The following is an interview with comic book writer Tom Pinchuk (Hybrid Bastards!, Unimaginable), the author of the all-ages comic book Max Steel: Volume 3, which is the official comic book version of the Mattel animated series. In this interview, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor Barbra Dillon chats with Pinchuk about what first intrigued him about the series, how writing for animation prepared him for the project, and what fans can anticipate for Max Steel in the third installment.
This interview was conducted on April 9, 2014.
Barbra J. Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: As the writer of the latest volume of the Max Steel comic book series, what first attracted you to the character and the story as a whole?
Tom Pinchuk: The Turbo suits, definitely. When I first got the licensors’ guide, the appeal was just immediate. Sleek. Futuristic. Every armor just looked so cool. It all has that eye-catching X-factor.
Once I got into the actual story, I was most struck by Max and Steel’s buddy dynamic. You’ve got this classic teen superhero, with all the problems that come with having a secret identity, but he’s carrying around this biomechanical smart alec around in his backpack all the time. They’re constantly busting his chops. It’s the best.
BD: What can you share with us about the adventures of Maxwell McGrath (a.k.a. Max Steel) in Volume 3?
TP: What initially looks like another tussle with the Elementors quickly spirals out of control when a mega computer virus is let loose on Max’s hometown. Suddenly, all machines are acting erratically or shutting down all together. The whole city’s plunged into chaos.
The clock’s ticking fast. Max and Steel can’t call on this high tech network they’ve always relied on. They have to play things ‘old school’ and get their hands dirty, if there’s going to be any hope of stopping this catastrophe.
And, I should mention . . . we’re actually introducing a mysterious, new villain in this adventure. Fans of the show will see this guy before he appears in the show itself!
BD: How would you describe your creative process of working on the series or your collaboration with artist Jan Wijngaard?
TP: Jan’s the first artist I’ve worked with who’s operating entirely with a digital stylus, which is absolutely appropriate for a tech-savvy series like this.
My head was always spinning over how fast the page thumbnails kept coming in from him. It was a startling work flow. He’d draw right on his computer, send the art straight over, and then tweek it according to my notes just as fast.
It almost felt like seeing my script drawn in holograms. And, I say that partly because, when I had a scene where Max sneaks into the Elementor’s hide-out, Jan went the extra step and actually designed a whole floor plan for the place, so the geography was consistent. So, when Steel pulls up a blueprint of the facility, it’s actually accurate to the scene. Yes, he got that detailed.
I like to think of us being like Max and Steel. You can decide who’s who, though.
BD: Max Steel is an all-ages series, which is a departure from your previous work on comics like Hybrid Bastards! and Unimaginable. Did you find the change of audience challenging, and would you consider writing further for a younger audience?
TP: I’d describe it as using different parts of my brain. Writing this comic felt like being right back in my play room as a boy, staging all my action figures around and acting out stories with them. It was wonderful to get back in touch with what made storytelling so fun in the earliest, earliest days.
And, of course, it’s nice to finally have a comic I can share with all my nieces and nephews. It’s been so nice; I actually have a couple more YA series coming ’round the bend right now.
As for challenges, there’s always this discussion about what’s okay for ‘all-ages,’ and I wanted to make sure that, even while we’re keeping things appropriate, the story never feels like it’s playing by the rules. That’s not part of Max or Steel’s characters, for one. And, if I’m really keeping in the headspace of little Tom Pinchuk, I know that telling a kid that a comic is ‘safe’ is the surest way to lose their interest. So, there’s still some bite and danger here.
BD: In addition to your work in comics, you have also written for animation with Man of Action Studios. Did you find that your previous work in animation informed your writing for Max Steel?
TP: Absolutely. Working with those guys was like training with black belts. I learned so much about crafting stories, in this exact genre, for the screen. It was awesome to come back to comics and apply everything I’d learned.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
TP: I’m taking over a series that’s still rather new and very much in the same mold as Max Steel. Can’t talk about it quite yet. You’ll all be hearing about it soon, though.
In the meantime, I wrote a new short that’s set in Yehudi Mercado’s Hero Hotel. It’s a wacky one about the dangers of trying to run a superhero’s evil symbiote suit through the laundry. Shawn DePasquale’s lettering it, and we’ll all be breaking the creative process that went into it at WonderCon this year. The panel’s called “Making Comics: Step-by-Step.”
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Max Steel and your other work?
TP: The book’s available pretty much everywhere in print and digital right now, and Perfect Square’s put all the info about it into one handy link.