COMMANDER RAO – A DYSTOPIAN ACTION ONE SHOT
From: Fell Hound (story/art) and Lettersquids (letters/logo)
Set in a sci-fi future after a decade of warfare against the despot Baron Klaus, a rogue embittered soldier decides to storm the Baron’s manor and kill him herself. A year later, stories are sung of her heroism, but the mystery of her motives remain. Thus begins the tale of COMMANDER RAO, a thrilling fast-paced action comic of how violence begets violence, and how all the heroics of warfare are meaningless in the eyes of what has been lost. According to Fell Hound “Commander Rao is a 28-page dystopian one-shot told through blazing action and minimal dialogue. Inspired by animated fight scenes from shows such as Legend of Korra and Castlevania, the aim was to create a unique, cinematic action comic with a focus on flow and dynamism; while still telling a deeply personal story of broken friendships and survivor’s guilt. It’s a bit sci-fi John Wick with grappling hooks and a comic for anyone who enjoys sci-fi/dystopian genres, intense action sequences and character driven narratives.” I’m not sure about you folks, but sci-fi dystopia with a John Wickish lead running around splashing Legend of Korra and Castlevania type action on the pages? Yup, I’m in. It is very clear from the preview art (hang tight for two EXCLUSIVE pages) that Fell has captured the dynamism she was after in the approach to the action sequences. From what we can see this is shaping up as an excellent display of Fell’s ability. The entire tone and structure stands in contrast to her work with Do You Believe in an Afterlife? (our review linked below). In terms of her portfolio it is a perfect partner piece to that in regards to showing off the range and capabilities of her art. Because of the stark difference in approach that Fell has taken with Commander Rao I reached out to her to get some details on this new project:
Where/how did this story originate?
My portfolio had been lacking some action scenes, so my original intention was to make a short action comic to practice. I used to have a sketchbook of random sci-fi soldiers and designs that I didn’t want to go to waste as well. Commander Rao’s signature look ended up being a mix of those early soldier designs, with some inspiration after Lady Maria from Bloodborne and French Revolution fashion.
At the same time while I was brainstorming ideas for this action short, I was writing an outline to a different dystopian war story. Eventually as I was working on both comics the ideas began to crossover and I decided to expand my short comic into a full one-shot. Thus began what I’ve been calling “Dystopian War Project” – a series of two one-shots that include Commander Rao and its upcoming prequel comic!
From the preview art and description the focus is on
the action to tell the story. Was this a choice from the
get go or did it develop as you started working on it?
Yup! My main priority for Commander Rao was always to draw a visually striking action comic and push my art a little. A few years ago, my friend and I were discussing action in films. He mentioned how action in a lot of films these days featured very quick cuts, sometimes to the point he felt they were losing focus and becoming nauseating. Whereas in some older films where the action had longer cuts, he was better able to appreciate the flow and choreography better.
I thought about what he said and wanted to apply that into my own comics work. Instead of a fight scene collage I wanted a fight scene that flowed and made people appreciate the movement from one panel to the next. I didn’t want the action to lose momentum as the pages turned.
The synopsis itself begs this question, just how much have you packed into this 28 page one shot?
To be honest this is a one-shot that treats itself like an animated 10-minute short film. It was developed from the ground up as a short story that expanded to a slightly bigger story rather than a grand epic scaled down. Action aside, it’s very narrative focused, character driven and light on exposition. Most of the story is told in real-time as we follow Rao through her rampage across the Baron’s property. Whenever I write I like to keep things succinct and remind myself: simple is best. That doesn’t mean the story won’t have some surprises, but I tried not to add in anything that would take away focus.
How far flung in the future are we in Commander Rao?
Commander Rao takes place in the year 2X74 😉 So I’d say just far enough that they’ve invented rocket boots and 50 ft tank-mechs haha!
While a one-shot, is there more to the tale of Commander Rao?
Oh yes! Commander Rao was developed to be a one-shot that while standalone, is “part one” of a much deeper story about the crux of the narrative: a heart-wrenching tale of friendship. It is my hope that Commander Rao can introduce the characters and their relationships in an engaging way while still making people curious. And then we will eventually go back in time to the prequel where those relationships are expanded upon and some burning questions can be finally answered.
Just how big of a glimpse of the bigger world will we get?
When it comes to worldbuilding I prefer the art to tell itself. While there are mentions of bigger world events, much of that is no longer the focus of Rao’s interests. For example, “The War”, which at the start of Commander Rao is standing on its last legs, serves as a background catalyst for the characters current circumstances but is never the forefront. For this particular chapter of Rao’s story, Rao has a very singular goal that narrows her worldview dramatically, and the comic very much reflects that perspective. The war will have a more important part to play in the prequel to come. But for now, Rao’s one-woman mission against the Baron takes the spotlight.
There you have it folks! Commander Rao looks to be a fantastic new crowd-funded project. I loved the work from fell that I dove into previously and this is giving me every reason to be excited about taking in even more! Click below to get alerted when the campaign kicks off!
BACK THE PROJECT NOW!
Fell Hound is a queer, Asian-Canadian cartoonist from Toronto, most notable for her bold cinematic style and use of lighting. She began her work in various fan zines and anthologies before launching her debut narrative zine Do You Believe in an Afterlife? in 2019 (our review here). Between Commander Rao, she is currently working on two anthology comics to be published by Boston Comics Roundtable later this year.
LetterSquids is a letterer and graphic designer who has worked on several amazing indie comics, including projects with Scout, Action Lab, Advent Comics, Insight Comics and many others. His comic Antares Finest (with art by ErrorBound) won the titles of “Best Comic” and “Best Lettering” on r/comicbookcollabs’ 2019 Untold Worlds Anthology.