Sword and sorcery comics are looking to make a comeback, and Image’s Reyn is aiming to lead the way.
From Kel Symons, the co-creator of I Love Trouble and The Mercenary Sea, comes a fantasy comic that has sword and sorcery represented by the two main characters, the titular swordsman Reyn, and the mage Seph. Symons again pairs himself with his I Love Trouble co-stars, Nate Stockman (who finished the series after the original artist, Mark Robinson, left) and colorist Paul Little. Set in the world of Fate, Reyn is looking to change up some of the fantasy tropes and give fans of the genre something to cheer for.
Newsarama had the chance to talk to the entire creative team, including letterer Pat Brosseau (also an alumni from I Love Trouble) to talk about Reyn, the difficulties of standing out in the fantasy genre, the creative process among the team, and what lies ahead. Symons provided some original concept art to give readers an insider’s look as well as the exclusive look to the cover of the fourth issue.
Newsarama: So, Kel, this on the surface seems like your typical sword and sorcery book, but is it about Reyn that differentiates itself from the rest of the pack out there?
Kel Symons: I think with Reyn the differences from your normal fantasy tropes will start to announce themselves as we get deeper into the story, but we first wanted to capitalize on familiarities and preconceived notions of "typical" fantasy realms. One of the first ways Reyn will seem different is how he approaches his calling as a freelance swordsman. I set up this legendary cadre of do-gooders and white knights and then we quickly see that if Reyn is one of these guys, he apparently hasn't read their brochure. He's coarse and apathetic and the only thing that keeps him on track are these voices in his head. I think some heroes would find this part of their calling - a blessing of divine origin. Reyn couldn't give a s--- about calling and finds the voices and visions to be more annoying than anything. It's his hope that if he listens to them long enough, racks up enough karma points, they'll eventually leave him in peace.
Reyn's character stuff is just the point of the spear in terms of what will differentiate this from other fantasy creations, and define us as something new. But I'm a believer in the slow burn style of storytelling. I think a lot of readers out there expect a lot of set up in a first issue, and if they don't get it, they move on. Understandable. I like to go a different, more deliberate route, giving you just enough set up and characters and then slowly spool out more. It often takes two or three issues for things to get rolling.
Nrama: So tell us a little bit about Reyn the character and, without giving too much away, what he's all about.
Symons: In my earliest conversations with Nate, we set him up as a protagonist in the vein of a Sergio Leone film, like Clint Eastwood in the “Dollars" trilogy. He's someone who seems like he's got a moral compass, but you're never quite certain which direction it'll point him. There's a lot of "western" flavor to this fantasy world - the farmers toiling in the plains, the frontier town, and what we teed up what I think will be a pretty good bar fight coming up. Wanting to marry the role of a wandering swordsman to those motifs, when I pitched this to Image I basically said "what if Frazetta painted spaghetti westerns." They got what I was going for.
Nama: You've paired up with your former I Love Trouble artist Nate Stockman as well as colorist Paul Little. Guys, what's the collaboration process like this time around?
Symons: Pretty seamless. After he came aboard the final issue of I Love Trouble (introduced and recommended to me by Paul, by the way) it was a weird scenario. He was basically thrust into a story that was five issues in and coming to a close - and not the original ending for the series, but one that got a little retro-fitted because it was clear the audience for more Felicia just wasn't there, unfortunately, and we wouldn't be continuing the story. The tone and art style was already set, so he had to try to fit into that as best he could. But I quickly found he was someone I wanted to work with again, so about a year later, when The Mercenary Sea was beginning it's run, I approached Nate with a few ideas and we settled on Reyn. Paul was onboard at a very early stage, as well. Even though none of us has ever physically met (I'm in Los Angeles, Nate's in Ireland and Paul's in Ontario) I think we've kept the flow of communication and work running smoothly. Pat I have actually met (he's in Pasadena) and have worked well with on both I Love Trouble and The Mercenary Sea.
Nate Stockman: Yeah, the collaboration process kind of picked up where we left off on I Love Trouble. We all had worked together before, so we were all familiar with putting out a book together under a deadline. I was very pleased to be working with Kel again on a new project and Paul and I have worked together on a series before (Specifically, Anti-Hero with writer Jay Faerber, a Monkeybrain digital series coming to print through IDW this February).
I've found Kel to be the best sort of writer to work with. The one who knows what he wants and will tell you such, But also says "If you think it'll work better another way, go for it." There's a lot of breathing room if I want to try out a different action in a panel or add some extra ones in or whatever. It's very collaborative.
Paul brings so much to the page after I've done it's kind of ridiculous. It's always such a buzz to see what he adds to the storytelling. The way he'll light a scene to add tension or render foreground and backgrounds to add depth to the environments. I really can't say enough good things about his work.
This is my first time working with Pat Brosseau on lettering and I've been thrilled with what he's done so far. Good lettering often goes unnoticed so I want to make sure he gets his due!
Paul Little: Nate is a real artist's artist, so he makes it incredibly easy for me to do my part. It's a real joy whenever he sends me a new batch of inked pages, and for the most part all I have to do is glance at a new page and a color scheme will automatically pop into my head as if he'd beamed it there! Nate also has an amazing handle on contrast, and his skillful use of blacks allows me to concentrate on establishing color palettes without getting wrapped up in unnecessary details that ultimately just distract from the solid work he's doing.
Nrama: Now with fantasy series, it's easy to get lost with the terminology. Will a lot of the jargon be explained through exposition and narrative or will Reyn incorporate an index like some fantasy series?
Symons: I don't think we'll need it, but maybe something for the first trade. Honestly, I hadn't even thought about it until you just mentioned it. Other than names and places I don't think it's too jargon-y, but now I'm going to be thinking about that a lot. Thanks!
Nrama: Why was it important to have Reyn be a person of color or was it a non-issue?
Symons: It really wasn't all that important. I think Nate and Paul will probably add more to this, but it certainly wasn't a conscious decision to make a statement or anything. Here's his character description from my original script:
"A rugged 30, but aged beyond his years. He's tall, his classic warrior architecture betrays countless hours of study, training and conditioning. Handsome and clean shaven, his hair is trim even out here in the middle of nowhere. He shouldn't have the muscle-bound physique of a Conan, or some other steroid-pumped barbarian. Ideally he should have the frame of a Special Forces soldier - compact and muscular, but still sleek and quick. Think a swimmer's physique. Or a panther's."
There's no social commentary here - only adventure. And that's the way it should be. In fact, you're one of the first who's even called attention to it, which as far as I'm concerned is a good thing. Color or gender shouldn't be a "thing" in this day and age. Like all the recent hoopla about black stormtroopers and Idris Elba as a potential James Bond. Give me a f-----g break. (And yeah, Elba would make a killer Bond. But let Craig finish his run first - he's doing a pretty good job).
Stockman: Artistically, I just wanted the challenge of trying to draw a diverse cast. Like Kel said, there was nothing specifying the race of Reyn or any of the other characters. It was never a case of "Let's make Reyn or Seph this or that". It was just- "Lets make a cool cast of interesting looking characters". The fact that our two leads happened to turn out non-caucasian just happened organically.
Little: Kel and Nate give me a really long leash on this book and so I end up with very few color notes, allowing me to tap my imagination and go in whatever direction feels right for a given character or scene. When Nate sent me his earliest sketches for Reyn, I think I made him a black guy with a medium complexion because that's just what the line art seemed to imply. We kept that organic approach to the characters rolling as Nate went ahead creating the look of other characters for the book. For my part, I think it makes sense to have Fate populated by an assortment of characters who look different, and having some characters of color in prominent roles really helps to set the world of Fate apart from the typical European flavored fantasy words that are so common nowadays.
Nrama: Pat, you've given these gecko-looking species a special kind of font, was that your idea? How do you think they sound?
Pat Brosseau: Kel called out for something different in his script, so I chose a font that to me, looks both alien and slimy.
Nrama: Nate and Paul, tell us a little bit about some the designs and color schemes of Reyn? What's the direction you want to go?
Stockman: Design wise, I really just wanted characters that looked cool both individually and side by side. I also wanted to fashion characters that I could draw hundreds of times without getting bored. For Reyn, specifically, I wanted a body armor that looked tough but not overly restrictive.
I've attached on some of the early design work for the characters by Paul and myself. I had a specific look for Reyn in my head from the start, but Seph took a little working out. The costuming on our main cast isn't overly detailed, but If you silhouette each character you should know who they are. I suppose the main goal is to make sure you can tell everyone apart. I'm big on storytelling. My goal is for the reader to be able to tell what's happening in each panel even without the dialogue.
Little: Even though Reyn is a roguish Warden, the way he carries himself and the way he fights seems almost regal, so I initially gave him a more traditional armored look - brown leather with silver and gold metal bits - with a red cape to set it off. I think it was Nate who suggested we go with a black padded armor look, and we both thought that worked a lot better for the character and looked really cool against the slash of red from his cape.
For Seph and the other Followers of Tek, I went back to the rough-hewn leather and decided that they should have a unifying color to make them more identifiable to the reader at a glance. You'll notice that a lot of the Followers have blue accents, whether it's their cape or their plaid skirts or something else.
Nrama: Lastly, what are you hoping fans get out of Reyn? And more importantly, what do you want out of this story?
Symons: I only ever want to entertain readers. I'm not in it to sell a message. I don't think I've ever started writing something with a theme in mind. Fantastic realms and characters have entertained me pretty much all my life; fueled my imagination. The biggest and best thing I can get out of this is knowing I got to do the same for someone else. Also, I'm basically unemployable in virtually any other field, so it's good I've got this to do.
Stockman: I'm hoping readers will find the characters compelling enough to join them on their journey. It always takes a little time to get to know the cast. That applies to both readers and the creators. Overall, once Reyn is finished and the story is told, I'd love for a reader to put the book down and say "That was pretty cool."
Brosseau: I’m hoping the readers will be entertained and enjoy Reyn as not just your run-of-the-mill sword and sorcery story but as something totally different.
Little: I don't have much to add! Like Kel, Nate, and Pat said, I hope readers enjoy the book as much as we enjoy making it!