AICN COMICS Q&@: The Writing Rambler talks with Writer Brandon Easton on SHADOWLAW and his new project DOMINIONS LIGHT!!!
@’s by Writer Brandon Easton!!!
THE WRITING RAMBLER (TWR): Hey Brandon, How's it going?
BRANDON EASTON (BE): Things are going well. Stuck under a few deadlines, but otherwise things are great! How are you?
TWR: Doing well, thanks! So for our readers who may not be totally familiar with your work how did you first get started?
BE: I broke into the comics biz back in 2002 with Pat Lee's DREAMWAVE COMICS on a title called Arkanium. I also worked on some Transformers: Armada stuff before moving on to redeveloping what would become my graphic novel Shadowlaw. Before that, I spent a few years working as a copywriter and editor with a side gig in a comic book store. I managed to make a lot of connections through that store and it led to many opportunities for me. I have to give a lot of credit to my creative writing teachers at Ithaca College who gave me a great deal of support and encouraged me to take a chance on my talents.
TWR: Now with Shadowlaw, I really love how you took so many different genres and made them work in one story. You could see all of your personal influences throughout the book. Did you find it hard to balance so many different genres (sci-fi, anime, vampires, etc.) while still completely making it engaging for the reader?
BE: Not really. If you have a complete understanding of the ideological underpinnings of each genre - in this case sci-fi (the impact of technology and forward progress on the individual internally and externally); vampires (a quasi-religious and sexual transfer of life energy) - then the balance will come from how the character responds to the situation. The true struggle I've had with Shadowlaw has been getting people to get over the "been there, done there" attitude because of the presence of vampires and giant robots/mechs.
A lot of people just assume it's some kind of soulless rip-off of other stuff without ever reading a single word. What's actually hard is finding a way to pitch it without sounding ridiculous while still touching on all the other incredible stuff within the story. I'll admit the story probably isn't for everyone, but there is an audience out there who hasn't had a chance to check out the book who I know would love it.
The trick is to find those readers who want more than just capes and costumes. There is endless talk of people supporting the independent graphic novel creators out there, but in the end people still run to Marvel and DC out of habit. I've reached out to the sci-fi and horror crowd with some success but cracking the core comic-reading audience with new concepts is very, very difficult.
Considering the fact that the concepts and story in Shadowlaw had never been done before made me believe there would be more excitement for the title. However, I understand that I have to keep creating new material and building my resume year after year.
TWR: It definitely was a breathe of fresh air for me. Now speaking of new concepts and material, you currently have your kickstarter project for your graphic novel DOMINION'S LIGHT happening. I know from checking out the project that this has been something you've been developing for some time now. Could you tell us a little about DOMINION'S LIGHT and how you went about bringing it to kickstarter?
BE: Dominion's Light is a sci-fi/fantasy hybrid. A basic pitch would be "Lord of the Rings meets Blade Runner" but it's much more complex than that.The story of Dominion’s Light centers around three characters (Reso, Khyshia and Hammerius Rex) that are thrust together because of personal tragedies that separate them from their homes and families. Once together, they realize that they have to stop a mighty warrior-sorcerer named Lord Valgon from tracking down the Key Ultima – the only device in their world that can unlock the secrets of the Cyclean Bible. The Bible enables the user to manipulate the threads of space, time, energy and matter.
Ultimately, it is a journey of personal discovery for everyone, even the villains. Each person has a different reason for wanting the Cyclean Bible. Some want it for the ultimate power, some want it to fix their personal lives, and others want it in order to go back in time to create a perfect world free of pain and suffering. The themes of selfishness vs. sacrifice will ring clearly throughout the story.
The world in Dominion's Light is called Graid'yan (pronounced Gray-id-Eyan) and it is a visual pastiche of breathtaking vistas never seen before in a fantasy comic. Advanced technology and high sorcery have developed side by side, so readers will see things like complex airships that are actually aborted dragon fetuses; sniper rifles that use bullets made of dried tears of Titans; cities built on shining stalks of organic ice; rivers made of colonies of slugs and other fantastical stuff that will blow people's minds.
And that's just scratching the surface of that universe.
Kickstarter is something I've tried before in the past with little success, but that was when I first moved to LA with no credits under my belt. After doing some work on TV and having my graphic novel on the scene for roughly a year, I figured I should give it another shot. If I fail, I consider it a learning experience and will go back and rework the campaign. I want to make sure that I have proper funding for the two graphic novels that will eventually be collected into a 200-page hardcover. I can't afford to have my art teams suddenly vanish on me if they aren't paid on time or at a level they deserve. No matter what happens, I'm going to keep plugging forward until this project is finished.
TWR: It is definitely a very cool looking concept. I know you've spoken about it being much more of diverse experience than we've seen before in other sci-fi/fantasy stories. Would you say that's a goal of yours? To present a story that changes the faces of the "typical" heroes we so often see repeated in these genres?
BE: Not initially. When I originally developed Dominion's Light, I didn't have any kind of ethnic mandate in mind. In fact, the characters probably defaulted to being Caucasian because that's how we tend to view "normality" in our culture. We gauge what's universal by its proximity to White European images and values. That isn't always a bad thing but I just felt that it was time to have some heroic fantasy stories that reflected the nature of our 21st century globalized pop culture interchange.
I've enjoyed Tolkien's work over the years as I have Robert Jordan's WHEEL OF TIME series; I adore the GAME OF THRONES/SONF OF ICE & FIRE series (George R. R. Martin is just plain amazing on so many levels) and I am very enamored with Brandon Sanderson's newest work, although I have no idea when I will get a chance to finish The Way of Kings. When you examine these worlds closely, there usually aren't a lot of people of color as central characters. From time to time, you might get a token character who isn't well-developed compared to the main heroes. At worst you get the racial coding of people of color as Dark Elves, Orcs or other strange beasts. Just like in Dumbo they had those "Black" crows. Fans might say "those were just crows, stop complaining" but anyone with one millionth of a percent of common sense can figure out which racial group was used to inform those stereotypes.
I remember back in the day there was controversy in the Dungeons & Dragons RPG module about some race/tribe that had African features and physical characteristics but had innate low intelligence (LOL). Or there was no default non-White character in the classes. That kind of thing creates an atmosphere where continued exclusion of people of color in Fantasy becomes commonplace and normalized.
With all that said, I didn't set up Dominion's Light to be the Sesame Street of heroic fantasy. It's a dark, twisted world. I also created an African-American villain, something that hasn't been seen in a fantasy setting since James Earl Jones in the original Conan film. I could be wrong about that, but I believe that to be the case.
So much Fantasy has been reversed-engineered from Western European mythology and history that I think we've hit the wall for that kind of thing. Game of Thrones took it to the logical end of the spectrum with the endless rape, incest, murder and treachery that would exist in a feudal system without a human rights movement on the horizon. Now, we have so many other cultures and ideals that could be explored without excluding anyone. There will be all kinds of people in Dominion's Light. Some good, some neutral and some just plain screwed up. Just like the real world.
TWR: Well said and very true when you think about the core of most, if not all of the fantasy stories we have grown up around. Another theme that I've picked up on in my reading of SHADOWLAW and what I've taken from the concept of DOMINIONS LIGHT (with the Cyclean Bible) is how faith and/or religious overtones are reflected in your work. I noticed it especially with SHADOWLAW as the the idea of a theocracy plays a major theme in the book. Is that something that is just natural for you to include in your writing or did it just work well in the telling of the SHADOWLAW story?
BE: I was born and raised Roman Catholic from the state of Maryland which is rooted in a Catholic tradition historically. Although I am not at all pleased with the hierarchy of the Church, I am firmly rooted in a leftist/centrist Catholic tradition of believing in social justice, equality and fairness for all. I'm no longer what you would call "practicing" but the values and worth ethic instilled in me from the priests and nuns I grew up with is very much of part of how I view the world.
During my true intellectual awakening in college, I began to look back on the things I was taught through the lens of sociology, politics, economics and psychology and that helped me to understand the nature of human interaction through religion. How the elites members of society can easily manipulate people by telling them that "God wants you to do this, or God wants you to kill that, etc." Faith is a scary, dangerous and destructive thing in the wrong hands and we don't have to look far in this world to see how bad it can get.
When writing Shadowlaw, I tried to project where we would end up in about 200 years; developing a forecast through a natural social evolution of ideas. Things go in cycles, any student of history can tell you that. Right now, we're slowly moving away from religion as the unifying principle for humanity in the Western world but who knows how long that will last? I could see another "great awakening" in a couple of generations as fears of technological singularity and cybernetic conditioning send people in search of a more technologically pure time with simple answers from a protective authority in the sky.
Shadowlaw took place in a world on the edge of both traditions. That's why I believed that aspect of the story worked.
TWR: Yeah there were definitely points in reading where I thought "I could totally see some of this happening". I think those themes play well in storytelling especially when they can be incorporated with the idea of the nature of evil and how true faith can entail questioning the very system that often teaches it. One last question. Regardless of the outcome with the kickstarter campaign for DOMINIONS LIGHT (which I truly hope is a success), what should we expect to see you working on in the future?
BE: Thanks! I hope it makes the goal!
I'm working on some graphic novels for LION FORGE ENTERTAINMENT - they're a new transmedia company based out of St. Louis and they're going to be hitting the scene hard in 2013 with outstanding new properties in the digital arena. Those guys are smart, talented, driven and have an actual budget to realize their goals. I have to say I'm blessed to have met them a couple of years ago; being around folks like that is truly inspirational.
I've been working with Anthony Montgomery (Ensign Mayweather from Star Trek: Enterprise) on his new graphic novel series MILES AWAY, about a teen superhero and his quest to discover his past, and that's been a fantastic experience overall. It was the first real collaboration I've done with an established performer and I couldn't have asked for a better dude to work with. I want that book to be as successful as my own stuff.
Beyond that, I am in the planning stages for several large projects. In the first half of 2013, production will begin on a documentary about Black sci-fi and fantasy writers and their struggles in the industry. Once that is completed, I will shoot a short sci-fi piece on digital video about a soldier caught between two sides in a futuristic war setting. I have a web comic called RETAILIATION (emphasis on the retail) for January 2013 that would best be described as a cross between CLERKS and SWINGERS. It's a semi-autobiographic romp about my time working in an upscale bookstore in West Los Angeles as an overweight guy surrounded by incredibly shallow and moronic people.
There's this big space opera concept that I've had in my head for 15 years that I feel I'm getting closer to figuring out. It's going to be as epic as Gundam, Star Trek and BSG all rolled up into a giant package. That should be coming down the pike in 2014. I just need to get a prescription for Adderal if I plan on getting this stuff done!
TWR: Yeah you definitely have your hands full going forward but I can't wait to see what comes from all the hard work you've been putting in. Here's to hoping DOMINIONS LIGHT is a success and I look very forward to checking it out once its completed. Thanks so much for chatting with us today Brandon and hopefully well speak again soon.
You can follow The Writing Rambler on his blog here and follow on Twitter @Writing_Rambler !
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