Mystery Science Theater 3000 has been a huge staple of many geek lives, particularly for those of us who were around in the 1990’s when the show really took our late night TV viewing by storm, shifting over time in delivery models and landing on Comedy Central, all the while the focus of video tapes exchanged regularly by fans. When their massive Kickstarter brought the show back, and onto Netflix, a renaissance in riffing was born, not to mention the fact that MST3K has been on a live tour of the country ahead of Season Two landing on Netflix this Thanksgiving with 6 new episodes.
It’s also a great time to be a comics fan, since Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Comic has been unleashed upon the world featuring Tom Servo, Crow, Gypsy, Jonah, and more from the Netflix show. As if that wasn’t enough, the creative team consists of the show’s creator and writer Joel Hodgson, along with Harold Buchholz, Matt McGinnis, Mary Robinson, Seth Robinson, and Sharyl Volpe, and art duties are picked up by the estimable Todd Nauck for the “skit” segments, as well as Mike Manly on the comics viewed by the bots.
It’s a cool experience, an experiment in narrative just like the show is, to pick up one of these comics and see our favorite characters brought to life in new ways. Super-fan Todd Nauck sat down with us at New York Comic Con to explore his role on MST 3K: The Comic, which you’ll find below, and you’ll also catch an exclusive preview of issue #2, which arrives this week, as part of this interview.
Hannah Means-Shannon: Well, we’re here to talk about MST3K: The Comic, versus the movie, or the show, or the Kickstarter that set records. I know you’ve probably answered this a hundred times already, but would you mind explaining how you came to be involved with this project?
Todd Nauck: I’m a long time Mystery Science Theater fan, discovered the show back in 1992 in art school, having heard a lot about it. I fell in love immediately. I felt like, “This is my show.” I started recorded episodes, and still have my VHS episodes on tape. I’m a huge fan of the show.
So, when Netflix was about to launch the new series, I did a piece of fan art and posted it on Twitter. It got retweeted by the Mystery Science Theater actors and staff, so it got some attention there. About a month or two later, Randy Stradley, editor of the book at Dark Horse, DM’ed me on Twitter, asking if I was interested in making some comics. So that’s the first time some fan art got me a job!
HMS: Hah! That’s awesome. Had you and Randy Stradley ever met before? I know you’ve been in comics for a while.
TN: No, we hadn’t. I got my start with Rob Liefeld in the early Image Comics days, an Extreme Studios kid, and from there moved to DC Comics, where I did books like Young Justice and Team Titans. From there I went to Marvel to work on Spider-Man, Deadpool, and have been there since 2006, so I’ve worked on many Marvel characters. I worked on one Star Wars story for Dark Horse back in 2002, but Randy wasn’t the editor of that book at that time.
HMS: Well, you’ve worked with so many characters, and so many “powered” characters, how bit a departure is this for you to be working with a story that isn’t in the superhero world at all?
TN: My style does fall into that “mainstream superhero American” vein, even though it’s kind of cartoony. It definitely lends itself to drawing superheroes and big Marvel action, but being a fan of the show and loving the characters so much drew me in. Kinga Forrester is pretty much an evil mad scientist, so I am kind of playing on that a bit. It is a labor of love, really. I’m getting to draw characters I’ve known for a long time, like Tom, and Crow, and Gypsy, and also some I’ve gotten to know in the past year and a half. It’s really about bringing my love of Mystery Science Theater to the art and to the fans. It does give me a chance to stretch my legs a little in new ways, artistically. Not having to rely on big superhero action definitely allows me to bend a little more towards comedy. Or just even focusing on character interaction, whether comedy or interpersonal relationships.
HMS: There is a fair amount of soap-operatic elements to some Marvel comics, of course. The interaction of characters. There’s some over-the-top, stylized aspects to some Marvel comics, too, allowing for comedy, so I imagine it’s not that different.
TN: Oh, yes. Squirrel Girl, Deadpool, She-Hulk. Absolutely.
HMS: I feel like, with this comic, you have an opportunity to operate more as a cartoonist in an old-school sense, like Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman and the like. You’re getting to draw more varied spreads and layouts, for instance.
TN: Yes. In the first issue, for instance, I was able to draw more horizontal panels, and then in subsequent strips, the way it was written lent itself toward the six-panel-grid. Knowing what they had planned for some of the comic art, keeping it in a six panel grid made it more accessible for digital uses, too.
HMS: How involved have you been in creating story? Has there been a back-and-forth at all?
TN: Joel Hodgson is writing it with his team, so Harold Buchholz, Matt McGiniss, Seth and Mary Robinson. They pretty much have the story locked down. By the time I’ve gotten it, it’s finely tuned, so it’s pretty much my opportunity to translate that visually. I do sometimes use my storytelling sensibilities. I get to figure out how to angle the shot, where I need to put the characters in relation to the dialog. And what would work best for eye-flow. Trying to keep any of the images from becoming too static, or repeating shots too much.
HMS: Yes. You have kind of limited settings to work with, right?
TN: Yes, since I just do the host segment parts, and Mike Manley and Joe Pollack do the riffed comics, for which I think they are doing a fantastic job, and a far better job than I could ever do. I am so content and thrilled to be doing the host segments. I got to draw the Satellite of Love in the first issue, but in subsequent issues, the majority of my work is in Moon 13, and the Bubbleator, as well as that portion of Moon 13 that we don’t see on the show. I got to go on set, and Seth Robinson pointed out the hallway to the Bubbleator. It does exist there in Moon 13, and they know where it would be if they built the set out. I’m pretty much using that area. The Bubbleator is so big, and there are so many different elements to that machine, as well as new elements that come in, that it takes most of my time.
HMS: That’s amazing. One of the things I remember about the early days of the show is how much geography was suggested and referred to, but of course we’d never see it. Due to extremely tiny budgets and limited filming time. Did you have any models or anything like that for reference?
TN: I did get to go on set for a couple of days while they filmed Season Two. So I got to see all the bots, and I actually purchased the Crow and Tom Servo build-a-bot replicas. Because I needed them for reference. Tax write off!
HMS: Wow! Not out of fandom, surely. It had nothing to do with that.
TN: Not at all! Not at all! I would not spend my money on things I’m a fan of. That would be ridiculous. [Laughs] But it really does help with drawing Crow. He’s such a fun character to draw, but he’s so oddly shaped. Tom Servo is a little easier. He’s a cylinder on top of a cylinder with a ball on top. But for Crow, having the build-a-bot to look at makes him so much easier to draw, since I can look at him from just the right angle.
But when I visited the set, I did get to go onto Moon 13 and onto the bridge of the Satellite of Love, and it really did help with getting the proportions of everything. For instance, I didn’t realize how large the heart door was. I thought it was six feet, and it was more like eight or ten feet. I got to see some of the new costume designs for Season Two, as well, and ask myself, “Can I reflect that in the comics that are coming out closer to Season Two?” And I was able to do that, putting Artie in his new uniform.
HMS: Are you going to be able to debut anything that fans haven’t seen before, in the comics, whether in costumes, sets, or characters?
TN: I think we will get a look at Artie’s new uniform in Mystery Science Theater: The Comic, issue #3, which should be out two weeks before the debut of Season Two on Netflix on Thanksgiving Day. I think the fans who read the comics will see a couple of things in the comic that play into Season Two before Season Two hits!
HMS: Wow! That’s amazing. Good incentive to get to the comic shop on time.
TN: Exactly. It’s all the same universe. The comics are set in the world of the show, and it’s Kinga’s domination of all media that has extended to comics.
HMS: Is there a chronology that fans should understand about where the comics fit?
TN: Not really. Because at the end of Season One, Jonah had been eaten by Reptillicus Metallicus, I believe it’s called. That metal snake thing. We were left with a cliffhanger, but as we see with the debut of issue #1 of the comic, Jonah’s on the Satellite and he’s ok. So where does that fall? I would imagine it has to fall after Season Two, technically. But I don’t know how Season Two ends with the host segments. This comic could take place just before the wedding, though. It allows the fan to place the comic in the timeframe that they would want.
HMS: Yes. We can assume there are many days and events that have never been recorded, and this can just be slotted in accordion-style, into the storylines.
TN: Exactly, since there’s gotta be down time between experiments. They can’t be showing them movies every single day.
HMS: We hope! You mentioned Crow. He moves so funny and his joints are so weird, flailing around and things. Having the model must be important for poses and movement, as well.
TN: It is. And sometimes I take a little liberty, because his head doesn’t move up or down. It’s always straight on his peg-neck. But sometimes with the angle I need to draw him in, he’d look like he’s looking down, whereas I need him to be looking out. I need to create some kind of angle of motion, so sometimes I tweak his head just a little bit, to make him look up a little bit.
You might have noticed some of the covers that he’s on, especially for issue #2, where they are falling through the sky with the bubble trails, I needed to maintain that sense of motion. But I had to be careful how far I pushed, bending the head up.
HMS: I think I understand what you mean. Basically, you want him to be just a bit more dynamic than his “biology” actually allows. Especially with covers where you have to capture peoples’ attention. Now, when you’re dealing with ‘bots, they don’t have facial expressions. How do you feel you can convey emotion or empathy to the reader?
TN: It is really challenging, absolutely. Because their faces do not pull like human faces, where you can express so much. With Crow, I can kind of unhinge his jaw a little bit, and it’s easier to take those liberties. And with his eyes, I can enlarge or reduce his pupil size to convey emotion. Servo is more of a challenge because he has no eyes!
HMS: He’s so enigmatic!
TN: It’s just this clear dome. And so, with his mouth, sometimes I can lower the bottom lip if I need him to be screaming or something. It’s pretty much: smiling or screaming.
HMS: He does scream a lot.
TN: He does. Well, they all do.
HMS: In the show, traditionally Tom’s emotions have been conveyed by a twirling motion, right? Because he’s on a stick. And they whip him from side to side in a twirl. Is that something you can convey?
TN: I haven’t had a chance to convey the twirl just yet. Since he can now fly on the show, though according to him, only in the theater, I pushed that a little bit so that he can fly on the Satellite. Especially when they run from the bubbles in issue #1, and he’s zipping back and forth, getting ready to be Bubble-ated. It was something he was looking forward to. So, I was utilizing that motion and that whimsy, capturing that spin of his, as he flies down the hallway.
HMS: That conveys a lot about his personality, and his energy. Is there something that’s been your favorite thing to draw so far? A scene or a character?
TN: Definitely getting to draw Tom and Crow, since these are characters that I’ve known for twenty plus years. Getting to draw them has been a thrill. And I’ve been able to draw some really fun images that I’m excited for fans to see in the future issues. Getting to draw the Mystery Science Theater logo in issue #1 was a big deal. I was reading the script to issue #1, and it starts with the giant moon logo, and so I’m drawing the logo that I’ve been watching spin for all these years. That was a real thrill. That’s such an iconic image for me.
HMS: What’s the current plan for how many issues will be released?
TN: Right now, it’s six issues. And with a plan for it to go into trade paperback. And if I understand correctly, if Season One of the comic goes well, I think that Joel and the team members would be happy to do a second mini-series, and I’d be happy to join them if they’d have me.
HMS: That’s awesome! They clearly have a seemingly endless font of ideas. And as the show keeps going on Netflix, as well, the community just gets bigger.
Thanks so much to Todd Nauck for being so gracious and talking to us about his fandom and his art!
Mystery Science Theater: The Comic #2 will be arriving in shops this week on Wednesday, October 24th! Pick up the new issues ahead of Turkey Day to get that sweet preview of Jonah’s new uniform too!