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Comics Unleashed: Atomahawk Is Here! [Interview]

interview by David Brothers, originally published in IMAGE+ #16

Donny Cates & Ian Bederman want to rock your whole face off this year, and ATOMAHAWK is what they’re going to use to do it. ATOMAHAWK manages to be old school and forward-looking at the same time by homaging a type of storytelling established in the Silver Age and updating it for the new millennium. This is no nostalgia trip or series about how good things “used to be.” This comic is straight out of the atmosphere of 2017—a hard blast of incredible action, clever storytelling, and some excellent, excellent fight scenes.

DAVID BROTHERS: How did ATOMAHAWK come to be? What brought you two together?

IAN BEDERMAN: Donny Cates and I have been friends for a while, and whenever I would tattoo him, I would dump all these comic book ideas out there, since they weren't doing any good just sitting in my head. I had been creating a type of crystal-technology look for the sci-fi tattoos I was doing and have been creating a robot barbarian character for some time, then eventually we took all of those things and put them together into a story.

BROTHERS: ATOMAHAWK is a catchy title. What came first—the idea or the title?

BEDERMAN: The idea came first! I wanted to call it something like "Barbarian-droid" or "BARBARITRON." We were trying to figure out a weapon for the main character, and I pulled out a line drawing for a tattoo I did of a crystal hatchet I called the Atomahawk, and Donny's face lit up. 

DONNY CATES: That's true. He had me very interested in these characters and this world...and then the word “ATOMAHAWK” came out of his mouth, and I all but stood up in the tattoo chair like Doc Brown in Back to the Future and proclaimed, "THAT IS IT, IAN!! THAT’S THE BOOK!!!" 

And the rest is (ongoing) history.

BROTHERS: Donny, the character names are very direct in this, which is also true of the breakneck pace and high-octane action. What do you like about doing a comic as direct as this, one that's exactly what it says on the tin?

CATES: Yeah the name of the game on ATOMAHAWK is that we wanted it to feel like a hard-R old-school Jack Kirby Conan comic with hints of He-Man, Pantera, and Judas Priest. So it's pretty easy to name stuff like that when you are literally just messing around with your best buddy in his art studio.

ATOMAHAWK has been a literal dream come true for me. I used to dream about those days when the classic creators would all gather in the bullpen or wherever and just chop it up story-wise, you know?

So yeah, Ian lives down the street from me. I go over to his house, and we both bring sketchbooks. We choreograph our fights and plot and plan, and then Ian starts painting. And then I come and pick the pages up, and he’s changed everything we planned on, and then I have to improvise and make it all make sense!! It's honestly so much fun!

BROTHERS: Ian, you're doing pencils, inks, and colors on this project. Can you talk to us a little bit about developing the visuals for this comic? Some of the panel layouts are really inventive.

BEDERMAN: When developing the visuals, I didn't reference any comic books. I just drew everything the way I would tattoo it, and since squares and rectangles don't fit on the body very well, a lot of the panels are curved or angled. This would sometimes drive Donny crazy.

CATES: Not crazy in a bad way at all. I pick these pages up from Ian to have them scanned, and they are just always so much better than we had talked about. So for an hour or so, he'll sit me down and walk me through what's going down, and then I go home and script over it. It's a fun exercise. I've never written a book like this. And let's be honest here folks...

ATOMAHAWK is Ian Bederman's book. Straight up. He paints it, draws it, plots it...I just slap a bunch of cool Pantera-by-way-of-Conan words over it. ATOMAHAWK is Ian's baby. I'm just here to babysit while he goes and tattoos. This is a book that could not exist without him. 

BROTHERS: It feels like you two are using Jack Kirby as an inspiration without making ATOMAHAWK look just like a Kirby comic. Donny, what were you going for when you were scripting? Ian, how did you approach the action storytelling?

BEDERMAN: I take the fight scenes very seriously. Nothing upsets me more than a fight scene where the characters are just playing around with each other and not trying to kill each other. I wanted every strike to be a kill strike, and every move to flow into the next. Donny and I would often physically choreograph a fight scene to make sure that the moves line up properly.

CATES: Well, again, for my part...my story sessions with Ian are generally me just hitting him with the big emotional beats, instructing him on panel layouts (to help me script), and guiding him through page turns. But when it comes to fighting scenes...I think our scripts just have pages and pages of "Ian, go nuts here. Cyberzerker has to murder all these fools. Go sick," and that's the extent of my work on that. 

I'm not one to tell a baker how to bake bread. Ian is a master of cutting fools up with that enchanted tomahawk of his. Who I am to get in the way?!

BEDERMAN: I want readers to pick up the comic and say, "What the fuck?" and then not be able to put it down. My goal with this comic is to make a promise and deliver it.

CATES: I agree. I will add one thing, though. And this might come off as flippant, but I think I can speak for Ian when I say we don’t think about the readers very much. We think about the Cyberzerker and the Atomahawk and his quest to free his imprisoned god. It's a very brutal affair. As the series goes on, you may find yourself realizing that maybe you aren't cheering for the right guy. That maybe, just maybe...Cyberzerker is the villain of the story. So we always want to keep you (the reader) on your toes. 

This is a story unlike any other. It's what we call an "unbreakable story." Meaning anything can happen, and the story will remain in check. Time travel? Sure! Alien Gladiator games set on a giant rotting Frankenstein body stranded in space? Why not? We have SO MANY badass and insane ideas to show you all. 

HE-MAN FRONTING IRON MAIDEN AS LEAD SINGER WITH THE VOLUME TURNED UP TO LSD!!!!
(IT'S A LOT OF FUN, FOLKS! smile)

BROTHERS: We're going to be running an exclusive serialization of more ATOMAHAWK stories beginning in Image+ #2, on sale later this month. What should we look forward to seeing?

BEDERMAN: The L-ION!!

CATES: THE DESTROYLADON!!! And the mysterious origin of the CYBERZERKER AND HIS MIGHTY ATOMAHAWK!!!

ATOMAHAWK #0 debuts 10/11 and is available for preorder now.

David Brothers was born in the South, became an adult in Oakland, and edits Image+ when he's not sitting by the dock of the bay. IMAGE+ is an award-winning monthly comics magazine that's packed with interviews, essays, and features about all your favorite Image comics and your first look at upcoming releases.