Janet Hetherington looks at Steve Rudes 16-year struggle to put out the indie Nexus animated DVD.
Comic book artist Steve Rude loves Jonny Quest.
The artist, who has gained a loyal following for illustrating the adventures of such heroes as Captain America for Marvel and The Moth for Dark Horse, has passionately pursued turning his independent comic book character Nexus, a galactic executioner, into animated form like Jonny Quest for some 16 years.
At long last, the 2004 Slam Bam animated version of Nexus will make its debut at Comic-Con International in San Diego, July 21 to 25. The two-minute promo DVD, designed to interest network animation producers in a primetime Nexus show features a collage of Jonny Quest-style images rife with action and humor. Think of what youd see in the intro to a primetime action genre series, Rude says. Theres dramatic moments, monsters, robots, lots of blasting and lots of goofy moments too.
The DVD features the main cast of Nexus, Sundra, Dave, Judah and Jil, as well as many incidental characters, all from the original comic series, advises Rude. In addition, several new villains were created specifically to add visual spice to the promo. The bible created for the Nexus animated project is also included on the DVD.
Like Nexus the comic book, Nexus the animated DVD has been produced with Rudes fierce independent spirit. Nexus the comic book was dreamed up by [writer] Mike Baron and myself in 1981, Rude recalls. I began working on the animation in 1988 and by 1991, I had a short, amateur film, produced my me and my friends. It was very good for people with little or no animation experience, and paved the way for the professionally produced promo of 2004.
The Indie Path
Following the independent route was a personal choice made by Rude. With Nexus being a galactic assassin, Rude realized early on that adapting the character to animated form would pose special challenges. I wanted Nexus to reflect my own personal vision because I felt that was the only way it would look like Nexus and not some watered-down, committee-produced kiddie version of what the comic book was all about, he says.
You may be surprised to know that, to me, Nexus is very traditional, in that he goes after bad guys and destroys them, Rude says, adding, That what superheroes do.
Rudes first stab at animating Nexus involved traditional cel animation. I began the venture by doing things traditionally, first drawing up a set of storyboards, then moving on to layouts, which was lots of fun for me, Rude says. In the beginning, I attempted much of the animation myself, often succeeding, but ended up recruiting the help of some master animators from the business to help me out with more fluid motion and timing. In the soundtrack there is only music and sound effects, but not voices. That was technically beyond my means at the time.
Rude abandoned the first Nexus animation in favor of adopting new computerized techniques, including Flash animation, for the current promo. All the animation and painted backgrounds were drawn by hand and scanned into the computer for coloring, effects and whatever else, Rude says. The original was all painted on cel, but by the time I got around to the final, it was clear that computers had far more creative and time-saving advantages.
Rude credits terrific animators and creators from many companies, including DreamWorks and Warner Bros., for generously helping him bring his dream to reality all on a volunteer basis. Rude remembers, Wed work in studio after hours and on weekends. I was given access to sound effects libraries. I was shown how Flash animation was as close to a magic wand as Ive ever seen. I could control pan speed! I could change a characters movement, drawing him in at any size and adjusting it on the computer! It was a total learning experience for me.
The music for the DVD was provided by Chris Drake, a Nexus fan who contacted Rude by e-mail and subsequently offered his services.
People are so crucial in making a project like this happen, Rude muses. Life is who you work with.
In the end, Rude hired a professional editing house in Phoenix to complete the final changes from the Nexus animated rough cut and press the DVDs. I have to pay a lot of money, Rude frets, but he says that the professional result is worth the expense.
While animators often assisted and advised Rude on their own time, the Nexus animation project did require funding. Rude and his wife, Jaynelle, employed a number of different strategies to raise the money they needed. These included eBay auctions (often offering Rudes original comic book artwork), doing commission drawings, pre-sales of the DVD and even outright donations.
The money came from the endlessly devoted fans of Nexus, who knew money was needed to perform my duties, Rude says. Without them, the years of working on this with no pay wouldve forfeited my house. The total amount spent wouldve been close, all said, to probably $20,000. I cant thank them enough.
After years of struggle, now that Steve Rude has executed his animated executioner, is the creator pleased with the results? This Nexus promo is like something unearthed from the 1960s. Its good, old-fashioned fun, and it will definitely catch your attention, Rude enthuses. It looks like I hand-drew every panel.
Plus, heres a bonus for any network execs who may be interested in developing a primetime Nexus series. Ive been writing scripts for the first six to seven episodes, Rude says.
Nexus the comic book series had always been inspired by the cartoons of my youth, and the animated project has been something of a mission to me, Rude says. Animation producers and Steve Rude fans interested in the Nexus DVD can contact the artist via his Website, www.steverude.com.
Janet Hetherington is a graduate of Carleton Universitys School of Journalism. She has covered the Canadian animation industry extensively, and writes short fiction and comic book scripts as well as non-fiction. In 1999, Janet received a Canadian Aurora award for excellence in science fiction and fantasy. She resides in Ottawa, Canada with her partner, artist Ronn Sutton.