Kickstarter Spotlight: Commander RAO

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.   

KICKSTARTER SPOTLIGHT: A. Guardian

Eastin DeVerna: co-creator, writer
Kay Baird: co-creator, art
Shawn Daley: letters, logo
Grim Wilkins: back up story art

“High up in the Windy Mountains, there is a tomb. And there are rumors about this tomb.”
Aylward is the ancient guardian of The Tomb of Livia. When the Northern, Middle, and Southern kingdoms of the Great Sphere plunge into a three-pronged war once again events are set in motion that will trigger the beginning of the end times, and Aylward will soon find that the fate of the realm is a heavy weight to bear, indeed. 

SYNOPSIS:
A. Guardian is a character driven epic fantasy, highlighting five main players from across the kingdoms and their struggles for power, love, belonging, and survival in a fantastical, mysterious, and hard-hearted world. Think: Game of Thrones meets Iron Giant. 

That’s one heck of a combo for a description of what one can expect upon tearing into the pages of your project. Each of those titles elicits a very particular tone and look. From the preview that we’ve had a chance to look over A. Guardian appears to be up to the task. The setting is very much “of the North” and the glimpse we got of Aylward is certainly befitting of an Iron Giant comparison. We spoke to co-creator and writer, Eastin DeVerna, to get a bit more info and see just what this newest project is all about:

Ok, so you and Shawn Daley have worked together as most know. How about Kay Baird and Grim Wilkins? How did they come aboard for this project?

I was a huge fan of Kay’s art from the second I saw it, and she’s a fantastic story teller. There is one piece in particular that really stood out to me that she did, it’s a massive sort of golem creature, looming and still, with this huge sword, and that was exactly the kind of vibe I had in mind for Aylward from A. Guardian. So once there was enough material of A. Guardian to get going into production, I reached out, pitched the idea and luckily she really liked it and came on board — it’s been a blast working with Kay on this book!
I’ve always loved Grim’s art as well, since I first saw his work on Mirenda. He had done some work on covers for some other things I’d written, one being The Runner (the other soon to be announced!) and I would always tell him to let me know the second he had some free time to collaborate on something a little bigger. The timing with A. Guardian was perfect, I had the idea for the short story, right around the same time he let me know that he had a little opening — it’s such a fun little story and I can’t wait for everyone to check it out!

GoT meets Iron Giant … What aspects of these properties are on display in A. Guardian?

A. Guardian is set in a massive, epic fantasy world, certainly dark at times, with a focus on multiple characters from all over — they’re all intertwined and their decisions and actions have huge repercussions on one another, even if they don’t know it right away.
In regards to Iron Giant, through the lens of epic fantasy, A. Guardian explores the question of morality being inherent, or simply a construct and a facade, as well as exploring the concept of free will and whether or not it exists as an illusion. Without getting too spoilery we wanted to explore that aspect of choice, which always resonated with me in Iron Giant.


We’ve got the tomb itself and the guardian but what is the true nature of the relationship between the two (spoiler free version)?

That’s the big secret! I can’t really get into that without spoiling it! #whatsinthetomb haha

There’re 3 kingdoms and 5 main players (of which I’m guessing our tomb guardian is one). There’s an extra there, do I smell something afoot?

Three of our main characters (including Aylward the guardian) hail from the Middle Kingdom of Kanoc, where the Tomb of Livia is. Then we have a warrior from the Southern Kingdom of Sul, and then the queen of the beast folk from the Northern Kingdom of Thirio. Their stories are all connected in one way or another, some more so than others.

The plan is for 2 volumes so is it safe to assume we’ve got a big world to explore?

Oh yes, massive. Volume I is our first arc, we get to know the characters, learn about the lore and legend of this world and things really start heating up. Volume II will absolutely explore more of this world while continuing and finishing out the main story arc.

Anything specific about the book or creative team you’d like to share?

Really, we just want to say thanks to everyone who’s supported us and is taking a chance on this book. We’ve all worked long and hard at it (still are) and just can’t wait to get the book out into the world

BACK THE PROJECT HERE! – LIVE NOW!

Get in touch with the creative team:
@HijackedKay: co-creator, art
@EastinDeverna: co-creator, writer
@ShawnDaley: letters
@grimwilkins: back up story art

KICKSTARTER SPOTLIGHT: Democritus Brand and the Endless Machine

You good folks know we love us some creator published goodness. Well, right now on Kickstarter one of our absolute favorite writers has a campaign for the first two (of a planned six) issues of Democritus Brand and the Endless Machine. For this series Cullen Bunn has teamed with JimmyZ Johnston (writers), Federico de Luca (art), Simon Bowland (letters), Gary Bedell (logo), and Baldemar Rivas (variant cover). We got in touch with Cullen to find out more about the project and what’s in store. Immediately he had a surprise for us!

First and foremost, thank you for taking the time! It is greatly appreciated.
Cullen Bunn: Hey there! I had JimmyZ Johnston, my co-writer, come in on some of these, too! Thank you! The support means the world to us!

Let’s start with the creative team and how it came together …
CB: Jimmy and I have known each other for a long time now. We used to go to horror writer conventions years ago. And Jimmy was the editor on my prose middle reader horror novel, CROOKED HILLS. To put it mildly, Jimmy’s crazy as Hell, but he’s my kind of crazy. He dreams big, comes up with wild ideas. We’ve done a few comics together, and we’ve been kicking around the idea for a steampunk/horror adventure for some time. I don’t even remember how Federico and I first got in touch, but I really liked his art style, and I wanted to do a book with him. It took a little while to find it, but DEMOCRITUS BRAND AND THE ENDLESS MACHINE seemed right up his alley. Simon Bowland is doing the letters for us. I’ve worked with Simon on numerous projects and I know he’s great at what he does. He was the first person I contacted about lettering these books.
(cover to left is the regular cover)


Ok, so the description of the book is “Cosmic Horror in the Steampunk Era,” what led you to combine these two genres for this tale?
JimmyZ Johnston: Cosmic horror is something that I have been a fan of for as long as I can recall. Steampunk has fascinated me ever since I picked up the Girl Genius books from Phil Foglio (back when they were single copy books!) The question of what makes good horror is one I have asked for years. And one answer I always come back to is normalcy. For me the best horror stories are ones that take a normal setting and incorporate horror elements into it. Alien was an amazing sci-fi movie with a normal sci-fi setting. Adding the horror element to it made it perfect movie. For the book we created, taking a normal steampunk setting and adding in the horror elements is something that I hope sets it apart. 
CB: I started thinking about how the world became this steampunk dystopia. I wondered how such a technological revolution might have occured in a short period of time. The origins of the steampunk society–this mysterious mummy that was discovered just 20 years earlier–took us in some truly horrific directions. 

You’re no stranger to and certainly don’t shy away from the outlandish or unusual type of story. How far out there is Democritus Brand?

CB: This is a weird story, I won’t lie. We start out in what appears to be a fairly traditional steampunk adventure tale. There’s hijinks and daring-do and marvelous gadgets aplenty. As the story progresses, though, questions start to rise. Questions about humanity’s place in the world. Questions about cosmic forces that watch over us and play with us for their amusement. It’s a fun and haunting tale, I think, and what’s great is that when Jimmy and I work together, it’s a completely different voice and style of comic!


Did the combination of genres allow you to stretch the Cullen style that many are used to, in terms of what type of story we can expect?
CB: Yes, that allowed me to do some different things for sure. More than that, though, working with a co-writer moves the story in some different directions and gives the book a different kind of “voice.” You’ll see that it is a Cullen Bunn book, but you’ll also see that it is a JimmyZ book. And a Federico book, for that matter. I feel like it’s different from everything else I’ve ever done.
There’s a certain tone that comes with the term “cosmic horror” but the setting provides a unique outlet for it. How were you able to merge the two for this series?
JZ: Taking the Steampunk world into the lore of ancient Egypt let us play with the idea of the unknown with the idea that it has been here longer than we can imagine. Fusing cosmic horror with Egyptian mythology was a key aspect to the world building. The steampunk setting lets us forge a new path. It’s often said that there are no new stories. What excites readers (and creators) is taking elements and merging them in ways that create a uniqueness in storytelling.
How much re-imagining was needed in order to get the two very different stylistic approaches to come together?
JZ: I have always felt that the best stories come from the mingling of genres. Cullen and I talked a lot about the direction the world could go. Having our team as explorers allows us to branch out beyond the expectations of the genres. One aspect to the story we are telling that I think readers will enjoy is that both Cullen and I tend to approach any project with the intention of moving beyond the cliche expectations. So we were really starting with the idea of what would a steampunk world be like if I created it. And what would it be like if Cullen created it. Then we had the amazing artistic talent of Fede who took the concepts we were playing with and turned them into visual representations that added even more depth to the project.CB: What’s fun about world-building for me is that there is a moment where everything just “clicks” and falls into place. Once that happens, the world, the setting, the tone just comes together so smoothly. Merging the two genres was an exercise in world-building. Steampunk is baked into the world’s makeup. And the cosmic horror elements are baked into the steampunk elements, though you may not realize that right away. When the pieces fell into place for this story, it was electric. Well… steam-powered, at least. 

So how familiar will the aesthetic of this project be? 
CB: Federico is bringing his A game to this story, and he is leaning into some of the more familiar aesthetics of the steampunk genre. Of course, when the horror elements start manifesting, he’s taking the look and feel of the steampunk era in the most horrifying directions imaginable. That will turn things on its ear rather quickly.  
Did this combination of elements open anything up for you creatively? 
JZ: Every project brings with it new creative challenges and opportunities. The steampunk world does allow a variety of new ideas that aren’t ones that can be explored in more traditional world building. The horror elements tend to be floating around inside my head at all times, so letting them out to play just feels natural.
CB: Most certainly! We are playing in new territory for me… and it’s thrilling! Lots of new ideas–maybe too many new ideas–have been flooding into my head with this project. We could tell stories about this world for a long time to come!
Was their fluidity in what the end product was, versus at the start, once the creative team was together and involved in getting the project done?
JZ:  Cullen and I have known each other for almost 20 years now. When he was writing prose, I worked with him as an editor. The creative process for us with cowriting is one that is fairly seamless. The largest obstacle we encountered with this was me finding balance between writing time and day to day business time at the shop. It is interesting (for me) how the KickStarter project has changed the nature of it. Up until the time of launch there was a whole lot of isolation in the creative process. Seeing the response as readers are exposed to the project and begin backing it offers a lot of validation to the job of being a creator. CB: I feel like this has always been a very fluid process, really, from the initial brainstorming meetings through the scripts. It’s always been fun for me. It’s never been a “pulling teeth” scenario. 

What do you hope will be the takeaway from this series?
CB: As always, I really want readers to have fun with the book. There’s a lot going on in these pages. A lot to enjoy on every page. I think folks are really gonna dig this one. 
JZ: This initial foray into the world of Democritus Brand will be the launching point allowing us to further explore the world. Adding in new characters and trials for the current team. While the Endless Machine may be the first encounter readers have with Democritus Brand, it won’t be the last.
Again, thank you so much for taking the time!
CB: Thanks so much!

HUGE HUGE HUGE thank you to Cullen Bunn for taking the time to entertain the questions AND for bringing in co-writer JimmyZ to answer with him! That was a nice surprise. Finde out more about the campaign, see for yourself what all the hullabaloo is about, and back the project: DEMOCRITUS BRAND AND THE ENDLESS MACHINE

Get in touch with the creative team:
Cullen Bunn @cullenbunn
JimmyZ Johnston @jimmyzjohnston
Federico de Luca @kere6
Simon Bowland @simonbowland

DIES IRAE #1

CREATIVE TEAM

Matthew Rucker – @MonumentousMatt

SYNOPSIS:
In an arctic post-rapture apocalypse, where the last remaining humans can do nothing but hide to survive, one person discovers the key to fighting back against the denizens of heaven and hell.

There is as much, if not more power in silence than anything else. Too often it is what is NOT said that truly reveals. In DIES IRAE we are given an entirely silent comic and it works very well. In this post-rapture world the remaining humans must hide in order to survive. Taking the truth of their existence (silence isn’t just golden, but a matter of survival) and mirroring it in the structural presentation of the book helps create not only a unique atmosphere, but an effective device that allows the circumstances to do all the talking. The narrative and characters present themselves rather than literally being relayed to us. For me, it works in spades.

Despite being very obviously religiously undertoned, much of the book is left for the reader to make of it what they will. This is fine because they synopsis for the book gives what we need to make our own inferences: “In an arctic post-rapture apocalypse, where the last remaining humans can do nothing but hide to survive, one person discovers the key to fighting back against the denizens of heaven and hell.” From that we can glean what we need in order to follow along, get invested, and make heads/tails of it all. What is especially remarkable about the book is just how much story is told without a single word or sound effect being used. Color and background visuals fill and speak quite a bit if the reader takes the time to fully digest each page. Design choices and presentation of characters also lends to the who, what, and intent we’d otherwise be given in a non-silent book.

What Rucker pulls off in this book is just fantastic. A post rapture apocalyptic world sees its last inhabitants facing their impending doom. A virtuous individual with the help of a “third-eye” seeks to ward of what is apparently the extinction of the human race. Up against both Heaven and Hell we’re given a tale that should reek of desperation but doesn’t. It is almost hopeful. There’s clearly more to this and the stoic hero of the tale (who has a surprise reveal by the way) faces each moment that could possibly be the end, in grand fashion.

Take the time to nab a read of this one folks: https://www.comixology.com/DIES-IRAE-1/digital-comic/845122

BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE MY WORD FOR IT:
https://www.comicbookyeti.com/post/dies-irae-issue-1

The Rose Society #1

CREATIVE TEAM:

(w) Eddie Klinker –@EddieKlink
(a) Daimon Hampton – @daimondrewthis
(c/l)Jimmy Greenhalgh – @jimmygcolour

SYNOPSIS:
Adam Martinez and Marcus Veers quickly became best friends in the sixth grade but sadly as time marched on, into adulthood, their friendship fell to the wayside. It wasn’t until Marcus’ untimely death did Adam revisit his past and reopen old wounds. In doing so, he uncovered the truth behind Marcus’ demise and the discovery of the underground society he belonged to.

The ever present hidden demons we all suffer rear their ugly heads in The Rose Society #1. What we perceive to be the truth and what we think is real often ends up shattered by the revelations these demons bring. Upon the death of his best friend from childhood Adam finds himself face to face with his demon. The reality is he’d not kicked the old habit and his drug use proves to die hard. Grief, regret, and the weight of loss kick start a spiral for Adam that sees him find that Marcus’ mother has passed. No rest for the weary though as Adam is on the end of a seemingly unprovoked attack from his dealer. Surprise surprise though, he has a savior … and it shatters his reality. Marcus isn’t dead and comes to Adam’s rescue.

Secret lives and societies are always a good sell. The marriage of these with the element of a deeply personal relationship is an excellent hook. This inclusion helps create the stake for the reader in tandem with the characters. As the pages turn and the road gets ever winding it is hard not to be fully immersed and genuinely intrigued as to where the book is going. What is happening with this underground society and their plans? What is Marcus’ relationship to it and/or involvement. Is everything Adam knew a lie or something else entirely? How can all of it be resolved between Adam and Marcus? Can it be at all?

The underground society brings the thrilling conspiratorial aspect while the relationship between Adam and Marcus delivers an emotional tale of friendship. Both parts of this book are built very well. We readers are immediately submerged in Adam’s world and invest in him as the main character of the story. He’s introduced as being in a bad place that is quickly getting worse. Then everything he knows is tossed into the grinder. Helping this progression is the presentation of the book. Proper color gradation from the start to end of the book helps invoke the changing climate of Adam’s life and the danger he now finds himself in. Flashbacks are appropriately golden lensed and the overall look of the action brings an air of fantasy that represents the collision/shattering of Adam’s perceived reality and what’s really happening. The entire creative team flows in a seamless effort that even “big” publisher books have trouble doing.

The Rose Society #1 is well worth the read folks.