Fantasy and science fiction have come back into comics in a big way in the last few years, and Image Comics’ new series Sovereign, the first issue of which is in stores today, offers the kind of epically epic tale that the unlimited budget of sequential art can do like nothing else. Creators Chris Roberson (Monkeybrain Comics, iZombie and many more), and Paul Maybury (Catalyst at Dark Horse) give us a peek at this new series, and a special sneak preview of issue #2 for those whose appetites are whetted by the series’ premiere.
Newsarama: Chris, what is Sovereign about?
Chris Roberson: It’s a grand sweeping epic fantasy set in a made up world about a class of cultures at a time when magic is returning and the dead are beginning to rise. There are masked undertakers who fight monsters from outside of space and time when they’re not busy seeing to the bodies of the deceased, and people with psychic powers, and zombie whales, and stuff like that.
It’s a big, crazy book that isn’t quite like anything else on the stands.
Nrama: How did the idea for the book come about?
Roberson: Sovereign actually had its genesis years before I started working in comics, when I still made my living as a science fiction and fantasy novelist. I’d never really done a big, long form epic fantasy before, and spent a year or two working out a setting, and the cultures that existed there, their histories, religions and mythologies, a magic system, and so forth.
And when I was done, I had this massive amount of “world building” and some characters I was really interested in playing with, but I couldn’t really make the story work as a novel. Fast forward a few years and I’ve been working in comics for a while, and Eric Stephenson and I started talking about me doing something at Image.
And I remembered all of that all the material I had scribbled in notebooks or saved on my hard drive actually made more sense as a comic than it ever did as a novel.
Nrama: Who are the main characters?
Roberson:There are actually a number of different groups of characters, each from different cultures, and much of the story is about them coming into contact and, ultimately, conflict.
The principle action of Sovereign takes place in the country of Khend, a country rocked by a war of succession, inspired largely by India in the seventeenth century at the height of the Mughal empire. The Khendish have traditionally followed a rigid caste system, but they are ruled by the Tamurid, who invaded and took over the country several generations before.
Another group of characters are from Albelund, an island months away by sail, that is modeled on early renaissance England.
And finally, there are a trio of Luminari, sword-wielding, masked undertakers who have been living in seclusion since the invasion, but who are going to the capital with news about a big supernatural threat that’s on the way.
Nrama: Tell us 'bout this fantasy world -- its "rules," what it does and doesn't have, and what makes it the place for ADVENTURE!
Roberson: There are a few examples of what we would consider “magic” that exist in the world of Sovereign, but they’re little more than parlor tricks at this stage in the world’s history.
But as the story unfolds, those powers are going to intensify, and people that have those abilities already are going to get even stronger, and other people are going to discover abilities that they never knew they had.
Nrama: Whatbrought y'all together on this book, and what's your collaboration like?
Roberson: I first met Paul through mutual friends in Texas years ago, and was always really impressed with his work. When I started talking with Image about doing Sovereign there, Paul’s was the first and only name that popped into my head when it came time to start thinking about artists.
I wanted to make a comic that wouldn’t look quite like the kinds of fantasy comics we’ve seen in the past, and I was sure he was the one to help me do that. And the finished pages are even more amazing than I’d hoped for.
Nrama: What sort of plans do you have for this series -- extended run, open-ended, etc.?
Roberson: It depends on a lot of factors. We’ve talked about approaching it in “seasons,” like an HBO series or something like that. This first “season” is on deck, and we’ll see how it does. But I’ve got a lot of story here that’s left to be told, if the interest is there on the part of readers and retailers.
Nrama: Paul, what's been the biggest challenge in bringing this world to life?
Paul Maybury: Creating a fantasy comic that visually feels different than what you've seen before. While fantasy is a genre that I love in almost every other medium, I find that a good amount of modern fantasy comics tend to look the same.
Some great work has been done recently to breathe life and innovation into sci-fi as a genre, (Saga, Prophet, Black Science) I'm attempting to bring that same excitement to Sovereign.
Nrama: Name some of your most favoritest fantasy worlds, stories and characters, and how they've influenced this book.
Roberson: The biggest influences on Sovereign, actually, are comics: Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa, Moebius’s Edena stories, and Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, none of which are traditional “fantasy” comics, but which helped shape the way I approached this world and story.
Maybury: I missed out on table top gaming and culture. I grew up with movies, video games and comics/manga being my main source of fantasy.
That said, some strong influences that end up somewhere in the visuals are Suikoden,The Last Unicorn, The Point, Legend, Dungeon. As well as the works of Frank Thorne, Wendy Pini, Moebius, Vaughn Bode, Michel Ocelot, Yoshitaka Amano, Floro Dery, Kentaro Miura and Akira Toriyama.
Nrama: What's made Image the right fit for the book? They seem to be on just a wee bit of a hot streak right now.
Roberson: I’ve always been a fan of a lot of Image’s output, and have been really impressed by what Eric Stephenson has done since he’s been steering the ship these last few years. So I wanted to be a part of that, if only in a small way.
And I’m a big believer in having as many baskets as you’ve got eggs, and I’ve got a lot of eggs.
Maybury: Image was the first big publisher to put out my work back in 2006. I really am thrilled to do my first creator owned monthly series through them.
Nrama: What are some of y'all's favorite books and creators right now?
Roberson: Well, Michel Fiffe’s Coprahas finished up its first year’s worth of issues, with more on the horizon, so that’s cool. Really dug Multiple Warheads by Brandon Graham. Excited at the thought of more Mudman by Paul Grist. The fact that we’re getting a new issue of Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson’s Astro City every month seems decadent. Those are the few that spring to mind.
Maybury: I bum Manhattan Projects trades off Nick Pitarra whenever I see him at conventions. I'm enjoying Pretty Deadly a lot. I think Sabertooth Swordsman looks really interesting, although I haven't read it yet. I just bought a pile of books from Picturebox.
Nrama: What's next for you?
Roberson: Continuing to write Doc Savage for Dynamite, drawn by Bilquis Evely; doing Aliens for Dark Horse with artist Patric Reynolds; documenting the ongoing adventures of Edison Rex with Dennis Culver for Monkeybrain; and working on a couple of other cool projects I can’t discuss yet!
Maybury: I've been editing a large scale fantasy project with Josh Tierney, Afu Chan and a ton of really amazing (and patient) creators. We're hoping to see its release sometime next year.
Sovereign #1 is in stores Wednesday.