Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your creator-owned comic, Hyper Force Neo! What inspired this all-ages comic, and which story elements were you excited to explore through the series?
Jarrett Williams: Hyper Force Neo is the story of a group of teens, led by main character Dean Masters, who must protect their city and the world from an alien invasion — while attending school.
There was a lot of experiences that helped shaped the story. I traveled to Hong Kong last year, and it really was a life-changing experience. I still think about my time there at least once a day. The intricate architecture and city layout really helped inspire New Sigma City, the central location for Hyper Force Neo. While I was there, the desire to draw giant robots really took a hold of me!
I knew I wanted to draw a title that a kid could get lost in. The kids of Hyper Force Neo are really bubbly and full of personality.
One major theme explored in the title is learning to accept one's uniqueness. The kids in Hyper Force Neo are each so different, but they embrace their individual strengths. And they need to really work together to help combat the Dark Edge, a group of vagabond aliens who also wield Neo Keys. The Dark Edge can also disguise themselves as students at New Sigma High school. It makes for some fun and awkward moments!
I also looked forward to drawing the life of a teen in the future. The Hyper Force Neo kids have to juggle homework, sports, their friendships, families, and superhero lives. It can be a bit overwhelming for them at times, but I remember experiencing those same feelings in junior high too. Robots are also viewed as equals in this world, so you see them all over the place.
Another fun element is that they all use this social media service called Sunshine Online, so you get regular status updates and insight into each character. And there’s a certain children's-book flare to some of the layouts too, so I think kids will get really lost in some of the more elaborate scenes where you get additional data that just helps establish the world a bit more.
BD: Hyper Force Neo marks your third creator-owned series, with the others including Super Pro K.O.! and Knuckle Up. Do you feel that each story represents a part of you, and what do you hope that readers will take away from your body of work?
JW: Totally! Super Pro K.O.! is like a classic adventure story with a pro-wrestling twist. I relate a lot to the main character, Joe Somiano, and his quest to become the SPKO Heavyweight Champion. The championship is currently being held by King Crown Jr. - a second generation wrestler who is a fighting champion. It mirrors a lot of my experiences as a rookie in the comic industry, and Joe’s frustrations (especially in SPKO 2: Chaos in the Cage) are very familiar to me.
Hyper Force Neo is super kid-friendly and is a fun coming-of-age story. It’s told over the course of one year at New Sigma High School, and you see how these Neo Keys, Hyper Suits, and powers change these kids. Plus, the mecha stuff is killer! They are some of the highlights for sure in the comic.
Knuckle Up is a lot of fun but also more violent, dark, and gritty in spots. It comes out in 2017, and I think it’ll really surprise people. It’s got this '80s flare to it with the big hair, bubble jackets, boom-boxes, and a breakdancing element. I’ve been holding back on posts about it online just so I don’t give it all away—but it’s a really cool story.
I’m really happy to have three creator-owned books going. I love writing original stories, and there’s such a gratifying feeling when you watch it come together from the concept stage (in my sketchbook) to the publishable stage. Overall, I’d love if readers can just escape into these titles. I’ve always drawn to escape from a reality and relax, so I always hope readers can too. My stories are meant to be fun, and there are a lot of lessons to be learned. My characters are flawed but they do their best to succeed! Dean Masters, the main character and leader of Hyper Force Neo, is the perfect example of this. He has to grow into a leader, and that’s not going to be an easy road for him.
In an ideal world, I imagine all three comics being like a Saturday morning block of cartoons! I also throw nods to each title in the others, as well, which is fun too. I’m slowly building this little indie universe of stories.
BD: Given your experience with both writing and illustrating comics, do you feel that one aspect of the creative process is either more challenging or more rewarding for you?
JW: I find challenges in both areas to be honest. Writing and editing can be super exhausting. Also, finding the voice of characters and keeping it consistent is something I try and focus on too. Artistically, some of my layouts are pretty ambitious, and I have to work on certain scenes over the course of several days. But I also have to hit that monthly deadline, so it’s a constant struggle on that end too. I also don’t like the idea of “phoning” it in. I want readers to trust that my name on a title comes with a certain level of quality.
BD: How would you describe your creative process in having completed the story and the art for the comic?
JW: Sundays are my day to really plot out the week ahead. I’ll map out the pages I need to complete that week. I’ll finalize the text and lettering required for those pages. Then, I’m penciling and inking around 8-10 pages a week minimum. There are a lot of 12-15 hour days. Usually by Friday nights, I can relax a bit and maybe game or catch up with friends, but I usually draw on Saturdays too out of habit. I also might have a day somewhere in there devoted to scanning pages and cleaning them up (since I draw my pages by hand).
BD: Do you have a certain number of issues planned for the series?
JW: Yeah! I have 12 plotted out so far with the first six issues taking place across the first half of 9th grade. The second six issues complete 9th grade and lead into summer. The story wraps up nicely there, but I have other ideas too so we’ll see!
BD: Z2 Comics has had two stellar years of publishing high quality, creator-owned material. As a creator, what makes Z2 Comics a great home for Hyper Force Neo?
JW: I love Ian McGinty and his Welcome to Showside comic also published by Z2. Ian spoke really highly of Z2 way back in May 2015 with me, and they eventually reached out to me around August. I believe they may have seen some of my work online.
I followed up with my pitch for Hyper Force Neo around early September and they dug it! I was pumped because I really put a lot of time into that pitch—including really, obsessively thorough character profiles. I also liked the idea of taking a shot on a monthly comic series since I’ve only ever worked on graphic novels and a few short comics here and there. So, I guess the timing of when Z2 contacted me aligned with the fact that I was looking to try something new.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
JW: Well, Hyper Force Neo is definitely getting a ton of my time right now. I’ll be around 3 issues ahead when Issue #1 drops on April 13th. The first issue is 48 pages because I really loved the idea of jumpstarting the series giant-size. I loved giant-size anything as a kid. And honestly, I think readers are going to enjoy the antics taking place within this story. It has adolescent adventure, robots, giant mechs, aliens, and oozes a lot of style. The wraparound covers for Issues #2-4 are really awesome to me—I can’t wait to show them off!
Also, my third book with Oni-Press, Super Pro K.O.!: Gold for Glory! also comes out on June 29th! I’m a huge pro-wrestling fan, and this story is my shot at creating a really fun wrestling/adventure comic. King Crown Jr. is the heavyweight champion and his title reign is at risk to newcomer Bad Bad Butch O’ Rowdy. There are a ton of other wrestlers who will do whatever it takes to become number 1 contender as well, like Joe Somiano. And a few secrets about our favorite wrestlers are also revealed.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Hyper Force Neo and your other work?
JW: You can find me online at any of these social media channels below. I post a lot of progress videos, especially on my Instagram: