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Talking to Lane Milburn About His New Weekly VICE Comic Strip

The artist talks about his sci-fi influence and his "intense 'Spawn' phase."
January 9, 2015, 8:10pm

Images courtesy of Lane Milburn

This week marks the official start of Lane Milburn doing a weekly comic for VICE, so I thought I'd interview Lane to introduce him to all of you nice readers out there. Lane was in a collective called Closed Caption Comics and he's done a book called 12 Gems for Fantagraphics. We had a nice chat about things we like.

VICE: My memory was destroyed by smart phones. Were you or are you still a member of Closed Caption Comics?
Lane Milburn: Yes, I was in the group and had work in all of the anthologies. We don't do the anthology or really collaborate anymore but we remain very close friends.

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How long have you been making comics for?
I drew them as a kid like most, though I didn't really grow up as a comics fan aside from an intense Spawn phase. I drew lots of comics based on movies like Jurassic Park and Star Wars, and video games like Mortal Kombat, Boogerman, and Vectorman.

Lane Milburn.

I had a Spawn phase. How far did yours go?
Probably just the first 30 issues. I was ten. I remember not liking Greg Capullo's art. I had some of the action figures.

What was the process of learning to draw like for you?
I drew from my imagination incessantly as a young kid. In high school, I began drawing and painting portraits of friends. I went into art school (Maryland Institute College of Art) with the ambition to be a traditional figurative painter, so I think a lot of my figuration is informed by life drawing. It wasn't until college that I switched gears and became a cartoonist and comics fan, and since then I've tried to learn more by studying the greats: Moebius, Kirby, Ditko, Los Bros, Otomo, Druillet, Manara, etc.

Are you into Wally Wood at all? He did a lot of spacey stuff.
Yes he does. One of the true gods of ink on paper. I took the design for Jo Sparta's outfit from one of his illustrations for some pulp paperback. I have some EC reprints that I look at often.

Can you tell me about your relationship with science fiction? I assume that this comic is coming from a place of familiarity. Do you have favorite authors, films, and comics that you responded to?
I grew up with what I imagine is a pretty typical pop culture diet for people my age. As I mentioned, I didn't read too many comics or anything else until college, where I became a rabid reader of everything. I played lots of video games growing up. Some favorites over the years were Super Metroid, Perfect Dark, Metal Gear Solid, and the Final Fantasy series. In high school I watched Ghost in the Shell and Tetsuo the Iron Man. In college I read the Dune series, Ender's Game, some Heinlein stuff.

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Discovering Moebius's Airtight Garage in college was an absolute revelation for me. I could sense its influence on my childhood favorites like Star Wars, yet I also responded to the incredible drawings as a fine artist interested in the figure. Since then I've just tried to absorb as much as I can on all fronts. As far as sci-fi goes, I recently finished watching Battlestar Galactica and have been reading Russell Hoban, Ursula K. LeGuin, Philip K. Dick, the Strugatsky Brothers, and Dan Simmons's Hyperion. In my "to read" stack I have Stanislaw Lem and Octavia Butler.

Did you ever get into old Heavy Metal magazines or Epic Illustrated?
Yeah, I mentioned Moebius and Druillet, whose work I mainly got into through the collections printed by Epic and Dragon's Dream. I only own a couple issues of Heavy Metal. I have almost all of the old Moebius collections from Epic. I'm also crazy about Kaluta and Enki Bilal. Wasn't Starstruck part of the Epic line? I recently found a copy of that Star Raiders book illustrated by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, one of my all-time favorite comics illustrators.

Did you see Interstellar? What did you think of it?
I didn't see it. My friends hated it. I watched the trailer and the premise seemed too ridiculous, even by my standards. My favorite recent or recent-ish sci-fi films are District 9, Splice, Antiviral, Under the Skin, The Host, Monsters, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Coherence.

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I'm a huge fan of Cronenberg, who for me embodies a lot of the essence of science fiction, which is concepts and thought experiments: a zoomed-out view of human issues. Science fiction in comics often focuses on the visuals. I love the visuals too, and certainly had that in mind working on Twelve Gems, which I actually view as a fantasy comedy. Of course there are lots of comics with great sci-fi concepts too… Akira, Moebius's Gardens of Aedena. Sci-fi or die.

Do you have a favorite Cronenberg movie? I also agree that he is the greatest. I don't notice a lot of similarity in the work you've done for VICE so far. Do you do much horror work?
In the fall of 2009 I won a Xeric grant for my horror graphic novella Death Trap. It's sort of a teens-in-peril, Texas Chainsaw Massacre action story. My favorite Cronenberg movies are The Fly, eXistenZ, Shivers, and The Brood.

Have you worked in color much before when making comic stories?
Not much, but it's quickly become my preferred mode. I use a lightbox and do the colors on a second sheet with acrylic inks. My Death Trap book has a short intro story done in watercolors.

Your main character feels like a less reluctant version of Ripley from the Alien movies in a lot of ways. Was that a conscious decision?
No actually, but I appreciate the comparison. It's been ages since I've seen those movies but they certainly made a huge impression on me. I actually do want Jo Sparta to show a bit of reluctance and mixed emotions, but hopefully that'll come through as Envoy unfurls.

I mean that Ripley doesn't usually decide to go on the adventures she has in the movies.
Right. Great character, great performances. The original Alien is my favorite movie in the series.

Does Envoy take place in the same universe as your book, Twelve Gems?
No, I don't think so. But I sometimes can't resist the urge for stupid cameos, so I guess we'll see.

Read Envoy on VICE every Thursday.