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Interview with Angels? Al Schroeder talks with Nathan Salvio and Peter Haynes

For over two years now, fans of beautiful graphics in space battle scenes and beautiful female characters have been aware of Angels 2200, a series set in a well-developed future where most men have died off in the previous generation due to a bioengineered plague. With a gritty military militarism similar to Space: Above and Beyond but with a cast and a sense of fun not unlike the first Charlie's Angels movie, Peter Haynes and Nathan Savio have been pursuing this unique vision.

Have either of you served in the military? Many of the scenes of the petty frustrations of military life ring pretty true....
Peter Haynes: I've played Counterstrike a few times. I've seen Top Gun a few years ago. Apart from that, no, I have little to no military experience. Any ring of realism probably comes from Nathan Savio, [aka “Coota”].

Nathan Savio: I was an Air Force ROTC Cadet for two years, but most of the Angels' military experience comes from stories from my dad, a career Marine fighter pilot, who served in the Corps for twenty years. Kid's callsign was in fact his callsign, and a deliberate reference to him, though in point of fact, Loser is closer to his personality.

What are your backgrounds?
Peter Haynes: Video production and directing. I actually wanted to start illustrating a webcomic because my drawing skills were going to pot, as you might be able to tell from some of the earlier comics. I'm actually really glad Coota chose to run with me based on my initial sketches, I wouldn't have. I'm happy to say I have managed to improve my illustration skills, but there is a lot more room for improvement yet.

But, as I mentioned, directing is my first love, and I've managed to cross that over with the comic in the form of the Angels2200 short film.

Nathan Savio: I was born in California at an Army hospital, and raised by Marines and their wives. When I was five, my dad was transferred to the Pentagon, and my family moved to northern Virginia, near DC. My dad retired a year or so later, and I grew up in the suburbs. I went to college at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and recently graduated with a double major in political science and media arts. In September, I'm shipping off to Moldova (a small country on the border of Romania and the Ukraine) to work for the Peace Corps, and after that I plan to pursue a career in Federal law enforcement.

I've always been interested in the military, and have always sought out veterans to speak to about their experiences in the armed services. This has resulted in many of the stories I've worked on over the years, including Angels.

What sort of literary and storytelling influences do you have? Your future is quite complex (I loved the seven-part history of your future.) I've caught references to Star Wars, Star Trek, Nero Wolfe mysteries, two references to Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan's COSMOS, a slew of movies...but I've probably missed some.
Peter Haynes: It's getting more complex…work is currently being done on a four-system starmap which will be available for readers to browse through soon. I'm a big Carl Sagan fan (hence the name) and very much enjoy his writings, so I try and slip in a few Saganisms here and there. Obviously Star Wars is a huge influence, especially the technical descriptions in the novels of Timothy Zhan. I particularly like the way he employs very smart antagonists, antagonists you can admire, even like. You should always try and make your heroes work as hard as possible. Red Dwarf has also been a source of inspiration, particularly in the appearance of Lance the Virgin Sexbot. He was a particularly Red Dwarfish invention that came to me one day, and he's proven to be quite popular. I imagine many of my influences are quite different to Coota's, including a lot of English comedy such as Blackadder, The Goodies, The Young Ones and Fawlty Towers.

Nathan Savio: I'm a huge fan of American hardboiled detective fiction, and Bubblegum is the outlet for that, much of the time. Phillip Marlowe, Archie Goodwin, The Continental Op, Nick Charles and others were the heroes of much of my life. However, other major influences include (but are not limited to), Patrick O'Brian's amazing Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin series, the Illiad and the Odyssey, Jane Austen, James Jones, Tolstoy, Star Wars, Babylon 5, and of course the wonderful Space: Above and Beyond.

The artwork is quite engaging, especially your starcraft and battle scenes. Who are your artistic influences, and what software besides Adobe do you use to get your visual effects?
Peter Haynes: My influences are Larry Elmore (TSR/Dragonlance artist) , J Scott Campbell (Danger Girl) and Simon Bisley (2000AD) . The spaceship models are built and rendered in Lightwave and enhanced in Photoshop. I by no means consider myself a 3D artist, the cracks would very quickly show if you were to see my stuff animated. Still frames I can do.

Nathan Savio: I'll leave that to Han (Peter Haynes).

How did you come up with the idea for Angels 2200?
Peter Haynes: Coota came up with the original concept. I was drawn to it because I like to draw pretty girls. :)

Nathan Savio: I wanted to develop my abilities as far as writing for female characters; I was worried that in my other works, I was creating hollow female stereotypes. I figured that if I created a world entirely populated by female characters, I would be forced to create complicated, multi-layered, well-written female characters.

I also wanted to write a story about a standard fighter pilot squadron; not a bunch of heroes, but just your normal, every day soldiers. I wanted a sampling of every type of soldier you get during war time; from your career soldier (Quetz), to your idealistic enlistee (Kid), to your reluctant draftee (Whiskey), and many others.

I combined these two ideas, came up with a vague idea of the storyline, and eventually was able to find an artist who could really create what I had envisioned.

Are you at all concerned that some might read it just to drool over the pretty women pilots, often sleeping with each other in a future without men....or do you think some people take such things waaaay too seriously? Have you ever considered having an ugly or plain woman be part of the Icebreakers?
Peter Haynes: There has actually been very little overt lesbianism in the comic over its 190+ comic run…maybe 2 or 3 comics, but people tend to latch onto those and one character in particular, Whiskey. Some people my have been offended, some people think its just a cheap gimmick to gain readers, but I have a feeling those people have never actually read the comic. I'm quite proud of the way we handle the whole 'No Men' thing. I like to think it's approached as the tragedy it would be, rather than an excuse for nude pillow fights.

The plain Icebreaker…I have considered that, and it remains a consideration, but it would have to be done very carefully. We'll just have to wait and see.

Nathan Savio: I've always been worried about striking a balance between those two extremes; I like to think that while some people do read Angels because of the beautiful female characters, they stay because they're interesting characters. We have a sizeable female audience, and I think that goes a long way toward proving that this comic isn't just about fan service. We're doing our best to create honest female characters. If some people claim that we're just playing off of attractive lesbian fighter pilots and male hormones, I can point to our rather active forum; no one would talk that much about every strip we put out if they were just interested in the attractive characters.

Yes, I've considered the possibility of a plain woman in the Angels cast, and I'm sure a few will pop up here and there. The problem is, of course, that Han is just so damn good at drawing attractive characters.

You have a large cast. You've worked hard to give depth and character development to many of them, like Hammer and Kid. Who is your personal favorite among them...and why?
Peter Haynes: Geee… tough question. I like them all for different reasons, but I would have to say Hammer is the closest one to me personally…her doubts, her introspection, her constant striving for improvement.

I like the way they all have the potential to screw up massively, to act irrationally. These are not perfect heroes by any means, they're very human, and we'll be seeing more of that in future comics. I've always said that Quetz is my favourite character to draw, because she's just so beautiful and graceful. She's also very complex, and gets all the best lines. Kid is Beautiful inside and outside, and its really hard to put her through some of the things she's been through in this comic. It's been like kicking a puppy sometimes. Loser is interesting, she originally started out as 'the crazy one', but she's developed into Hammers best friend and confident, her rock. In many ways, she's the most level headed of all of them, I like her a lot.

Whiskey of course, became the crazy one, the most overtly sexual, the wild card. She can be absolutely lovely, and she can be a complete bitch. Her unpredictability makes her a very fun character to work with. Bubblegum is the next most innocent character to Kid, although she has some fire inside her. I have a very personal attachment to Bubblegum, as she's visually based on my fiancée, who's playing her in the movie.

Nathan Savio: Loser is a personal favorite, because of her similarities to my dad.

What are your work habits like? How do you make the partnership between you two work so well? Has it caused any problems?
Peter Haynes: There's been a few missed deadlines and the occasional tense word, but we always seem to come to some agreement. Working on different sides of the globe is definitely difficult.

Nathan Savio: I am perpetually running into bouts of laziness and writers block, whereas Han is a thoroughly hard worker, always focused on putting out good, consistent work on time.

The partnership has had its rough spots. Because I've been busy with my personal life, Han has taken over much of the day-to-day writing, which is hard on him. However, we generally try to support each other through anything, and despite any disagreements, we generally come up with something that the public enjoys.

Why did you choose to present this as a webcomic? What are the advantages – and disadvantages – to doing it on the Web?
Peter Haynes: Well, one of the biggest advantages for me has always been the almost instant feedback. I love to see people discussing particular characters or storylines, 5 minutes after I've posted something online. Biggest disadvantage? Probably saturation. There's so much stuff out there, it's hard to stand out. After two years, I think we're fairly well known, but not widely talked about, maybe because we don't start feuds with other webcomics and such. We just mind our own business generally.

Nathan Savio: I choose to do this as a webcomic because I knew absolutely nothing about drawing or finding artists for a traditional comic. I knew, however, that there were quite a bit of artists on the web, and I knew a couple of them personally. I asked them about how a webcomic worked, and eventually decided that even a guy who can't draw could get a webcomic started, if he were able to find the right artist.

The advantages are, of course, the much wider audience you can reach and the low costs of doing business. The disadvantage is, on the other hand, the somewhat lower returns.

What are your plans for Angels 2200? Do you have an ending in mind, or is the story open-ended? Do you plan to keep it solely as a webcomic, or branch out to other media---graphic novels, for instance--- to show them off? Do you have any projects planned after Angels 2200?
Peter Haynes: As Coota (Nathan Savio) says, there is an ending planned, although I don't know what it is yet. I'm of course working on the Angels short film, which has mutated into one of the most complex film shoots I've ever done, and that'll be released soon. Graphic novels, people have asked for those, but just how much demand there is remains to be seen. Personally, I would love to see an animated cartoon or live action movie. After Angels…I dunno…that's a little way off. We'll see.

Nathan Savio: Angels is planned for a multiyear run, ideally five or six, and I have plans for the characters as older, veteran soldiers. I know, pretty well, how Angels is to end, even though I don't necessarily know every detail of how it's going to get there.

As you can see from the site, we're already branching into movie making, and with any luck we'll eventually get it turned into a cartoon/anime. I've been making some advances in that direction with some contacts at the cartoon network; this will most likely come to nothing, as networks are perpetually looking at and tossing away ideas, but it's a dream. I would also love to see Angels on paper some day, in a graphic novel format. In other words, we'd like to see Angels in as many places as possible.

I'm always working on side projects, as is Han; I work on hard-boiled detective fiction novels constantly, trying to write the perfect one.

Al Schroeder is the Acting Interviews Editor for Comixpedia. More Details.