'Task Force Rad Squad' Creators on Future of the Comic
When there’s danger threatening the planet, there’s only one team to call to save the day: Task Force Rad Squad. The underground comic book of the same name built a cult fan base across its initial run and is now making a comeback when readers need it most, courtesy of a new crowdfunded campaign for a collected edition, once again saving comics from po-faced seriousness.
The series initially launched in 2013 and ran for six issues, pitting Earth’s teenage defenders — as well as the suitably exasperated A.I. Ph.R.A.N.C.I.S. (Phone Robot Assistant Networking Cosmic Intelligence Somethin’ somethin’, natch) and Space Potion-addled mentor figure Cody — against threats as diverse as talking cake, giant monsters and ill-considered texting. Irreverent and exuberant, Task Force Rad Squad was a love letter to properties like Power Rangers and Godzilla that managed to be, if anything, even more fun than its inspiration.
This Week In Heat Vision breakdown
The crowdfunding campaign for Task Force Rad Squad: The Collection launched last month and, as it heads into its final week, Heat Vision caught up with creators Caleb Goellner and Buster Moody to task about the origins, the collected edition and the future of Task Force Rad Squad.
What was the initial inspiration behind Task Force Rad Squad? Not just in terms of what series/concepts/shows inspired it creatively, but why do a comic in the first place? Caleb, you were on the other side of the comics journalism thing at the time…
Caleb Goellner: Working in comics journalism definitely inspired my eventual shift to comic creation, but more in a philosophical way than a mechanical way. When I first started thinking about Task Force Rad Squad, I was around five years deep covering comics and running around in Portland’s comics scene. That meant, among other things, that I got to meet and otherwise be around awesome creators on a regular basis.
After awhile, I started to pick up on who seemed genuinely happy and energized and why. I realized I’d been suppressing the comics beast within. So I tried to shed my fears, anxieties, and ego by drawing my own comics again for the first time since junior high and wrote my first comic script, which was for Task Force Rad Squad No. 1. A friend told me that I’d get hooked and I did. Fortunately Buster — who was already a comics pro — agreed to team up with me.
Buster Moody: To answer “why comics?,” I would simply say because comics are by far the dopest storytelling medium that exists. I love film, animation, music … but comics are just my preferred form of entertainment/story consumption. Also, anyone can make a comic. The entry point into comics is way more accessible than more specialized mediums. Rad Squad specifically is a distillation of various types of media Caleb and I loved, but chief among those mediums was comics — Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was originally a comic after all.
Buster, you call it a distillation of the things you love — what is it about things like Power Rangers, TMNT and Godzilla that have kept them fun and bypasses the overthinking of other pop culture properties like DC or Marvel’s superheroes, or Star Wars or the like? Does whatever that X factor might be inspire Task Force Rad Squad?
Moody: One of the things I like about the above-mentioned properties are their versatility of creature design. Power Rangers, TMNT, Godzilla all seem to embrace the "fun" aspects of action stories and can explore unique ways of expressing that fun. The character designs usually reflect that.
Aside from very cut-and-dry good vs. evil parables, by and large these properties also stay away from moralizing and talking down to their audience. It’s hard to overthink "Evil is trying to destroy our world — we must protect it." I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing to sympathize with genocidal villains. So many times watching Big Two-based movies you can be led to think, "You know, maybe we should eliminate half the population?" when hopefully, very obviously that is not something anyone should be doing or considering. Hopefully people realize that’s not OK.
Goellner: I think I just like monsters and monster slayers more than some of the more messiah-y superheroes from the Big Two, you know? Manga, anime and tokusatsu are full of heroes who don’t think twice about blowing up bad guys who personify bad ideas. In tokusatsu, there are obnoxious giant inanimate objects kidnapping schoolchildren by the bus-full and knocking over skyscrapers. It’s immensely satisfying to watch somebody in a cool motorcycle helmet and matching scarf do a bunch of cartwheels, shout something ruggedly poetic about justice and love, then kick the monster so hard that it bursts into a fireworks display.
That’s not to say I don’t also love things like Superman saving the universe by singing, but I’ll take the virtue of the Power Rangers over two sad dudes groaning about how their moms have the same name any day.
Along the same lines of not overthinking things, Task Force Rad Squad is part parody, part homage, and part unself-conscious expression of joy. It’s at once complex in its mix, and also very simple because it reads very straightforward in its execution — it’s not snide or ironic in what it does. It’s just fun. Is this directly your excitement translating on the page, or are we missing the blood, sweat and tears of you managing to fake sincerity really, really well?
Goellner: Thank you! When I work on comics, I really am trying to share joy. I can get pretty cynical and deadpan to guard myself against the stresses of modern life, but when I watch tokusatsu or read comics and manga, there are these moments when I feel like I’m watching an amazing play during the last 15 seconds of a tied-up NBA final or something — I’m feasting on a bespoke triumph. Like every page of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure makes me want to shout, “A person thought this up, drew it and now I’m shouting! Being alive is cool!”
So, I guess when I work on Task Force Rad Squad and other comics, I’m chasing becoming worthy of creating something that might make somebody else feel similarly.
Moody: Sincerity is one of those things that I feel is pretty undervalued these days. Most media has a layer of irony or cynicism attempting to shield the work from criticism. Those type stories definitely have a place in our society and time, but Rad Squad really is an unabashed expression of optimism and energy in the face of anxiety, sardonic cynicism and trends of current post-modern angst. There are still things to be hopeful of in life, even if stuff can get rocky.
I’m curious — why revive the series with this new collection? You guys are off making Sonic the Hedgehog, Power Rangers and other comics now.
Moody: Well, issues 1-6 are currently out of print, and even on top of that, not enough people have read it yet! There’s some magic here that’s hasn’t been mined by the greater public yet, but there is also a small but enthusiastic following that come and see us at shows who absolutely love the book. Many of them just have random issues from shows that we’ve done over the last few years and want to have a complete set. This collection will be the way to get all six out-of-print issues in one place.
Goellner: I’m really grateful to be able to write for the comic book series that got me into comics and I love the special challenge they offer. I think Task Force Rad Squad has its own therapeutic niche, though. It’s the kind of book that’s stressed out agents, editors and publishers since it’s fueled by pure id, and I think folks who like action and humor and the occasional brush of self-reflection will want to spend some time in the world Buster and I have worked to build. We created it through our respective quarter-life stresses and came out much more centered adults. Speaking for myself, it was an educational experience that made me a much better comic book creator and a better person in general.
With so many amazing, important YA graphic novels about identity coming out right now, I think this is something folks who have recently come of age can pick up and vibe on during their next phase of young adult life — the terrible one where you start thinking about equity and credit scores. Wouldn’t it be nice to slice through an anthropomorphic refinanced mortgage with a laser sword?
So what’s the response to the Kickstarter been like? Is it what you expected?
Goellner: We’ve been supremely encouraged by the support of our existing readers, industry peers and brand-new folks from the wider tokusatsu community. We’ve got a little ways to go before we hit our goal, but we think, with everyone’s support, we can get fully funded and finally Voltron seven wild years of work into a package that will hit a sweet spot for readers as weird as Buster and I.
Moody: It’s been cool. There are definitely peaks and valleys, but I’m confident that if enough people get behind this, we’ll have a dope collection in our hands when all is said and done.
Is there a future for Task Force Rad Squad after this campaign, and the collected edition? You’re both talking as if this is an ongoing project, as opposed to the collection being the end of the road — can you see yourselves doing more with these characters in the future?
Goellner: Definitely. The Kickstarter will give us a good temperature check to see what form new Task Force Rad Squad might take. I’ve got a “second season” outlined that I know we’d both like to kick out at a much faster clip in comic book form if possible, plus Buster’s done some really cool things with Task Force Rad Squad in animation that I think have kaiju-sized potential. Our first step, though, is to get the collection into everyone’s hands. We’re stoked for more readers to dig in and get into the weirdness!
Moody: I sure hope so. I love the characters and the book. I feel like there’s an energy and charm to this book that’s void in most publishers, and that’s a space in comics that Caleb and I would love to fill. If people want more radness, then we’re beyond happy to make more!
More information about Task Force Rad Squad: The Collection can be found on the campaign’s page. The campaign continues through Oct. 18.
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