“Let me tell you of the days of high adventure…!”
I heard Mako’s gravelly voice echoing in my head after I read the first few pages of Image Comics’ new fantasy/action title Reyn a few months ago. The title character isn’t an Ah-nold stand-in or anything, it’s just the book gives off that same adventurous vibe as the classic De Laurentiis film. Unfortunately, there’s a rather conspicuous absence of any snake cults in the book, but – BUT! – there is hope in the reptilian villain department, thanks to the Venn. Whew.
The series is the creator-owned brainchild of Kel Symons and Nate Stockman. This isn’t the first time they’ve come together to give the world something both epic and original; about a year and a half ago they worked on the final issue of the I Love Trouble miniseries following the departure of artist Mark Robinson. Perhaps that was fortune, or perhaps, it was Fate?
I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself.
It’s just a great thing that they’ve been able to deliver a book like Reyn, whatever the circumstances that brought them together. Like the great guys that they are, Kel and Nate (along with Paul Little ) took some time out of their busy schedules to answer a few of the Comic Crusaders’ questions about their work.
You’ve made a transition these past few years from Hollywood guy, to comic book writer extraordinaire; You did an interview a few years back and said that you’d always wanted to be a writer, but why comics? (There are better ways to torture yourself!)
Kel Symons: I was a development exec and a producer. Worked on some fun projects; produced a couple documentaries I’m proud of. But I came to Hollywood to be a writer and was fortunate enough to get the chance to pursue that full time. Took about 15 years living out here to make it happen, too – guess I’m a late bloomer. But writing’s what I wanted to do since high school.
Comics weren’t really a part of that, though, growing up. And to be truthful, writing for film wasn’t on my to-do list, either – I wrote short stories mostly, and it wasn’t until my 20s that I made the connection to combine my love of movies with my desire to write. And when it comes to comics, it wasn’t until much later than that, probably 20 years or so, before comics ever entered the picture. I certainly read comics – but not nearly as much as I probably should have to be making a living at it now. But I’ve always thought that storytelling is storytelling, no matter what the medium. And comics provides an outlet that films don’t to tell pretty much any story I want to – there’s no budget, only imagination. And that can be very satisfying.
Reyn, your newest project, is an interesting one. We’ve seen the sword-for-hire trope before, but not quite like this – a person of color as the protagonist in a world of adventure and magic. As a matter of fact, most of the main characters in the book so far have been people of color; is that a conscious effort to do something different, or did these characters just take on lives and personalities of their own as you began to write them out?
KS: It wasn’t a conscious effort. I wrote a character who didn’t have any description when it came to race or color. Here’s how he first appeared on the page: “He’s tall, his classic warrior architecture betrays countless hours of study, training and conditioning. Handsome and clean shaven, his hair is trim even out here in the middle of nowhere. He shouldn’t have the muscle-bound physique of a Conan, or some other steroid-pumped barbarian. Ideally he should have the frame of a Special Forces soldier – compact and muscular, but still sleek and quick. Think a swimmer’s physique. Or a panther’s.”
No mention of race or ethnicity. Nate did up some character models, and I think my notes on them mainly spoke to his look – I told Nate I wanted his armor to be like Rutger Hauer’s from Ladyhawke. Kind of a bad-ass, and not the European knight look, like in Excalibur. When Paul got to them, he added the coloring. I think he just naturally went for a darker complexion. It’s where the drawing and character told him go. But we definitely weren’t trying to make a statement. He’s not supposed to be “the black hero;” he’s just supposed to be the hero. Some readers have commented on it, and there is, unfortunately a lack of color in fantasy and sci-fi. But for the most part people haven’t said anything, which to me is a good thing. It shouldn’t be an issue. We’re not writing social commentary – we’re writing an adventure. Who cares what color Reyn is?
And when the rest of the team started to come together, Seph and the other Followers of Tek, there was a definite multi-cultural approach. It wasn’t until we were several issues in that I realized it after Paul said something like: “For a bunch of white guys doing a comic book, it’s refreshing that only one main character is a white male.” Some of our “casting choices” are is story related, but mostly it’s just because we should have that level of diversity in comics. And in movies. TV… everything.
Nathan Stockman: There was nothing in the character descriptions that specified the race of any of the cast. With that in mind, Making the cast racially diverse was mainly down to me wanting to challenge myself artistically and not get stuck in a rut of just drawing white people. While the land of Fate is it’s own thing, I took influence from our world for the cast’s looks. Reyn for example I pictured as Mediterranean. Dark featured and olive skinned. Seph, I pictured as South Asian and Chinese mixed race. It takes a little while to get the hang of drawing them but that’s where the fun of the challenge comes in!
WELL, that makes my next question feel a little awkward…there is a little socio-political commentary here and there, well, the argument could be made that there is; for instance, In issue #2 when Reyn comes face to face with one of the Venn there are some verbal jabs thrown out by the vizier that might ruffle some feathers…Is that something that will continue as the story develops and we learn more about the history of the Wardens and the Venn?
KS: Sorry, but I actually had to think about what you referring to there when you said “verbal jabs in issue 2 that might ruffle some feathers” because that was never my intention – nor was I going for any sort of socio-political commentary, so you threw me a bit there. I’m going to guess you were probably referring to the lead Venn, M’Thall’s line “I guess you Wardens all look the same, don’t you.”
Again, as I said, I didn’t write Reyn as the “black swordsman.” I just wrote him as the swordsman. The hero. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wrote the scripts for the first few issues before Nate and Paul really got into character design, so the color of Reyn’s skin wasn’t an issue. Nor was that line supposed to be some sort of variation on “You all look alike to me.” I didn’t even make that connection until you mentioned it. Jeez, I hope people didn’t read it and think it was supposed to be some sort of slur, cuz it really wasn’t.
But you’re correct in saying that line has some relation to the history between the Venn and the Wardens, so M’Thall’s phrasing was intentional. But it’ll be a several issues before it’s relevant to the story.
OK, we’ll just chalk that up to misinterpretation then? Anyway, as for the look of Fate, is that a primarily collaborative process, in that, do you Nate, Paul and Pat decide together what each location looks like beforehand? Or do you shoot an idea out there and let the chips fall where they may, so to speak?
KS: Nate and I had a lot of email discussions as I was working on the scripts – definitely the first draft of the first issue. One of the things that drew Nate to the land of Fate and our story was the chance to world-build. To design interesting landscapes and populate it with fun and imaginative creatures and characters. Draw monsters. I’m a big fan of sci-fi and fantasy, and collect all sorts of art books with concept stuff, paperback cover art and the like. I scanned like a hundred images or so and sent them to Nate as possible inspiration for things I’d written, but unless it directly impacts story in one way or another, Nate has a free hand in coming up with whatever he wants.
I think Paul was instrumental in helping to craft some of the world, too. And Nate and I involved him very early in the process – like when I was still scripting and Nate was doing concepts, we were looping Paul in. Paul’s my kind of geek, so if I referenced a video game like Skyrim or the TV show Cosmos, for instance, he got it. There were probably times when Nate or I got very specific with what we wanted from the colors but neither of us are slaves to the page, or think everything we create is sacred, so we gave Paul the freedom to explore his approach for this. And I like what he’s done.
The same is true of Pat – sometimes I’ll have a very specific sound effect in mind, and I’ll script it. Or sometimes I sorta know what I want, but can’t quite articulate it, and Pat is able to come up with something that works perfectly. But mostly he does what the art and the story tell him to do. Same with the lettering for dialogue – I know I told him I wanted an alien-looking font for the Venn, and he came back with exactly what works. Of course the thing with Pat is I’ve worked with him more than anyone. He probably just intuitively knows what I’ll respond to or not.
NS: Generally the locations come well described in the script but sometimes there’s a bit of back and forth before I go to the layouts. Maybe a few sketches to put across some ideas. Kel is very receptive to my input which is always great in a collaborator! Once the idea is fleshed out a bit better I’ll do out layouts, Then pencils, Then inks. I run each stage past Kel to make sure we’re on the same page. I sometime give minor colour ideas to Paul but he’s got the scripts so he knows what the scene needs and how best to do it! Pat is great too. He’s flexible and reliable and really good at his job. The design team at Image is also fantastic and make putting the book together a lot of fun. Sure it’s hard work, But when you love your job you put that extra effort in!
Paul Little: By the time Kel’s described the environments and Nate’s brought them to life, it’s pretty easy for me to figure out a color scheme that works. I try to keep things varied, using color to set each new scene and distinguish one place from the next. Generally speaking, I’d rather err on the side of impressionistic, weird colors than risk things being boring!
How did you get hooked up with Nate and Paul?
KS: Paul and Pat worked with me on my first Image comic, I Love Trouble. Both came highly recommended by Eric Stephenson, and since my experience with comics was limited, and my relationship with artists practically nil, I was certainly eager for suggestions. After five issues of I Love Trouble, Mark Robinson, the original artist, was unavailable to continue. So Paul recommended Nate, and he came in to bat clean up. Really did a great job with it, but as it was basically our final issue, the relationship was short-lived.
But I told Eric I loved working with Nate and when I had a window to develop something new, I approached him first. We batted around a couple ideas before settling on what would finally become Reyn. Paul was naturally the right choice to handle colors given the relationship, and Pat I’ve had letter all my Image books.
NS: Working the last issue of I Love Trouble was the first time we all worked together. And thankfully not the last!
What comic books are you guys currently reading? Who, if you have any, are some of your influences from the comic world?
KS: I don’t really read a lot of capes and tights comics, preferring more indie stuff. That being said, the comic I most recently read was Astro City “Victory”, which is about as close to superhero stuff as I get these days. Though I do love Runaways. And Batman and Swamp Thing were both influential on me, I think. Other stuff I love is Umbrella Academy, and Darwyn Cooke’s Parker series – honestly, those books can’t come fast enough.
If there were any specific influences on my writing, I would say Brian K. Vaughn most definitely. In fact, my format apes his after I read some Y: The Last Man scripts. And I read some of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing scripts – but I don’t know if they influenced me. His stuff is so poetic – his writing has a lyricism I can only hope to come close to.
NS: I read a good few comics. I’m a bit far behind in my reading though. I’m always at least 6 months to a year behind on any given storyline! Some books i’ve enjoyed recently are Deadly Class, Fatale, The Wake, East of West, Batman (Snyder/Capullo), Superior Spider-Man, Daytripper, Daredevil (Waid/Samnee). That’s just off the top of my head. I don’t have a particular favorite genre really. As you can see that list is pretty all over the place!
PL: ALL THE COMICS. I’m really enjoying Waid and Samnee on Daredevil, I think what Wes Craig and Lee Loughridge are doing on Deadly Class is bold and important work, and I think there’s a whole pile of great books coming out of Image these days, from Lazarus to Low to Sex Criminals to Southern Bastards and just about everything else! I’m also enjoying old favorites like Love and Rockets and Fantagraphics’ black & white EC Library reprints. It’s a really great time for reissues of classic material.
Definitely named some heavyweights there. I recently started reading Waid and Samnee’s Daredevil run myself. It’s great. Do you guys have any projects coming up that we should be on the look out for? And to kind of wrap this thing back around, what’s your favorite fantasy/adventure movie?
KS: With the comic stuff, I’m just hoping to continue on Reyn. We have ten issues planned out and would love to see it continue beyond that. And The Mercenary Sea will be back before the end of the year – Mathew Reynolds is working away on issue 9 right now. In terms of new comics, there’s a semi-historical story I want to try to write that I’m just starting to think about – that will be in the vein of 300 or Gladiator. I talked to Nate about it briefly, but I need a script first, which is a ways off. That one I might just do as one single graphic novel, though, assuming I get my ass in gear.
Most of the other stuff I’ve done is for film, which who knows if/when it will ever see the light of day – just wrote something for Disney. Oh, and I worked on the Game of Thrones video game series for Telltale Games, which is out now. Think episode 2 just came out, but most of my work was concentrated in episode 5, probably out this summer.
Favorite fantasy adventure movie? Probably LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring. Though going back a bit I really dug Ladyhawke. Really like that one. Maybe Dragonslayer. Or possibly the first Conan. Growing up in the 80s there just wasn’t a lot of fantasy stuff out there, you know? Way too expensive to produce, and studios didn’t “get it.” You were pretty much stuck with paperbacks and D&D.
NS: I have a collection of a Monkeybrain series I drew called Anti-Hero coming out through IDW this month. Jay Faerber (Copperhead) wrote it, Paul Little colored it and Charles Pritchett lettered it. it’s a cool complete crime/superhero story. Apart from that it’s all Reyn, All the time for me!
My favourite movie is The Incredibles. A bit of a stretch for the fantasy/adventure classification but who cares? It’s a great film!
PL: Nate already mentioned Anti-Hero (go buy it!), which I colored as well, so aside from that, you can find me in the pages of Morning Glories (also available monthly from Image) and Sons of Anarchy and Palmiotti and Brady’s The Big Con Job over at BOOM! Studios.
And for fantasy/adventure movies, you can’t beat the original Star Wars!
REYN #3 hits shelves March 18th!