Austin McKinley Makes Solo Comic Debut With RIOT Force

Arts & Culture

He’s made movies; he’s written novels. He’s an animator and an artist and a cartoonist. But with the upcoming publication of RIOT Force: Tools of the Rich, Sarasota-based multihyphenate Austin McKinley finally makes his solo debut in the comic book world with a bombastic tale of futuristic sci-fi supercops sporting square jaws, stylin’ hair and improbable sunglasses chasing down an eco-terrorist who may or may not have a nuclear weapon. It’s the crazy cartoon lovechild of Magnum P.I. and Transformers and G.I. Joe and Judge Dredd and McKinley’s been writing and drawing and inking and coloring it full-time since 2021—though it sometimes feels like a lot longer than that.

“I’ve been working on this since I was 9 years old,” McKinley says, and he’s only half-joking, if that. A lifelong storyteller, the characters of RIOT Force and the world they inhabit have existed in McKinley’s mind, in some cel-shaded form or another, since he was first old enough for his young impressionable brain to be warped by the Saturday morning cartoons beamed into it on a semi-regular basis. By middle school, he was publishing a 6-issue comic series based on the characters, printing at the local copy shop and selling to friends and family. Come high school, the project had transformed into an epic series of graphic novels that never quite came to be but provided the story foundation for a series of prose novels McKinley wrote instead, titled The Hellbank Notes series. “Same characters, same ideas,” he says, with each iteration distilling these ideas and characters further and further to their core, to that seed stuck in the teeth of McKinley’s creative maw that he just can’t stop picking at until the thing is unfixed and free and held to the light to see exactly what it is.

In the case of RIOT Force, it’s an action-packed, color-soaked, in-your-face, over-the-top, dry-and-wry, throwback, shoot-‘em-up comic adventure that rides that neon double-yellow line between camp and cheese like a jet-powered motorcycle with machine guns on the front and flames shooting out the back.

Each crazy page is hand-drawn by McKinley in an iterative process that begins with a Post-It-note-sized sketch of the entire page, capturing the panel layout and the general forms, before gradually scaling up in size and detail, refining the sketch each time. It’s a technique he devised to ensure that each page works not only as an individual piece of the story but as a single work of art in itself and with its own energy. “It’s about maintaining the energy of the page through every layer of detail,” McKinley says. “Whether it’s two panels or nine panels, it’s still one impression.”

But while the characters and their world bend towards bonkers at first impression, RIOT Force is not complete farce, says McKinley, and larger themes of loyalty, legacy and loss are woven into the narrative, as is a healthy dose of satire and subversion. First and foremost and forever in McKinley’s mind, however, is entertaining the audience. “And to not at any point be anything less than exciting, operatic and ridiculous,” he says.

Published by Source Point Press, the first run of RIOT Force will be a three-issue arc covering roughly the first third of the overall story McKinley has in mind, which will total 10 issues. Preorders for the debut issue are available now at local comic book shops and first shipments are expected November 29.


In the meantime, click the link below to view the full-length Prologue Issue of RIOT Force.

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