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Walking into the Sunset with Rob Osborne
Interview by Sean Maher
Posted September 5, 2005

As I wrote in the Staff Picks for October, Rob Osborne really impressed me last year with 1000 Steps to World Domination, his debut book. His next release will be Sunset City: For Active Senior Living, a tale of survival in the perilous world of retirement homes. It was a thrill to get to talk with Rob about the ideas behind the book and his new life as a world conqueror.

[Note: Click the thumbnails to see a larger view of the images that accompany this interview.]




Sunset City CoverSEAN MAHER — You've already established yourself as a man of ambition, with 1000 Steps To World Domination. What step does Sunset City represent? What are your goals with the new book?

ROB OSBORNE — First of all, Sean, thanks for the interview. I'm glad to be hooking up with you here at Bookshelf Comics, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to chat about Sunset City: For Active Senior Living.

And thank you for suggesting that I am a man of ambition. When I'm watching an episode of "So You Think You Can Dance?", it's difficult for me to feel really ambitious. I mean, that show is really entertaining, but my desire to achieve anything beyond a super-hot hip hop routine falls flat after wasting ninety minutes watching people break dance and waltz.

Initially, Sunset City developed as a response to 1000 Steps to World Domination. Readers who are familiar with 1000 Steps will know right away that Sunset City isn't a continuation. It's a change of direction and tone.

Sunset City was conceived as a parody book. It occurred to me that it might be funny to write a story that was gritty and tough like Frank Miller's Sin City, and then to add gray hair and golf carts. Retirement gags with blood and guts. Eventually, the idea took on a life of its own, and matured into a more ambitious story. Telling a story that was very true and meaningful to me, and telling a story that was more challenging and surprisingly different from 1000 Steps to World Domination became the goal.

MAHER — Readers of 1000 Steps will remember that book used a somewhat unusual narrative style, bouncing around several different threads with a common theme, all building towards a sum that read very much like a manifesto. Sunset City looks like a more straightforward story, sticking with its protagonist all the way through with a more cohesive plot; is that an accurate interpretation? How did you approach this project differently, and what elements have you tried to retain?

OSBORNE — I think you characterized the 1000 Steps storytelling style pretty well. It took a myriad of ideas that coalesced into a delusional gestalt of world tyrannizing hoo-hah. Or something like that.

Sunset City is, indeed, more linear storytelling than 1000 Steps to World Domination. The story revolves around Frank McDonald, a widower and recent retiree who moves to Sunset City and finds himself alienated and bored. He's an avid reader of the newspaper, and interspersed throughout the book are newspaper articles that illuminate the goings-on in Sunset City.

I did want to retain some of the dry humor and irony that 1000 Steps contained. And, of course, there's a dog, Wally, who plays an important supporting role in Frank's life. But beyond that, Sunset City developed into a unique project that demanded a completely different approach. 1000 Steps developed as a sort of stream-of-consciousness. But with Sunset City, when I discovered how the story ended, it wrote itself toward that inevitable conclusion.

Sunset City Page 48MAHER — Inevitability and self-possession are issues you've spent some time with before. Will Sunset City wrestle with some of the same issues 1000 Steps addressed - the weight of the world pressing against our hero, the struggle to own one's destiny? And if so, has your perspective on these questions shifted since the success of 1000 Steps?

OSBORNE — In Sunset City, Frank McDonald is unclear about his role in life. He's lost his wife and his career. He's not a spring chicken anymore, and he's asking, "Now what?" I would suggest that Sunset City is more about finding one's destiny, where 1000 Steps to World Domination is about executing those initial wobbly steps after discovering your destiny. In both cases, there's still dog poop to pick up and monkey business to deal with and dangerous clowns and the inevitable gun play.

I don't think my perspective has shifted regarding my thoughts on destiny and life's struggles. In the book "The Road Less Traveled" by Dr. M. Scott Peck, he reminds us of the old Chinese proverb, "Life is suffering." And if you can accept that, he writes, then you can get over it and move on. If anything, I've acknowledged that the pitfalls and challenges of life require patience. And I am friggin' impatient! So, you know, I'm working on that.

MAHER — 1000 Steps saw you working nearly every morning on your comics, sometimes dressed in a shirt and tie, sometimes with a football helmet - and eventually you quit your job. It reminded me of something Harry Crews said: "If you wait until you got time to write... you will never do it. 'Cause there ain't no time; world don't want you to do that. World wants you to go to the zoo and eat cotton candy, preferably seven days a week." With Sunset City coming out in October and a third book on the way, can you describe a little bit about how your life has changed? Is it a challenge to find the time to work on your comics?

OSBORNE — Yes, it's an ongoing battle for me to stay out of zoos and away from cotton candy. The allure of television and lying around is always there. And, of course, real life throws zingers, and I can spend a lot of time on zingers.

That being said, my life hasn't changed all that much.

MAHER — Since winning the inaugural Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini Comics in 2003, you've exponentially increased your audience, hooking up with AiT/Planet Lar and suddenly appearing all throughout the comics internet. Have you had any surprising experiences as a result? What has the response from your readers been like?

OSBORNE — I'm really grateful for the positive response that I've received from readers of 1000 Steps to World Domination. Even my first stalker, Skippy, is a real joy to hear from. I'm not a superstar comic guy. I don't get a hundred e-mails a day telling me how great I am. So any accolades I receive feel good, even when coming from a crazed lunatic. There's no way I would get a restraining order for that guy. I enjoy the attention too much.

It was a very pleasant surprise to have a reader bring me cookies at a Free Comic Book Day signing. That was pretty cool. And the cookies were absolutely delicious. I've also got an offer waiting for me in Dallas, where a guy wants to take me out for a steak dinner. So as a result of a growing audience, I'm receiving food offerings. Boy, do I like to eat.

Sunset City Page 49MAHER — By many accounts, getting a comic done and out to the masses can be a hell of an undertaking, from concept to New Comics Day. What's the process been like for you? What's the most rewarding part of the process? Is there a part that stands out as particularly frustrating?

OSBORNE — Making comics has been very rewarding and very frustrating. Coming up with ideas and exploring concepts is a lot of fun. I love to explore new concepts. But then you have to get dirty and find out if you really have something. You have to scrutinize your idea.

On the surface, I knew that Sunset City was going to be off the beaten path for most comics readers. It's about senior citizens, for crying out loud. But that appealed to me. I like that retirement living is fairly virginal turf for comics.

Once I've decided on telling a story, it can be like trying to get chocolate milk from a Holstein cow to write, draw, letter, and edit the book. When you are making independent comics, it's you who sits down and makes the comic. I don't send the book off to be lettered. I sit there at my drawing table and letter the book. I think that is what keeps most would-be writers and artists on the sidelines. It requires hard work to complete a book. In any endeavor, like making comics, you will have problems. Impatience is one of the problems I've faced. It takes time to draw a page. Too much time. But if I want my book to get done, then whether I feel like it or not, I better go ahead and finish this page.

Ultimately, the tedious parts of finishing a book are worthwhile, because in October, AiT/Planet Lar is publishing Sunset City. And there it will be at your comic store or bookstore, ready for you to read.

MAHER — You've recently been doing a lot of Star Wars artwork, selling it on eBay and giving it a special section at Absolute Tyrant. Are you a big fan of the movies, cashing in on the popularity, hinting at possible work for hire in the future?

OSBORNE — Around the time of the release of Revenge of the Sith, I did a lot of Star Wars artwork. I really love the original trilogy. And so, yeah, I may have cashed in on the popularity a little bit, but it also gave me an opportunity to make contact with some folks who are fans of the Star Wars movies but have never heard of 1000 Steps to World Domination.

Back in the Spring, I bought a huge set of Prismacolor markers. I had been interested in doing some full-color work, and those Star Wars pieces were an opportunity to give my new markers a test drive. As a matter of fact, the cover to Sunset City is a mix of the Prismacolor markers and pencils.

Sunset City Page 50MAHER — On your website, you've been teasing your next project, The Almost Infamous Zango. Can you tell us anything about that book, and your plans for it?

OSBORNE — I have been sitting on The Nearly Infamous Zango for a few months now. It's slated to be a miniseries about a disgruntled supervillain. Zango longs for the notoriety of being exceptional, and he's frustrated at the medias lack of attention. I'm not sure where that book will end up. At the moment, I'm pondering its future.

MAHER — One of the things that most impressed me on reading 1000STWD was how self-possessed the style and message are. I can't really trace it back to any earlier creators or comics, and for a compulsive name-dropper like me, that's attention-grabbing. What are your thoughts about influences? Are they dangerous? Do they inspire? And what drove you to create comics yourself?

OSBORNE — I think that having role models is important. It's good to have people who inspire and set an example for you. And I've had my share of inspiration. Ultimately, if you admire the work of a writer or artist, then that will influence your own work.

Role models can be dangerous if you subjugate your creative voice to your admiration of another's work. Your work risks being derivative, unfresh, and disingenuous. That's not good.

I make comics because I love 'em. It's a labor of love.

Sunset City Page 52MAHER — I've recently been discussing Sunset City with a friend who's had some distressing personal experience with aging and senility. These can be uncomfortable, loaded topics. How did you go about addressing the heavier themes your setting introduces?

OSBORNE — Sunset City does contain some distressing subject matter related to aging, but it is dealt with in the context of the story. At no time do I make a gag at the expense of senior citizens. The challenges of growing older are thought-provoking. That is what attracted me to Sunset City. How does Frank McDonald, living his golden years, think about life? What's his purpose? What does he have left in the tank?

There are a host of retired characters with issues to deal with. But there's no reason to be heavy handed in telling this story. There's hope and romance and an Elvis impersonator. The difficult moments are followed by lighthearted ones. There is a punch to the gut followed by a punch to the funnybone.

MAHER — So, anything you'd like to say to wrap up? Any questions you'd like me to ask that I haven't?

OSBORNE — I am really proud of this book. Sunset City is a labor of love. And I think that it's a story that a lot of people can enjoy. If you are intrigued, please ask your favorite local retailer to order a copy of the book for you. And then let me know what you think. I didn't write this story for my own gratification. Well, at first I did write if for me, but in the end, I wrote it for the readers.

Readers can reach Osborne through email or through his website. Sunset City is available in October from AiT/Planet Lar. To order the book from your local comics shop, use the Diamond order number (AUG05 2620) or the ISBN 1-932051-41-4.


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