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  • Writer's pictureBrad Gullickson

NacelleVerse Scoop from Hunter Gorinson and Brian Volk-Weiss

We chat with Oni Press's publisher and Nacelle's founder about resurrecting the Ishtar of action figure toys.


NacelleVerse Interview

Welcome to our Creator Corner, our reoccurring interview series, where we chat with the coolest and most thought-provoking creators in the industry. In this entry, we're conversing with Oni Press Publisher Hunter Gorinson and Nacelle founder Brian Volk-Weiss about the NacelleVerse. Listen to the unedited audio HERE.

 

Press releases sometimes reach beyond your computer screen and slap you across the face. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it leaves a mark, a psychic tingle you can't shake. When Oni Press and Nacelle announced their partnership during last year's New York Comic-Con, we did a double take and hit refresh on our monitors. They're constructing the NacelleVerse, a vast landscape connecting several classic and not-so-classic licenses.


It's all set to launch in comic book form with a zero-issue landing in shops on March 20th. The comic, written by Melissa Flores and illustrated by Diogenes Neves, Francis Portela, Rahmat Handoka, and Rhoald Marcellius, promises to connect an eclectic array of brands: Robo Force, Biker Mice From Mars, Sectaurs, The Great Garloo, and Power Lords. We grew up in the eighties; we recognize and love a few of those lines, but the others leave us scratching our heads.


We carry no confusion regarding the talent assembled by Oni Press publisher and president Hunter Gorinson and Nacelle founder Brian Volk-Weiss. Beyond those artists listed above, Oni has nabbed Mike Deodato Jr, Marco D'Alfonso, and Dustin Weaver for some radical cover work. The comic books will serve as prequels to the animated shows, which already have Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Ryan Reynolds attached (Robo Force and Biker Mice From Mars). The NacelleVerse is a hefty endeavor with many voices contributing, and managing it all must come with a bit of stress.


We have admired both Hunter Gorinson and Brian Volk-Weiss from afar. Under Gorinson's short tenure at Oni Press, he's steered some irresistible artists their way. Brian Volk-Weiss' The Toys That Made Us was appointment television when it first aired on Netflix. It has quickly become some of our favorite rewatchable programming (and came in handy the first time we interviewed Kevin Eastman). Also, a special shout out to Volk-Weiss for producing some of our favorite stand-up specials - y'all see Maria Bamford's Local Act? Ali Wong's Baby Cobra? Get on 'em.


We were delighted to chat with Gorinson and Volk-Weiss about the NacelleVerse. We discuss the strange origins of their collaboration, the complications of producing such a narrative across multiple mediums, and how Aliens vs. Predator and Age of Apocalypse inspired them.

 

NacelleVerse Origins


NacelleVerse 0 Issue
Image Credit © 2024 Oni Press

Brad: I am kind of in shock that we're having this conversation about this particular brand. I was an '80s kid. I did have Sectaurs. I did enjoy some Biker Mice from Mars. Never in a million years did I think we would see them again, and I guess that's where we got to start. When that New York Comic-Con press release came, whew, that was a surprise. How'd we get there?


Hunter Gorinson: It's kind of a long and winding road, Brian. Should you tell it or should I?


Brian Volk-Weiss: Do you want me to do the first? I'll do up until meeting you-


Hunter Gorinson: Sure, tell them how you got there. I'll tell them how we got there.


Brian Volk-Weiss: That's probably a good way to do it. So my company was very famous for doing comedy, standup comedy and just talk shows and sketch, and that's pretty much all we did for 15 years. I am a toy collector and I had been trying to sell a show about toys for seven years. Netflix finally did -- fun fact, it is the first Netflix unscripted show ever, The Toys That Made Us. The show is a passion project. It was a hobby. I didn't really think too much about it, except to this day, it's the greatest thing I think I've ever done in my career, other than maybe a couple of things with Lucasfilm and Disney and whatnot.


But anyway, the show came out, changed everything for us. We went from being 99% comedy to about 50% comedy over the course of 18 months. It led to The Movies That Made Us and all these other things. So we started getting a lot of incoming phone calls, and one of those incoming phone calls directly led to us buying the copyright for Robo Force, which was a toy that I knew nothing about. It actually was, I think, inarguably the Ishtar of the toy business back in the day. But I always loved the designs. I didn't know anything about it, but I loved the designs. I had almost every single character in my collection as well as some of the vehicles.


We bought the copyright; we put the toys into production. We'd never made a toy before. We put a cartoon into production. We'd never made a cartoon before. Slowly but surely, people heard about it. We got a call that led to getting Garloo. We got another call that led to Power Lords. So all these calls kept coming in, which would eventually include Biker Mice from Mars and a few others.


And I'll be honest with you, I wish I was like Doc Brown, where I remembered the moment when I thought of it, but at some point, it just didn't make sense to me to do each one of them by themselves. I was like, "We should combine them," so that's what we did. So even Robo Force and Biker Mice from Mars, both of which have cartoons in production right now, from day one. In fact, I've never said this out loud before. The original script for Robo Force opened with Arkus, who's the bad guy from Power Lords, doing the narration. That has since been removed because everybody was like, "Who the hell is this?" But my point is it was very deliberate to combine them. Along the way, I had the pleasure of meeting this good-looking gentleman right here, Mr. Hunter, and then...


Hunter Gorinson: And then me and Brian were introduced. I was actually working at a different comic book publisher at the time. I was a huge fan of The Toys That Made Us and The Movies That Made Us, which I think, call it timing, call it the obvious quality of the show, really captured something, opened up a portal into the weird crossover that exists between comics, toys, pop culture, existed right at the nexus of that and I thought just executed and succeeded on that in so many ways.


So, Brian had this crazy idea, which was The NacelleVerse, which is, "We've been producing the show, it's hugely successful, but in the background, I've been slowly acquiring all of these toy and animation brands. What if we cobbled them together?" We're working on a pretty ambitious slate of animation stuff. Would you be interested in doing comics?"


And I'll be honest, there was a lot of chutzpah in that pitch. You know what I'm saying? And I admired that, and I actually thought it was a pretty cool idea. A few months later, I'm here at Oni Press. I took over as publisher in December of 2022, and me and Brian got to talking again. And lo and behold, we started throwing around some ideas, started throwing around some possible talent. Melissa Flores, who I've known for a long time and is phenomenally talented, agreed to join us. Now we're on the cusp of NacelleVerse #0 hitting shelves in a little over a month.

 

NacelleVerse vs. Aliens vs. Predator vs. Apocalypse


NacelleVerse Biker Mice From Mars
Image Credit © 2024 Oni Press

Brian Volk-Weiss: And one thing I just want to say to that, just because I love this, when I was a kid, I loved, it was one of my favorite comics ever, Aliens vs. Predator, because if you remember, there was no internet and I've never been -- even though I'm a huge fan, I'm not in any fan clubs or anything.


Brad: [Holds up a copy of Aliens vs. Predator: Eternal ]


Brian Volk-Weiss: Look, dude, I just got chills, man. I just got fucking chills.


Brad: I bought this today.


Brian Volk-Weiss: What?


Brad: Yeah, today.


Brian Volk-Weiss: Are you serious?


Brad: Yeah. I went to the comic book shop to pick up my books and saw this Alex Maleev limited series. Had to get it.


Brian Volk-Weiss: That is crazy. I literally got chills seeing that. And I feel like I'm a normal, maybe even less than normal, comic book guy. I go once every month or so. I pick up this here and that, but I'm not like a crazy comic book guy. But from my childhood, I will never, ever, ever, ever forget when Aliens vs. Predator #0 came out. I had no idea it was coming. I saw it, kept going, and walked back. It was one of the greatest things of my childhood.


So when I was talking to Hunter, I was like, "Dude, I'm not a big comic book guy. I defer to you on all the comic book stuff, but do you know about Aliens vs. Predator zero?" And that's how we came up with NacelleVerse zero.


Hunter Gorinson: The other touchstone for this intro book, too is one of my personal favorites, probably from a year or two after the AvP #0 issue, we speak of it in hallowed tones, you know what I mean, Age of Apocalypse Alpha, which also launched an entire series of short miniseries. And so that's kind of the conception here, too, is to use the zero issue as a launch pad, introduce the foundations of the universe, and then spin them out into their own separate introductory series.


Brad: Yeah, so you're both talking my language. I love licensed comics. Licensed comics are what got me into comics. My first comic book ever was GI Joe 103, with Storm Shadow crashing through the ceiling. And when you look at those licensed books at that point, especially those coming from Dark Horse at the time, they were so stylish. They brought on incredible artists to tell these toy stories, and they found ways to create compelling narratives with these brands.


You release that image of NacelleVerse #0 with Mike Deodato Jr. art. It's hard not to get excited about it. It seems like you're also very focused on making sure you have the right talent and the talent that pops on the page.


Brian Volk-Weiss: Yeah, yes. I mean, that's Hunter. I can talk about Melissa because I've worked with her. I would've never known her without Hunter, but it was so funny. We had our first meeting. Imagine three hours of me being like, "And then this, and then Arkus, and then that, and then Wrecker." And she's just sitting there writing it down, and I'm like, "She's going to quit. She's going to quit. She's going to nod and smile and leave. And then Hunter's going to text me and be like, 'We're going to send you some more writer options.'" Then a week later, we got this outline. And just to be clear, we had an idea of what we wanted to do by combining characters, but there was no idea, there was no creative idea. Melissa was the one who was like, "All right, we take this character, use them like this, then we have these other..." It was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.


Hunter Gorinson: When it comes to not only the artist casting, the casting of all the talent on the books, the central premise that I come from, as a lifelong, die-hard comic book fan, when I was reading comics when I was five, when I was 13, when I was 15, when I was 25, and even now as I steadily barrel towards 40 like a freight train, the central premise that I always tried to consider, and it's only come to the fore as now I've had the great pleasure of actually making hundreds if not thousands of comics at this point, is not, is it a creator-owned comic? Is it a superhero comic? Is it a licensed comic? But is it cool? You know what I mean? There's something about comics where it's like... Am I allowed to swear on the show, Brad?


Brad: You can, yes.


Brian Volk-Weiss: Amazing.


Hunter Gorinson: I think about this all the time, and it still gives me chills sometimes when I'm in my druthers thinking about it, but comics might be the coolest fucking medium to tell a story on the entire planet. There is something weird and intrinsically awesome about it that just unlocks something. When we were talking about the NacelleVerse books internally at Oni, we didn't even really think of them as licensed books.


After is it cool, the next thing we think about is are we excited to work with the people that are worth doing this with? And I think Nacelle and Brian and Brian's team check that box in a big way. Melissa checks that box in a big way. We have some awesome artists contributing, both to the zero issue and the individual series, like Francis Portela, who I worked with back in my days at Valiant, drew Faith for us, which was a huge hit at the time, got nominated for an Eisner. Diogenes Neves, who's been doing a ton of work for both Marvel and DC, is coming over, going to draw Robo Force as well as a big portion of the zero issue. Just a really pretty cool cast of folks.


And so I think this book and this line of books will defy what people's expectations may be for "licensed comics" because already I was telling Brian, we've been reviewing artwork as it comes in together, and it's like actually, it's a pretty kick-ass book we have here. You know?


Brian Volk-Weiss: Yeah, it is so surreal.

 

Respecting What You Can in the NacelleVerse


NacelleVerse Garloo The Great
Image Credit © 2024 Oni Press

Brad: I mean, it's surreal as a viewer and a soon-to-be reader because, as you said, Brian, Robo Force, that was the Ishtar of action figure toys, right? These aren't necessarily the top-tier characters from that era, even though there are folks like me who hold them in high regard. Is the brand a hurdle in some way? Are these characters a hurdle in some way? You have to convince them; you have to show them that they are cool.


Hunter Gorinson: I'll say this, which is one thing that really intrigued me. You've touched on something that actually really intrigued me about what Brian and Nacelle were building when we first initially talked about it, which is, as you know, I often describe myself kind of jokingly; I'm sure Brian could say the same thing at this point, as a comic book publisher or someone who's worked in this industry and also in film and TV for a little bit, sometimes I describe myself as a veteran of the IP Wars. Do you know what I'm saying?


Brad: Mm-hmm.


Hunter Gorinson: As we're at this advanced stage, every single thing that we loved as a 10-year-old has been adapted. And if it hasn't been adapted, it's been optioned 1 billion times; it's been spun off into an unsuccessful 2007 reboot on some forgotten streaming service or cable channel. You know what I mean?


What I find to actually be exciting about several of the properties that are in the mix within The NacelleVerse is they're kind of tabula rasa. While there are certain things that define these characters, and Brian is obviously our steward in making sure that we don't violate some of the sacred things that make portions of the universe work and what defines the characters, they're a blank slate. With that comes an inherent sense of risk to the storytelling. You know Optimus Prime can't die. You know what I mean? He's going to come back. With The NacelleVerse, there's the opportunity to do crazy stuff that hasn't been done before, because this isn't the 19th reboot. This is the first time these characters have ever come together. You know what I'm saying?


Brian Volk-Weiss: I would add to that, as you were saying about the hurdle. Is there a hurdle? Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I would say of all the properties we're working with, Biker Mice is the most well-known, but what is Biker Mice compared to the Avengers? Now I'm going to get a million DMs, but anyway. Sorry, Biker Mice fans. I love it.


But my point is our solution to that issue, which we were aware of from the first minute, is just everything all at once. So, we didn't just start making toys, or we did start with toys, but we knew we were going to finance cartoons. We green light the toys, we make Robo Force first, but at the same time, we hired writers, then we did a deal with an animation studio, and then we attached The Rock to Robo Force. Simultaneously with that, we did the same thing with Biker Mice, except it was Ryan Reynolds, but they're two very different IPs. Robo Force, nothing. They were halfway through a pilot that got killed, and I took what was the original story... I don't know how much you know about Robo Force, but -


Brad: I've learned a lot today. I watched some of that pilot this morning.


Brian Volk-Weiss: I'm sorry to hear that. But what happened with Robo Force, which a lot of people forget or probably never even knew, was they were announced on a Tuesday at Toy Fair. And then it was like the biggest thing in the world. Toys That Made Us order 2 million units. It was this huge guaranteed hit. Then on Thursday, Hasbro introduces this thing called Transformers, and again, just keeping it apples to apples, Toys "R" Us reduces the 2 million unit order to half a million and so on and so on. Robo Force gets killed. So we took that story that is literally the backbone, the spinal column of Robo Force, and we just did whatever the hell we wanted.


Biker Mice, on the other hand, had a defined story, a wonderful story, three seasons, and it was the opposite of Robo Force where we had to take what had happened and do it again, but improve it. And the example that we've lived by is J.J. Abrams's 2009 Star Trek reboot where, and again, this is our cornerstone, it's the scene where they're going up to the Enterprise for the first time. Kirk says to the guy next to him, "Hey, who are you?" And he's like, "My nickname is Bones because my wife took everything except my bones." So for me, as a lifelong Trekkie, I'm like, "Oh my God! Now I know where Bones comes from." My wife, who could give two shits about Star Trek, she laughed and thought that was great too.


So that's the model we used for Biker Mice, and by putting all these things in production simultaneously, I think we'll have a critical mass, which we're already starting to see, that will get people to at least tune in. And then, hopefully, if we all do our jobs right, people will love it and keep going with it. And just so you're aware, in case this isn't clear, the comic books are all acting as basically prequels to the cartoons.

 

Weaving the NacelleVerse Together


NacelleVerse Robo Force 1
Image Credit © 2024 Oni Press

Brad: Right. Yeah, so you've got multiple stories happening in multiple mediums, and you're treating each cell as something unique. You have to approach it with a different lens. But then, at the same time, you're also saying it's one big universe. How do you manage that cohesion?


Brian Volk-Weiss: You have to be true to the characters, which is easier or harder, depending on the property. So again, with Robo Force, we just have to be consistent with what we created. But let's talk about Sectaurs for a second. We've forgotten all about Sectaurs, my bad.


With Sectaurs, we have to be respectful of what Mike Moody did. So you take that, and you create it. But then, and again, just going back to Melissa for a second, like Garloo, everybody knows about Garloo now because apparently it's the only toy that Howard Stern talks about, but it was this huge hit toy in the '60s up until the early '70s. There was no character. It was this four-foot tall, metal, weird foam coming out of the shoulders toy with a remote that could pick shit up. But there was no character.


So Melissa, actually, because we, at Nacelle, we haven't even started working on Garloo, Melissa, we gave her some thoughts that we had because Garloo is all over Robo Force, and we set up in the comic book why he's all over Robo Force, but it was Melissa who basically breathed life into Garloo as a character for the first time. So just using that as a microcosm for the whole thing.


Brad: And Hunter, putting comics together is no easy thing, and now here you are entering into this massive licensing. You have to tie in with the cartoons, you got to be respectful of the designs. I'm sure there are lots of extra voices when you're working with a product like this. Is it more difficult than any other comic you guys publish?


Hunter Gorinson: I wouldn't say it's more difficult. It has its own certain set of challenges because it's ambitious, in terms of what Nacelle has laid out with the storytelling potential of this universe. It is an ambitious thing, and then I think our publishing plan, which now extends into 2025 at this point, with a bunch of stuff we haven't even announced yet, is also pretty ambitious. As you can see, well, folks at home, folks listening can't see it because this is audio-only, but Brian's in his office right now in Burbank; he's surrounded by hundreds of pages of awesome concept art. Brian has one of the coolest offices I've ever been in.


I hesitate to call it a challenge, but definitely something we navigate is if you're writing or drawing Spider-Man, you're probably intimately familiar with the character of Spider-Man. Long before you were ever professional, you were doodling Spider-Man's face on the back of your notebook in middle school. You know what I mean? In the case of many of these characters -- with the exception of maybe Biker Mice who have been in comics before. Power Lords were in comics before. Sectaurs obviously had an awesome, I think it was an 11-issue run at Marvel.


Brad: It did.


Hunter Gorinson: But they haven't been in comics in quite some time. So the current generation of folks working on them have never put them to paper before. And that's a process in and of itself. It's a little bit just like the act of creation. How do these characters interact with each other on the page? What is the scale of Garloo next to a member of the Robo Force? These are all things we're kind of defining on the comic page. And because we're doing this before the first episodes of the show come out, they're all that more important. We're trying to treat them with a kind of reverence and make sure that we are properly respecting the canon that's being lined up so that everything fits together properly.


Brad: Brian, you touched a little bit on this already in talking about Star Trek (2009) and how it was able to straddle different audiences, but the audience for these cartoons, these toys, these comics, what is the age range for it? You can't just be making these things for 40-year-olds like myself.


Brian Volk-Weiss: No. I mean, again, there's no better word than ambitious for what we're doing, and it might not work. So I mean, I don't want to be like, "It's so ambitious, it's guaranteed to work." Who knows? We'll see. We're going to find out. And again, I got to give Hunter props. I mean, he signed up for this. We didn't want to just do one thing. We wanted to do The NacelleVerse. We had offers from other comic book companies just to do one or the other of our properties. So for so long with Hunter, I'd be like, "Yo, trust me, there's a big movie star. Trust me, we're going to green light a series." And we ultimately ended up doing it.


But to your question specifically, what we're trying to do, and I know this is the gold standard, we're trying to make a four-quadrant property that will work for my 12-year-olds, but will also work for 40, 50, even 60-year-olds. And the way we're doing that, is basically every genre in which we're operating in as it relates to comic books or toys or TV shows, they're slightly for different audiences. So the cartoon, for example, the aesthetic is for children. So even my five-year-old could watch it, and he's seen some of the episodes already, and he's like, "I want to see more. I want to see more." He doesn't understand a goddamn thing anybody's talking about in the cartoon because the scripts are for 12 and up. There's some pretty serious stuff in them, but it's not serious enough that it would bother the parents of a five-year-old. Whereas the comics, which rumor has it, it's why we're here, the comics are a bit more mature and especially the artwork, pretty serious.


Brad: Why start with Robo Force, the Ishtar of toys?


Brian Volk-Weiss: We had to start with Robo Force because that was the cartoon furthest along in production. We had already attached The Rock, even though it wasn't public yet. And yeah, I would liberally guess there are maybe 5,000 fans of the original Robo Force out of a population of 8 billion, so it's kind of starting from scratch. To your point, if you're asking why didn't you start with Biker Mice, it was because that was, from what we were doing, always going to be step two. And from a story standpoint, structurally, it just wouldn't have worked.

 

NacelleVerse 0 hits shops on March 20th. Robo Force #1 arrives on April 16th.

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