Writer Chris Maverick (Mav) takes the hot seat to talk about his Science Fiction webcomic Cosmic Hellcats.
Cosmic Hellcats follows the exploits of a scrappy crew of catgirl Science Ninjas as they explore the universe while battling aliens, robots, gigantic four-dimensional children, pirates, monsters, the laws of physics, and their own pathologically destructive tendencies.
The main team consists of: tough as nails leader, Captain Amaya Solace; brilliant but nymphomaniac science officer Dr. Sarah Prankha; adventure loving pilot Lt. Damsel Reed and the homicidal weapons officer with a lolcat speech impediment, Chaste. They’re joined by Andrew, a silent battledroid with an inferiority complex and Fluffy, their sarcastic ship computer as they travel the universe causing as much trouble as they get out of.
Other characters that make appearances include the members of competing units from amongst their allies in the Federated Union of Confederated Kingdoms. The Tactics Espionage and Defense Directorate: Intergalactic Justice Advocates: µ (Four space faring teddy bears: Kennedy, Rooselvelt, Pendergrass and Riley); a fellow Hellcat Unit led by Captain Nikki “Shipwrecks” Kitai and consisting of team members: Bambii, Glover and Ensign Matt; and most recently the Starfoxes, a superpowered special forces team led by Sahara and including members Miaa, Shiima and Trix.
Their primary enemies are the Rigellians, a race of one-eyed reptile people with bunny ears who are amassing a vast empire throughout the universe despite their comical ineptitude. They’ve also encountered Jessi and Junior, a pair of four-dimensional space giants who eat planets and a band of pirates led by the maniacal Captain Arkady and his first mate, Lucy.
Whilst formatted as a joke strip, the stories are serialized with one episode leading into the next, taking one year to tell a complete tale. In addition there’s a weekend strip called Hellcat Cosmos that while not part of the main story is used to tell anecdotal one-panel stories about characters in the Hellcats Universe – frequently characters that haven’t appeared in the main comic as often as we’d like!
I get that your characters aren’t Furries – they’re Aliens, but they must get called Furries a lot. What’s your attitude towards the Label and it’s perceived stigma?
It doesn’t bother us at all. When we started the strip we made a conscious choice to make them catgirls and we knew what that would bring, both good and bad. A lot of what happens in Cosmic Hellcat Adventures is actually what I’d call meta-comic humor. We poke fun at a lot comic, science fiction, Internet and pop-culture memes, sometimes obviously, and sometimes in very subtle ways that basically only amuse us. We actually have a fair number of readers who are attracted to the strip because of it’s furry origins and we welcome them. So while we might make an occasional joke poking fun at furry concepts (such as the over the top BDSM sex scene between Sarah and Lt. Kennedy) we try to treat them just as respectfully as might treat the Star Trek jokes we make. And we sincerely hope that both Trekkies and Furries see that and enjoy us for what we are.
Yes, there is a stigma with the Furry label, but I think that’s wrong. It’s a comic book after all, and in our case a very sexually charged (albeit in a PG-13 kinda way) one. I don’t think there’s anything more ridiculous about them having cat ears and tails than there is about them fighting in high-heels, wearing skirts that are barely belt length or the fact that Chaste can pull massive firearms out of thin air.
The funny thing is, to me, the character that most represents a furry is Andrew, and he’s metallic.
Sexually charged cat-girls, ooooooh yeah! *Ahem!* Yes it’s fair to say sexuality plays an important role in the comic. Do you try to educate your readers or is it pure sensuality?
I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to call us educational, but I do think we do a good job of being more than just gratuitous T&A. We’re actually nowhere near as sexually charged as people think we are. While sex certainly plays a role, we actually try to keep the webcomic relatively PG-13. There’s never been any explicit nudity and no one has ever actually had sex on panel. We try to stay within the bounds of what you could show on a prime-time sitcom. Granted a raunchy and sophomoric one, but one that air on broadcast television nonetheless.
While we’re certainly not trying to “educate” I think it’s important to point out that most everything that happens in Cosmic Hellcat Adventures, sexual and non-sexual, is usually part of advancing the storyline or character development. So while it may seem at first glance that Sarah, Kennedy and Bambii are all one-dimensional sex addicts, if you actually read the story, you’ll find that each of them treats sex differently. Sarah is uses sex for empowerment. Even in her frequent fantasies, she is almost always in control of men who seem powerless to her in comparison. Kennedy on the other hand represents a typical meat-head jock who is willing to sleep with anyone just in the name of getting laid, however when finally given the opportunity to score with Sarah, is immediately turned off and intimidated by her sexual aggressiveness. He can’t handle being subjugated by a stronger woman. And then we have Bambii, who entirely equates sex with love to the point that she wants to spend her entire life with a boy she’s slept with even though she can’t remember his name.
This is contrasted with Chaste who thus far in the comic has expressed no sexual desires whatsoever but instead is completely consumed with violence or Nikki who was fun to write because although there are subtle hints to her being a lesbian throughout the entire second story arc where she appeared, it is never explicitly stated until there’s a storyline reason for doing so. And when we did mention it, we were careful to treat it matter-of-factly. She’s gay because that’s who she is. It was neither used as a means of gratuitous titillation (OMG, girls are kissing!!!!) or as a means furthering a pro-gay agenda.
That’s the nice part about writing an ensemble cast. Much like a TV show like Friends or Seinfeld. The characters are both simple and deceptively deep. They tend to have very well defined archetypes that shape their emotions and motivations but given those character traits have very different ways of handling similar situations. For me, the interaction between the different character types is the most fun part of writing the series.
Who are the ‘real life’ Hellcats?
That’s actually an easy one, but fun to talk about. For the most part they’re models. The main characters are all based on models I’ve shot in real life (I’m also a photographer. See http://www.elseworld.com/mav – cheap plug). That was actually the impetus for the strip. I was out shopping one day and I ran across a shiny silver schoolgirl mini skirt, which I thought was cute so I took a photo of it and texted it to one of my favorite models, Damsel Reed. She immediately texted me back with her size. At that moment, Damsel became the first Hellcat, even before the group even had a name. I decided that I needed to do something interesting with the skirt so I sent text messages to three of my other favorite models: Amaya Solace, Sarah Prankha and Chaste asking for their sizes as well. They sent them back and thus the initial team was set.
We decided that since the skirts were shiny silver it might be fun to do some sort of space-age shoot with them. So I went about gathering up the outfits, and then the more I thought about it, I decided it might be fun to make some sort of science fiction comic out of it. And once I decided that I knew immediately who I wanted to draw it, so I called up my old college roommate Maximilian and asked him if he was interested. He jumped at it. So that’s the initial team.
After we got some popularity, we began to get a bit of fanmail and I announced that if you dressed up as a Hellcat and sent in a picture to email@example.com, then maybe we’d base a character on you as well. So because of that, we ended up with Nikki “Shipwrecks” Kitai, Mickey and Admiral Kitty (who is actually based on my mom, who surprised me by sending in a fan photo as well).
When we decided to create the Starfoxes, we once again decided to use other models I’ve worked with. So the Starfoxes are based on Miaa Marleigh, Trix Morgan, Sahara St. James and professional wrestler (and my former tag team partner — yes, I was also a professional wrestler) Shiima Xion.
Aside from modeling for the real life stills, the girls sometimes appear with us in costume at comic book conventions.
Finally, several of the other characters are based at least in part on other people we (Max and I) either know in real life or are fans of the strip and we added them simply because we thought they had interesting sounding userid’s that could be alien names. These are Professor alKhafiz (based on Max and my other college roommate), the rigellians: S’uiggiy, R’mtz, B’rd and N’ukul (the last of which appears in the paper comic but not on the web) and the space pirate, T’kane.
Oh, also a few character are based on celebrities we don’t actually know. Nikki’s initial crew consists of: Glover (based on Danny Glover, as he appeared in the Lethal Weapon series; Ensign Matthews (and his twin brother Cabin Boy), amalgams of generic Star Trek red shirts; and Bambii, an amalgam of generic Horror movie sorority girls. The space pirates Gorthon Z’Rxnrz and Arkady have a passing resemblance to the cast of Mythbusters.
Given your skill as a Photographer have you considered making a photocomic?
Yes I have. I’ve even done them before. I briefly considered doing Hellcats that way, in the beginning and there’s been times where I’ve considered it again, but a lot of the costs of doing this kind of comic as a photo comic make that impossible for us. The set design we’d need. The makeup and special effects to create some of the more fantastic creatures. Not to mention the scheduling of trying to get all the models together as often as we’d need to in order to make an ongoing strip. It’d all be very expensive and complicated. We did have a Hellcat Cosmos that was photographed before though, and I would like to explore that further at some point in the future.