By Vernon Miles
Genre fans don't have to look far to find sweeping sci-fi epics about heroes fighting to save the galaxy and protect those they love.
Errand Boys, the new 5-issue miniseries from writer D.J. Kirkbride, artist/colorist Nikos Koutsis, and letterer/designer Frank Cvetkovic, isn’t one of those stories. Anyone looking for a story about heroic starship captains and intergalactic gods should look elsewhere. The life of an Errand Boy isn’t glamorous, but if you need something—legal or extralegal—they can deliver.
“There's something about scrappy folks just trying to get by in a big, over-the-top future world that felt right for this particular tale,” Kirkbride explains. “As much as I love space wizards with laser swords, the scoundrels in their junky ships scraping by to make a living is a little more relatable and interesting to me at the moment.”
The first of the eponymous Errand Boys is Jace Lopaz, a 30-year-old human eeking out a living in a sprawling metropolis. Kirkbride describes Jace as a brash, “leap-before-looking” kind of character. He revels in quippy action and derring do, but beneath the surface, Jace’s life is a mess. His apartment and his love life both lie in shambles, largely through his own neglect.
“Jace [is] an ‘analog’ guy in a ‘digital’ world!” Koutsis says. “He’s neither clean-cut or sleazy—he’s just trying to fit in. And always fails. He’s always on the run, falling down (literally and metaphorically), so he has knee patches and sports shoes. A toolkit belt seemed to be an obvious addition and a Solo/Indy jacket, just because I grew up on those characters and am now paying tribute to them! And that soul patch along with those Elvis sideburns gave him a rock band member look, living a road movie life!”
The other titular Errand Boy is Jace’s younger half-brother, Tawnk. A fatal accident in Jace and Tawnk’s family forces the older half-sibling to reluctantly take custody of Tawnk, who, despite their family relations, couldn’t be more different. Tawnk is only half human, and his worldview is decidedly more naive. He’s much younger than Jace and thriving in school until his brother pulls him out and ropes him into the new family trade.
“Some readers might find [Jace] less sympathetic than others at the start,” Kirkbride says. “His callousness toward Tawnk is one of his many defense mechanisms. How much mileage a reader gets out of that might vary, but they are both dealing with the same thing from different angles. Tawnk is more open and honest about his feelings, though, which I think makes him the more sympathetic brother. Nobody's perfect, though, and I want all the characters in this book to have flaws and flashes of true goodness.”
In the midst of the family drama, Errand Boys gives the reader a look into a fully realized sci-fi world, exclusively framed from the street level. The aliens encountered aren’t leviathans; they’re security guards and office managers.
“Jace isn’t a clean-cut person, and his life hasn’t been easy, so the world he lives in must reflect this,” Koutsis says. “And then Tawnk shows up unexpectedly. His shoes aren’t dirty, and this makes a great contrast! When you have a shiny-tiny piece surrounded by a smudged environment the world looks more lived-in and torn. And this is how I’ve rendered everything!”
In blending the human with the truly alien, Koutsis says it was important for many of the aliens to have relatively human facial features, even if they're surrounded by feathers or snail antennae.
“Even if they have an outlandish and completely inhuman structure, as long as you shape their face with human features, capable of making human expressions, it’s enough to start relating with them,” Koutsis explains. “But it’s not just about the looks! Jace has been dating Max, a four-fingered, pink-skinned lady with no nose and a couple of snail-like antennae on her forehead. She seems to be smarter and more capable of taking care of things than he does. What does this tell us about life on Old Ebb and its inhabitants? About civilization’s evolution?”
And many of the aliens met are just as ruthless or cunning as humans—some moreso. He may not fully realize it yet, but Jace is in over his head and he might not be the only one paying the price. These main characters exist at the bottom rung of a social ladder that Koutsis says works very well for those at the top; people of wealth and status for whom Jace and his friends are disposable tools.
“There's an extra element of danger to working outside the law, and in this way, the law's even harsher than it is now,” Kirkbride says. “Jace is risking more than he realizes with each job, and there is a potential for real consequences. While big space operas are fun and grand, this story has more personal stakes. The universe isn't necessarily in danger, but this estranged family is. And that's more relatable to me, honestly.”
Errand Boys #1 Releases on October 3, 2018