Back to School with Adam Gallardo

With the success of Arcana’s 100 Girls (which was recently picked up by Simon and Schuster), writer/creator Adam Gallardo is on the rise. Beginning his career as an editor for Dark Horse Comics and writing for a few of their Star Wars books, Adam finally goes back to his roots with Dark Horse’s new graphic novel, Gear School. The book hit stands this month, and we sat down with Adam just in time for the release to talk about the book and its manga comparisons.

JXM: The main protagonist in Gear School is a 13-year-old girl – a recurring motif in your work. What inspires you to write from that perspective?

Adam: It seems that not a lot of people are writing books with young female protagonists. And there certainly aren’t many who aren’t “bimbo-ized”. I’ve gone on at some length about how I don’t want the female characters I write to be one-dimensional, to be a victim or a vixen. At least not only those things. I take my cues from works like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Alien and The Terminator films.

I don’t consciously try and think up stories with female leads, however. It just sort of happened that two comics in a row featured them. When I sent Dave Land, my editor on Gear School, story pitches, I’d guess that more than half the ideas featured male leads. It just so happened he liked the one that established a trend.

JXM: The giant-robot-training-school-with-teenager genre is a staple in anime and manga (Gunbuster, Stratos 9, Evangelion). Is Gear School in many ways akin to that genre or only inspired by it?

Adam: They could only inspire me, since I don’t really know a lot about the source material. I’m at least familiar with Evangelion and Gundam, but know nothing of the other two you mentioned. And I just found out tonight that Gear School also closely resembles something called Gunbuster. This is a title I didn’t even know existed before I read the comparison. I think this is all to say that I’m on well-trod ground here.

Once people started pointing out to me that there might be some similarities between Gear School and some existing anime and manga, I had to avoid them like the plague. I couldn’t risk that I’d start borrowing elements from those existing stories. I think Gear School‘s influences are already evident enough.

JXM: What would you say are the differences between Gear School and your previous work?

Adam: There are a couple of things. In Gear School, Teresa has a support network. People who want to see her succeed and on whom she can count. In 100 Girls, Sylvia is pretty much alone. Or, at least, she feels that way.

Gear School feels like a much more contained world. It’s al about the school and how relationships play out against that backdrop. 100 Girls feels like it can go anywhere to tell it’s story.

Finally, where 100 Girls is superheroics masquerading as sci-fi, Gear School is more purely set in the sci-fi genre.

JXM: In the archives of the Dark Horse website, you called Gear School a “dream project”. Can you tell us the challenges and the achievements with this project?

For some reason, there was a lot of waiting at mostly every stage on this project, and that was very trying. Once Dave liked the pitch document I put together, it took a very, very long time to make it through costing at Dark Horse. After that, as with any comic, it took quite a while to be drawn, colored, etc. And this book, because it came out straight to trade, was printed in China. Add several months for shipping on top of everything else. Honestly, that was the most difficult part of the whole deal. Writing it and working with Dave and N�ria and Sergio were all easy as pie. Waiting at each stage was not.

JXM: How did the creative process work with N�ria and Sergio? How much of the original concept was retained and how much was lost in translation?

Adam: Working with N�ria and Sergio was nothing short of amazing. I really, really hope I get to work with them again. It was very much a back and forth. After they got the script and had it translated, they would write me and ask if they could alter things in the script so it would work better on the page and I can’t think of a time where I said no.

With every script I write, I let the artist know that I’m relying on their expertise to pull off this enterprise. If they have better ideas than I do about page and panel compositions, I am always going to go with their ideas. And N�ria and Sergio are both amazing artists. There’s no way I could second guess one of their comments.

JXM: In the Gear School blog, you mentioned that you were trying to avoid the typical manga mecha designs. Aside from simply being different, were there other reasons? Did practicality or the story play a part?

Adam: I wanted to see machines that might actually exist. If there ends up being giant fighting robots in our future, I don’t think they’ll be the cool, sleek numbers we see in anime and manga. Just look at our advanced technology right now – it’s clunky, it breaks down. Why would that change?

JXM: Tell us more about the mecha designs. What future technology inspired its creation?

Adam: When N�ria first sent me design sketches, she was just shooting in the dark. I hadn’t sent her any instructions at all. The designs were very much a traditional anime or manga design – shiny and based on human anatomy – they looked almost like samurai warriors. I wrote back and asked her to imagine that the guy who designed the HumV for the Army had gone on to design fighting robots. The next round of designs were exactly what I had been looking for. They were perfect.

I really wanted something that looked like it could exist. Clunky, imperfect, but functional. And they nailed it.

JXM: Tell us about the aliens. Aside from their devastating technology and teleportation ability, what else can we expect from them? Can we fear them more than the Cylons of Battlestar Galactica?

Adam: I’m going to totally bail on this question and tell you that I hope to reveal more in future episodes of Gear School (God willing). There is a lot to tell about them and they will be fearsome, but more fearsome than Cylons. Yes, if simply because they are completely outside the human condition. They are completely alien, and I think that’s always scary.

JXM: What would you ultimately like readers to get out of Gear School?

Adam: Wow. Um, I just hope it’s an entertaining read and that it feels like eight bucks well spent.

Anything else the audience takes away, for me, is just gravy.

JXM: Are there any other projects you�re working on at the moment that you can discuss?

Adam: I’m working on a few things. Todd Demong and I are working on the next story arc of 100 Girls. Simon and Schuster just bought the rights to the first story arc and will be coming out with a big collection next Summer, so that’s kind of inspired us. He and I also have a pitch for a new series in at Dark Horse right now. Hopefully something will come of that. Besides that, I’m in the very early stages of working on a horror series with artist Ben Stenbeck (artist on Dark Horse’s Living with the Dead mini-series). Oh, and there’s a novel I keep pecking away at. That feels like a lot.