"Make cool s***!" Oni Press president Hunter Gorinson on Biker Mice from Mars, SpectreVision, and comics as a renegade art form

Art from Biker Mice from Mars #1
(Image credit: Oni Press)

Last week we published an interview with Oni Press's president Hunter Gorinson about the exciting relaunch of EC Comics in 2024. Over the course of our chat, we also touched on some of the publisher's expansive plans for the rest of 2024 and into 2025, which we're bringing to you now. 

Chief amongst those is the NacelleVerse - a new shared universe of comics based on '80s and '90s toy lines including the likes of RoboForce, Power Lords, Biker Mice from Mars, and more. It's an ambitious project, one that will also leap off the comics page in the form of several upcoming animated series which the comics will tie into. Hunter discusses these books, the upcoming SpectreVision line, and the company's defining ethos after Juan Gedeon's muscular Biker Mice from Mars cover below.

Art from Biker Mice from Mars #1

(Image credit: Oni Press)

Newsarama: Hunter, one of your recent announcements was the launch of the NacelleVerse. How did that project come about?

Hunter Gorinson: I was very impressed with and struck by the ambition of The Nacelle Company, and specifically their founder Brian Volk-Weiss. Brian, in addition to building what is a very large company in the realm of entertainment and comedy is also extremely passionate about toys. We have access to all of these toy and animation properties from the '80s and '90s and we can cross them over and collide them in lots of different and exciting ways. 

What made this such an interesting project to take on?

As someone who's been working in comics and entertainment more broadly for more than 15 years at this point it sometimes feels like I'm a veteran of the IP Wars, y'know what I mean? I've heard every single possible pitch but when I looked at the NacelleVerse slate of books I saw a tabula rasa. The Nacelle Company is currently in progress on several animated series that have a very high creative pedigree that our comic books will all fit into the continuity of. The Rock and Seven Bucks Productions are producing a Robo Force animated series, and Ryan Reynolds and Maximum Effort are producing a Biker Mice from Mars show, and all of these things will fit continuity-wise into a universe together. 

Art from Biker Mice from Mars #1

(Image credit: Oni Press)

What are some of the creative opportunities here?

With no shade at all to my friends at Image and Skybound, who are doing phenomenal things with with Transformers and G.I. Joe - truly impressive work - we all know that if Optimus Prime dies, he's coming back. There's a safety in that. But a lot of the characters in the NacelleVerse have not been defined in that way yet. We're defining their personalities, certainly in comics, for the first time with these series. 

And the comics will work in tandem with the shows?

Correct. Our first proper miniseries is RoboForce. Once the Robo Force animated series is released, you'll see that there are some serious threads that come out of that book. There's true character development that can be hewn out of there, which readers are going to discover for the first time in the pages of the comics. It's a rare opportunity with a licensed partnership.

There are certain big changes that have been made [in some of the NacelleVerse comics] and there are certain ones where people will look at it and just be like, "Yes, that is definitely Biker Mice from Mars." It's taking a 'bend it, don't break it' approach to creative development.

Art from Biker Mice from Mars #1

(Image credit: Oni Press)

You've touched on the Energon Universe and both that and the NacelleVerse are playing with nostalgia to a certain extent. How do you feel about the way nostalgia is driving comics at the moment?

I mean, comics have always been hugely driven by nostalgia. People often look at it as a negative but I see it as a foundational thing. It goes all the way back to Julius Schwartz saying "Hey, instead of creating a new superhero, why don't we bring back the Flash? But now he's going to be Barry Allen and not Jay Garrick." We've been doing this in comics for virtually the entire existence of the industry and I personally feel like it's a good thing. 

Sometimes I think of it not as nostalgia, but as a long memory. If you buy a new video game on Steam, it could make millions of dollars, get millions of players around the globe and most of those people will play that game and then file it away on their Steam library and never think about it again. Meanwhile on Earth somebody right now, I guarantee you, is arguing about whether or not Peter Parker was the one who broke Gwen Stacy's neck when the Green Goblin threw her off the Brooklyn Bridge in 1973. That conversation is happening somewhere right now, and it's because we have a very long memory in comics. And that's a wonderful thing. 

That being said, especially with stuff like the EC books that we're doing, we're trying to do a not nostalgia focused version of it. I interpret it almost as like, if a theatre company puts on a new production of Titus Andronicus, is that nostalgia or is that a celebration of the classics? I think it's the latter.

Cover art from High Strangeness #1

(Image credit: Oni Press)

Can you talk about the SpectreVision line at all and what's happening there just yet?

The books will be coming in 2025. We do have some really cool, ambitious stuff planned. SpectreVision is an incredibly interesting and talented company and from the first time I met with them, and specifically one of the co-founders, Daniel Noah, we immediately identified that we shared a passion for what is colloquially known as "high strangeness," which is kind of the area where UFOs, ghosts, cryptids, poltergeist phenomenon, fairies and goblins, any kind of paranormal phenomena, where they all intersect and overlap. Running in kind of a contiguous way alongside pop culture fandom and comics fandom there has always been the UFO and paranormal community, which also has its own mythology and legends that get passed around and evolve over time. 

You'll see places where it crosses over into comics, but it's never really been directly addressed and interrogated by comics and so that's what our intent is, to dig in to some of the darkest reaches of high strangeness and do fictionalised stories that are informed by what could very well be real world phenomenon. If you've seen SpectreVision films you know they're highly stylized, executed at a high grade level, definitely also a little weird. And that's a good vibe for this.

Art from Covenant Volume 1

(Image credit: Oni Press / LySandra Vuong)

Oni also produces a lot of graphic novels and collections. Are there any in particular you want to draw attention to here?

I would be remiss if I didn't mention LySandra Vuong's Covenant, which is a collection of their much beloved multi-million-subscribed Webtoon. It's a supernatural horror romance with a queer twist that's come to print for the first time at Oni, and it's absolutely exploded. There'll be at least two more volumes of that over the course of the next year or two. And then, a book that was among the very first things that I was happy to bring to Oni is Jay Stephens' Dwellings, which has just come out in a hardcover collection. I don't want to spoil too much, but potentially there will be some stuff to discuss with Jay about Dwellings and future projects to come when San Diego Comic-Con rolls around this year.

Art from RoboForce #1

(Image credit: Oni Press)

Just to wrap up, what's your overall vision for where Oni is headed over the next few years?

I should say this is all done in collaboration with our editor-in-chief Sierra Hahn who previously worked at BOOM! Studios and prior to that Dark Horse. The vision we have is very simple. It is: make cool shit. 

When I was approached about coming in as the publisher of Oni I had a thesis which is that comics are a renegade art form. For the first 50 to 60 years of their existence they operated on the periphery of mainstream culture. It didn't feel like a space that was being policed by storytelling conventions and pop culture norms that you would see on television and film. And for better and for worse our industry has changed over the course of the past 15 years or so and, to some extent, things have just gotten a little safe, y'know what I mean? 

It's our intent to kind of reaffirm our foundational principles, which was to be a countercultural force within comics, to give storytellers and especially cartoonists a place where they can come and do their best work, and have creative leeway to tell big, impactful kinds of stories that can only be told in comics. 

Obviously Oni laid a lot of track with comics like Scott Pilgrim, or The Tea Dragon Society, or The Sixth Gun, which is a book that I'm still obsessed with. These kind of things that stuck in the imagination of comics and then influenced so much stuff that came after - we need more of that. So that's the space that we're trying to inhabit, to be a little bit left of centre, be a little bit weird, be entertaining as hell, and always put creativity at the forefront.

RoboForce is currently publishing and will release its third issue on July 3, with Biker Mice from Mars #1 launching on July 17.

EC employed some incredible artists, including some of the names that make up our guide to the best horror comics artists of all time.

Will Salmon
Comics Editor

Will Salmon is the Comics Editor for GamesRadar/Newsarama. He has been writing about comics, film, TV, and music for more than 15 years, which is quite a long time if you stop and think about it. At Future he has previously launched scary movie magazine Horrorville, relaunched Comic Heroes, and has written for every issue of SFX magazine for over a decade. He sometimes feels very old, like Guy Pearce in Prometheus. His music writing has appeared in The Quietus, MOJO, Electronic Sound, Clash, and loads of other places and he runs the micro-label Modern Aviation, which puts out experimental music on cassette tape.