Kerry Callen interview

An angel, a robot, and a young woman are the protagonists in Kerry Callen’s humorous Halo & Sprocket, the latest book from Amaze Ink/Slave Labor Graphics. Worlds of Westfield Content Editor Roger Ash recently contacted Callen to find out more about the book.

Westfield: How would you describe Halo & Sprocket and who are the major characters?

Kerry Callen: Halo & Sprocket follows the adventures of three very different characters who live in the same house together. There’s Halo, who’s an incredibly powerful angel. There’s Sprocket who’s a partially-programmed robot. And there’s Katie, who’s a young woman who is just trying to live her life.

Halo hasn’t paid attention to Earth for a few thousand years, so he’s clueless about the modern world. He has a firm grasp on human nature, but knows virtually nothing about our society. He tends to look at things through a metaphysical point of view. Sprocket has been programmed with “encyclopedia” knowledge, but ultimately knows even less than Halo. He typically views things using only logic. Katie’s there to give the real-life perspective. Her viewpoint can be insightful or quirky, but basically she represents the common person.

So, with this strange mix of characters, it’s easy for adventures to spring out of everyday occurrences. It also opens the door for some very uncommon adventures. It’s a humor book, though I like to think it would still be interesting even without the humor.

By the way, I just called both Halo and Sprocket “he.” They’re both sexless, really. The English language needs a neuter, third person pronoun, dang it!

Westfield: The story begins with Halo, Sprocket and Katie together. Will we ever see how they wound up together?

Callen: Yes, but I decided not to start there. The first episode of the Simpsons didn’t start with the marriage of Marge and Homer. You accept they’re together and enjoy their wacky antics. A friend told me I should never reveal how they got together. He thought it was funnier that way. I considered following his advice, but I really want to eventually tell the story.

Westfield: What can we look forward to in upcoming issues?

Callen: Great things! Great and wonderful things! (laughs) Actually, I write notes to myself about future story ideas almost daily. I think I’ve found a really rich vein to mine. So, in upcoming issues, anything is fair game. The main story in issue #2 is the trio dealing with Katie’s beer-guzzling, chauvinistic neighbor. There’s also a story that answers the question if there’s a difference between “spit” and “saliva.” I’m not afraid to cover the tough topics!

In issue #3, we find out what it takes to make a machine mad. And by that, I mean Sprocket. In another story, Katie is kidnapped by a demon. Another story deals with collecting odd miniatures.

In issue #4, we see that the three main characters obviously have different opinions on what “art” is. Oh, I mentioned earlier that Halo knew very little about the world today. Well, he knows a lot about the ancient world. In this issue, we find out something about the true nature of mermaids.

After that, we’ll see how Halo, Sprocket and Katie originally got together. Let me give a disclaimer. As I said, I get new ideas nearly everyday. So, what I just said are my plans at the moment. I’m currently drawing issue #3, so the content of the first three really shouldn’t change.

Westfield: Where did the idea for the book come from?

Callen: Well, I’ve always loved comics. And I’ve always had the tendency to come up with oddball ideas. Well, to me they’re not oddball, but I’m told that they are. I toyed with the idea of doing a comic that actually had no main characters. It would just be a book of observations and weird thoughts. But that sounds kind of dry, doesn’t it? That idea laid around in my head for awhile. Then I decided I needed a character who was an outsider to our world. But I felt like it had all been done before. An alien? Been done. A robot? Seen it. An angel? Maybe. When it eventually occurred to me that I could have a robot and an angel plus a human, it suddenly seemed interesting enough to pursue. I’ve been really happy with the results.

Westfield: A theme of the book seems to be the various oddities of human nature. How do you decide which of these facets you want to turn into a story?

Callen: I try to pick the ones that seem the most interesting or hits me as the most hilarious. Sometimes, I find an interesting thought that leads to another interesting thought, that leads to another interesting thought. I think those are the best for creating stories. Humor that builds on itself seems more satisfying that one-liners. Though I love a good one-liner.

I did a comic called the Directory to a Non-Existent Universe many years ago. It was a parody of super-hero directories that were popular at the time. I bring it up because a character in it mentions that he considers himself an “unconformist.” The correct term, of course, is “nonconformist,” but that’s “how conformists say it!” I got an email last week, from someone I know, which directed me to a website that quotes that line and gives me credit! I wrote that over ten years ago! So, one-liners are great, but you can’t easily build a story out of one.

Westfield: All the Halo & Sprocket stories I've read are very well written and illustrated. Did you have any schooling in art or writing? What is you background?

Callen: First of all, thank you. I grew up in rural Arkansas. I never had any art training until I went to college. They just didn’t offer it at my High School. I graduated college with a BA in graphic design and eventually started making a living as an artist. I’ve worked at a card company for over a decade now. A greeting card company, I should say. I work in the licensing department where we do other people’s characters. Over the years I’ve been able to work on Looney Tunes characters, Disney, Peanuts, stuff like that. It’s fun. I like it, and we get to meet interesting people. I was fortunate enough to have met Charles Schulz a few times. Sometimes when I draw Halo, it really reminds me of Woodstock.

As for my writing, I think I had a creative writing class in college. I really like writing dialog, but writing prose is a much bigger chore. Maybe it is for everyone. I guess that’s why comics appeal to me, because I can draw a tree instead of having to describe it. But it’s all merely communicating ideas. I don’t think drawing a tree is any less valid than describing one.

Westfield: The first issue actually contains 3 short stories. Why did you decide to go with this instead of one long story, and will this be the format for the book in the future?

Callen: One of the things I’m trying to do is to make a book that is accessible to anyone. That includes people who don’t normally read comics. I want to make a very reader-friendly book. It’s one of the reasons I’ve taken such a simple approach to the artwork, as well. Also, many of the ideas I get are best suited to tell as a short story. I’m not willing to pad them just for the sake of making them longer. I hate stories that are stretched out and hardly get anywhere.

As for the future, I’m not against doing a single story in one issue. In fact, I’d like to, but the story has to be right. Actually, their origin story will take four issues to tell. But I wanted to start the series with short stories. After the first four issues, you will have read twelve stories. I think you will feel like you’ve spent more time with these characters than you would if you had just read one continuing story.

Westfield: One of the things I enjoy about Halo & Sprocket is that its humor isn't mean spirited. Why did you take this lighter approach?

Callen: I’ve never really thought about that before! I’m doing stuff I personally find funny, I suppose. If I ever think of a story that’s worth telling and it needs a mean spirited character in it, I would use it. But I don’t think any of the core characters will ever use mean spirited humor. That’s just my preference. Though it would be a fun thing for Sprocket to try for a day! Hmmm, hold on a second, I need to write something down. (laughs)

Westfield: You have some other artists doing pin-ups in the first issue. Is this something you want to continue in the future?

Callen: Well, I’m lucky enough to know some great artists. And even though I came up with the idea, I find the paring of an angel and a robot together, fascinating. I was dying to see how other artists would interpret them. I love what they all did! Jim (Mahfood) drew Halo as female. Mike (Huddleston) drew Halo as male. I think that’s great! If you look at the four pin-ups, you’ll notice that Sprocket looks pretty much the same. He’s a machine, not open to much interpretation. Katie, a human, is open to more interpretation and she looks a bit different in each piece. Halo, who’s a spiritual being, is wide open for interpretation. I hadn’t realized this until I started getting artwork from these guys!

You asked me if I’ll have more in the future? I made the first issue longer than a normal issue. It’s 32 pages instead of the standard 24. I wanted to start with a bit of a bang. I don’t have any pin-ups planned for issue #2. I’d like to have more in the future, but I don’t want to short change the readers of any stories. However, if people enjoy seeing them, I’ll fit them in. I certainly enjoy seeing them.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Callen: I should mention that Halo & Sprocket is put out by Slave Labor, but it’s being published under the Amaze Ink brand. I don’t know if everyone realizes that Amaze Ink exists as a way to let readers know that those books never venture beyond a “PG” rating.

I’m really proud of the work I’ve done so far and I’m sincerely excited about the things I’m working on for upcoming issues. I really hope people will give Halo & Sprocket a try!