TAKE 10! Uncanny Valley

BOOM! Studios: TAKE 10! is a new interview series asking writers and artists about their new series or graphic novels.

Fan-favorite writer Tony Fleecs (Stray Dogs) and acclaimed illustrator Dave Wachter (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) team up for a wild ride of cartoon mayhem, family drama, and deadly secrets in UNCANNY VALLEY at BOOM! Studios, coming Spring 2024!

Oliver is a seemingly typical 12 year old boy… except for a mysterious family history that seems to start and end with his mother. Oh, and his unexplainable powers, that is.

He can do things other boys can’t, to the point of landing himself in some trouble. Baffled by the surreal, cartoonish nature of his abilities, and followed by a murder of peculiar crows, Oliver begins to pull the thread on the secrets his family has kept from him for so long…

1. What was the most challenging aspect of working on this series?

Tony Fleecs: The creative part on this is actually very smooth… Dave’s incredible. Pat has lettered more comics than I’ve read and I’ve read a BUNCH. For me in the writing, I guess the hardest part is knowing how much I can tease out the cartoon parts of this before we really start showing them off. I wanted the first issue to have a lot of mystery… Finding that balance took some figuring.

Dave Wachter: The challenge here was to portray cartoons mixing into the real world, so I have to create that in a convincing way, where the cartoons would appear distinct and in contrast to the the real world characters and setting. I went about that by using a painterly style for the real world, and keeping the cartoons looking exactly how they would look in a cartoon, with flat cell animation style coloring and consistent line weights. I think I pulled it off.

2. Could you explain the title?

TF: UNCANNY VALLEY is a term that describes animation that looks close to real life but is just OFF enough that it makes you uncomfortable. (For example: The kids in Polar Express or the weird Sonic from that first Sonic the Hedgehog trailer.) Oliver, in this book is the physical embodiment of Uncanny Valley because he looks real but there’s something…. off about him. And the story’s about him learning what that is.

DW: Tony came up with the title, but I recognize “Uncanny Valley” as that gap in animation and visual effects when things look a little too real, but not quite real enough to pass, causing a general feel of unease in the viewer, who can tell things don’t look right.

3. What is the elevator pitch for the series?

TF: A boy who feels like he doesn’t fit in, finds out that his grandpa, who he’s never met, is a literal cartoon character.

A coming-of-age Roger Rabbit. Percy Jackson, but instead of Greek Gods… the whole Cartoon Network.

DW: Ask Tony, he’s good at that part.

4. What does your writing and drawing space look like?

TF: (pictured above) It’s a little messy right now but my drawing space looks like this… It’s a converted garage studio space in my back yard. My writing space is usually my dining room table or on my back patio if it’s nice out. I like to do the writing somewhere where it’s not as visually chaotic/distracting.

DW: (pictured below) Right now, really messy. So these pics I sent will be a little creative, because I’m not showing you just how messy. But you can see me posing for reference and a few of the cats I have a small room at the front of the house, windows facing the street, so I can watch the neighbors walk their dogs and songbirds feed on the seed that my wife threw onto the windowsill. Sometimes deer or wild turkey wonder by. The cats like to sit there and look out. It kinda sounds idyllic, but my head is usually down, working.

5. What was your biggest inspiration for Uncanny Valley?

TF: The 1988 movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the Wildstorm comic series Planetary.

DW: All those old cartoons I grew up on. Looney Toons, and old Disney animation, Thunder the Barbarian and Johnny Quest, stuff like that. Way too much to name, really. And for the real world stuff, for a few years I’ve been looking a lot at how European comics are colored, and that definitely rubbed off.

6. What are you reading now and what’s on your pull list?

TF: I read a lot of creators over characters. I’m basic– I like all the people everyone else likes. Brian K Vaughan & Brian Bendis are maybe my all-time favorites– I love Saga & Runaways & Papergirls & Powers and Alias… Newer creators, I think Patrick Horvath is a really interesting. I can’t wait to see what he does after Beneath the Trees. Kelly Thompson is great– She and Meredith McClaren’s Black Cloak was my favorite new book in a long, long time. My Pull list is like– those creators’ names. Anything Brubaker/Philips. Anything Terry Moore. Anything David Lapham– Underheist is great so far…

DW: Not much reading going on right now, I’ve been so busy lately. That said, anytime Brubaker and Phillips have a new book out, I’m all over it. The art of Greg Smallwood and Daniel Warren Johnson have been inspiring lately. I listen to audio books while I work a lot: I’ve been working my way through Connelly’s Bosch novels, Gary Gulman’s autobio, and that new bio on the life of Van Gogh. That guy had issues. Good painter, though.

7. Describe your ideal way to sit down and read a comic or graphic novel.

TF: It never happens. No deadlines or emails… I just sit in my living room. The sun is shining. I have coffee. My dog Baxter is laying at my feet and I just read like– 6 singles and a TPB. That’s the ideal. The reality is, I read about one comic every day in the bathroom. If I’m not distracted by Tik-tok.

DW: Probably on the back patio on a nice day, or by the garden where we have a seating area. But that never happens. More likely in bed, falling asleep halfway through. Or while on the toilet.

8. What is your favorite writing/drawing snack or drink?

TF: Keurig Coffee. The Christmas flavors especially. I buy heavy on those when they go on clearance every December 26th.

DW: I’ve gotten big into loose leaf tea, Yorkshire Gold or a nice Earl Grey. And chocolate.

9. Who would you cast in your dream movie or TV adaptation of the series?

TF: Mel Blanc.

DW: Mel Blanc or Frank Oz on voices. Some child actor plucked from a random casting call for Oliver, because I don’t know who any kid actors are. And my wife for Margaret, because I’ve already cast her in the book, so I better cast her in this imaginary scenario. 

10. What piece of advice would you give to the main characters? What about the villains?

TF: You’re already special because of WHO you are, not WHAT you are.

DW: This is for both of them: “You are special, You’re special to me. You are the only one like you. Like you, my friend, I like you.” – stolen from Mister Rogers

UNCANNY VALLEY #1 will be available on April 10, 2024 in comic shops!