INTERVIEW: The Return of Sal Abbinanti’s Atomika: God Is Red

The words "Atomika: God Is Red " over the imposing face of a powerful god who looks very angry

Writer Andrew Dabb opens the Atomika: God Is Red Omnibus with the story of Atomika’s origin. Not the story of how the man-made deity became Russia’s God of Technology, leading the Red Empire to trample the globe before turning his attention on the ancient gods of Russia. Dabb’s introduction is a bit closer to home and the reality of young comic creators eager to make a name for themselves in the industry and reach beyond the stories told by Marvel and DC with their own creative works. “Andrew and I knew each other from the comic convention scene and we were both struggling to get some respect from the industry,” explains artist and creator Sal Abbinanti. “He wrote some amazing stuff for Vertigo and he and I became fast friends.”

They worked on some proposals for the Big 2 that never got any traction, and when Abbinanti first suggested the concept of Atomika, Dabb was reluctant for several reasons. “How could you write a story about an all-powerful jerk?” says Dabb in the intro. Abbinanti also felt that the eccentricities of his artistic style may have made the decision to jump on board back in the ’90s difficult for Dabb. But Abbinanti never let go of his idea and came back to Dabb with a proposal in the fall of 2004. Despite his initial concerns about Atomika still sitting with him, Dabb’s increased experience convinced him to take the leap of faith and tell Abbinanti “yes.” That was before realizing that Abbinanti had already secured a publication date and needed the first script completed by Monday…

And so, Atomika was born, with Dabb telling this new god’s story over Abbinanti’s hauntingly powerful imagery. But the series went through many of the struggles that often hampers creator-owned works. Initially published through Speakeasy Comics, Abbinanti took on the publishing of issue #5 and beyond himself under his own company, Mercury Comics. With many other commitments to fulfill between them, a consistent schedule became increasingly frustrating. As a result, issues #7 to 12 were published sporadically, coming almost once a year until 2011. Maintaining and growing readership under such circumstances is difficult, but now, with the launch of a Kickstarter campaign, Atomika has his chance to conquer a new and wider audience.

A muscular naked man wrapped in a red curtain strikes a powerful pose. His eyes glow red and he has a red star on his forehead. His skin is silvery and dark
Atomika: God Is Red Omnibus, featuring a cover by Alex Ross (Mercury Comics, 2021)

“In ATOMIKA: GOD IS RED, Atomika is the first man-made deity—the God of Technology and the 21st Century. One-by-one, the nations of the world have fallen before him. Now, with the Red Empire spanning the globe, Atomika has turned his attention to the ancient gods of his Russian homeland, the very beings he seeks to replace. Despite his multiple victories, Atomika begins to have doubts about his mission.

“With the entire world broken at his feet, Atomika stands at the center of a global red empire, loved and worshipped by billions. But danger lurks in the shadows. Some believe Atomika has outlived his usefulness—that he’s a danger to the new world order—and they’ll stop at nothing to destroy him. Atomika has defeated gods, armies and nations, but now he faces his most dangerous enemies…those closest to him. His friends, his family and for the first time, Atomika is forced to wonder: Is he truly a God or monster?”

Still, Abbinanti isn’t taking anything for granted, saying “I’m out there beating the drums but don’t have any delusions on how difficult it is to get an indy title in the hands of comic readers. I’m very excited that Atomika will be getting some exposure that was definitely lacking on its first go-round.”

Atomika: God Is Red is Abbinanti’s second go with Kickstarter, following his graphic novel, The Hostage. and he’s learned a lot from that first experience. “Kickstarter is awesome for an indy publisher,” he says, but you have to be willing to work hard and respond professionally, courteously, and promptly to all of the messages and feedback, both good and bad. His advice on kickstarting a campaign like this is sound and reveals his commitment to ensuring his backers’ expectations are met and exceeded. “Order fulfillment is paramount,” he says. “You have to have a bulletproof plan on how you’re going to deliver the finished product before you even think about starting a campaign. Stay focused and appreciate all the supporters that you get, not the ones that you don’t get. Some things will really surprise you — good and bad. Give updates as often as you can. Please remember lots of supporters have gotten burned on Kickstarter reassure them that you’re on the level and in the business for the long haul by letting them know where the book is and when you plan on shipping etc. If you have production delays be straight with them.”

Along with the collected 12 issues comes 75 additional pages of art and a wraparound cover by Alex Ross. There are pin-ups by many artists, including Simone Bianchi, Simon Bisley, Tim Bradstreet, Claudio Castellini, Bill Sienkiewicz, Travis Charest, Gene Colan, Glenn Fabry, Gary Gianni, David Mack, Angel Medina, Eddy Newell, Alex Nino, Lucio Parrillo, Eric Powell, John Romita Sr., Steve Rude, Arthur Suydam, and Michael Turner. Support tiers feature trading cards, signed covers, challenge coin sets, presumably with more to come as stretch goals are unlocked.

“I’m much more aware this time in how much work is involved because as an artist no one cares about your work as much as you do.” Although, looking through the 350+ pages, comic fans should definitely be caring about Abbinanti’s work. The eccentricities of his style, along with the old school creation of the artist drawing the entire series with the writer crafting his words from the images remains an impressive feat. “We did however plot the entire thing before I started drawing,” Abbinanti notes, “and we rolled ideas around ahead of time. [Andrew’s] scripts are very poetic and haunting — perfect for my style. You will never meet a cooler more talented guy than Andrew Dabb.”

pages from Atomika: God Is Red Omnibus (Mercury Comics,2021)

Revisiting the Cold War now — or even in the early 2000s when Atomika first launched — might seem an odd choice, but the ripples of that time are still reflected in our current stories, including Black Widow and Umbrella Academy. It’s the perfect time for Atomika to make his mark again, too. Though comparisons to other Cold War-related works like Superman: Red Son and Dr. Manhattan have been made, Abbinanti is very clear that Atomika is nothing like either of those characters. “He is the god of the 20th century; he represents technology which has become our God. Religion has been replaced with our phones and computers.”

“Growing up in the ’70s, Russia was always seen as the evil empire, so when I did some research on Russian mythology and the creation of the Soviet state — the idea that religion was outlawed and deemed counter-productive to the state–this drew a straight parallel to life in our time where no one really goes to church or believes in God anymore. We’ve replaced God and look to solve all our problems with technology. Atomika is the second son of Mother Russia her first was the revolution. No Dr. Manhattan and No Superman here.”

Drawing on the Cold War experiences he grew up with, Jack Kirby’s New Gods, and John Buscema’s Thor, Abbinanti delved into Russian mythology and history to purposefully create a character that went against American sensibilities. “I did a lot of research on Russia and when I delved into their mythology it was very cool stuff like Greek Mythology mixed with the Universal Monsters that I grew up with. Russian Mythology is deep and layered in folklore and mystical beliefs in hell and protectors from evil and man. They presented the perfect foil for Atomika.”

A powerful, naked, muscled male god reaches upward, straining. He is wrapped in a red cloth
Atomika: God Is Red #8 (Mercury Comics, 2005)

He also notes that all of this made for much cooler stuff to draw, especially with the character of Atomika himself. “Atomika is naked because he’s a God. I didn’t want him to look like an American superhero. He’s vain and wrapped in a Soviet flag.” Dabb worried that the audience wouldn’t be able to relate to, much less appreciate a character so powerful and vain — and so unAmerican, but this is exactly what makes Atomika so magnetic.

Just a day into the campaign, Atomika: God Is Red has already closed in on its initial goal. It’s just a matter of time before Sal Abbinanti’s new god takes over the world.

Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

Publisher, mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.

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