Smash Pages Q&A: Takeshi Miyazawa on ‘Mech Cadet Yu’

The artist discusses his latest project with writer Greg Pak, involving giant robots, an interstellar war and the teenager in the middle of it all.

Takeshi Miyazawa has been drawing comics for years now. Some of us first noticed his work in Sidekicks and Love in Tights, others noticed his work when he started working for Marvel, with his runs on Runaways and Mary Jane and Ms. Marvel.

His current project, Mech Cadet Yu, is a book he co-created with writer Greg Pak and is about an interstellar war, an alien invasion and the unlikely teenager who finds himself at the center of this. It’s hard to make a book about giant robots that looks and feels new and dynamic, but Pak and Miyazawa have done just that. In every issue they manage to expand and deepen the world they’ve established in fascinating ways.

Next month the fifth issue of the series, and a collection of the first four issues come out, and Miyazawa answered a few questions about the project.

I like to start by asking people, how did you come to comics?

I think like every other comics professional, it starts with being a huge fan which spills over into drawing, writing, and eventually making your own. My earliest exposure to comics was through my parents. They would buy me lots of manga from Japan to help teach/brainwash me into learning Japanese. Best way to learn Japanese, by the way. Once I was in elementary school, my older brother was knee-deep into X-Men and Marvel comics (I vividly remember Secret Wars and Nightcrawler being a pirate), so that was my gateway into western comics. I made horrible zines in high school, studied art as my major in college, and managed to get published in a few indie books (Love in Tights and Sidekicks with J. Torres) by the time I graduated so I was slowly but steadily working toward a possible career, I guess. I had met C.B. Cebulski during all this and he offered me Marvel work once I was an unemployed bum.

What is Mech Cadet Yu?

Mech Cadet Yu is about a kid named Stanford Yu. He and his mom work as janitors at Sky Corps, an academy for training kids to pilot giant space robots. Sky Corps’ larger purpose is to defend the Earth from invading crab-like aliens called the Sharg. Through a chance event, Stanford’s dream of becoming a pilot is realized and he fights through various hardships and becomes a respected member of the mech cadet team. It’s a classic underdog story.

You and Greg Pak created this book, how did it come about? How do the two of you work together?

We originally created an eight-page short story for Shattered, an anthology book featuring Asian comic creators. It was a fun short and we received good reviews. It also felt like it was rife with potential and deserved a wider release. Greg really championed the project and through years of development and pitching it to various publishers, here we are.

In terms of our work relationship, we’ve worked on so many books and projects together, both mainstream and independent, that it’s safe to say we get each other. It’s great to have a creative partner you mesh with well and understands your strengths.

You’ve been drawing comics for years and you’ve drawn robots over the years. Do you want to talk about how you designed the Robo Mechs for the series and how to give their own design and personality?

Like any kid from the ’80s, Transformers and Gobots were properties I was obsessed with. Throw in some Gundam and old-school robot anime, stir it up, and that’s about where my brain is at with robots and robot design.

For this book, I paid particular attention to the generational aspect of the mechs in the world of Mech Cadet Yu. Skip Tanaka is the first to bond with a robot, therefore, his robot is square and blocky like an old Volvo. A real workhorse. The later robots that come to Earth become sleeker and more specialized in their strengths. Olivetti’s mech is a huge bruiser type while Sanchez’s mech has razorlike fins and sharper features. The man-made mech that Park controls is all angles and edges, something completely foreign to what we are used to seeing. So, playing with the various contrasts has been a great way to differentiate each mech from each other.

One of the design choices you made in the book was to have balloons from the mechs with the characters faces and then have the word balloons come from those balloons. Why did you decide to make them look that way?

Since this is a book about robots fighting aliens, having exciting battle sequences is expected, but showing the human element of what’s going on was important to us. Therefore, when Stanford’s bot gets hit with a huge crab fist, we wanted to show his reaction and, more importantly, that it hurts!

What are your conversations with the colorist Triona Farrell like? Were you thinking about color or suggesting things to her initially?

I try to be pretty hands-off and not limit the colorist by directing them too much. I like to be surprised when getting colors back. It’s a great feeling when your art comes to life with the addition of great colors. Triona has been a great asset to the team since day 1 and I hope she stays on for as long as the series continues!

Issue #5 gives a sense of this larger context and the world that you guys are building. Do you guys have an ending for the book in mind?

As far as I know, Greg has a year’s worth of plot outlined. The first four issues have been the setup. Things really start cooking with issue #5 and, to be frank, things are already going off the rails crazy that I’m not sure how he’s going to keep topping himself.

So what’s coming up in the series that you’ve really enjoyed drawing and can’t wait for people to see?

The second arc is more human-centric, so, look forward to more character building and experiencing being a mech cadet. Oh, also, scenes with the kids in street clothes! I got a kick out of ditching the uniforms for a bit. And there’s also quite a bit of action. I don’t want to go into specifics, but robot battles are not the only source of explosions and wow moments.

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