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Amerikarate and B-Movie Glory: An Interview with Brockton McKinney

As a child obsessed with obscure horror and action films, Brockton McKinney couldn’t tell the difference between Puppet Masters and Star Wars. In his mind, both were unparalleled works of art. Having grown up on the B-movies of Roger Corman, Charles Band and many more, McKinney eventually turned his bizarre passion into a career. In addition to making these kinds of low-budget horror films with his friends early in his career, he has also made a name for himself in recent years as a prolific comic book writer. With books like the science fiction-horror hybrid Ehmm Theory and his comic book reboot of the classic horror film The Gingerdead Man, McKinney continues to put out the best and weirdest stories in the world of fandom.

Currently, McKinney is busy writing his latest comic Amerikarate for Action Lab, serving as the Creative Director of NC Comicon, and co-writing the feature-length film Evil Bong 666 for Full Moon Features. Amerikarate tells the story of action hero Sam Kickwell, who one day stumbles into the town of Baconville. While Baconville has outlawed Karate after suffering a ninja attack years earlier, Kickwell must defy this law when a super-villain arrives in town. Check out my review of the first issue here:

McKinney and I chatted about this project, and about anything else that came up. The following is an abbreviated version of our conversation.

Kevin Schaefer: To start off, talk about the genesis of this project and how your other work in comics lead to it.

Brockton McKinney: So this was actually not a comic project originally. The guy who cowrote it with me, Corey Kalman, he lives in Los Angeles and we’ve worked together. We have a studio called Zero Space Industries. It was me, him and a guy named Christian Moran. We would bring all of our ideas together for things we thought would make a good movie or a good animated series. We worked on commercials and did a bunch of animated stuff.

One of the ideas Corey had was for a live action movie called Amerikarate. I was just like, “I love that title man!” So he told me the gist of the story that he had in mind, and we took that and ended up breaking it into about the first four issues. It was all about the protagonist going to the town in the book [Baconville]. We started coming up with all these funny nuances and names that referenced 80s movies, and I was like, “this is a comic book.” So I asked Corey about making it into a comic, and he said, “yeah let’s do it.”

We then met the artist Devin Roth at a convention in Los Angeles. He was there promoting Bob’s Burgers. We told him we wanted to work with him, and he was all in. We sat down and mapped out the first four issues. Then we did six pages of art from the first issue, and we did the fight scene at the end. And there’s actually somewhat of a change in terms of style from those initial pages, because this was the first time Devin had drawn a comic book. But we submitted that to Dave [Dwonch] and everyone at Action Lab, and they gave us the green light to do it.

KS: Since you were the only comic book veteran on the team, did you kind of have to train Corey and Devin on the process?

BM: All of us were collaborating together, but the process of making a comic is so weird and inorganic. You have to figure out how much fits on the page, panel layouts, which panels don’t have any action on them and all of those things. That first issue was a learning process for all of us. By the second issue though, we were cruising. That first issue took about two to three times as long to make as the rest of the series. It was just a matter of working together and finding our groove.

KS: Was this your first time working with a co-writer on a comic?

BM: I worked with my best friend Bo Fader on a book called DeathCurse. And I worked with him and some other people on some low-budget movies we made years ago. And I also came from writing skit comedy for a comedy troupe, and that was with like five or six other people the whole time. Also, Corey and I have nearly identical senses of humor. If we could make the other one laugh, then it probably went into the script. We wrote a good portion of the first issue in a hotel room in Durham. He had come here from Los Angeles for Free Comic Book Day, and he had a hotel room with a little business area. We wrote for about three days straight, and we would even act out the fight scenes together in order to get them right. So we basically acted out every panel, which was super fun.

KS: I know Ehmm Theory ran for a couple volumes, and Gingerdead Man has had one arc so far, but Amerikarate is your first regular ongoing series that’s been set for a while.

BM: It is. It’s also the farthest I’ve been ahead in a while, because even with Ehmm Theory I was always afraid that we would be canceled, and I didn’t want to write too far ahead in the series. I had this Bible of story ideas, but I didn’t write the actual scripts until I knew we were getting another issue. With Amerikarate, Corey and I both felt really good about it, so we went ahead and wrote the first eight issues months ago.

KS: What’s the process of writing a serialized story like, and how does it compare to writing a miniseries or a one shot?

BM: It’s so much fun. It’s so much more gratifying to give it some air and let it breathe, instead of just cramming everything in there at once. It’s really neat to have the time to expand the story, even if it’s a story about karate and gun chucks. Honestly, the first issue is the pilot episode, and the story really starts in issue two. You’ll feel the waves of what happens in issue one throughout the rest of the series, but issue two is where we meet Cynthia Weaver, who’s this huge character in the rest of the series. Two is where it really kicks off.

KS: And when you and Corey first conceived the idea of the series, did one of you say, “Footloose meets Snake Plissken!”?

BM: (Laughs) Yeah. So, we had gotten the whole story down, and when we were going back issue by issue, we decided to do a movie poster for each variant cover. Then we would tie in some element from that action movie into the story. So, for instance, issue two has a Commando cover, and there’s a big Commando reference in the book. So, that helped influence what we were doing with the actual story. We would call this one the Commando issue, this one the Death Wish issue, and this one the Bloodsport issue. That way we could put one little nod or one scene in there that would reflect that. It’s kind of a dream come true for someone like me who loves all the old action movies.

KS: So, you’ve got Amerikarate, more Gingerdead Man comics, the Evil Bong 666 movie and the NC Comicon.

BM: Yeah. Just in the next month, I have an ongoing comic, a movie that’s debuting and the convention. It’s more going on than I’ve ever had in my life.

KS: Sounds like you don’t need anything more on your plate right now.

BM: I’m totally fine with it. Even Amerikarate lasts through the end of the year. The eighth issue is currently being drawn, and I just proofed the cover for the first trade. Like I said I’ve never been that far ahead before.

KS: And when does issue two come out?

BM: April 5th. We’ll debut that at Borderlands in South Carolina. I’ll be signing copies there.

KS: Well I’m looking forward to it.

BM: Thanks man.