Brian Vox on the Micronauts, art, and creating Protectors of Inner Space
LONG LIVE THE MICRONAUTS
Long Live the Micronauts is a series of interviews with creators of the Micronaut comics and also with creators who have been inspired by the Micronauts. My interview with Brian Vox is the first interview of many Micronaut-centric interviews. Brian an internationally known artist who has been inspired by the Micronauts. Stay tuned for more! You can also read Long Live the Micronauts interviews with Steve Peters and Matthew Robert Ignash.
ABOUT BRIAN VOX
Brian is the creator of the Protectors of Inner Space, a fantastic Vox infused homage to the Micronauts. Complimented by Protectors of Inner Space sketchbooks, box art, covers compilation, stories, and other fun. Brian also has tribute covers to Karza and other Micronaut centric material for your micro-mania.
As Fans of Protectors of Inner Space can attest to, you have a really refined, engaging, and interesting look to your art and design. What is your creative background?
Art is something I have always been interested in and have always done. I started drawing as early as I could hold a pencil. I’m not a very “metaphysical” person, but I would have to say it does seem like something built into my DNA. I attended art school in the mid-eighties, and have since become recognized as an artist internationally.
What inspired you to do the Protectors of Inner Space?
This is interesting in that it was a fluke initially. I had been going very hard in my “professional art” career, doing shows across the country and being regularly published quite a bit at the time. I had been focused on the L.A. area around that time and just going non-stop. As much as I love doing the other art I do, I needed a bit of a break. So between pieces, I decided to draw some very “comic booky” stuff as a break from my usual style. I just wanted to do something simple and fun. It came to me quickly as (what I thought to be) a passing thought. I have always absolutely loved the Micronauts. “What if….” the Micronauts comics had actually looked like the toys they were based on? It always bothered me that these toys were never captured in any of the versions that had come out. As if the creators were afraid to keep them true to the source material of the original toys.
I wanted to share something made by a fan for the fans that they recognized and loved from the toys of the ’70s. I started doing a few of these imaginary cover designs in a style that emulated that classic style of the 1970s and decided to share them on a few of the fan groups out there. The response was fast and strong, so I just kept going. A lot has happened since then, and now this subject has engulfed me, and I love it!
Your cover art for the Protectors of Inner Space really stands out. Each cover gives you a scene – powerful and engaging – with enough information for the viewer to come up with a unique story based on their idiomatic way of viewing it.
For readers who are missing out, let them know more about these covers.
Many fans really love the types of cover art that set a scene and hints at the actual story. As I said, I started doing these covers and really didn’t have the idea that they would actually follow a specific storyline, but I knew immediately that these covers should depict a core team of characters in specific situations to create the feeling that you are looking at a story being told. I think my first cover was for “Issue” 13 of the defender character Maat coming unhinged and just going into battle. It was an homage to Gil Kane. I was initially doing these cover art pieces at random, but after the reception they received, a story quickly grew in my mind. I sat down and wrote out a plot outline for twenty-four covers as if it had been a two-year run so that there would be a somewhat logical flow to the art. The story then grew in my mind into a three-part saga spanning thirty-six covers introducing a very dangerous villain of my own design for the finale. As I formulated the basic outline, I knew that I wanted the Acroyears to be a machine race controlled by the vile Baron Karza and that these would initially be the main villains. Set amidst a raging “forever war” we would see a team emerge. A brash warrior named Kha, a troubled glider captain named Braxxon (In another homage to a character from Gil Kane’s Star Hawks combined with the arcade title Zaxxon), a disgraced knightly defender called Maat, the enigmatic Pharoid, and the galactic commander Angel.
A few stylistic things were immediately apparent. I wanted to recapture that time when just by looking at the cover, you could imagine what would be inside that issue storywise. And sure enough, people would comment about that, and even though that they were real comics that they had somehow missed. The other aspect of the project is that it is heavy with homages. A love letter from a fan to fellow fans of many space adventure elements and things from that era and before. From the beginning, fans of what I was doing would clamor for a full comic, which I just wasn’t going to do by myself. So I decided that perhaps a story should be told, but maybe in some kind of cliffhanger episodic novel format echoing the republic serials of old, heavy with illustrations. The only downside is that the story might conflict with people’s imagined story or even the original cover flow.
The project just kept growing and building speed and I think we’ve created a pretty neat hybrid style of the book.
Lead us through the process to your cover art.
I don’t really adhere to one style or formula, as I like to play around and also create the illusion that several artists are being seen here. The whole project is steeped in homage and little easter eggs. I am regularly drawing major influences from all kinds of artists’ styles and layouts. I have shared just one approach here visually from start to finish, but sometimes I just dive straight into the linework without much sketching.
There are a number of Protectors of Inner Space titles out. Tell a little something about each.
As the “serialized chapter book” was underway, I thought I would also make available various “companion volumes” of collected artwork to be released slowly over the next few years as a way to bridge the gap between the story volumes. Then 2020 hit. I had a great deal of spare time toward the beginning of the year, and so I ended up getting focused and releasing these companion volumes at a very rapid pace. I have published eight books this year. It’s madness.
There are the “Complete Covers” two volumes of which collect the cover art I did. The full first thirty-six covers of the “Protectors of Inner Space Saga” as well as the various offshoot titles I came up with. These volumes even include sketches and alternate covers.
The “Box Art” volume collects the artwork I did re-imagining the original toy packaging. The original toys used photography in their designs and only toward the latter part of the line was painted style art used for the “alien” figures and vehicles. Again the question of “What If…” the amazing artist Ken Kelly had been brought in right at the beginning to do the art. So it emulates that fiery sky, low angle, epic look.
“Micro Retro” is a collection of decidedly 1960’s style minimalist art. I loved what Juan Ortiz did with Star Trek and Lost In Space, so why not the Micros as well? A bit odd, since the toys came out in the seventies.
“The Protectors of Inner Space Sketchbook” harkens back to the old tech manuals and pre-production design books we always loved from the various science fiction movies and shows. It includes all kinds of ships, weaponry, and character designs. This volume has become an easy favorite among fans of the “Protectors” project.
And of course, the main story serialized chapter books, of which the first two are completed. This tells the story behind the covers, and much of the art is specific to these volumes. The epic story of our “hero team” in their war against the evil Baron Karza.
You work with a few people on the Protectors of Inner Space storyline. Who are they and what do they bring to the title?
I definitely could not pull this off alone. I can write, but it’s not my strongest skill. And editing…. hell, I hardly even glance at or proofread my own work. I initially contacted Dominic Florentino, a writer friend of mine in San Diego. I offered it to him as a project to get his creative juices flowing and give him something to get back to writing. His stamp is on the project in that we really bounced a lot of ideas off one another in terms of characters and the basic plot outline. The challenge was that the writing pace was going so slowly, and I am never one to push. But Dominic helped me set this saga firmly as a war story with a ragtag group of soldiers forming a team to set things right in the microscopic universe.
I then pulled a screenwriter going by the name Amiotte into my vortex to take on the primary writing chores. We have ongoing conversations that are way too long due to my rambling brain. His writing pace is what you’d expect from a screenwriter. He gives me hope that this story might actually get to be told at last. We play off each other. My art inspires him, and when I get the bits he’s written in, it drives me on with cool art ideas.
The first comic series I remember buying with focused attention that lasted for its entire run was the Micronaut’s. I purchased their toys and really enjoyed the Marvel run (and subsequent runs from other publishers.)
You obviously felt the magic as well. When I reread the series I am really interested in the synergy between Bill Mantlo and Michael Golden. Golden gave a cinematic feel to Mantlo’s story. Bill pushed the readers into what felt like a really big story that way bigger than the microscopic size of our heroes.
When did you discover the title? Which came first, the comic or the toys?
The toys came first for me. That probably makes it obvious why what I am doing is all about that design. It irks me to no end when creative teams redesign everything. It’s as if the source wasn’t exciting enough. As an artist, I completely understand some of these choices and the inclination to put your own stamp on things, but it’s the toys that fired my imagination like nothing else ever has.
I bought that comic’s first issue the day it hit the stand. I still remember getting home and reading it but being disappointed that the characters bore no resemblance to the toys. However, that comic was way ahead of its time and grandly epic. Mantlo was a genius and Golden knocked it out of the park in a way I can only marvel at!
But it always comes back to the original toys for me. I can still remember the music on the radio and the weather outside when I opened my first figures up. I will never forget that.
You’re a fan of Mego Micronaut’s art. Any favorite Mego Micronaut? If you are a collector, any figure you’re on a quest for that’s missing from your collection?
I am an avid collector. I collect everything from Kaiju to Trek. But when it comes down to what my very favorite toy line has ever been, it’s the Mego Micronauts. Like many other fans, I discovered later that they had an even larger continuing toy line in Japan. But it always goes back to the Mego toys. The blue space glider figure was always my favorite. A metal figure with chrome elements and a snap-open flight pack is hard to beat. And the Battle Cruiser is just amazing. My grail has been the green Cosmo-man figure for many years. They are out there, but I always just seem to miss out. Someday….
What is your most prized Micronaut collectible?
As an avid fan and collector, there are really so many. As far as favorite Micronauts comics go, it would definitely be the first twelve-issue run of the Marvel comic. The scope was epic and the art was perfection. As an artist, it is strange that I do not really collect much art. But my favorite artist overall would be the surrealist Hans Rudi Giger. I have several prints of his as well as a sculpture and a very limited run hoodie that is fading and worn too often. I have to limit myself to certain criteria in collecting figures and memorabilia in a pointless attempt at avoiding a deep rabbit hole. Original series Star Trek equipment and ships, Planet of the Ape’s figures and statues, Robby the Robot from the classic Forbidden Planet, and Ray Harryhausen collectibles are all among the most prized. But my all-time favorite collectible is a replica edition of the original 1933 King Kong stop motion armature. Bob Burns has been gracious enough to allow me to handle the original, and this thing just preserves that experience so much more.
What were some key moments throughout the series for you?
Every time I go back and read those comics I love them even more. The first twelve issues are absolute magic. They stand on their own and I am constantly in awe of what they did with absolutely no backstory prior. Absolutely genius. There are many moments that still get the hair on the back of my neck standing on end, but conceptually is the integration of the interchangeable aspect of the toys and how they nodded to that. I mean, Karza literally “interchanges” human body parts and sells them to the rich. To a dark mind like mine, it is just gruesomely awesome.
Design-wise and storywise, what attracts you to the Microverse?
That’s an interesting question that forces me to pull back many layers to get at. It usually comes down to pretty straightforward ideas for me. I have an affinity for things that are sleek and shiny. Visually speaking, that has always been there for me. The chrome heads and clear plastic are just very visually appealing. Dark and sleek things are pretty much what I am all about, as my professional art hinges completely on that aesthetic. And I think the concept of a microscopic universe or alternate dimension coexisting with our own is the purest escape. When reality puts a hammer to anvil, it is appealing to shrink inside something within that reality only to find something grand and imaginative. They always say it’s the small things in life, don’t they?
While the kid me enjoyed the crossovers to Marvel proper, I always enjoyed the idea of the Microverse – more so now, as an adult.
From the backup stories to the focuses and features of the characters and expansion of the team as the first series started its ending stretch, it really created this sense of awe and place that had much more to explore.
What big questions of the series still remain with you?
That is a difficult one for me. I have intentionally avoided looking at any other versions or stories for a while now as I want to avoid being too intentionally derivative. But I’m sure all sorts of ideas stay entrenched in the back of my mind. Like I said before, that first twelve-issue run of the Marvel comic just stuck with me, and I still think it’s the hard benchmark to achieve for anyone out there.
Marvel licensed the Micronauts from what was known as Microman. Microman is from Takara, in Japan. Action figures, comics. Even video games spun out from the Microman. Each very different than the Americanized Micronauts.
How impactful was the Microman to Protectors of Inner Space?
The main inspiration for the project is the Mego toys of course. Palisades gave us a whole new line which I classify right there with the Mego toys. There are definite references to Takara’s line in the “Protectors” design and story. Some of their later Acroyears were just so cool and I had to include them. In the “Protectors-verse” they became the half-Micronian Half- Acroyear cyborg generals for Karza’s army. Also, within the story, we have made sure to reference some of the designations of the original Microman line as classification codes for various weaponry and gear. So it gets a wink in there as well for sure.
The allure of the Micronauts is strong enough to bring other publishers to the table for licensing in addition to animators and Hasbro.
What are your thoughts on the post-Marvel incarnations of the Micronauts?
This is where I have to play nice. My little fan project is just a love letter to people who either grew up with the toys or those who are being introduced to them recently and still feel the excitement for those designs. There are definite aspects of the versions we’ve been seeing in the last several years, but the divergence from source material visually rubs me wrong. I will say that the recent versions do indeed make some surprising references to the toys though.
If Hasbro ever spears forward with another toy line, I would love to be involved in some way. They could go forward with any ideas they have while being able to release a second “Retro line” in a great PR move for the original fan base. And I KNOW that even newcomers would fall for those original designs as well if done right. Hasbro basically has tons of packaging art and even a series of adventures waiting for them. Fans out there regularly name-drop me in regards to this idea. I’m sure we could come to an agreement. “Micronauts Classic”, anyone?
Your art ranges from posters to illustrations for prose, covers, concept art, and more. What else have you done and hope to do? What other art styles outside of what is seen with Protectors? What other influences and inspirations do you have with your art? Any ambitions to do comic interiors?
As far as this particular style of art goes, I would love to do one-off covers in the future if offered, but interiors are not something I could see doing. Panel after panel begins to suffer quickly for me.
As far as art outside of this project, I continue with my professional art. This year has been tough, however. Right before Covid really hit, there had been back-to-back exhibitions of my other work in Milan and Munich. Suddenly shows stopped and sales have been down. But It’s giving me time to reconfigure various plans of attack going forward. It’s actually strange that I am getting attention for doing this comic book style as it is definitely not what I am known for as an artist otherwise. But I have always loved the style of comic book art and so it is only natural. My other art is primarily realism with a dark surreal element. A retrospective collection of my work was made available this year as well.
What’s next for Protectors of Inner Space and Brian Vox?
The serialized novel is still continuing in progress and I hope to actually see the other episode/chapters completed eventually. In the meantime, I continue to generate various art for “Protectors of Inner Space” in a variety that only fits my passion and imagination. As I do the art, ideas emerge and the project just keeps growing from that. It’s very organic and yet sometimes chaotic. I am also currently working on the “Protectors of Inner Space – The New Voyages” cover series, but I promised Amiotte that he is safe from having to write that story. They are just intended to stay as cover art…. He said knowing better. We are looking into T-Shirts, Mugs, and other items that could be fun.
For those interested in finding out more or buying your art where should they go?
As the project is completely fan-based at this point, I have kept out of the direct spotlight somewhat. There is a Facebook group called appropriately “Protectors of Inner Space” that one can join (providing they answer the questions when requesting to join) to see everything and all the updates. The printed material and volumes are available through MagCloud.com by searching “Protectors of Inner Space”. My other art is always available through voxart9.com
I really want to thank you so much for the opportunity to talk about the project and to share it with others. I appreciate it and am honored!
You’re welcome. The honor is also mine 🙂
I wanted to note that Brian has started creating homages to the Shogun Warriors as he continues to expand his Protectors of Inner Space. If you want something to hold you over until Hasbro figures out what they’re going to do with the Micronauts, check out Brian’s web pages above!
about LONG LIVE THE MICRONAUTS!
The Micronauts started out in Japan as Microman. Microman found itself recreated and renamed the Micronauts in America. The American release was as a license to Mego in 1976 (for toys) and Marvel (for Comics) in 1979. The Micronaut’s have continued on in one form or another to the present day.
The toy and comic rights have changed from company to company through the decades. At the moment there is a lull in both the action figures and the comics. Hasbro has the rights. After bringing the Micronauts into a Hasbro-verse that includes the Transformers, GI Joe, Rom, and others, promises of movies and animation dash about, get delayed and reprojected. What, who, when, where, and why? Who knows?
Being a fan of the Micronauts comics, toys, and Microman, I have really been captivated by the creators of the comics and fascinated by other creators who are inspired by the Micronauts.
While fans wait for Hasbro to do whatever they are going to do, I decided to interview the creators who have been inspired by the Micronauts and the creators who help create the Micronaut comics. If you are a Micronaut-centric creator contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay tuned for more Micronaut related interviews in the weeks and months to come!https://www.firstcomicsnews.com/brian-vox-on-the-micronauts-art-and-creating-protectors-of-inner-space/https://www.firstcomicsnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/BANNER-BANNER-600x314.pnghttps://www.firstcomicsnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/BANNER-BANNER-150x78.pngInterviewsBrian Vox,Long live the Micronauts,Micronauts,Protectors of Inner Space