Of Dragons and Princes - Talking to Ron Marz

Review: Dragon Prince #1

With Dragon Prince from Top Cow, Ron Marz and Lee Moder have brought some fantasy back to comics, telling the story of a son of a dragon. No, no – wait – not in the superhero sense.

With issue #1 (now on stands) Aaron has learned that he is the son of a dragon (not to mention lives in a world where dragons are real). Though his mother tried to keep it from him, a schoolyard confrontation has shown him the undeniable truth, and worse yet, with the dragon inside him awakening, the Dragon Hunter that brought his father down now knows where he is.

The series was originally slated to run at Dark Horse, and to be illustrated by co-creator Jeff Johnson, but never saw the light of day. Now, through Top Cow, the four-issue series is hitting, and Marz couldn’t be happier. We spoke with him about it.

Newsarama: Ron, you've talked about the origin of this series - how it started as something that was to see life at Dark Horse, but got shelved there...but take us back before then. What was the spark for this series?

Ron Marz: The initial idea, and the character designs, came from the artist Jeff Johnson. Jeff and I have been friends for years, we worked together on Green Lantern, and we were both at CrossGen. So in addition to being a terrific artist, Jeff is an idea machine. When we were starting to see the handwriting on the wall at CrossGen, Jeff and I talked about doing something together, and Dragon Prince was ultimately what came out of it. We kicked around story ideas, Jeff had character designs, and I wrote up a pitch and sent it to Dark Horse. The short version is Dark Horse picked it up back in 2004, but we only got a few pages into it before Jeff got a full-time gig working in animation at Warner Bros., so we never got to finish the job.

NRAMA: Take us behind that curtain a little - you started Dragon Prince with Jeff, but it was paused...how much work did you do on it? How much work goes into something like this before the first issue even comes out?

RM: The first issue was completely written, there was an outline for the remaining issues, and Jeff had drawn all the covers as well as four interior pages. We actually printed those interior pages in the back of Samurai: Heaven and Earth #1, from Dark Horse, as a way to tease Dragon Prince. But that was as far as we got.

NRAMA: When something like this gets close and then, as you've said, put into a drawer, is it hard not to take it personally?

RM: No, I didn't take it personally at all. The way things transpired, Dragon Prince got sidetracked, but Jeff got an animation job that has worked out really well for him, which in the long run is more important. We were both disappointed when it looked like this story would never get to be in front of an audience. I have to say, Dark Horse was great through the whole thing. When it became apparent that Jeff was not going to be able to draw it, the project was shelved, but Dark Horse was very accommodating about working out a deal to release it to Top Cow.

NRAMA: Speaking of that move, how did Lee get attached?

RM: Lee's another guy I've known for quite a few years. Obviously he's been in the business a while, going back to his work on Legion of Super-Heroes, Wonder Woman and Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. at DC. Back when Jeff had to depart Dragon Prince, I talked to Lee about jumping onto the book, and he did a few sample pages, but that's as far as it went. So flash forward a few years when I suggested Dragon Prince to Top Cow, I pitched it with Lee already attached. It was a pretty quick turnaround. Top Cow took literally a day or two to say yes, and then Lee was drawing a few days later. And, I realize I'm way too close to be objective, but I think this is easily some of Lee's best stuff. A lot of guys can draw two muscle-bound dudes beating the crap out of each other. There are comparatively fewer guys who can draw a mother and son having a conversation and nail all the expressions and gestures.

NRAMA: You're telling a variation of the hero's journey in Dragon Prince, but that said, your structure is a touch different than what we've come to know in modern comics, that is, many of the cards are on the table at the end of the first issue in regards to Aaron's history and parentage...why go this route in telling the story?

RM: We've still got some cards to turn over in the remaining issues, so I don't think we've given away too much. I felt like it was important to have the revelation of Aaron's parentage as a hook in the first issue, to give the audience a definite sense of who Aaron is. You probably could get away with four issues of "finding yourself" in these days of decompressed individual issues, but I thought we'd do something novel and tell an actual story in four issues. Yes, this is about Aaron discovering who he is, but that's only part of it. There's a lot more to come.

NRAMA: Take us into the world a little bit - why were dragons hunted?

RM: Why is anything hunted? Because it's useful in some way, or because it's feared. With the dragons, it's a bit of both. In this case, the hunters are the Magi, a secret brotherhood of sorcerers who were really rivals to the dragons. The Magi found that dragons are magical by nature. Their bodies, their blood, have inherent magical properties. So the Magi not only hunted down their rivals, they accrued more power when they did it.

NRAMA: And by the time of Aaron's father, they were in short supply, so to speak?

RM: Definitely on the Endangered Species list. Aaron's father was the last dragon to be free. The opening sequence in issue #1 shows his capture. Even though the narrative that accompanies it is a more fanciful, fictionalized version, the visuals show what happened. That aspect is something that will play back into the story in later issues of the series.

NRAMA: In coming out with this, and given its developmental timeline, you're out at the same time as Phil and Andy's Firebreather, which has, admittedly, a similar story. Did you guys know about each others' projects? How do you tell your story in a marketplace where something similar already exists?

RM: It's kind of weird, because I think those first Dragon Prince pages in the back of Samurai appeared in the same time frame -- within a year or so -- of the first Firebreather series. And now they're both on the stands again, around the same time. On the surface, conceptually they're very similar -- dad is a dragon -- but I think the directions we take the stories are pretty different. Firebreather has more of a superhero/giant monster vibe, while Dragon Prince is more fantasy. And Firebreather has more of a European/St. George take on dragons, while Dragon Prince's mythology is more Asian. Phil and I are friends. He's doing the layouts on Broken Trinity, I recommended him for the writing gig on The Darkness, we play in the same fantasy football league. So there's no problem. Well, actually, there's a problem in that Phil usually beats me in the fantasy football league. But he's got Tom Brady, who's out for the season, so suck it, Phil.

NRAMA: Was there more to the move to Top Cow than just getting the project out, finally? Obviously, Top Cow is hot right now in regards to seeing their comics picked up as movies and television...is Dragon Prince on a fast-track list?

RM: Well, keep in mind the first issue just came out last week. But let's hope, right? Top Cow is on a hot streak in terms of other media -- the Wanted movie, the Darkness videogame and the Witchblade anime were all quite successful. The next wave of stuff, like the Witchblade and Magdalena films, is in place. So it would be great if there's interest in Dragon Prince. But right now, I'm getting satisfaction from seeing the first issue on the stands, after a few years of thinking it would never see the light of day.

NRAMA: Wrapping things up, let's talk about what's to come - Aaron knows - some - of his history and origin, but presumably far from all; the Magi have locked on to him...time for a hunt?

RM: I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying the Dragon Hunter and his commandos will be coming after Aaron in issue #2. And Jeff's cover for issue #2 cover makes it pretty clear that Aaron's transformation in issue #1 was just a hint of things to come. It's a four-issue series, so the story is constructed to have some sort of revelation or surprise in each issue.

NRAMA: And just so we’re on the same page - the Dragon Hunter we see at the end of issue #1 is the same as in the story Aaron's mother told him...not a coincidence?

RM: You were paying to attention. While all the Dragon Hunters tend to be bald guys with tattoos, you're right, it's not a coincidence. Keep reading, more revelations to come.

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