Graphic Novel Friday: Interview at the Federal Bureau of Physics
Publisher Vertigo Comics opened an extraordinary wormhole in 2013 with FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics by writer Simon Oliver and artist Robbi Rodriguez (originally titled Collider). In this world that is otherwise like our own, the laws of physics have begun to deteriorate. As the world struggles to cope and continue with this new, ever-shifting reality, the Federal Bureau of Physics forms to contain and solve for the bizarre. Agent Adam Hardy is one such member of the FBP and, like his father before him, he begins to suspect there is something even stranger afoot in a world that has lost its bearings.
Q: For the uninitiated, how would you describe FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics in one sentence? Okay…we'll give you two. Two sentences!
Simon Oliver: Physics may be broken but it’s no longer front-page news. Luckily the Federal Bureau of Physics is here, their motto: “To prevent and protect mankind from the impossible…”
Robbi Rodriguez: I was asked at the beginning of the project of what I envisioned for the book and I said I saw it as if Kurt Vonnegut, Bruce Springsteen and Wally Wood created a comic. Blue collar sci-fi.
Q: Was there any particular moment or inspiration behind the book’s premise? How long has this idea been with the two of you?
Simon Oliver: I’d been talking to my editor Mark Doyle for a while about doing a new monthly, and I’d been bouncing ideas at him but nothing was sticking. The thing about an ongoing monthly is you need something “big”, some big idea that will keep you supplied with stories to plop your characters down into…anyway it was around tornado season, I was in my car listening to a report about how some tornado had flattened a town in the Midwest and it struck me, “what if the tornadoes weren’t caused by weather? What if it was actually physics? What if physics didn’t work so well anymore? What it the laws of physics were broken?"
I remember calling Mark up and pitching him that version and we knew we had “it”; we had that big idea to run with, so it was just a case of shaping up the rules of the world, and putting the characters together. One big detail, which seems small, but it’s something I think sets the book apart from similar stories, is that it’s out in the open, there’s no big conspiracy to keep it quiet, it’s very much a part of our lives.
Mark had Robbi on a list of artists he wanted to work with, and I think he really nailed it choosing him, and that’s something that goes for the entire art team. Rico nails the colors and Nathan’s covers are second to none. I’ve been lucky.
Robbi Rodriguez: Once we started talking, I got to add subjects that I wanted play with and ideas that have been digesting in my head for a while. This was the perfect playground to let these ideas go and see what they can do. String theory, black matter, quantum mechanics…
Q: How much of a science background do either of you have? Does writing and drawing FBP involve a lot of research?
Simon Oliver: Erh, “O” level physics when I was 16, which is a while ago now. But I read a lot, I wouldn’t ever say I was a physics nerd, but I do find what’s going on in that field right now to be really fascinating. A couple of issues back I came up with “come for the physics, stay for the characters” which is now never too far from my mind when I’m working on it.
Robbi Rodriguez: I try not to research that much with this book, as it could take away from the fun look of it. Yet the stuff I do research are just elements to ground the concepts into something that’s recognizable to the readers. Mostly just looking up and finding everyday objects and settings to figure out how to break and bend them.
Q: From the the covers to the interiors, the book simply looks like nothing else on the shelves. How did this come about? Was it planned from the beginning?
Simon Oliver: Agreed.
Robbi Rodriguez: From the start I knew that I had to make this look like a candy coated version of [American physicist and author] Michio Kaku. The pinks, yellows and teals to pop and in a way make the look cosmic at a ground level. But I knew I could not do this on my own, so I asked if I could bring in Rico Renzi as the colorist. We've been friends for a few years and wanted to work with each other on something, but nothing lined up until now. I just gave Rico a few direction notes like “AKIRA”, no earth tones and he was off to the races. Getting Nathan Fox on covers was the cherry on top. His covers amplify the spirit of the book so much that it draws eyes to its place on the shelf.
Simon Oliver: Being the writer, I had a head start, I think I was about three scripts in before Robbi began pencils. I started the book with pretty tight scripts, which is how I’ve worked in the past. I'd hand a script in, do some tweaks further down the line, but my involvement isn’t too deep during the art process.
The thing about FBP is that it’s such an art driven book that the tight scripts didn’t give Robbi the chance to take the lead, so I’ve been turning in much looser scripts, and I tweak and rework as the art starts coming in. It’s much more of an ongoing process for me now, and I think it’s the best way to approach what I do. Making comics should be a fluid process and I think that’s what we’re getting to now.
Robbi Rodriguez: That has been a working process over the course of the run. We're at the nice point where it’s both scripted and loose. I can really take Simon's work to another level that way. I think it’s easier on both our parts as all I really need is the dialog and beats to finish out an issue.
Q: FBP focuses on "broken physics." What's the most terrifying "physics break" you guys can envision happening in front of you?
Simon Oliver: A time loop where you got stuck reliving a section of your life over and over again, like a video game glitch. I think that would be the stuff of nightmares.
Robbi Rodriguez: For me I think it would be reality shifting. For example, I make a choice as simple as putting my left foot down as opposed to my right as I get out of bed and your life course changes.
Q: We saw high school students having fun with a break in gravity. What “physics break” scenario would you most like to be a part of?
Simon Oliver: I think a gravity failure would be cool, or a wormhole in your house that could take you to the other side of the world whenever you wanted, that would be useful.
Robbi Rodriguez: We have something in a scene in [issue] #8 that involves a bar fight and pool hall that I think would be a blast to be in the middle of.
Q: What's been the best part about writing and illustrating FBP? The characters? Coming up with the most insane "broken physics" scenarios possible?
Simon Oliver: I always fall for the one I’m writing now which is about the nature of reality. But what I really enjoy is rewriting the “world rules” and then letting the characters play out their arcs inside that tweaked world.
Robbi Rodriguez: For me it’s figuring out the most entertaining way to express these ideas and theories that usually go way over some people’s heads.
Q: What superhero do you think would make the best FBP agent?
Simon Oliver: I think it would be fun to do a super villain in this world, but then again super villains are pretty fun in any world. But imagine how much fun the Joker could have if he got to play with physics.
Robbi Rodriguez: Snowflame