong.
BAKER: I took a lot of inspiration from my daughters. They love anime and manga and they like to dye their hair crazy colors.
IC: Both of you have cited Osamu Tezuka as being a major influence on you. What is it about Tezuka's work that drew you in?
McCARTHY: For me, it was his respect for the reader regardless of their age. His writing for kids could be, in many ways, as dark as his works for a more mature audience, and that definitely left a huge impression of how comics should be. The origin of Astro Boy in particular, where a young boy dies and his grief-stricken father builds—then immediately rejects—a robotic replacement was devastating to me. We have a scene in the last issue of CIRCUIT-BREAKER that is a direct response to that origin, and on the topics of human frailty and absurdity somewhat.
BAKER: Kimba The White Lion was my favorite TV show as a kid, and so I've always been a fan of Tezuka. I love all of his cartoons. He's one of the greats!
IC: Kyle, you've always tailored your visual approach to the story in question, and CIRCUIT-BREAKER is no different. What's the mood or feel you're going for with CIRCUIT-BREAKER? What was foremost in your mind while coming up with this specific storytelling style?
BAKER: I'm going for a FUN mood. Foremost in my mind is entertainment! Reading comics is fun.
IC: Kevin, you've mentioned elsewhere that the foundation for CIRCUIT-BREAKER occurred to you in the '90s. What was it about Kyle's work that made him the perfect collaborator for the series?
McCARTHY: Apart from his being The Greatest Cartoonist of All Time™ you mean? Back when I first had the germ for what would become CIRCUIT-BREAKER, Kyle and I had already worked together briefly. He drew the cover for the unpublished third issue of my Image Comics/Motown Machineworks book CASUAL HEROES. The main character was called Saturn Red, and the title of the issue was "Why I Hate Saturn Red." A long way to go for a joke I never got to tell. Anyway, even though that issue never came out, it paved the way for us to work together a few times since.
What makes him the perfect collaborator for this project is that, not unlike Tezuka, Kyle is able to handle both the humor and horror of life in his work and have neither seem out of place, even when it's coming from an otaku vending machine with a vintage Battlestar Galactica Cylon Centurion head. When Kyle told me he intended to draw CIRCUIT-BREAKER in a Tezuka-inspired style, it in turn inspired me to take what was initially intended as my answer to the foxy female-led comics fad of the '90s and turn it into something I can proudly show to my five-year-old son.