Private Eye, Robot: An Interview with Copernicus Jones Writer Matt D. Wilson

By Jason Urbanciz

The cover to Copernicus Jones: Robot Detective #1. Art by Kevin Warren.

The cover to Copernicus Jones: Robot Detective #1. Art by Kevin Warren with lettering by Dylan Todd.

Matt D. Wilson is maybe best known for his long collaboration with the nefarious supervillain King Oblivion PhD, publishing two how-to books with the evil mastermind, The Supervillain Handbook and The Supervillain Field Manual. After breaking free from Oblivion’s underground lair, Matt, who co-hosts the podcasts War Rocket Ajax and Movie Fighters with Chris Sims, created the webcomic Copernicus Jones: Robot Detective a few years ago over at Agreeable Comics.

As you’d expect from the name, Copernicus follows a robot private eye who gets handed what seems to be a simple adultery case that, in classic noir fashion, leaves him running from mechanical heavies and dodging calls from his bookie. Although it abruptly ceased publishing during its first story arc, fans were hopeful it would return one day. As of last Wednesday, our hopes were answered as Copernicus Jones: Robot Detective #1 was released from Monkeybrain Comics on Comixology. I chatted with Matt via e-mail about Copernicus Jones’s return and future.

Copernicus Jones: Robot Detective #1 interior panel. Art by Kevin Warren with lettering by Dylan Todd.

Copernicus Jones: Robot Detective #1 interior panel. Art by Kevin Warren with lettering by Dylan Todd.

JU: What was the impetus to restart Copernicus Jones as a digital comic rather than a webcomic?

MW: Well, the 100 percent honest answer is it all just kind of happened. The webcomic version ended when the previous artist basically decided he didn’t really want to do comics anymore. I hope every day that I didn’t scare him away from it with my scripts full of cityscapes and robotic stuff and car chases. He said that wasn’t why, anyway. If he had hung around that would have kept going, and we probably would have tried to get it out in print somehow.

But since that didn’t work out, I was just kind of sitting in a holding pattern for a while. Then one week Chris Roberson and Alison Baker, the co-publishers at Monkeybrain, came on the podcast I host with Chris Sims, War Rocket Ajax, and after we recorded the interview I mentioned that the comic was just kind of not doing anything. Chris Roberson said he liked it and would publish it, and it took off from there.

JU: How much thought did you put into the world of Copernicus? It seems like it’s basically the 1940’s, but with robots. Have you hit on any ideas that were like, “no, that’s too sci-fi/ridiculous for this comic”?

MW: You’ve pretty much got it. My initial description of the world was that it was the run-down version of the “city of the future” exhibitions of that era. Like, if those companies had just gone all in and built this fully automated world in this majestic art deco style, then let it get a few decades’ worth of grime on it.

The secret, I suppose, is that there aren’t any huge, technological advances beyond the robots. They’re where the inventors and manufacturers of the world put all their chips, so cars don’t fly or anything like that. The only computers of any real worth are inside robots or deal with robo-related things. There isn’t even any TV to speak of. Copernicus still gets his news through a radio built into his body.

So all the big differences are social rather than technological. It’s never on the surface in the comic–we’re focusing on cases, here–but there was a huge fight for robots to be viewed as sentient, feeling beings just like humans, that happened over decades. There’s still some anti-robot prejudice in the world.

JU: How long will the first story run for?

MW: This first case is six issues. The first issue hits some of the standard noir tropes, just to kind of get you acclimated to the world (and because we’re parodying/sending a love letter to noir just a little), but I guarantee it will go some places you will not anticipate.

Copernicus Jones: Robot Detective #1 interior panel. Art by Kevin Warren with lettering by Dylan Todd.

Copernicus Jones: Robot Detective #1 interior panel. Art by Kevin Warren with lettering by Dylan Todd.

JU: How much do you have plotted out after the first arc is done?

MW: I’ve figured out the basic beats of several cases that come after this. The nice thing about a book like this is that these stories, with a few exceptions, can happen basically anywhere in the timeline of Copernicus’ career. So we’ll do cases that happen after this one, we’ll do some that happen at the beginning of his private eye career, we’ll even go back to when he was a cop. The stories don’t have to be linear, since the only thing that tends to tie them together is Copernicus himself.

JU: How did you meet/find your new artist Kevin Warren?

MW: It’s an old-fashioned, social media writer-meets-artist story. After Chris Roberson and I talked about the book, I asked on Twitter, looking for someone to work with. Kevin answered and sent me some samples that really impressed me, so I asked him to do up a design for Copernicus. As soon as I saw that, I was sold.

JU: Whose voice do you hear for Copernicus Jones?

MW: He’s definitely got a sort of patter in the way he speaks, but it isn’t Humphrey Bogart’s voice coming out of him. It’s maybe a little closer to Jack Nicholson in Chinatown. But, really, it isn’t any particular actor. It’s more like the voice in my head when I read a Raymond Chandler novel.

Copernicus Jones: Robot Detective #1 interior panel. Art by Kevin Warren with lettering by Dylan Todd.

Copernicus Jones: Robot Detective #1 interior panel. Art by Kevin Warren with lettering by Dylan Todd.

JU: Anything you can tease us with about the next issue?

MW: Things move pretty fast. By the second page, Copernicus has figured out a major element of the case, and by virtue of that, the investigation gets turned on its head. I probably shouldn’t say any more than that.

Copernicus Jones: Robot Detective #1 is available at Comixology. You can also follow Matt on Twitter or find him at about.me.

Jason Urbanciz is a part-time Deadshirt contributor and a full-time fugitive space bigfoot that hails from the planet Illinois. 

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