Justin Roiland is best known as the co-creator of hit animated series Rick and Morty and Solar Opposites. He also founded Squanch Games and created the concept for the developer’s first game. Trover Saves the Universe is a comedic platformer with option VR that plays around with video game medium. Now the world of Trover Saves the Universe is jumping into comics. Skybound Entertainment tapped cartoonist Tess Stone to create the first Trover Saves the Universe miniseries, which debuted its first issue last week. The series focuses on the poorest performers at Important Cosmic Jobs who, with their lives on the line, discover a conspiracy that puts them on the run after being falsely accused of murder.
ComicBook.com caught up with both Roiland and Stone to talk about taking Trover into the comics medium. You can find our conversation (edited for length and flow), along with a preview of Trover Saves the Universe #2, below.
How did the idea to take the world of Trover Saves the Universe and expand it into comics come about?
Justin Roiland: I’m trying to remember. I’ve been friends with [Skybound founder Robert] Kirkman for a long time, and he, years ago, reached out to me, just letting me know that they were going to start doing licensed books at Skybound. He was floating the idea. “If you have any other properties or any other IP, just consider us.” This was for sure before the Solar Opposites was a thing. We might’ve been in development on the first season or something.
The conversation about doing a Trover book came out of that, I think, because the game was out, the world is really great, there’s a lot of fun to be had with this IP and building it out more. This is a long boring answer, but it was pretty much born from that. It was like, that sounds amazing. We had our team meetings with them, and then slowly, but surely here we are with a miniseries. It’s pretty amazing.
Tess, how did you end up getting involved with the project? Were you asked to pitch, or did they come to you and say, “Hey, we have this idea for a story in the Trover universe”? How did the story itself develop once you decided to make this thing?
Tess Stone: I feel like I just got really lucky. They asked me to make a pitch, and I started lobbing ideas and concepts around and just really getting into the world. I was honestly really honored. The game is fantastic, it’s so much fun, so it’s really exciting for me. I was excited because I was told to make up something in this world and have a little bit more creative freedom with it. And it was really cool. I got to play around quite a lot.
What has the collaborative process been like? How much of a back and forth has there been? Is it pretty much just Tess coming up with the idea and Justin saying, “Sounds good. Run with it,” or have you been bouncing things back and forth throughout?
JR: It’s pretty much like the former. I said from the beginning, where possible, I like to partner with people that I think are great and then just let them do their thing. I’ve had a few super, super minor notes, but they have nothing to do with the comedy of the story being told, so I didn’t even bother. It’s just little dumb things like, oh, the telepod works this way or whatever, but then I was like, this is fine. The way it’s done here, it’s fine. There’s no rules that say it can’t also work as a traditional spaceship as well.
But by and large, it’s just been this is great, this is fun. Each issue has a couple of great laugh-out-loud moments. Tess is doing a phenomenal job with the IP, I feel like, and building the world out. The character designs, everything feels very close to what we would probably do at the studio with something like this.
And even the new characters that Tess is creating are really interesting and cool. There’s a bad guy character in the book that looks like something Rob Schrab would come up with, and so, whenever I read that character’s dialogue, I’m just imagining Rob’s voice coming out of that character.
TS: That’s awesome.
Tess, did working on a preexisting property affect the way you approached the project? Did it change how you went about developing the story and creating the art and character designs?
TS: It’s pretty new for me. I’m usually more used to working on my own stuff and property, but it was really, really fun and really cool because I was able to sink myself into this universe. And there’s a lot of content. When I wrote the first two books, I had the OST on repeat the whole time trying to feel that whole vibe.
I think it’s such a fun world. It’s definitely not something I would have written on my own for myself, but it’s great that I get to have that opportunity and tell a different kind of story in a world I admire. I think it’s cool.
When you were getting to familiarize yourself with the Trover universe, was there something in particular that you latched onto? Something that was your connection that you could start from a build-out of, like a specific theme or character, or even a certain joke?
TS: There’s this part in the game where Trover almost gives up or thinks about it. I don’t know why that scene, in particular really, really stuck with me because everyone always feels like giving up, and it was one of the rare times I saw a protagonist vocally give up, but then not really because he obviously changes his mind.
JR: We did a gag where it didn’t really land as well as we wanted it to. There’s a lot of video-gamey gags in the game that make fun of tropes and stuff. We wanted to do this thing where there really is no place to go. If you had a mini-map, it would just be all blocked off. There’s no route.
And then we had this whole thing where Trover’s just talking about how this is it, very resigned to it. This is where we’re going to live out the rest of our lives right here. It’s going to be like Castaway and all this stuff. I don’t remember if that made it in or not, but you’re right. That’s not the spot, the spot you’re talking about. I know where that is.
TS: It’s a big game. I don’t know. I really liked it. I always like stories that are funny and dark. So when there’s a little bit of both mixed together, I’m pretty for it, to be honest.
One of the other things that connect the game and the comic is some fourth-wall-breaking, meta-humor. Was that another thing that hit with you saw as something you could carry through into the comic? Or is that just a thing you like to do, and it happens that it was also in the game?
TS: I was told at the beginning that Justin is interested in exploring how this particular medium can be unique. I remember, when Skybound approached me with it, they knew and already mentioned that they wanted it at least to feel like the medium made a difference, to acknowledge being a comic book. I love comic books, so that was fun.
How present was it in either of your minds that this is a comic that might attract readers who have not played this game? Did you consciously attempt to make it easy for those people to read and enjoy? Did that affect the way you approached and built the story?
JR: We definitely wanted the book to stand alone for folks who potentially don’t even know this game exists, just as a point of entry that might persuade them to pick it up and play.
TS: I was hoping this was something that could stand on its own. That was my goal, something that could feel like it fit within the world, not just kind of feel like a sad attempt on the side.
What was the process of developing the lead characters like?
TS: They’re hot messes, both of them. Klover’s name was as simple as the fact that in one of the bits in Trover in Saves the Universe, he talks about a lot of the other eyehole monsters, and they all have “over” in their names like Pink Trover and all these other things. And so, all I really did was think about the fact that he looked like Kermit to me and then put “over” on it, and then it was Klover. That was pretty easy. In my head, he’s just Kermit with a gun. And then Bo, I needed a simple name because she is simple in certain ways. She knows what she wants, but she has no idea to get it.
JR: We had a character named Dover that we cut from the game. There was going to be a whole section of the game that you ended up controlling Dover.
TS: Oh my God.
JR: It was a scoping thing, but it was this whole additional world that we had to basically cut. That’s what happens when you’re making games.
There’s a lot of little moments in the video game basically breaking the fourth wall about what it is. I mean, I don’t know, video games feel even more forgiving, at least from my perspective, to do that kind of stuff because your relationship with the game is, you’re controlling the character. You’re so aware of the medium that you’re playing in or playing with that it’s fun to surprise people with that stuff. And then also, I love how all the characters in the game are f**king with the player constantly.
Can you anything about any particular moments in the series that you’re proud of or that you’re especially looking forward to people reading for themselves?
JR: The book is a fun mystery, whodunit story following these two characters that are new to the universe but fit in perfectly. And also, some of the lore that we built around Important Cosmic Jobs, which is where Trover works, and a bunch of the eyehole monsters work there.
This must’ve made it into the DLC because the whole idea of the people who are at the very back of the leaderboard, they’re on the chopping block to be murdered, basically. There was a much bigger narrative conceit around that for the DLC than what ultimately ended up getting completed. I almost thought we’d cut that, but I guess it’s definitely in there because it’s in the comic.
TS: Yeah. I latched onto that pretty hard because it made me laugh in a sad way.
JR: They’re so flippant about death. It’s like, whatever. I also like that Trover is telling this story. I definitely think people should play the game, too. It’s actually a pretty phenomenal game. I’ve played through it on the Switch, traditional, regular non-VR mode. And then it’s really great on the Quest, the Oculus Quest 2. It’s one of the better games on there. I’m pretty obsessed with the Quest and VR. I buy everything that comes out. And honest to God, I’m not this way about the stuff I make. I’m not fanatical about my own content that I create, but I do really, really think that the Trover game is a phenomenal game. Even with the volume down and you’re playing it, it plays really good. It’s a very fun game in VR because you’re going to all these cool worlds, and all the characters are talking to you. There’s this really neat flow to the game that I’m really proud of that we managed to nail.
TS: I would definitely recommend people play it because it’s really fun. And also, just the art and the design in the game itself is stunning. Everybody did a fantastic job.
Trover Saves the Universe #1 is on sale now. Trover Saves the Universe #2 goes on sale on September 8th.