Thanks so much to Farcaster for rolling the dice on my book THE UNTAMED! I love this site!
I recently had a chance to interview Sebastian Jones from Stranger Comics. Stranger Comics is a relatively new comic book publisher and their first line of comics take place in the fantasy world of Asunda, and Sebastian is the creative force behind the world in which they are set. He's also the author of the debut comic, The Untamed.
Be sure to check out the special offer from Stranger Comics to Pen & Paper Games readers at the end of the interview. There is also a preview of the first comic attached below for your reading pleasure and you can see an animated version over at the Stranger Comics website.
SJ: Hidden within the Desert of the Dying Tree lies a town run by ruthless killers. A growing cancer upon the vast and volatile world of Asunda.
Some say it's a watering hole for the Devil.
The initial story line revolves around a lone Stranger walking into the hell-hole Town of Oasis. Many years ago he ran the town with an iron fist. After the betrayal and murder of he and his family, the stranger is offered a deal to get out of hell. He is granted seven days to reap seven souls and gain a chance at revenge. Conflict arises as a young girl reminds him of his murdered daughter. She acts as his conscience and becomes his only hope for salvation.
It was a morning when I was rocking my son to sleep that my demons spoke and danced upon the kitchen curtain veil. They told me I was a failure as a father and a good man. I exorcised them with tortured words and my utter hope for redemption.
I have been playing Table-Top and Live Action Role-playing with a tremendous bunch of friends within the epic world of Asunda for more than 20 years, so it was easy for me to color my song within fantasy. I started writing grand tales, which although were cool, and will be introduced later; I felt a discovery to our brutal universe should an intimate, intense, and altogether real experience.
Plant a seed and let it grow. And jack you up!
My influences range from Bluesman Robert Johnson, to filmmakers Akira Kurosawa, Sergio Leone, and Sam Peckinpah. Enter the Town of Oasis, in which the story takes place. You will taste the hot gritty sand; and dizzy at the stench of murder and sex that lingers in the violent desert air.
Now, I must mention the remarkable visionary, Peter Bergting. He is the most amazing artist and friend; a writer could hope to work with. He offers a director's eye and sets a mood to each scene he is painting. As soon as I saw his work I could think of no other. And so genius STRANGER Comics Art Director, Darrell May, and I didn't hesitate. We flew him out from his native land to come and stay, where he cooked up his legendary Swedish meatballs, and we offered up promises of what will be.
Okay, so that was more than a little bit...
RH: What was your inspiration for the world of Asunda?
SJ: I was a huge Greek mythology reader as a youngster growing up in Surrey, England. I played Warhammer. I played D&D first edition. Then, as a 12 year old in the boarding house, I read The Hobbit in one sitting, huddled up in my dorm room, hiding from the school and world around me. The Lord of the Rings blew my mind.
From then on, I read other wonderful books. My favorites included the flawed characters from David Gemmell's Druss saga, and the landscape of Raymond E. Feist's Magician and Empire series. During this period I also read a ton of comics, and was drawn to the darker material and characters that danced the line. Gray area anti-heroes, who are misunderstood such as The Hulk and Wolverine, were my favorites. I owe a lot to Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.
For fantasy enthusiasts there are books, games, often ghastly TV shows, and films, but nothing that a fan can escape to with their choice heroes and team-ups on a consistent basis. This boggled my mind... I mean D&D is made for this stuff.
So I set out to create a Marvel Universe for the fantasy fan.
I was sick of the corporate PG versions of bull**** tiny fantasy world's that would bludgeon the masses. I mean the medieval and dark ages were bloody times! Lancelot banged Guinevere for ****'s sake. Literally.
I wanted a larger universe to explore. I wanted beautiful and harrowing stories that would engage the global fan. How come the good Elves were always white? How come the evil Elves (Drow) were black? That seemed ****ing obtuse and ridiculous to me.
My Art Director, Darrell May, is an anthropology major and an amazing artist. Together, and with a team of serious enthusiasts, we have set out to ensure that Asunda is as diverse as the climate and landscape dictates. If you're an Isinniel (Elf) from Ujoa (Africa), chances are your black. If you're from Herfang (Scandanvia), you're fair. In addition to this Darwinian way of evolution we have our Gods, religions, magic, and mythos as fleshed out and baked as any out there for a fan to use for their campaigns, games, and stories to enjoy.
SJ: Haha... that is KERSHEG, The Mute. He is a GRACHUKK (Great Orc), Asunda's version of the Uruk Hai. In other words, he is one bad mamajama! But everything in The Untamed and beyond has a history and a purpose. He is hinted at in issue 1 and issue 2. In fact, he is the one hanging the victim in issue 1. This cover was painted by Hyoung Taek Nam. Hyoung City captured the silent intensity that glows from Kersheg's ice-green eyes, and is a great representation that our heroes and villains are very real.
Kersheg is an albino bound to the desert Town of Oasis, and fiercely loyal to Phylax, leader of the Kraven Guild, for unknown reasons. His stoic power is legend. Due to a tainted brand on his tongue, the immense Grachukk cannot speak. But... we will offer tales about him soon!
RH: In the first issue of The Untamed, we come to the town of Oasis, which seems to be a real ****hole of a town -- far and away from the gleaming cities of a high fantasy setting filled with dwarves and elves living in happy harmony. Is the rest of the world this dark and twisted?
SJ: Certainly not... haha... There are brutal dark parts of the world, mostly where man is found. I look at the history of our world and see man's need for conquest, for justifying greed, infidelity, and other insecurities. It all sounds a bit heavy I guess, but that's where it's at.
We certainly have glittering towers, stone cities, and emerald forests for the fan accustomed to such landscape, but all of our races have a deep rooted journey and reasons for being. There is a reason our Orcs are green. There is a reason The Morkai (Silver Elves), have inflections of Silver upon their skin or hair. The Morkai are awesome... they live in tall Silver Halls within the many underground realms across the world, whereas The Galemren (Wild Elves) roam across the world in nomadic clans.
We have faeries too... but you won't find any in the Town of Oasis However, 3000 years ago there might have been a couple help oversee the town's build. There is a lot to discover.
RH: The main character, our masked avenger, isn't a very lovable guy, is he?
SJ: He had a rough childhood, broken home, was bullied at school...
When he was alive he was bad man, although he had his code... he was a father and a husband. He ran the town, like a Tony Soprano type. When he realized the errors of his ways it was too late for him and his family.
To me, the Stranger is the epitome of the everyman, the extreme of man, without compromise. Dealing with the confusion of love vs. lust, and whether a man can tell the difference. This makes him Clint Eastwood with swords. He is so driven and focused to avenge his family's death; he is willing to do bad things. It is the journey he takes that will open his raw and vulnerable side.
The Stranger cannot hide his emotions, and we will love him or hate him for it.
I am well over the clean and polished heroes that are force fed today. Even the polished anti-heroes today can suck a dick. They are fake, wax their eyebrows, and pose for the hero shot. Robert Mitchum, Woody Strode, and Toshiro Mifune are the real dudes. I want to bring that real back.
RH: How do you get yourself in the right frame of mind to write these stories?
SJ: I live a life fraught with heartache. The stories sit within, desperate to get out.
Although, you can never wait to get in the right frame of mind. One director told me, don't wait for inspiration... just get up an hour earlier than everyone else, sit in front of that evil white screen, and just start banging away and hope something that doesn't suck comes out.
RH: So, he's been sent back to collect seven souls -- seven particular souls, we can assume. What makes these souls such a valuable commodity?
SJ: Good one! That is THE question. The seven souls are there to be collected, but only one such soul is valued perhaps more than any other in the world. Simple story. Big consequences. Journey with the Stranger, as his memory returns, to find out!
RH: Soul of Ice, other than being really effective at ... ahem ... violating uncooperative captives, what other properties does this nasty little sword have?
SJ: Shemlok Ja Usul Ulk. This sword is every assassin's dream item. Perfect for all kinds of party tricks, such as orifice insertion, limb hacking, and wine chilling. There is one very cool property which will "open up" in issue 3. I don't want to say too much, but you will find out that Phylax's giant scimitar is the sister blade!
The sword is made of Ardan, which is a darker and smokier metal than Mithril, and found primarily in the deep earth in areas akin to the Amazon.
We are currently working on the creation of the real sword, which is going to be awesome, as well as creating Live Action Roleplaying latex boffer weapons. Just like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, if a fan finds the golden ticket within a copy of THE UNTAMED he/she could win the prize of such a blade! Our other prizes range from signed lithographs to extra background roles in the film!
RH: You have some other story lines launching in the Asunda setting as well, including Tales of Asunda: Erathune and Dusu: Path of the Ancient. What can you tell us about that?
SJ: Lets start with Dusu: Path of the Ancient. It is a revelation that my co-writer and production designer, Christopher Garner, deserves much of the credit. Here is the synopsis:
"Within every heart sleeps the animal. The One awakened will be lord of all."
-- Galemren Proverb
Hidden from his kin and sheltered from his future, Dusu is raised among the Galemren (Wild Elves) in the secret heart of the Ugoma Jungle. A world in which he does not belong. But Dusu is not entirely human either. He is on the "Path" to something more... Dusu must focus his rage and become the savior of Ugoma before all he loves is destroyed.
This tale is our Last of the Mohicans/Apocalypto tale about a man out of his element, finding love, and losing himself to a higher power. We really draw a lot from tribal cultures from around the world.
Painted with such an uncanny realism by the master Frenchman, Steph Stamb (Silent Hill), Dusu: Path of the Ancient is alive! I have worked with Steph before on the comic, Salvador, where he knocked my head off with his ability. He truly is an awesome talent and I know we are going to work on a ton of projects together. And be prepared for Christopher; his poetic ability with wordplay will break you down!
Now for Erathune. It is tough as ****. Here is the synopsis:
"A soul is not worth the weight."
Soul Sunder, the cursed axe of Death Goddess, Madraq, has led Buxton Stonebeard, deep into the ice mountain city of Erathune. She has promised the old and troubled Macgrom (Dwarf) two more souls to collect and he can be rid of the axe. One is a monster who seeks war upon his kin; the other is Buxton's brother, Lord of Erathune, who cast him out upon pain of death out a thousand years ago. Buxton must choose between saving a city that spurned him, and being free of the axe that has enslaved him.
What is cool about this tale, is in addition to Buxton, there are two other legendary heroes that join him, and both make guest appearances in THE UNTAMED. Actually, you will see Buxton in issue 2 of THE UNTAMED hacking up a Grachukk in The Pit Fight.
I write this tale with the aforementioned Darrell May, who really sculpted the town into something quite special. It is being drawn by Sheldon Mitchell (Freshmen), who is bringing such a passion to the creation of dwarves unlike anything see before. Sheldon's master penciling is organic and alive. You will feel the icy winds bite your eyes and chill your toes!
SJ: I am glad you like Dwarves. Me too! In fact, the lead role, Buxton Stonebeard is a character I played in our Table-Top game. In Asunda, the true name for a Dwarf is Macgrom, and the two types are Harfins (Hill Dwarves) and Haruns (Mountain Dwarves). Both lines are custom to style their beards for fashion and war. Skins, jewelry, feathers, and trinkets, or trophies are often worked into the beards. Fierce tribal Harfins are renowned for violent symbols painted crudely, whereas Haruns are known for perfection with overlapping plate armor and interlinked chain mail. Harfins of Ujoa are often seen making pacts with the Galemren (Wild Elves). They compare Mohawks and Orc kills.
There is so much history to "unearth." One thing for sure is our Dwarves are not the ****ing comic relief like they are in most books and films. There are some basic elements I have kept: Do not insult the beard. Bow low. They are the greatest of allies and fiercest of foes. All share a hatred of Orcs, Silver Elves, and Dragons, and a love for axes and gems.
I though it was high time we saw a Dwarf as the lead in a tale, and the setting a Dwarven town. Look for this tale to kick off early next year! It is looking AMAZING so far!
RH: Do you foresee having some ongoing story lines in addition to the fixed duration ones that you have planned now?
SJ: Absolutely. We will actually center an ongoing story very soon on, "Skarlok Two Hearts." We have a lead in story coming out soon with a one-shot assassin tale in, Tales of Asunda #0. There is a sneak peek of this in The Untamed Issue #2. Skarlok is a Morkai King, and the Bane of Humankind. He rocks!
RH: Are you looking to possibly open this universe to other cartoonists to contribute their own stories in your setting?
SJ: **** yes! Again, I want Asunda to be like a Marvel or DC universe, where creators can come and roam within the sweeping landscape. However, if I am to publish others, there has to be things that remain strict and true to the lore, and I will only work with those who will honor the work and our world. But I look forward to seeing what others think. Collaboration is liberation!
RH: What's next for Stranger Comics? Are there other worlds in the cosmos we might see in future lines?
SJ: Stranger Comics will publish three banner brands: Arcane Imagination (Children's stories/folklore/Faerie Tales), Black Eye Dog Studios (Tales for Film/and Other Worlds) and the aforementioned Asunda (Fantasy).
So our shameless plug is, our recycled paper feels as gritty as the tale, and we have an animatic on our site, www.strangercomics.com, and a preview can be seen on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKxbtsmxH9g. Directed by me, and Produced by Ken Locsmandi (The Matrix/Fight Club) and the Filmworksx crew (Aplocalypto/Zohan).
And this is what I am doing for Pen and Paper Games Posse! A ten percent discount [off our www.strangercomics.com store items, which will include awesome fonts, music, pdfs, merch] for people who will buy a copy in the stores. The store will go up very soon.
How to prove: have a photo taken doing the purchase and email it to email@example.com, or even better, post it to Facebook/Myspace and tag us!
An extra ten percent will be given for just for being part of the gaming community or school! Email me the proven ID and there it is! I will email back when the store is up, with all codes and work on the honor system, which is probably why I played either Paladins, or Dwarven Beserkers;-]
So, please go and order a copy of THE UNTAMED from your local comic shop. Find one on www.comicshoplocator.com. Tell them we are published by Stranger Comics, and we are on page 286 of October Diamond Previews and 260 of November Previews, and tell them Clive Barker and Lloyd Levin sent you:
"The UNTAMED promises to be an epic tale, conceived and crafted not only with a great love of comics, but also a profound understanding of the power of visionary storytelling" - CLIVE BARKER (Hellraiser)
"What's not to love about Jones and Bergting's THE UNTAMED: it's a Sergio Leone, Frank Frazetta, William Blake fever dream mashup. And that's just where it begins!" - LLOYD LEVIN (Watchmen/Hellboy/Event Horizon/Boogie Nights)
"I was given a second chance in death. Vengeance was offered and I was quick to accept." - THE STRANGER
Check us out on www.strangercomics.com, and bear witness to our future!
Thanks so much to Farcaster for rolling the dice on my book THE UNTAMED! I love this site!
This is a great site and I hope the fans of Pen and Paper can see what a couple of gaming nerds like ourselves can accomplish!
Until the next cataclysm, Hails from the depths of HERFANG!
Thanks to Pen and Paper Games for one heck of an interview! I feel like I now know a lot more about Seb Jones and the creation of a wonderful comic and world!
Thanks Mr. Jones for being so candid in the interview and letting us see some of the creative process.
This is going to be the next best thing! GIVE US MORE!!!!
Great interview. As a fan of harsh settings, this is going on my short list of things to get!
I love this comic and can't wait for the next issue