BROXO The Teenage Barbarian Offers All-Ages Fantasy Fun
Growing up was tough on us all, with those teenage years being a unique powder keg of emotions, personalities and hormones. Now imagine that in barbaric times.
Newsarama spoke with Galliango about this upcoming book release, and dealing with the insecurities of teenage like in the context of sword and sorcery times.
Newsarama: Zack, what can you tell us about the titular hero of this story, Broxo?
Zack Giallongo: Broxo is a barbarian boy who has lived in the wild without much human interaction since he was four (he's fourteen when the story begins, although he probably doesn't even realize that). He's tough and wiry, covered in scratches, bruises and scars, and is missing a couple of teeth. His best friend, the giant snowbeast Migo, is the chief influence on Broxo's wild ways and occasionally unsettling survival skills. But Broxo always exhibits extreme sensitivity to the things around him. He's emotional and empathetic and rarely hides his thoughts and feelings. He also feels a great kinship to other living - and not so living - things. Oh! But I've said too much!
Giallongo : Zora is a modern, cosmopolitan barbarian princess from the big city. If you were to ask her straight out, she'd tell you that she's helping her father strengthen relations between the various estranged clans in the Penthos. Sort of a peace mission or an ambassador. While this is true, Zora's deeper reasons for leaving home and seeking out the Peryton Clan are a little more selfish. I mean, let's be honest, a sixteen year old rarely has fully altruistic intentions. She's run away out of spite and hoping to cause her family some pain. She's lashing out from the pain she herself has felt over the past year or so before the story begins. And you have to give her points for actually seeing her plan through. Most of us only threaten to run away as kids and teenagers.
Nrama: If you had to compare yourself to one of the characters in the book, which do you think is most like you, and why?Giallongo: Hmmm... that's tough. I think I'm a bit like all of them, and like none of them. I think I can be sensitive like Broxo, but I also tend to be a planner like Zora. Maybe I'm most like Migo. I like the people around me to be safe and happy. And I'm hairy.
Giallongo: Broxo doesn't have a lot of experience with other people and does whatever he wants. He has no sense of duty or responsibility to others. Then, in marches this princess to whom bossing people around comes very easy. Their personalities are at odds. Broxo feels while Zora thinks. Broxo doesn't know what "personal space" is. Zora's boundaries and social cues are inflexible. But life and survival is about compromise with those who are different from you. The two teenagers have to go from butting heads to more of a yin yang relationship, and really, that's the story.
Nrama: For getting the teenage personalities right, how much did you draw from your own time as a teenager? Were you a bit Broxo growing up?
Giallongo: Broxo and I probably have the same level of intelligence. I definitely was not as rough and tumble or athletic as he is. However, I did grow up as an only child without much family close by, and I didn't live in a neighborhood with lots of other kids around. So I think in that respect, I can identify with his lonely upbringing. There are a few times where Zora expresses frustration that I felt, though was not as vocal about. Even though she's resilient, she hates being inconvenienced, and I think I felt that way a lot as a teenager. Heck, I feel that way now! Like Broxo, I just wanted people around to like me, but like Zora, I could be pretty snarky and probably thought I was somehow smarter or more worldly than others around me. I hope I've grown out of that, at least a little.
Giallongo: It was fun and I loved it! But also a lot of work. We could have an entire discussion just on drawing the characters. I wanted to be careful and thoughtful about each character and nothing on their person is an accident or an afterthought. Broxo is thin and wiry with a puckish face, which was done to contrast with Zora's thick and athletic nature. Sure, she's a princess, but the last thing I wanted was for her to be thin and willowy with perfect Disney
sweeps and curves.
I always feel like there's more flexibility in designing animal characters, but at the same time, I do research and I try to coordinate everything with nature in the real world. Migo is sort of equal parts bear, cat and gorilla, and I think I've been obsessed with single horns ever since seeing Venger from the old Dungeons & Dragons cartoon as a kid. Kol and Krol are sort of a mixture of weasel, ferret, martin and stoat. See, you wouldn't think there were many differences between all those species, but visually, there absolutely are! I took a lot of cues from hairless cats for Gloth, as well as crocodiles.
The Ancestors in the book are actually the least exaggerated of the designs. I wanted them to be gross and realistic and thus more frightening to the large-eyed protagonists. They're primarily based on real-world mummies and bog corpses.
Nrama: Seeing the cover, people might expect this to be “Kid Conan” or something but it’s not. How do you describe it to people at conventions?
Nrama: You’ve been a frequent face online in the comics community and with your small-press comics Grune and Novasett Island, but this is your first major book release. How’d you come up with the story and hook up with First Second?
I'd been doing conventions regularly since about 2004 and when I saw First Second at MoCCA their first year, I knew they were something different and special. I was living in New York at the time and through the vine of comic folk there, I met and became friends with First Second’s Gina Gagliano. At a party, she encouraged me to submit something and I soon sent in the pitch for Broxo. It wasn't outright rejected, but there was interest expressed by an editor there to maybe see something different. Time went on and out of the blue (at least on my end) I received an email from a new editor, Calista Brill. She'd come across Broxo and seemed to like it and wondered if I was still working on the idea. She and I went back and forth through emails, phone calls and convention meetings and after hitting it off and expressing a mutual adoration for certain formative comics, I was offered a contract and now I'm doing this interview!
Giallongo: Characters. I wanted each character to have a heart and a soul and warmth. What they go through is such a frightening and dismal experience. I wanted the reader to feel like they knew these people and creatures and to root for them. I wanted to have a sort of nostalgic fantasy story that felt like something I would have loved as a kid, but with my sensibilities as an adult. I also wanted it to be just a little dangerous. For a book aimed at this age-group, it's a little violent, a little bleak, and maybe even a little sexy at times. When you're a kid, there's something thrilling about reading a book that's just a teeny bit inappropriate for you. The kind of thing you read and maybe look over your shoulder to see where mom and dad are. I certainly had those experiences as a young reader, and I don't think it's any mystery as to why those particular stories resonated so deeply with me into adulthood. I think for some parents, they want stories that can be this safe place where the real world doesn't interfere; a place where their kids can hang on to their innocence longer. But sex and violence are part of life, and what better place to explore those issues than within the safety of two covers? Now, is Broxo some dark violent sex tale? Of course not. But despite being a fantasy world, I think it's actually pretty real. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!