Comic books are getting a classic Christmas movie kind of story this week with the new limited series Byte-Sized from writer Cullen Bunn and artist Nelson Blake II.
The four-issue Byte-Sized is a sci-fi romp that follows a litter of adorable, evil robots that escape from their creators' labs on Christmas Eve. Chaos ensues as they wind up in a small midwestern town, under the Christmas tree of a very normal family. Then, as you expect, the problems begin.
Ahead of Byte-Sized #1's release date this Wednesday from AWA Studios, Newsarama spoke to writer Cullen Bunn and artist Nelson Blake II about the tale of robotic holiday mischief.
Newsarama: Cullen, The main characters of Byte-Sized are Katy, Ben, and their parents, a seemingly average midwestern family. Can you tell us a little bit about who these people are? How will they react to encountering an advanced AI?
Cullen Bunn: The Wilson family will be our viewpoint characters into the world of these rambunctious little robots. They are, as you said, an average midwestern family. We wanted them to be easily relatable. The good news is, like most average families, they live in a state of constant chaos, so that's prepared them for the challenges they will face.
The kids, of course, are the first to encounter the robots, and they're the first to discover the plans some of these robots have. The parents are drawn into the mystery a little more slowly. Katy and Ben (and their dog Gizmo) are the central players when it comes to non-robotic characters. They are a little more open to possibility, and while the robots might fill them with some trepidation, they are also inspired by wonder.
Nrama: Was Byte-Sized always a Christmas story, or did it start with the idea of the little robots first?
Bunn: It was always a Christmas story. The basic idea comes down to waking up on Christmas morning to find the coolest robot toy under the tree. And then discovering that it's not a toy at all. While that isn't exactly what happens in this story, that's where it all started. In many ways, that informed how the robots would look and behave. We wanted them to look like they could be toys.
Nrama: Does the entire story take place over Christmas, or is that just the first issue?
Bunn: The entire story takes place over Christmas. It's a fast-paced and chaotic holiday for the Wilson family. They're trapped, thanks to a snowstorm, in their house with these robots. There is a sense of isolation that they're dealing with. But we have lots of great locations in and around the house to keep things interesting. On Christmas, blanketed by snow, surrounded by robots — locations that are usually mundane become much more interesting. From the living room to the garage, from the snow-covered back yard to the tool shed — the influence of these little robots will be readily apparent.
Nrama: Nelson, the robots in Byte-Sized seem to be at least a bit evil, but they're also just terribly cute. Can you describe your process of designing the robots? Did Cullen or AWA have requests for you?
Nelson Blake II: Evil-cute is definitely what we were going for. The only real design request that I remember was for Spud to have somewhat of a caterpillar shape. Aside from that, I was pretty free to do whatever I wanted, within the scope of what the script required. That was my real guide. I thought about how the robots functioned according to Cullen's descriptions, and tried to give them each their own unique silhouette and personality from there.
Nrama: Without spoiling too much; it's revealed in Byte-Sized #1 that the bots are capable of transforming into something less-than-cuddly. Can you tell us what inspired your designs for the "attack" version of these robots?
Blake: My designs were based of off function and movement. I pictured how each robot would interact and animate, and then built the shapes around that. Because Spud wasn't particularly anthropomorphic, I wanted each robot to have a decidedly 'gadget-like' version.
The one exception is probably Sparx, who was based on a video game controller. Gamers should be able to spot which one.
Staying within the frame of the simple shapes, I wanted all of the robots to have something that would have freaked me out a bit when I was a kid. Maybe not to the extent of Spike in Gremlins (that gave me nightmares) but in that general direction.
Nrama: Without spoiling too much, what do these robots ultimately want? They've escaped the lab where they were housed, but are they satisfied with just their freedom?
Bunn: That's a great question!
The robots are not necessarily on the same page when it comes to their agendas. Some are enjoying their newfound freedom. Some want to do what they can to further secure that freedom. But at least one of the robots has more... mischievous plans. That's the robot that will be causing the most trouble and making this Christmas one to remember.
One of the things I think is most fun about this series is realizing the different 'utility functions' of each of the robots, then seeing how that programming influences their personalities and goals.
Nrama: We spend a good amount of Issue One with the family's dog, Gizmo. What dogs did you base Gizmo on, and will he be central to how this story plays out?
Blake: Gizmo was an absolute blast to design. Pretty much nailed him in the first pass. His base design came from studying puppies in general, but mostly labradors. From there, it was all about his gestures and facial expressions. He's easily one of my favorite characters in the book, and the first time I've ever gotten to do a cartoon dog. Definitely won't be the last.
Newsarama: Nelson, how did you first get involved with Byte-Sized?
Blake: Axel approached me with several projects for AWA, but I told him that my interest was in something more cartoony and all-ages oriented. I started in animation and really fell in love with expressive, simple shapes. As soon as I mentioned that I wanted to do something more in line with a Pixar movie, he threw Byte-Sized at me and our imaginations started going off right away.
Nrama: Cullen, Byte-Sized seems to be more kid-friendly than some of your other titles, such as Harrow County or Dark Ark. Is that assumption correct and, if so, does writing that feel very different from writing more R-rated material?
Bunn: Absolutely! This is a very kid-friendly book! Younger readers will love it!
Writing a book like this definitely leans into different methodologies than, say, writing Dark Ark. But I've pretty much always wanted to write stories that could appeal to a broad range of age groups, and definitely kids!
Harrow County, for example, is a book I would recommend to teens. The Sixth Gun was firmly planted in the PG/PG13 realm. Terrible Lizard was a story of a girl and her T-Rex for younger readers. And my upcoming OGN The Ghoul Next Door is a scary middle reader book.
I've always loved the idea of introducing younger readers to these genre worlds, and I want to do that without 'writing down' or cheapening the genre experience. And, yeah, I want to hook readers on comics for the long run! I want kids to start reading my work with books like Byte-Sized, then stick with my other books as they grow older!
Byte-Sized will be available December 9 in print and digitally. Check out our list of the best comics readers for Android and iOS devices.