The following is an interview with Royden Lepp, creator of the Archaia (BOOM! Studios) comic book series, RUST. The series has had three volumes published already, with the fourth volume, Soul in the Machine, set to release on February 21, 2018. In this interview, Fanbase Press Senior Contributor S.T. Lakata chats with Lepp about the inspiration behind the series, the development of his characters, his creative process, and more! (Spoilers for RUST Volumes One-Three below.)
S.T. Lakata, Fanbase Press Senior Contributor: Royden, thank you for taking time to talk about RUST with Fanbase Press. For those that aren’t familiar with this story, how would you best describe the premise of this story, ultimately leading up to where we find the characters in Soul in the Machine?
Royden Lepp: RUST takes place in an alternate world where a great, long war was fought using humans and robots. Roman Taylor is the adult son of a soldier who never came back from the war. Roman is struggling to keep his father’s farm running and keep the family together when, one day, a kid with a jet pack crashes in his field. The kid is being chased by a giant de-commissioned war robot. Anything beyond that is really a spoiler. RUST is about loss, sacrifice, and destiny. It’s about big robot battles, but it’s also about love and family.
STL: RUST is a very personal story, one that readers can see from the very first pages of Volume One when one of the main characters, Roman Taylor, is trying to run the family farm and is writing a letter to his father. When you started this project, did you imagine that readers could feel such a genuine sense of longing for family? Where did the inspiration of taking care of family come from?
RL: I think I just put myself in Roman’s shoes. What would I do if I’d lost my father as a younger adult, before I’d developed my own confidence and direction. Seeing his family from his perspective helped shape the story. It was one of those things where if you put the right characters in the right situation, then you only have to watch the story unfold instead of create it.
STL: One of the astonishing realizations within this story is the character, Jet Jones. When anyone thinks of war, we, or at least I imagine, always cringe when we think of children involved in war. The handling of Jet’s involvement is delicate, and there’s an unknown quality that draws readers to this character. Where does Jet get his strength and determination from?
RL: Jet is a character that was supposed to instill hope in human soldiers, so it was easy to create a hero who was essentially invincible and was always driven to save people instead of harm them. Jet is definitely a strong character, but his strength doesn’t look strong until you see his weakness. Ultimately, those are the qualities that I think give him a sense of humanity and complexity.
STL: This has been listed as “the first time the publisher has released both hardcover and softcover editions simultaneously in comic shops and bookstores.” Does that speak to how grand the story has been to this point and how epic of a conclusion fans can expect within this final chapter? How do you feel about being the first with both hardcover and paperback being published at the same time?
RL: The decision to launch softcover and hardcover was actually not mine. I never really questioned the decision; it sounded like a great idea. Fans who’ve been engaged in one version or the other will get their last book at the same time and that feels fair and, hopefully, lets everyone get the ending they’ve been waiting.
STL: You are both writer and illustrator for this story. How would you describe your creative process? For example, did you finish writing each volume before drawing, or was there overlap during each volume?
RL: My process has not always been well defined. I stumbled along in the early stages of the series, but towards the last two books, my rhythm was to draw thumbnails for the entire book, and then write scripts for scenes with heavy dialogue. Sometimes, one had to come before the other, but in the end those two things happened separately. I wrote and drew each volume chronologically for the most part, and I often didn’t know how scenes would develop in details until I thumbnailed them. I’m comfortable with my process now. It’s too bad to dial it in right when the series ends.
STL: In a recent interview on Major Spoilers, you discussed the amount of time that went into this series, and the realization as you were working on the last pages that it wasn’t going to be part of your daily routine. Are there any moments throughout this process, particularly during this fourth volume, that stand out as favorites for you?
RL: It was really satisfying to finally draw some of these scenes in Volume 4 that I had envisioned for years. Some of them had been in my head for over 6 years, and to finally sit down and draw them was a really wonderful experience.
STL: Are there any particular scenes or characters throughout the whole series you enjoyed writing more than others? Similarly, were there any favorites when it came to drawing particular scenes or characters?
RL: All of it is really enjoyable. If it wasn’t, I would’ve been stuck a long time ago. I like drawing action scenes, but I also like drawing a really engaging dialogue between characters. It was wonderful writing Roman’s letters to his father, but after that it’s fun to switch back to the interactions between Jet and the Engineer. Variety is the spice, I guess.
STL: Are there any prologues, continuations, or spinoffs with other characters from this story that you would like to see come to life?
RL: Yeah absolutely, though I’ve kept it mysterious. I think the world of RUST is rich and there are many ideas I would love to explore or see explored. Stories about the war. Stories about Aicott or Roman’s Father. Stories about other families and farms that are a part of this world, that would all be a blast. Whether that will happen or not, I’m not sure.
STL: Are there other projects you’re currently working on that you can share with fans of RUST?
RL: Not at the moment. I’m still doing some RUST promotion projects but also I’m still recovering from the 10+ years of late nights and deadlines. I’m trying to catch up on some TV and go to bed before midnight. I’ll see what comes out the next time I sit down to draw.
STL: Where can fans find you and RUST, and will you be available at any signings or conventions this year?
RL: I’ll be at Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle this year (since I live here), I’ll also be at C2E2 in Chicago. Later in the year, I’m hoping to be at NYCC and possibly 1 or 2 other shows if I have time.
Fanbase Press wishes to thank Royden for taking time to share his thoughts on RUST, the upcoming new release, and the future of his storytelling realm. RUST Vol. 4: Soul in the Machine will be available for print and digital release on February 21, 2018.