Over the weekend of RI Comic Con, we couldn’t help but notice a booth adorned with stylish artwork that harkened back to the days of Mazinger and Getter Robo. Naturally, we couldn’t resist taking a detour to chat with the two gentlemen that were manning it.
To say that Frankie B. Washington and James Biggie are fans of fans of giant robots is an understatement. Their enthusiasm and sheer love for the genre is apparent, as they bubble over the minutiae of Mazinger or Transformers. Their current work, Robot God Akamatsu, is a true expression of that affection, with its giant, Asian-inspired robots and larger-than-life characters. I’d like to extend our deepest thanks to both Frankie B. Washington and James Biggie for their time.
Anime Herald [Mike Ferreira]: I have to ask,really, I noticed from the get go, that you guys are definitely huge fans of the Super Robot Scene. What drew you guys into it?
Frankie B. Washington: Well, I would say for myself, I’m a HUGE super robot fan. I remember Go Nagai. And Go Nagai to me was a huge inspiration. Um, Mazinger Z, you know, Mazinger, Getter Robo, Grandizer, on and on. As an American, for me, I would say the high point for me was the Shogun Warriors series by Marvel Comics. After seeing what Herb Trimpe was dong with the artwork and Doug Moench, I was like “it’s possible for Americans to actually do Japanese stuff!” But also, they retained a lot of that American storytelling kind of, but still showing respect and an homage to roots of this genre is all about.
So, we created back in 2009, me and James built this concept of Robot God Akamatsu, which is pretty much a giant super robot mech that exists in the confounds from Maine to Connecticut, which is our Japan. And Boston is our Tokyo. And we said “we feel strongly that we can almost do the continuation of what they were trying to do with the Shogun Warriors.” So I would say that that was my main goal, my main starting point with it.
James Biggie: And also too, Frankie and I both, we work in advertising up in Boston. And I met Frankie, he was down in, ah, kind of like the bullpen at Digitas working on stuff for the first Transformers movie for GM. And I walked by. I forget, I was picking up a printer or something, and was like “excuse me, sir.” And we started talking from there. Everything we talked about was robots. I think the first thing we talked about was Masterpiece Megatron.
Frankie B. Washington: Yes! Yes it was.
James Biggie: I’m more of a Transformers fan, but Frankie’s more of a super robot guy. And, for a while, we were like “You know what? We’ve gotta try to do something!” And then we kind of figured, “let’s kick something together.” We kind of pitched a couple of ideas back and forth and-
Frankie B. Washington: You gave me your script, The Giant Killer. And it was a script about superheroes, no, it was like a Batman!
James Biggie: Like a Batman kind of story.
Frankie B. Washington: Yes, and I read it, and said “Wow! He’s a pretty good writer.” But I said “why the hell are you writing about Batman?” Seriously! That was my first thought! And I said “there’s a thousand guys out there writing Batman!” And then I said, “well, dude, why don’t we do this thing like super robots?” In this world, there are regular robots and then you’ve got super robots, and then, it’s like “how do they we give them super robot powers? Do they get upgraded?” And it’s just crazy. But then, it eventually led to Robot God Akamatsu. James came up with a beautiful name on this.
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: Yeah, I love the name. Akamatsu just, like… it pops.
James Biggie: It’s like “Abracadabra.”
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: I’m a marketing major, too, and the name alone… first it was the colors and the name, and I was saying “oh my goodness.”
James Biggie: And it was funny, too. It turns out that we had a guy named Kazumitsu Akamatsu just randomly friend us. It turns out that he’s the CEO of Marmit in Japan. You know, the makers of these really intricate, like high-end soft vinyl Godzilla toys. So we thought that was kind of cool.
Frankie B. Washington: We started tweeting just recently, and I mean, we’re starting to connect with people over in Japan. And I mean that’s always been our main thing. We were like, we’re American, clearly. And we want as many Americans out there to really be like “Hey, dude, a genre you guys are keeping alive!”
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: And that brings me to my question. Which is, was it hard to make an homage, and not really try to make it anything other than that? Because sometimes, when they homage something, it becomes a parody, and it seems like it would be difficult to walk that fine line.
Frankie B. Washington: Well, we talked about it and I said, immediately, first thing, “look, I do not want to try to copy manga.” I just didn’t. I wanted my style to have somewhat of a kind of,manga-ish feel…
James Biggie: An eastern feel.
Frankie B. Washington: Yeah, but definitely not something that would be so overt. You know what I mean? Like we did talk about earlier on, I don’t want to be something like Teen Titans, where someone gets hit and the head gets big. I was like, “none of that!” I wanted to do something like Shogun Warriors. Shogun Warriors, they did it Marvel Style! They had different ethnic characters, you know? And the characters acted as Marvel characters, but they just happened to operate these giant robots, and stuff. So, I said “we can pull this off, but also show a huge respect for where the genre came from.”
Anime Herald [Mike Ferreira]: I can definitely see it in your work. You have a definite influence of Go Nagai and Ken Ishikawa, absolute pioneers of the genres.
Frankie B. Washington: Well one of the things that a lot of people have sort of been keying in on my work, is you see a lot of guys now who use a lot of line weight, a lot of line art with color. I’m just old school. I’m heavy, blacks, brush work, you know.
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: That’s the thing, especially for this art style of robots. I’m a huge Godzilla fan
Frankie B. Washington: Oh, sweet!
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: And it’s all about that heavy line, becuase you’re trying to make something larger than life. And you’re trying to make something bigger and bolder. I mean, really..
Frankie B. Washington: Of course, of course!
James Biggie: That lends it to the motion and weight, you know?
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: Yeah, it really does! I have to ask… what’s your favorite giant robot?
Frankie B. Washington: I’ll tell you straight-off.. We only get one? (laughs)
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: Just one.
Frankie B. Washington: Danguard Ace!
James Biggie: For Super Robots, or robots in geneal?
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: Robots in general.
James Biggie: Fortress Maximus.
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: Aw, that’s cool! I always wanted that toy when I was a kid!
James Biggie: (laughs) I finally found one in a re-release… well, not a re-release, but he got released for part of the “Robots in Disguise” line in 2000, the RiD. I found him on eBay out of the package. I’m not going to tell you how much I paid for him… but I finally have him, and I’m like “thank God!” (laughs) It’s the total headmaster!
Frankie B. Washington: It’s funny, because we were just talking. I told my wife, I said “hon, do not buy me any birthday gifts because they’re releasing the Mazinger Z where you can take the skin off.” It’s $400! I saw that price, and I normally get my stuff through Hobby Link Japan, and I saw it and was sitting there going “got to work, got a mortgage, got a house,” and I said “hon, I’ve gotta go for this. I’ve gotta preorder this.” And I don’t know if I’m going to have the money! (laughs) But I put the preorder in because this is what I wanted, where you can pull the skin off, you can see all of the great inner workings, and…
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: And it’s funny how some people don’t understand that. I don’t know if you remember the show Lucky Louie, before Louis C.K. had his Louis show, the show used to be on. One episode, he buys the Frankenstein action figure from when was a kid. People don’t understand why people spend money on this stuff, but it really is this great fanbase all the way around!
Frankie B. Washington: Are you guys local to Massachusetts?
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: Rhode Island.
Frankie B. Washington: So, do you remember Force Five?
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: I’ve heard of it, but… I’m 22!
Frankie B Washington & James Biggie: Aww!
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: He’s 28.
James Biggie: I’ve gotta go change my Depends! (laughs)
Frankie B Washington: It was an amazing show. I grew up in Boston, and..
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: I’ve heard about it through the channels, because you hear “oh, Force Five, Force Five!” but I’ve never been able to watch it.
Frankie B Washington: Moody St. Toyland, it was the Mecca of places to go to for anything Japanese, like robots and stuff!
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: Yeah, one of my friends was like “Force Five” and I just never got to it.
Anime Herald [Mike Ferreira]: Sorry to drag this on, but I actually have a couple of questions I’d like to ask.
Frankie B Washington: Not at all! I’m a chatterbox, sorry.
Anime Herald [Mike Ferreira]: Not at all! (laughs) Thank you very much. I just have a couple of questions. In particular, you mentioned that you were in marketing. Do you think that’s helped you in building this thing up from the bottom?
James Biggie: Yeah, absolutely! Definitely. Using, Facebook and Twitter effectively has helped greatly!
Frankie B Washington: We’ve coined the phrase that we’re geeks! And the thing is, that a lot of times, with geeks and artists, there’s always this battle between business and geeks and artists. On one hand, corporations have raped the little man. That’s true, but on the other, there are a lot of times when geeks have made some bundles. And you have to own up to those bundles. Back when James and I came up with the concept in 2009, we were already talking about marketing strategy. that means that we didn’t immediately say were were going to it out on wherever. We were saying “how do we get into the fanbase? Who are we going after, and how do we plant our seeds?” And that’s how we began. We began a slow process of planting seeds here and there, beginning to connect with people who were born in the robot phase. I’m a huge Transformers fan also, not as huge as him, but he actually brought me back in the Transformers field because I’ve been out of it for a long time. But then, when we started working on Robot God Akamatsu, I was like “Yeah! Robot God Akamatsu could kind of bleed into Transformers!”
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: It’s got that American kind of feel.
Frankie B Washington: Exactly! So I said “Let’s go for those fans, because clearly someone in that massivefanbase is going to know something about super robots.” And then I said, “we have giant monsters, so why don’t we get something like Godzilla, get into that fanbase as well?”
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: So you’re just hitting all of them.
James Biggie: There are little references to, obviously, Godzilla, Shogun Warriors, Transformers.. you know, little things. It’s tough when you do an homage to have it not be a direct…
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: You don’t want it to be a parody or copycat.
James Biggie: Exactly! So you try to make it, like, a little self-reference so you make a nice little reference that we know where the roots for our story are.
Anime Herald [Mike Ferreira]: Absolutely. And, do you have anything you’d like to say to our readers?
Frankie B Washington: Well, we hope that many those readers are out there, especially those in the younger demographic, that they look at and learn more about the super robot stuff that’s coming out. I mean, Pacific Rim is coming out next summer. That’s a fine example of a super robot genre. I mean, del Toro even said it himself, and I think he even based it on Gozilla vs. Megalon. And the fact is those robots are going to be manned by humans. They’re not Transformers, they’re not sentient robots, they’re giant mechs being manned by humans against to fight against giant monsters.
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: They’re tools.
Frankie B Washington: They’re tools! So the thing is, this genre does exist. It’s sort of creeping back. I mean, in a couple of years, we’ve seen stuff like Giant Robo, was a little different when you were a little kid… but I mean we’re starting see stuff like Mazinger, there have been a few Mazinger ones. Shin Getter Robo…
Anime Herald [Mike Ferreira]: Gurren Lagann came out not too long ago, and has a huge fanbase.
Frankie B Washington: Yes! So it’s creeping back. But what we really want to do, and one of the things that I hope is that we want to try to limit a lot of the whole sexual, overtly sexual stuff. We want to come back to drama: good stores, even Go Nagai, when he did stuff like Mazinger Z, yes there were a few little sly things with Bianca, I think it was, and Koji Kabuto, but it wasn’t overt. It wasn’t like she had to be bending over and stuff like that. We just want to be able to tell strong, dramatic stories and really have fun with it, and really focus on the characters, and make people invest in that.
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: I think you’re right, and I think I’ve seen that and why fans might have left the genre is because of that. When I think giant robots, “fun” should be the first word that comes to mind. And, unfortunately, when you start adding these adult nuances…
James Biggie: I agree.
Frankie B Washington: Remember when they were older?
James Biggie: It just takes away from that sense of fun.
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: Even getting away from giant robots, I think we’re seeing it in comics in general. I mean, look what they did to Spider-Man! Spider-Man has not been the same since Mary Jane and..
Frankie B Washington: I totally agree with you.
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: It’s just too much at this point.
Frankie B Washington: We also took our characters up a little in the age groups.
James Biggie: They’re in their twenties.
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: You see, that’s the best age group too, because a lot of your fanbase is going to be from 18 to 34.
Frankie B Washington: Try to imagine if a clandestine organization, all of a sudden you’re talking to us, and we go “we’re gonna take these two guys” and all of a sudden, the floor drops out! All of a sudden, you’re chosen to battle. I think it’d be tough, but you would deal with it a lot better than a ten year old! (laughs)
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: Exactly! That’s one of the things I was wondering! I mean poor Sam Witwicky! Like, they just threw him into a war!
Anime Herald [Mike]: And really, look at shows like Tetsujin 28 where it was literally a ten year old kid! I mean, it’s like, “Really?”
Frankie B Washington: I remember Mazinger Z, the early ones where Koji Kabuto, I think he was 18 at the time, was trying to operate it and the arms were flailing around! He didn’t know what the hell he was doing, how do you operate a giant robot?!
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: That was the thing. When we were kids, it was for kids. And, the problem is, is like, one of the things I’ll say about Spider-Man before that, I was talking to another artist about Spider-Man, was the fact that Spider-Man grew up along with you.
Frankie B Washington: Exactly!
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: When I was a kid, Spider-Man was a kid, and as I grew older, Spider-Man matured. And the problem with these, is that they went from child to sex. There was no middle ground, and that’s where the whole fanbase collapsed. Nobody could jump that gap.
James Biggie: I totally agree.
Anime Herald [Mike Ferreira]: A good example is the jump from Mazinger to Mazinkaiser, which was basically Mazinger, with more boobs.
[At this point, James Biggie excused himself]
Frankie B Washington: I’m still here (laughs) I’m a talker!
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: No worries! I’m a talker too! (laughs) But yeah, it’s a shame to see that gap, and it’s nice to see you try to close that. I think the best way to do it was your age group.
[Frankie takes a moment to produce a large, bound manual us the pages from the original work]
Frankie B Washington: We’re online, but this is the pages from the actual thing… and we’re planning on doing a trade of all of the issues next year. But if you see the artwork, we even stayed with the grey tone.
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: The other thing I love about your robot too, is that I see the old school blockiness mixed with that new, rounded feel in the edges. You can definitely feel that homage coming from it.
Frankie B Washington: Well again, that’s the whole thing. I researched samurai costumes when James and I started talking about it. I said “I want a samurai kind of character. Very powerful, kind of the image of this warrior.” So I started doing some research, and I started drawing designs and looked at Grendizer, and said “Grendizer is kind of sleek in its body,” so then I said “uhh… our robot is actually a combiner robot. And that’s another thing, we began establishing rules in our universe, so we said “if you’re a combiner robot you’re badass You’re bigger, you have a lot more weaponry, and stuff like that.” So I looked into how things would be when they connect and stuff like that.
So, what happened was that I started looking at the basic design, and I saw a samurai outfit, and said “that’s gorgeous!” So I started with a rough design of that, and then I started building up on it, and I said “I want to have wings, and I want to tell a story in which he has wings so he’s almost like an angel.” And I kept thinking of the line in Mazinger, actually Mazinkaiser, where the grandfather says “He’s hell! He’s heaven and hell!” And I said, “yeah, I like that idea!” So the wings started coming into play, and stuff.
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: One of the things I have to say, that I actually love about this, just flipping through is that I love the fun-ness of the human scenes. The art style is…
Frankie B Washington: That’s me! (laughs, points to a character) I’m Dr. Washington!
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: So I love that, and it makes it enjoyable to read. But then you get to the big scenes, the art style completely changes.
Frankie B Washington: Well, this scene was in pencil! Remember back in the day, when cartoons would, because I worked in animation as well, and they would have those cel moments in Japan, where it’s an action scene that would turn into a beautiful key-frame rendering that was painted! And I wanted to capture that, so some scenes where you’ll see that where it’s like “boom!” All of a sudden, it’s like, a pencil rendering that I did.
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: Yeah, and even that, I saw some other panels where we have our protaganist robots and humans, and just that mixing of art styles together, it’s that homage! I see an homage to American comics with the people, like, The Walking Dead almost comes to mind when I see just the caricatures of the people.
Frankie B Washington: We had one review, and I told James “any kind of review, I’m good with.” But I also understand that there are a lot of people who just don’t understand the genre. So there was one guy who reviewed and he just “Argh! This and that! I don’t like the art, and…!” He said all this stuff, man, and sat there and just smiled and laughed. He clearly didn’t understand the genre. You could tell he had no touch. And trust me, I’m a big boy, and I can take critiques. But what he offered was all this weird surface stuff. And I said “James, don’t fret, man!” Because soon, we got another review! And this other guy understood the meaning, and said “guys, I get what you’re doing!”
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: Exactly. That’s the problem: You can’t have someone who reviews, like, Silent Hill comics reviewing giant robot comics because they’re going to say “Oh! It’s not dark enough!” And it’s not supposed to be that dark! It’s supposed to be an homage to that fun time!
Anime Herald [Mike Ferreira]: Basically, big, larger than life characters.
Frankie B Washington: Well, I think the really fun part is again, when we put it here, ’cause really, this is in Massachusetts. I mean, when the first monster attacks, it’s in New Bedford!
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: New Bedford: Oh! Is that where you’re from?
Frankie B Washington: Well, I’m originally from Boston, but I moved to New Bedford – been living there for seven years now.
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: I’m live in from Warren, RI, right near Somerset, so… right across.
Frankie B Washington: Oh, awesome! So the thing is, we plan on short things. Like again, The Ocean State, it’s gonna have attacks! (laughs)
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: You should totally destroy Warren! Destroy Warren for me, please! (laughs)
Frankie B Washington: I tell people, and that’s what they say! “Destroy New Hampshire!”
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: Warren Rhode Island! Nobody would know what it is! It’d be great!
Frankie B Washington: And maybe so! But that’s the fun because it’s our area. But it stops at New York, because everything happens in New York.
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: That’s the problem! New York has every superhero already! It doesn’t even make sense sometimes. You read a Marvel comic and you’re like “okay, Spider-Man can’t beat this guy. Where the hell is everyone else?!” That’s the thing – we gon’t get anyone in this area! I mean, Rhode Island!
Frankie B Washington: But one of the things about it is that we try to think about everything in Robot God Akamatsu. One of the things I said to James was “I wanna add some real physics, too, where I said our robot is massive. He’s definitely smaller than the Prudential [Center], so I’ve dealt with this, where I’ve looked at the Prudential and scaled it down, but…
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: He’s about the height of the TD Bank North, right?
Frankie B Washington: But again, when you’ve got massive structures, you’ve got gravity, so I said “why don’t we put anti-grav units in? So if we ever have him in a fight and he breaks down, we see him break down slowly. I wanna show things like that.”
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: See, that’s what I like to see when a true fan gets a hold of something, and finds something he really want to do. You guys break it down like that. We don’t see that with the mainstream because the mainstream is “we need to get this out on such a deadline, that…”
Frankie B Washington: I remember getting another episode, I was reading about it online, and I saw the Exiles, I think. Marvel had the Exiles, and someone said “Hey, Marvel brought back Red Ronin!” I said “Oh my god, I love Red Ronin!” So I said “let me get him.” I ended up getting him on eBay, and to me, it was horrendous. You could tell the artist they got was a guy who got paid to do a job, and he just did a job, so it was horrible. They made Red Ronin into a combiner, and it didn’t even make sense how he combined, and he was fighting against Fing Fang Foom, and…
Anime Herald [Mike Ferreira]: He didn’t have a clue about the material.
Frankie B Washington: Yeah! And the thing is, that’s sad because you have this amazing character! He was a Shogun Warrior kind of character and you’re not utilizing him! I mean, I would’ve loved to have had a Chiboken (Check Spelling) of Red Ronin. Even a Sentinel Series, I have some of the books that are Sentinel that they put out, and I understand. “You’re doing a little bit of the giant robo for the kids and such and such…” but I said, you know, it would have been nice to see figure or something come out, but Marvel’s not focusing on that.
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: It’s not just that. I’m a huge superhero fan, and my thing with Marvel is I’m a huge fan of Blade. And they just throw him curbside! And they had the latest series, which was actually a good Blade series, and it lasted six issues. And then, before that, we had years and years of nothing with the character, and you’re sitting there saying “they’re hiring terrible artists, who know nothing about the source material!” We finally got the new series, doesn’t last long, and I remember the greatest art for that, if you ever look up the cover… he fights Wolverine in it initially, and it’s Blade’s face smiling, with Wolverine’s claws going through his head! And it’s just a shame to see these great companies throwing wayside some characters.
Frankie B Washington: Well there you go with the corporations again.
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: They even did it to Spider-Man! I mean, Spider-Man just has not been the same.
Frankie B Washington: That’s the whole corporate thing where the corporation has gotten to a point where it’s “Hey, we’ll pump it…”
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: And people will buy it!
Frankie B Washington: Well that’s the whole argument right now with the Disney/Star Wars deal. People will make a big stink or whatever, but guess what? They’re gonna make a billion dollars because people are gonna go see it.
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: I’m gonna go see it.
Frankie B Washington: You’re gonna go see it? (laughs) Same thing with Transformers! People are saying “Aw, man, I hate the Transformers movies!” The last one I enjoyed because he actually went back to the source material. I’m so excited for eye candy in each one.
Anime Herald [Joe Motta]: That’s why I’m excited about the new Star Wars. it’s going to be based on the novels, so actual planned, canon stuff that’s not going to be just scripted, and and really exciting stuff!
Frankie B Washington: That’s awesome!
[After this, the Akamatsu booth began to accumulate customers, and we decided to end our conversation.]