Atomika, originally published as individual issues between 2005-2011, is receiving a Kickstarter campaign to publish a complete omnibus. But Why Tho? sat down with Artist Sal Abbinanti to discuss what went into making this unique tale of old and new gods in Soviet-era Russia. The following interview is edited for brevity and clarity. The full interview can be heard on the But Why Tho? Podcast.
BUT WHY THO?: First off, just a stunning-looking comic. How are you able to pour so much detail into page after page?
SAL ABBINANTI: I always tell anybody who wants to get into anything indie… you really should have emotional leverage towards the project. I was trying to get into mainstream comics and I could not. They just did not want m stuff. So I poured that frustration into Atomika. At the time, indie publishing was getting affordable. I was really angry with the comic industry as a whole… and they just kept telling me the same thing: “we really like it but we can’t use it.” I wanted to draw Luke Cage and Captain America. That’s where Atomika came from.
BUT WHY THO?: You have a unique style, it’s particularly grim. Where did this style of drawing come from? How is this where you found yourself?
SAL ABBINANTI: When you become an artist it starts out as a hobby and it becomes a place to channel your creativity. People ask who’s your influences and they name artists I never heard of. I was a Jack Kirby, John Buscema, John Romita guy. I was a Marvel guy. Kirby was a tremendous influence, I didn’t copy these guys, but what I learned most was that comics should be a product of your imagination. Exaggerate and draw the way you see it. That’s great, until you go to Marvel and say I want to draw your book and they say “you see what our books look like right? They don’t look like this.” So in some ways, my style’s a blessing and a curse. I don’t look like everyone else, but… you better just put it out yourself.
BUT WHY THO?: How much is Atomika meant to reflect reality and how much is it meant to reflect a Soviet boogeyman?
SAL ABBINANTI: The title is “God is Red;” it’s not religious and it’s not political. But I also felt that there’s kind of a statement there about technology. Nobody goes to church anymore—technology has become our God. When I started to do some research on the Soviet Union, that’s what they told the people: the State is your religion. All religion was outlawed. They just created their own God in technology. That’s what we were told in the 50s, technology will solve all our problems… no more poverty no more disease.
BUT WHY THO?: The old gods in Atomika, did they come from Indigenous traditions and stories or adaptations and original ideas.
SAL ABBINANTI: It’s kind of like what Marvel did with Thor and Asgard. So when I started to do research on Russia—tremendous amount of mythology… it’s such a huge country. Atomika is the god of the 20th century and all the old gods are dying because a god dies if they’re not worshiped. And he now is jealous so he wants to eliminate all these mythological gods of Russia. They’re all based on Russian mythology. You just kind of put them your own way.
BUT WHY THO?: As for their designs, were they derived from specific interpretations?
SAL ABBINANTI: I got into a bit of a problem with Atomika because there’s the comparison to Dr. Manhattan. As I started laying out what I wanted Atomika to look like, it all just looked like an American superhero. So I remembered back to Michaelangelo and how they portrayed gods. The gods were all vein. They’re all naked because they’re very vein. So I said I’ll just make him naked but wrap him in a Soviet flag. I decided not to give him a costume—otherwise, it’d look like an American drawing a Russian character. But I couldn’t make him naked because they won’t let you put it in the previews catalog when you want to sell your book. So I put him in the Soviet flag.
BUT WHY THO?: What do you hope that people will get out of reading Atomika?
SAL ABBINANTI: This is kind of what I wanted to do for a lot of years. Atomika was a labor of love. I was able to get a lot of artists to contribute. But because it was an indie book it didn’t get a tremendous amount of exposure. A lot of comics stores won’t touch indies. With this [Kickstarter] I’m putting this omnibus together where it’s all 12 issues, but I’ve also got a tremendous amount of pin-ups and covers and back covers and art that I got really great guys to do stuff for that nobody’s seen because it just didn’t get a lot of exposure. With this omnibus edition, everything’s in it. I’m pretty excited.
Atomika is a unique series with a gorgeous and creative art style as well as a captivating alternate history of the Soviet Union and Russian mythology. The omnibus edition is currently Kickstarting. Listen to the full interview on the But Why Tho? Podcast.