Creator Spotlight Interview: Daniel Coady: indie game developer, creator, artist, dstnce runner

Meet Daniel Coady, a creative design artist and storyteller from Melbourne, Australia, also a pro full stack developer into computing, graphics and games programming, and more. They are continuously working on multiple side projects while seeking new challenges.

Recently, Daniel Coady released their first game dstnce, a indie game for PC’s via Steam and Itch. At a glance, dstnce can easily be judged for something very simple and goggly cute. But throughout, is a deeper surreal experience, and a test of resilience in a seemingly lighthearted world that centers around isolated, limited small environment that is quite familiar to situations many face in our ongoing Covid global pandemic. Here, is a bit more..

Here is a trailer…

After getting to know them through a series of fun game streams, we had asked Daniel Coady about creating and releasing dstnce, the process of game development, and the fine art of creativity. The answers were insightful, as we learned more in our interview below…

Hello Daniel, tell us a little bit about yourself and your game development inspirations…

I’ve always been a bit of a nerd, be it in my early years when I tried to make a crappy little laptop I picked up for $20 run faster, by installing Ubuntu (this was back when it was still using Unity DE, so my fellow Linux users probably understand how well that went down (haha) or right now where in my spare time I like to learn about cool new tech and play around with emulation dev. So, it’s fair to say that I’ve got come inclination towards technology, specifically programming. As well as this though I always found it to be incredibly important to be able to broaden my horizons so that I’m not just always working on computers. This lead to me to pursue hobbies such as photography, 3D modelling/animation, skateboarding, and music.

So, rewind back to high school for me, back when I used to play way more games than I do now. I had a hand-me-down Xbox 360 which was pretty run down but still functioning, and I also had a shared family PC that while pretty not great by even the standards back then did function… mostly. Around this time I also got my first job so I had all this money, and in turn freedom, to explore what games had to offer. This is when I discovered the likes of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Thomas Was Alone, and Bastion. These games really made me feel things in a way that nothing else did, like it was all genuinely powerful and excellent media. Up until this point I had dabbled in game dev before (started making tiny dungeon crawlers in GameMaker way back when I was like… 8-9 or something) but never thought much of doing it “for real”. This changed everything for me though and I set my sights pretty hardcore on becoming a professional game developer.

So, it was settled, and near the end of high school, I decided to drop out to study game dev. Quite frankly, it didn’t go too well. I didn’t learn much in the way of game dev outside of how to use Blender (which has actually come in handy a fair few times), so most of my time was spent trying to find resources online to teach myself. I soon found a Discord server which at the time was called TairaGames Dev Squad (a server for a YouTuber called TairaGames, also on Discord) and is now called Game Dev 101, and I used it extensively to learn about game dev from others as well as share my knowledge of game dev. Fast forward to now, I’ve spent roughly 3 years in computer science and am about to enter my fourth and final year. I’ve been teaching myself game dev while learning as much as I can from others who are far smarter than me.

That brings us to dstnce, a very different game than what many would expect, which feels abstract in its execution. What were your inspirations in the creation process?

It’s kinda hard to nail down all the inspirations that make up dstnce since it truly is inspired by the various bits of art and experiences I’ve had in my lifetime. There’s a few things of note however which have fairly large, and sometimes glaringly obvious, inspirations upon my game:

Make Yourself At Home – This was a jam game a couple mates of mine, Cat Flynn and Cinder Foster-Smith, made many moons ago now. The entire aesthetic of the game was constructed using vector graphics drawn in Inkscape which I found to be fairly distinct and friendly in tone, matching a part of the vibe I was looking for. Using MYAH! as a reference point, I started off by replicating the art and then tweaking it to get the more clean, almost clinical aesthetic you see in dstnce.

The Rhapsody Tapes – One of my all time favourite albums by my favourite band: Ocean Grove. In general, OG really push a message of being yourself and make it explicit that their music has no right or wrong interpretation. I love this so much, the idea of “the death of the author”, because to me art ceases to be the artist’s meaning and instead is now open to how one perceives it. Everyone comes from different walks of life, experiencing different things which shapes their perspective. Because of this, we as creators should respect that. This is why there is no explicit meaning to dstnce — the game is what you make of it.

The COVID-19 Lockdown – I mean, it’s pretty obvious given the current context. dstnce is heavily inspired by my own experiences during the lockdown and just general feelings I have which have been exacerbated by the whole situation at hand. This said, and only time will tell if this is true, I wanted to create something that is more timeless than just a game based on lockdown. There’s loads of art coming out currently that relates directly to lockdown which is great, but I question how much of it will stand the test of time. Sure it may become an interesting time capsule, some insight for future generations to look upon and understand how lockdown shaped us, but to me dstnce is something more. For me, it also touches upon various topics of abandonment, isolation, and hopelessness that may be found in day-to-day life outside of COVID, and I hope that with the power of retrospect this will continue to be the case for myself and others.

What were the biggest challenges in developing and releasing dstnce for release on Steam?

Oh man, so much. I knew getting a game onto a storefront would be a big ordeal, but it turns out it was even more complicated than I thought. I won’t go into great detail on the process cause it’s pretty boring, but the one thing I will say I wish I did was offer myself more time to sort it out. I had the foresight to fix up the legal stuff at the start when signing up to be a Steamworks Developer, but then I put off actually sorting out the store page and such for dstnce until it was completed. So come the end of development, I found out quickly that setting up the store page and build shenanigans would take a long time. So the game was actually completed roughly 3 weeks before it dropped, with one week spent going back and forth with Valve to get approval for my store page and two weeks being the mandatory waiting period between the storefront going up as “coming soon” and the game actually going live. So yeah, anyone reading this who plans to get their game onto Steam: sort out your store page and do it early. It can be a lot more pain than you may initially think.

Dstnce has parallels with the current lockdowns and quarantines that many of us are feeling. Has developing dstnce affected your dealings with the ongoing pandemic?

Kinda, yeah. It’s actually a recurring theme for me to create things when I am feeling my worst. I find art in general to be a great outlet for me, both to get my feelings “down on paper”, but also so that I can explore where I’m at and get a bit of a better sense of how I’m feeling, and in turn act upon those feelings. In regards to dstnce I think the thing it’s helped me come to terms with most is that these feelings I have aren’t exclusive to me. A lot of folks who have played dstnce and sent me their experiences with it have expressed how they’ve connected with it, and a lot of them relate to the same things that I do. It’s helped me feel less alone in what otherwise might feel like isolating feelings that others don’t understand. Also, it was really nice to see that lots of people decided to interpret things in a positive light 🙂 I hope that positivity spreads.

Are there any plans in new game development beyond dstnce?

Yeah, actually! Almost immediately after completing dstnce I started design work on a new game. I don’t like talking too much on what’s next cause, well, I don’t actually know if this is what truly will be next. What does and doesn’t get completed is totally up in the air so I don’t talk about my projects heaps until they’re well past the pre-prod stage. What I will say though is no matter what I do next, I have zero intention to stagnate. I want to branch out and explore my capabilities to design and create truly wonderful experiences for people to play. This does mean there will not be a dstnce 2, and in fact that I doubt many future games will mirror dstnce all that much. I don’t wanna become a one trick pony, so I’m gonna continue exploring and expanding my horizons.

Thank you for your time, as we encourage all to check out dstnce currently available directly on Steam and Itch.. Also follow Daniel Coady on Twitter @fakemuso, on Itch and their own site at pondo.dev.

Spotlight Interview: LJ Phillips, on developing Iron Nail Afternoon and indie comic publishing

Meet LJ Phillips, a creative artist from eThekwini, a growing city off the coast of South Africa. After training under one of Africa’s leading political cartoonists, LJ worked as an art lecturer and now runs a small local studio. She’s had four solo exhibitions, showcasing mostly surrealistic ink-and-pen artwork. Her work in comics grew from recent comic anthologies, along with short stories showing in various publications.

LJ is especially excited this week. She released a new world of his creation, written and drawn, with a mix of urban noir, fantasy within the pages of first published comic series, Iron Nail Afternoon. The first issue is now available digitally online via Comixology.

This new series takes place in the Iron Nail – a red-light district in a floating city, maintained by supernatural enforcers known as Sheriffs. The most feared of these is Sed Stonehaven. On just one shattering day, he falls prey to his worst enemy…his own temper.

Iron Nail Afternoon was initially released as a webcomic, published a few pages at a time. The first issue is the accumulation of that work, and more. LJ has big plans for an ongoing story, yet aims for self-contained parts of an interconnected narrative.

Special note: Iron Nail Afternoon is intended for mature audiences only, much in the same vein as Saga, Sandman, The Wicked + The Divine, Hellblazer, Preacher.

We had a short online interview with LJ Phillips on the week of the release of Iron Nail Afternoon, to share in the excitement of opening his new world and the creative process, insight of its foundation.

Hello LJ, tell us a little about your background and what influenced the creation of Iron Nail Afternoon?

LJ Phillips: I formerly worked in the private security sector – doing some bodyguard work, as a bouncer, stuff like that. This allowed me to save up enough to attend art school on a partial scholarship.  In my former profession, there was a heavy emphasis on brotherhood but of course, this brotherhood could be conditional. There was also a lot of blatant racism, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, discrimination against interracial relationships and so on. Which gave me the key concept behind the Iron Nail Afternoon series. What happens to the hard cases who get excluded from the world of tough guys? Where do they end up?

What were the greatest joys in the world-building and creative processes in Iron Nail Afternoon? 

LJ Phillips: Developing the main protagonists. The Governor had a deprived childhood. As an adult, she enjoys having power and pleasure on her terms. Jekkel is the most dangerous of the three protagonists but also the most vulnerable. What he really wants is to be loved.  And Sed is…Sed. He’s a big personality – he booms. Because of this, it’s easy for others to underestimate his intelligence and his loyalty to his friends. When we finally meet Sed’s brother, he’s the complete opposite – quiet, intense, fastidious.  It’s fun to put them in different situations and work out how they would act. Their choices and reactions are what drive the narrative. The world-building is important because it provides them with a setting and limitations on what they can and can’t do to accomplish their goals.

What were the greatest challenges?

LJ Phillips: Working even when you don’t feel inspired. Acquiring and continually developing the required skill set. Creating a comic, like any job, can be a hard bloody slog. It’s also important not to get obsessed with vanity numbers i.e. online views and followers. These don’t necessarily translate into profits/reliable fanbase and they’re not an accurate reflection on an artist’s ability or lack thereof. Tyler James – of ComixTribe – discussed the issue in one of his superb podcasts ; it really helped put things into perspective for me.  Another big challenge is being disciplined when writing a fantasy comic.  You have to avoid relying on magic as a form of deus ex machina. In Iron Nail Afternoon,  most of the magical elements have real-life equivalents or practical applications. For example, instead of cell phones, there are crystal balls. 

The use of colors and composition aided in the art for Iron Nail Afternoon are wonderous. What influences come to mind in developing the look and feel of Iron Nail Afternoon? 

LJ Phillips: The work of Enki Bilal, notably his Nikopol trilogy. In it, he managed to create an entire sci fi world – one of great beauty and desolation – and do so with a restrained palette and spare art style.

What do you feel Iron Nail Afternoon brings to readers looking for a fresh escape from our problems of the current global pandemic?

LJ Phillips: The series deals with issues we all face – growing older, prejudice, disappointment in love, sibling rivalry  – but it deals with them on a larger-than-life scale. Hopefully readers will find a lot that’s relatable but because of the fantasy elements, the Iron Nail Afternoon series will also provide some welcome escapism as well. Plus it has dragons. Who doesn’t like dragons?

Stranger Worlds thanks LJ Phillips for her time and insight on his new world of Iron Nail Afternoon, now available on Comixology. Here are a few more preview pages…

SW Interview with Stan Sakai – on Usagi Yojimbo and inspirations.

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Upon many bookshelves, digital readers, and mixed media; a samurai rabbit named Usagi Yojimbo lives. Through the sequential arts, he takes part in fantastic adventures and epic tales, through the wonderful work of cartoonist Stan Sakai.

Stan Sakai was born in Kyoto, Japan, but raised in Hawaii. Eventually, he started his career lettering comics in the early 80s (most notably, in Groo: The Wanderer with Sergio Aragones). Soon, Stan Sakai would write and draw his own creation, Usagi Yojimbo, a series centered around the life of a samurai rabbit in an anthropomorphised historical Japan. For over 30 years, this work won multiple awards, and an international fandom. Sakai’s storytelling continues today, but with some interesting twists and takes..

His recent work as limited series, Usagi Yojimbo: Senso, brought our fighting rabbit and friends against a sudden alien invasion; familiar to H.G. Wells classic tale, War of the Worlds. This collision of two worlds brought rave reviews, and a return to science fiction storytelling since Sakai’s alternative take on his character in Space Usagi (1998).

With Senso fresh in mind, I had a fantastic chat with Stan Sakai at the Dark Horse booth during the 2015 San Diego Comic Con. I was a bit excited, and wanted to learn more about his views on science fiction, travel, and inspirations; and how they all mixed with his work. We discussed these topics and much more, as detailed below in our transcript of the interview..

Hello Stan! My first question is on your recent work, Usagi Yojimbo: Senso.  The series was quite different with this different challenge for the cast. I enjoyed this.

Stan Sakai: Usagi Vs. Martians!

Yes! That’s a very interesting concept and unexpected for many Usagi fans. I wonder, what led you to bring this story together?

Stan Sakai: I started with this, maybe 15 years ago. I thought it was such a wacky idea with so much potential.  I envisioned a samurai in full battle armor fighting against Martians and their Tripods, and I just thought that would be just great. Japan gets attacked by all these giant monsters anyway. So why not have the Tripods attacking and blowing up these castles. It sounded good, and I had such a good time with that.

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But, this story is 15 years in the future from the current Usagi and cast that we know. Is any of this considered canon, or official to the story that fans are familiar with? Is there a connection here with current Usagi and the far off Space Usagi story?

Stan Sakai: Yeah..its not canon..it could be. It’s one of many possibilities..

Indeed. And, for with this time and the generation between Senso and Space Usagi..that leaves a lot of time in between for other situations for Usagi. Are there other possible settings for Usagi you considered? Perhaps a post apocalyptic tale or Blade Runner-esque Usagi, for example?

Stan Sakai: I had ideas for Usagi descendants, and marked which ones seemed interesting..I was thinking 21st century investigative reporter. Also, a 1930s pulp hero,..Usagi: Shadow of the Rabbit, like The Shadow. There are others in the old west, where Usagi’s descendant goes out into the 1800s. Yes, there’s a whole bunch.

That sounds exciting, as Usagi’s adventures now seem limitless. But for science fiction, whats it like for you to kind of delve into this style of fantasy writing versus the more historical writing setting for Usagi? 

Stan Sakai: It’s a kind of unique. I own the character so I can do anything I want with it. I can do stories about mystery, romance, adventure, all kinds.. the science fiction is just another genre that I can do. And, there is one more Space Usagi, that I would love to do.

Ah, please make it happen (I loved Space Usagi). Are there are any works of science fiction you really enjoy and feel inspired by? If so, which?

Stan Sakai: I was into science fiction when I was in college. I read a lot of Asimov and all the great science fiction writers of that time.. I love that genre, but then I love fantasy as well. It was also that time I discovered Lord of the Rings. Now, I am into mysteries and hard boiled detectives.

Ah, I would love to see those elements brought into Usagi. Speaking of Space Usagi, are there any plans to rerelease those series into some new collected edition?

Stan Sakai: Yes, yes! Actually Dark Horse has been issuing series of Omnibus Editions as the Usagi Yojimbo Saga. It’s like three trade paperbacks in one big volume for the price of one and a half. The omnibus editions of the Usagi books are about 600 pages, so there is a lot of stuff in there. So, Space Usagi and few others that don’t fit into the regular Usagi Yojimbo universe will be put into one fat book.

Usagi Yojimbo

Good to check out, especially for new generations! So, I am a travel nut and love inspirational destinations inspired by fiction. The regular Usagi comics has some great historical settings and imagery that takes you back. But I am curious, do you travel? And have you visited Japan and found places to use in your backdrops for the Usagi comics?

Stan Sakai: I love to travel. There are other places I love, the Emerald Coast of France, Croatia… I have visited Japan a couple times, once as a guest at the Osamu Tezuka Studios and the other time I was traveling with a group of students.  But when I was in Japan, I took a lot of photographs of castles there.*

Inspirations?

Stan Sakai: Oh yeah, in fact when I did 47 Ronin, all the scenes I did of the Sengaku-ji Temple, where they are all buried, are taken from my photographs.

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Coool.

Stan Sakai: Yes, also a tax write-off (laughs)!

Do you have any children?

Stan Sakai: I do have two kids.

What’s it like for them to have a famous cartoonist for a dad? Does your work inspire them to follow a similar creative path?

Stan Sakai: Hannah has been asked that, and she says I don’t know…because she doesn’t know anything other than having a cartoonist for a dad (laughs). As far she knows, all other dads work at home and watch TV, so its kind of hard to answer that..

For my last question, as to Usagi for future generations.. What do you expect for new readers to take in when discovering your works? Perhaps a message now, a sort of time capsule should this interview be found in a Space Usagi time..

Stan Sakai: A mother told me she was talking to her son about Usagi., and she said, he was reading this adventure story. The son said no, it’s a story about honor. That really surprised her, as that is something I would like to convey. That made me feel good that she told me that. That’s a nice thing for kids to pick up on, not so much historic but lessons about honor.

Indeed..Thanks Stan!

Usagi Yojimbo: Senso and the Usagi Yojimbo Saga omnibus volumes  are out now on the shelves of better retail bookstores and comic stores everywhere, from Dark Horse Publishing. For more info, visit the official site at usagiyojimbo.com and darkhorse.com. For more on Stan Sakai’s, check out his official site at stansakai.com.

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– Orion T

*Stan Sakai said a few names of places I think, but couldn’t quite make them out in the recording. My apologies to the audience and Stan Sakai on this.

SW Interviews Empowered comics writer/artist Adam Warren

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Comics writer/artist creative Adam Warren has entertained readers for over two decades with a signature style and wit.

Older school fans may know him from his work with Dirty Pair (Eclipse, Dark Horse publishers), and Gen-13. Since then, Warren produced his style through various comics, often with anime/manga influences combined with humorous tones, while poking fun on modern sexism in comics art. Currently through Dark Horse Publishing, Warren brings us the Empowered superheroine..

Warren’s Empowered series remains his most ambitious creative work to date, released in thick medium-sized trade paperback sized volumes. The pages within showcase the life of the self-conscious superheroine Empowered, whose powers come at the price of shrinking costume and repeat captivity. Empowered is full of action, humor, and fun.

I met with Adam Warren while he was sketching at the Udon Entertainment booth, during the 2015 San Diego Comic Con. We had a chat which led to a revealing look at his Empowered series, and more. The details of this conversation follows:

Hello Adam. First off, it’s awesome to meet you here at the Udon booth here at Comic Con, but now I am curious as to what you have going on with this company…

Warren: Off and on, I have done assorted Street Fighter based work for my friends at Udon. I actually wrote a little something for them in an upcoming project that I am not sure has been announced yet. But, it was a great deal of fun. I have always loved the Street Fighter universe, where I enjoy playing around. It’s always refreshing to do something for my friends at Udon.

So, who is your favorite Street Fighter character?

Warren: That would be Cammy!

Cammy Sketch

Aw yeah!

On to your current Empowered comic book series.. These books are a lot of fun and chock full of campy good times. Where does that energy and inspiration comes from?

Warren: That’s a tough one. It’s a weirdly kind of based on life experiences and things that kind of happened to people I know, with conversations I have had in real life. It’s not obvious, because I never would never do autobiographical stuff in a million years. But, a lot of it is things that I have seen happen, that sort of inspired me to think how friends of mine would react to this kind of thing.

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Emp is partially based on several different women I have known, who kind of dealt with insecurities but overcome them with sheer force of will. It’s a kind of a combo of real life stuff and things I see or read about that, which would be kind of fun to address. The good thing about Empowered is that I can do whatever I want with it. I am not locked into a limited page count or I can take tangents and fun story variants without worrying how it fits into an overarching stream of continuity. Its openness and flexibility that lends itself to whatever I think is appropriate in a story.

That kind answers my second question on Emp. On, if she was directly based on anyone you may know..

Warren: I wouldn’t say directly. When I was doing Magical Drama Queen Roxy, I interviews a couple of friends of mine and I would come up with their perceptions and break out with my own mold of thinking of what a younger female character would do, and Emp is sort of derived from a lot of that work and theories I had when working on Gen-13. In a way, she is sort of an unholy combination of Roxy and Caitlin from Gen-13; a sort of the good girl Caitlin girl crossed with the insecurities of Roxy. In an interesting sort of a way she is that combination of the two.

Your Gen-13 work was awesome back in the day. I loved the hell out of that.

Warren: Thank you very much.

So. you may have you have heard about the recent controversy on that Spider-Woman cover of Marvel Comics with artist Milo Manara. I would love to hear your thoughts on that..

Warren: Definitely. It is a very different audience for us back in the day. I don’t know really..It’s one of those things I should like with the flexibility of Empowered to deal with some of the issues of objectification in its various forms.

We can just leave it at that.

Warren: Yeah, I usually stay the hell out of controversies when they grow online. But, I think that with Empowered, I heard we have a substantial female readership that seems to relate to the characters. I like to hope that I do the best I can to make Emp not nothing but an object. I see her as a human being. I don’t feel it’s that difficult to stay away and not go over the line. But your lines may vary.

But, I do feel there is a bit of meta commentary on that subject with Empowered..

Warren: Yeah, I feel the meta commentary and a semi-deconstruction of varied weird super-heroine tropes that are out there..though we actually traffic in the tropes and say at the time that some people have issues with. But we had pretty good response and really pleased despite the off-putting elements that Empowered is pretty well received by a female readership. I’m happy about that and if I knew it was going to be a continuing series, there would have been aspects I would play down from the very beginning..

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It actually evolved from a bunch of damsels in distress commissions during a time when my career was effectively dead. So, I got bored with that and it got turned into a real comic on what I was thinking on what goes through the mind and what someone has to put up with this crap that super-heroines have to deal with. It’s kind of where the whole series comes from. As it would relate to how someone in that position would think. The entire series derives from that, and it sort of took on a life of its own. I feel it’s kind of humanizing the sort of C-list superheroine…I like to hope.

I think so. Now, I wondering what favorite female characters might have influenced your style on the female form. I have some guesses, and wondering if they match..

Warren: When I was a kid. I didn’t actually care for the comics but was a big Wonder Woman fan from the TV show more than anything else. But, DC Comics was rather boring in the 70s and Marvel was much more exciting.

Hmm…She Hulk?

Warren: Oh yeah..And back in the day, Shanna the She Devil, of which I am actually drawing right now (see pic below). I was reading some of that back in the day. But, there wasn’t a ton of super-heroines coming out in Marvel.

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Ah, I see. Though, I was thinking of Cutey Honey and anime women of that classic era of “Japanimation..”

Warren: I wasn’t thinking anime or manga, until I was a grown-up. I didn’t grow up with any of that stuff. My first exposure to the Dirty Pair wasn’t until I was 18 or so. Clearly the thing with the heroines in manga and anime were much more important and influential to me than American comics ever were, since that point.

Dirty Pair was your first work, right?

Warren: Oh yeah. I was so taken with the characters that I thought they would make a great American comic, and I went lively off trying to develop that.

I loved that work. So, with Empowered: Volume 9 coming out and to those dedicated fans out there, could you share a bit on what to expect in your latest installment?

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Warren: Yes! Volume 9 deals with the the fact due to that Emp is able to access a super alien arsenal. You don’t need to read volume 8 to follow it. But in that aftermath, she is now the literally the most dangerous human on the planet, because of her access to the super weapons. So, in volume 9, essentially all the major super villains in the Empowered universe are coming after her, and she is going to have to outfight and outwit and outthink and outstrategize pretty much all the major super-villains. So, it’s her alone against an endless sea of super-villains wanting to exploit her for access. It’s focusing on her more in than the last couple with Volumes 7 and 8 focused on Ninjette and Sister Spooky. Volume 9 is very much Emp-centric.

So, a silly question for my curiosity. Let’s say somewhere out there a studio with millions of Disney dollars decides to produce a live action Emp movie that could work. Who would you picture as perfect to play Emp? And have you ever thought about this?

Warren: I haven’t actually. I am trying to think..hmm, actually…that’s not entirely true. I think her name is Maika Monroe.. She was the star of It Follows, a recent indie horror flick. She would make a great Emp, actually.

Ah! With Emp or otherwise, are there any other future projects from you in the works?

Warren: After Empowered volume 9 comes out, I am working on a yet unannounced Empowered one shot entirely by me, and I am lining up some other Emp guest artists on some projects. And I am kind of nosing around some writing-only jobs, that I will hopefully pitch to Image. And, I got some stuff in the pipeline I can’t really talk about but with negotiating possible an interesting Empowered crossover..

Oh?

Warren: But, I can’t really talk about.

Hmm. Well, for my final question.. do you have a message to fans, longtime, and potential new fans of Empowered?

Warren: Thanks for every much for the support over the years, as my career has been extraordinarily rocky, but very pleasing too. We got to shows and run into people that were long time fans or new fans who support the work. I feel very honored, and really inspiring to me. I am very glad people appreciate the work..

And thank you, Adam Warren!

Empowered: Volume #9, is out now on the shelves of better retail bookstores and comic stores everywhere, from Dark Horse Publishing. Earlier volumes are also available through retail book outlets stores, and via online apps that carry current Dark Horse titles.

– Orion T

SW Interview with comics artist Colleen Coover – on Bandette, her world and inspirations.

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(Above: writer Paul Tobin with artist Colleen Coover)

The greatest thief in the world.

That’s Bandette from Bandette, a fan-favorite comic series originally published by Monkeybrain Studios in digital format, and later printed in collected hardcover book format by Dark Horse Publishing. Bandette is the creative work of writer Paul Tobin, and artist (also married to) Colleen Coover. Since her début in 2012, Bandette has stolen the hearts of many with rave reviews, and multiple Eisner Award nominations (winning for Best Digital Comic in 2013).

During the last San Diego Comic Con, I chatted with Colleen Coover. We talked much about Bandette, as she revealed some fantastic insight on our delightful artful dodger…

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From your own perspective..tell us about the character Bandette, her world and motivations.

Coover: Bandette is the greatest thief in the world. from writer Paul Tobin who is my husband, I am the artist. She lives in a France that never has been, never will be, a France of our creation. It’s our American ideal, basically.

I can’t say she robs from the rich and steals from the poor. She messes with the rich and powerful and evil, then sometimes through her own capriciousness, sometimes ends up helping other people. She is basically good at cards. She loves fun and adventure and that’s her whole thing.

As the artist working with Paul Tobin..would you share a little insight on bringing Bandette to life through these pages, especially with those fantastic colors and her look?

Coover: Well, we knew we wanted a teen girl. And, she is influenced by a character from actual French serial novels called Fantômette. I never read any Fantômette, but it’s a French sort of Nancy Drew super heroine in a series of illustrated novels. She wears a yellow tunic with a red cape and a little black beanie hat with a long tassle. So I was influenced by that, and Bandette’s look is similar. It’s red and yellow and there are other basic differences. But, I went with red because I am a big believer that red is the most eye-catching color in a comic book.

I agree (which initially drew me to the book).

Coover: Yeah, right?! Right after yellow. I use a lot of yellow. I use a lot of red. I use a little bit of green, a little bit of blue sometime in the background..not much. But, if there is a character who needs to catch the eye, that character is in red. There is a reason why all the iconic superheroes are primary colors. It’s because they’re the colors that really catch your eye. Secondary colors don’t reject your eye, but they sort of fade into the background..your purples, greens, oranges.

Yeah, I think that’s one of the cornerstones of Marvel’s success.

Coover: Right!

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Now that Bandette: Volume 2 is out. Could you share a little bit about changes in Bandette and her world, since Volume 1, from your perspective..

Coover: Things get a tiny bit darker in Volume 2. Stakes are a little bit higher. There is an evil character called Il Tredici that we introduce. He is a strangler. He will stranger the hell out of a guy. We wanted to up the stakes to maintain the fun, and have the story with a little bit more richness of emotion, so it’s not just this sprite running around this ParisSmarish or whatever..

There are stakes as we are continuing on that line in Volume 3, where things are a little bit dangerous. Part of adventure is just facing nature, and that’s what Bandette is all about. There are little more elements of danger, a little more serious, and emotions to Bandette because things could go wrong. But you know, she is still just having a really good time!

So after that and forward in future issues, will the setting for Bandette be always be in France?

Coover: I don’t think we will change it very much. It’s very much a false Europe. Europe is the home of Bandette because in her head, it’s a European comic. We are totally Americans and we don’t speak any foreign languages. We do this as people have traveled very little, but we have an appreciation for the European style of comics that we are trying to channel. We are not not trying to homage or imitate, but channel through our American skills.

Are there any European comics you personally enjoy or draw inspiration from?

Coover: I grew up reading Asterix, Tintin. There are others I have forgotten. There is a duo, …..Kerascoet?!* It’s French. They did a comic called Miss Don’t Touch Me. That really formed my style for a little while. Especially, when I was first creating the style of Bandette.”

Are there any other projects for Bandette that may extend beyond the comics?

Coover: Not to my knowledge (laughs).

I would love an action figure!

Coover: Yeah , me too!

Are there any other projects on your own or with Paul Tobin coming up?

I am solely working on Bandette as far as storytelling is concerned..otherwise the occasional alternative cover for the new Archie, with Mark Waid and Fiona Staples. I did a variant cover for Plants vs Zombies**, and there might be come more in the future. These are jobs I can take and get back to the comic.

Final message to fans of Bandette and potential fans of Bandette reading this?

Coover: Have fun!

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Bandette Volume 1: Presto and Volume 2: Stealers Keepers are both out right now on the shelves of better retail bookstores and comic stores everywhere, from Dark Horse Publishing. Current versions are hardcover bound, with many surprises extras including the “Urchin Stories” shorts set in Bandette’s world by various artists. For new single issues, check out Monkey Brain Studios for apps and downloads.

– Orion T

*Hubert (author) and Kerascoet (Illustrator). **also written by Paul Tobin

Exclusive Interview – Tim Seeley – The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

STRANGER WORLDS INTERVIEW:

Writer Tim Seeley, of the Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (now on shelves from Dark Horse Comics).

By the Power of Grayskull..

Those words forever echo in the minds through fandom, for over three decades. These words of Prince Adam would begin the transformation from mild-mannered prince of Eternia into the muscle-bound hero, He-Man. Now he and and the Masters of the Universe have an acclaimed 320-page full-color book detailing the art, history, and fantastic insight into this ever-expanding iconic franchise.

The hardcover book was made possible through the dedicated work of writer/artist Tim Seeley (Hack/Slash, G.I. Joe vs. Transformers), and his brother Steve Seeley. Together, they assembled most of the content and notations for this tribute.

At the 2015 San Diego Comic Con, I met Tim Seeley as we discussed The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. We also chatted a bit about his favorite He-Man toys and thoughts on this Eternian pop-culture powerhouse..

From your perspective, tell us about the Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe book, and how you got involved?

Tim Seeley: I’ve worked for Dark Horse for a number of years, on some horror comics, and they got the deal with Mattel to do the mini-comics that were packed with the figures. They knew I was a big fan of MOTU as I talked to my editors and they were sick of me hearing and talking about it,…so when the possibility came up do to an art book, they asked me if I can do it. I was a little busy at the time but I wasn’t going to turn it down. So, what if I work on this with my brother (Steve), who is also an artist and a writer. He and I can get together and be like when we were kids playing with He-Man toys, except we would be writing a book about the art.

So, we got together. Mattel had a bunch of art for us to choose from and they also asked us if there was anything that we thought should be in the book. We picked up a bunch of art and sent it to them. With a group of fans, who curated and preserved MOTU art, called the Power and Honor Foundation and we worked with them to get some of the art. They helped us write some of the sections of the book that were there areas of expertise and in the end we put together this amazing collection of MOTU art covering the toys, the packaging, the cartoon, the comics, the movie, the magazine, and some weird products and cool into one big, massive tome.

Tell us about your own connection to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. How long you have been a fan?

Tim Seeley: So, I grew up in the country. I didn’t have a lot of neighbors when I was a kid. When I was five years old, my grandma got me the He-Man and Battle Cat set. For some reason it clicked with me on the box art, with a sort of lava spewing out of a volcano and some barbarian dude with a giant tiger, and I liked tigers as a kid. And it was the perfect thing for me, and I begged my parents to buy me the toys. The comic that came with the toy was the first comic I ever read and loved it so many times it just fell apart and it put me on the path of comics after that. The cartoon came about 6 months after I got that toy..and it was such a part of me and my brothers playtime. As we were little kids in the country with not a lot of neighbor kids, the collecting of the MOTU of the toys and playing with them, the comics, and cartoon where a huge part of our childhood.

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When I was 13 as 13-year-olds are, I sold my MOTU toys at a rummage sale for $30, all of them. I used the money so I can hang out with my friends at a Brewers game or something. As a 20-year-old I realized, o-crap I miss my He-Man guys! So at 20, I started to collect them again. Between 20-35 years I collected the figures. I had mostly everything except for some European exclusives. But, I have lots of He-Man guys, lots of knock-offs, almost all the She-Ra figures, and that became my passion. I decided I needed a hobby, as He-Man became my hobby.

Which MOTU figures are your personal favorites?

Tim Seeley: Teela is my favorite. As I a kid, I had weird crush on that figure. And then, Faker, the blue He-Man. For some reason on the color scheme of that toy, me and my brother just loved it. To this day we had this weird affection for that combination of orange and blue..just from that toy. Dragon Blast Skeletor, as a kid I loved with the squirting. Sy-Clone was also a favorite as a kid..really cool. The thing is when we were kids, as my parents were nice and bought us all these toys. What we would do is we would try and split them up into factions. We would try for the entire line, but with three brothers. For example, I get King Hiss, you get Tongue Lasher, you get Rattler, and cover all the Snake Men this way. That was a big deal in my house.

In putting together this book, was there anything in particular that surprised or found especially interesting you in discovery?

Tim Seeley: Well, as me and my brother discovered the internet in 1996 or whatever..we already begun collecting information for years..with pictures, anything we could find, we have putting on our discs and hard drives for the past 15-20 years almost. So most of the you’re stuff familiar with, a lot of it on the account of the popular website He-Man.org run by Val Staples, and Emiliano Santalucia who runs the Power and Honor Foundation..we knew a lot of stuff from that. Mostly the fun things we have not seen that were surprises to us were the original marking documents that Mattel had done and they had. It was really entertaining to see how they came up with the boys toy line, and what they thought would make a good boys toy line, which was pretty amazing.

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And also, a segment of the MOTU movie script which was really violent, and had all these notes from the executives that was like..no, it’s a kids show, no severed heads.” We love that stuff and it was something we never seen and that was something Mattel had.. and it was great to just see the screenwriters trying to get away with anything they could and Mattel would be like no, we need to sell these to 10-year-olds..not give them terrible nightmares.

Is any of that in book?

Tim Seeley: Oh yeah, those pages are in the book..the original marking documents and the script page.

Yes! Are there any favorite artists of He-Man your favorite in this book, past and present?

Tim Seeley:  Earl Norem is my favorite past Universe artist. Earl Norem did all the posters that came with the magazine, he recently passed away but he had a long career in illustration. When he took on He-Man he became one of the defining artists on it. William George was also the painter and did a lot of the original packaging art, beautiful stuff. Whenever I saw He-Man, it was his packaging art. Alfredo Alcala drew the original mini-comics, continued to draw some of the main comics, an amazing artist who worked on Conan, was from the Philippines. With fantastic stuff, beautiful art; he really defined what I choose as my art style to this day.

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After so many decades of He-Man being a part of pop culture, what is about He-Man and the world of Eternia do you feel kept such a large fan base for so long?

Tim Seeley: My theory is that is that the toys came first. It was all about the toys, and the selling of the toys and the toys looked cool. They didn’t need a justification. This guy is called Blast Attack and he blows apart, there ya go..that’s the story. And over time, people added to the mythos and there is different conflicted origins for the characters. But the thing is the toys are so flexible that you can add your own story to it. You can choose what to go with one story, any iteration with them could be a different take on the characters.. It’s the flexibility of the figures that I think is very inviting to fans. You can have a favorite character because they are cool. In your head they can have a different story that was in the mini-comic, or the cartoon, or in the DC comic, it didn’t matter.  Zodac the Cosmic Enforcer.. he was a bad guy in some iterations. He was a watcher in the distance for some. It didn’t matter. He just looked cool. So, I think that idea allowed MOTU to be flexible, to able to change to fit and fit the audience. Also, to be very inviting and allow the audience to come in and add their own tale to it.

So what’s next from Eternia for you? Will there be more MOTU projects for you coming?

Tim Seeley: Dark horse is doing an edition, collecting all the mini-comics (from the toys) with the entire history of the Masters of the Universe, which is about 1000 pages. It comes out in November. I have an interviews in that, as I am working on it. It is a great book, with Val Staples (He-Man.org) who is putting that together..beautiful.

For the future, I got to do my Masters of the Universe thing. I was certainly well to write for it at some point with part of my interaction of this as a fan. I feel good about not circumposing my will on it. But if a comic came up, I would certainly like to do a cover or draw an issue. I’m just happy I got to do this art book, and the mini-comics. Now I get to watch the next generation enjoy the Masters of the Universe like I did.

The Art of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is out in stores now in hardcover (released in mid-spring) Look for it at all the great comic book shops and retail book stores in your area or online.

– Orion T, (personal favorite MOTU toys are Cy-Clone, Modulok, Tongue-Lasher and Moss-Man.)

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW – Paul Cornell, Tony Parker – THIS DAMNED BAND comic series

STRANGER WORLDS EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW:

Writer Paul Cornell and Artist Tony Parker, on their new comic book mini-series, This Damned Band (starting this August from Dark Horse Comics).

Tony Parker, Paul Cornell

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(Tony Parker, Paul Cornell)

We had fun at the 2015 San Diego Comic Con in chatting with Paul Cornell; award-winning writer of comics, novels, short stories and television screenplays (his Doctor Who episodes “Family of Blood/Human Nature” and “Father’s Day” being among my personal favorites).

To my surprise and an awesome bonus, we were joined by Eisner-nominated artist, Tony Parker. Parker has published work with pretty much all the main comic book publishers over the recent years including Marvel, DC, IDW, Image, IDW, Boom!, Dark Horse.

And now, they unite to form this dark comedy mini-series published by Dark Horse, This Damned Band – a tale of rock n’ roll and occult devilry. In person at the Dark Horse booth, they shares with us more on this project of which we asked questions and got some intriguing answers…

From your own introductory perspective, share with us what your new series This Damned Band is all about..

Paul Cornell: This Damned Band is about the biggest rock band in 1974. We like to say in a pretentious British way that they worship the devil only to discover that to their surprise and horror that actually, they worship the devil. It’s a Ghostbusters style horror comedy. It’s told straight to camera like The Office. There are all sorts of different levels to it, as we have people saying one thing and doing another.

Interesting. How did this idea come together for Dark Horse to publish? 

Paul Cornell:  We came together as I pitched it to Dark Horse, and they gave me a choice of artists. Tony’s work is incredible,

Tony Parker: I was very lucky.

What were your personal inspirations in bringing together This Damned Band?

Paul Cornell:  I really like stories where people are very good at one thing, and blindsided by something completely different. Because in this case, they are insisting all the time they know all about better the thing…there is a certain deliciousness to that, I think..

The timing of the early 70s, where the idea of rock music being fresh is an interesting era and a turning point for pop-culture. Then along comes the devil and the idea of this being his music by some religious groups? What was it for these bands, do you think made this connection  as “devil music”?

Paul Cornell:  Well, there was a point in the 70s where occultism is much more pop than it is now and it’s a really interesting time. Dennis Wheatley is suddenly becoming popular again even before the Exorcist, and the Stones recording, “Sympathy for the Devil.” I think there is a part of the counter-culture also seemed to be against organized religion. And that went quite a lot into what a lot of musicians talked about at the time. I’m sure a lot of it was sheer pretense, and that really intrigues me. I think there is something about people pretending to believe stuff which is really interesting.

Tony Parker:  That combined with conservatives saying “that’s devil music!” Okay for devil music we will bring it, in fact well make money off it. So with a big counter-culture, we get all the teen money, therefore it adds into it.

Did either of you listen to any music that were frowned upon by the elders, considered perhaps to be that “devil music?”

Tony Parker:  All music of the youth..that’s one thing about it.

Paul Cornell: That’s what music is for when your 14. But you know, I’m slightly the wrong generation for that, as I was born in 1967..so I was out of my age precisely for the teenage audience, so I missed. But one of my earliest memories is with my brother who is a lot older than me who lived in a squat in London, and I remember going down a flight of stairs and seeing a mural painted on the wall of a cellar which was an enormous devil. I suspect that buried memory has resurfaced for This Damned Band.

I would love to see that turn up somehow in this book, perhaps.

Tony Parker: We shall find out.

Tony Parker: For me ..I lived in a very conservative area so that was anything that wasn’t soft mellow 70s gold. Even though that wasn’t the 70s, it was after the 70s so that was still the devil music. In the 80s and 90s, we had the metal bands, the hair bands, thrash bands, punk bands were all. The only thing that isn’t, (and I love Barry Manilow) that wasn’t Barry Manilow was a tool of the devil.

With your fictional band, Motherfather.. I’m sensing an amalgam of different bands here and there but are there any in particular pop bands for you that eclipsed the others in the bringing to fictional life, this band?

Paul Cornell:  I think there is satire and certain tropes that recur, so in Motherfather we certainly have the Who, the Stones, Led Zeppelin in there..certainly lead as Tony draws them to be absolutely perfect amalgam of them.,, Robert Palmer, Roger Daltrey and Mick Jagger…

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Tony Parker: And that’s why we did it..part of it was because I wanted to people think..I really love Mick Jagger or I really hate  Mick Jagger..so that’s going to affect the story..with more nuances of its got hints of this, or that as a measure of tropes a bit and play with that so they can enjoy the concepts of the character versus the logging in of the specific creator.

As the series progresses, what can us readers expect to absorb of this strange world of occultism and rock music?

Paul Cornell:  One of the joys of this is because it’s all meant to be filmed, there are certain sequences where they couldn’t film it.. So like the road trip in the first issue is related to a local artist who than has to draw it..like when a court reporter has to draw for television on the news. So in Issue 1, the local artist is Japanese..so Tony had the idea of doing it in a manga style.

Tony Parker: Which I never drawn manga before..but I love manga. I am a huge Otomo fan and Matsumoto Shiro, and we are trying to find a manga style that was 1972, 73,74 so that we can fit into that as well..and treat it with respect.

Paul Cornell:  In later issues we go to France so we get some Tintin, and some Windsor McCay in there..

In your plans, is This Damned Band a limited series or are there plans for a continuation for years ahead?  

Tony Parker: It’s a finite series,  and a complete story. I think a lot of people will appreciate that. It’s not a volume 1, with a trailer for 500 issues. You have the whole thing alone which you can enjoy by itself.

After this, are there any future projects to your fans and followers of this work to look forward to?

Paul Cornell:  Coming up in September..I have a novella coming up from Tor.com called called Witches of Lychford, which is about 3 women who are brought together to fight the supernatural evil of a new supermarket chain.

What?! (laughing with interest)

Paul Cornell:  And, I got a collection of short stories coming out in September called A Better Way to Die.

Tony Parker: I can’t say right now but I got a project set up right after this..but I got to say, its got a long history to it..and I’m real excited about it!

My curiosity senses are tingling. I look forward to all that and This Damned Band. Thanks for sharing! 

This first issue of This Damned Band is scheduled to come out on August 5th, 2015 and continue monthly for a limited time. Look for it at all the great comic book shops, stands, and digital apps that carry current Dark Horse published titles.

– Orion T

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