Yes, they're both half-dragon/half teenage boy, the offspring of human mothers and mythical dragon fathers. And yes they're both new to the comics' scene over the last few years. But according to their respective creators, that's where the similarities between Phil Hester and Andy Kuhn's Firebreather and Ron Marz, Jeff Johnson and Lee Moder's Dragon Prince end.And they're putting their money where their mouth's are this fall inviting the comparison confident readers will see the contrasts in Firebreather vs. Dragon Prince, a Top Cow one-shot announced Saturday afternoon at the Top Cow panel at Comic-Con International: San Diego. In the four-issue Dragon Prince miniseries released just two years ago, a teenager named Aaron Chiang is revealed to be the son of a dragon and the last heir to the dragon kingdom. Firebreather originally debuted at Image in 2003 and is the story of the teenage son of a suburban soccer mom and 300-foot tall firebreathing monster, and is scheduled to debut as animated movie on Cartoon Network later this year. Scheduled for release to coincide with the Firebreather film, the hefty 120-page Firebreather vs. Dragon Prince one-shot features a new 40+ page story as well as origin stories from each of the characters’ creators. For more, we talked with writers Phil Hester & Ron Marz.
Newsarama: So, guys… how do Firebreather and Dragon Prince meet for this story?
Phil Hester: At camp! No, seriously. Duncan (Firebreather) is a camp counselor at a camp for kids with special needs and Aaron (Dragon Prince) is on one of his family's frequent cross country sojourns. They cross paths at a mountain lake said to be the lair of a legendary monster, not unlike Loch Ness. It will surprise no veteran comic book reader to learn that the lake is indeed haunted by a fearsome creature that has surprisingly specific designs for the two boys and shocking ties to Duncan's past.
Ron Marz: This all takes place around an Oregon lake. While it might seem like a weird place to have these two characters bump into each other, but as Phil and I talked about it popped up. When we began planning out the story, we kicked around the idea of having this crossover set around a lake monster, and our choices ended up being Oregon or somewhere on the east coast. Oregon seemed more apt, so we went with it.
Nrama: Oregon is known for its lake monsters.
Marz: [laughs] Right.
Nrama: In classic comic crossovers, two heroes at first clash and then team-up against some third party. What’s going on in this crossover?
Marz: In this book, they actually meet and become friends first before they fight – we thought we’d turn the whole thing on its head. Both characters are teenage boys, and fairly close in age for that matter, so we thought a friendship would be natural before we introduce some elements that put them at odds with one another.
Hester: Duncan and Aaron have an immediate connection. Duncan sees in Aaron's family the kind of familial bonds he wishes for his own. Aaron, though only slightly older than Duncan, falls into almost a mentoring role for Duncan. Duncan sees his heritage as a curse and bucks against it, while Aaron sees his as a duty and grows into it. This newfound friendship is quickly put to the test by the emergence of the lake beast and its downright icky intentions toward Duncan.
Nrama: For this crossover story, you and Phil are teaming up with an artist who I haven’t heard of before: Saumin Patel. Can you tell us about him and what he brings to the book?
Marz: Saumin is an artist based in Mumbia, India, and he was one of the guys I worked with when I was a freelancer editor for Virgin Comics. And like a number of guys I edited there, we ended up staying in touch email-wise. When this crossover project came around, both Lee Moder and Andy Kuhn were tied up with other work and unable to do it, and my mind immediately went to Saumin because that he was stylistically working in the same ballpark as Andy and Lee, and it would be pretty easy for him to fit into the subject matter.
People might not have heard of him, but he’s a terrific artist. He drew and colored the cover, and his interior work is being colored by Neeraj Menon.
Hester: He's Ron's "discovery", but it's certainly been a joy to watch him working on this book. He's a bit more realistic than Andy Kuhn, but he's got a grasp on Duncan, and has found a great middle ground between cartooning and realism that will make the look of the book accessible to all readers. He's marvelously talented and I think this one shot is probably the last time Ron and I will get to work with him. Once the Big Two see what he can do they will no doubt swoop down and whisk him away.
Nrama: In addition to this new 40+ page crossover story, each of the characters are getting little a origin story told. Can you tell us about these extra features?
Marz: Both sets of creators are doing brief origin stories for the character for people who might not know the characters from the previous series. And in addition, we’re going to reprint the first issues of Firebreather and Dragon Prince in this as well as a sketchbook.
Nrama You two are the two principal writers over at Top Cow, and now you’re here doing a cross-over of your creator owned characters. How’d this come about?
Marz: Phil and I have actually been friends for years – it seems a running theme in my interviews with you as of late have been about me working with friends in the business. Phil and I have been friends for awhile, and we actually play in the same fantasy football league that Dan Jurgens is commissioner of. Both Dragon Prince and Firebreather were actually conceived around the same time -- Dragon Prince was originally going to come out through Dark Horse but was delayed several years before popping up at Top Cow. But anyway, each of these came out completely independent from one another. But they were similar so much that some fans accused me of ripping off Firebreather and Phil being accused of ripping off Dragon Prince.
Hester: It's one of those odd coincidences in comics that we both had what appear to be very similar concepts coming out at about the same time in Firebreather and Dragon Prince. Anyone who's read the books realizes there's a world of difference in the concepts, but to a casual observer they may seem very similar. We thought this team-up would be a cool way to point up the differences in the characters and to prove there's no secret animosity between us. Plus, we like each other and working together is fun.
Nrama: So what made now the time to do it?
Marz: The impetus for this happening now was the fact that Firebreather is going to be on Cartoon Network as an animated film in the fall, and Phil and Andy weren’t going to have any new comic material on stands to coincide with that. When I realized that, I proposed to Phil to do a crossover with our characters to coincide with the movie. That’s one of the nice things about doing creator-owned books; you can agree on something and not have to run it past anyone else and just start doing it.
Nrama: Before I let you guys get back to work, I wanted to see what you thought of the other’s character. You first, Phil – what do you think of Dragon Prince?
Hester: Look, I have a very fragile ego, so it took some time for me to screw up the fortitude to read the book. When a writer you respect is covering some of the same ground you are and you see him hitting notes or developing plots that you didn't you may start to second guess yourself. I'd read a scene in Dragon Prince and think, "Oh, yeah. Why didn't I do that?" But with a little perspective I was able to enjoy Ron's book for what it is: a really moving, fun, adventure story. In the end our two books aren't really that similar. Dragon Prince has a more of a fantasy, Eastern, dragon-mythos approach, while Firebreather is very much about giant monsters and high school angst. The two books are like peanut butter and chocolate, and I'm pretty sure they'll go great together.
Nrama: I don’t know if you can beat a peanut butter and chocolate reference, but try it Ron: why is Firebreather cool?
Marz: It’s a terrific concept that boils down to it being essentially about the son of “Godzilla”. In this kind of scenario, this Godzilla-like figure is a bit of a deadbeat dad. In some ways, I think Firebreather is in the vein of one of Marvel’s classic monster characters like the Thing or the Hulk. What you have is a great deal of humanity inside this monstrous shell. They tend to be seen as freaks or monsters, although they’re ultimately the heroes of the story.
I should add this – I think both these characters work because they’re obviously metaphors for growing up and fitting in. When you make that switch from adolescence to young adulthood, it’s a journey everybody had to go through. At certain points in those teenage years, you can feel like a monster, a freak and an outcast. Both characters embody that in different ways.
For Duncan, who is Firebreather, physically he’s rather monstrous and can’t change what he looks like. For Dragon Prince’s Aaron, he does have the ability to switch back and forth from his dragon form and his 14-year old human body. He doesn’t fit in because of his mixed racial heritage, and has never really been able to find his comfort zone. This is something we deal with in Firebreather vs. Dragon Prince -- it’s all part of the journey these characters are going through. To me, one of the interesting aspects of this crossover is that here are two kids that are both outcasts who find each other. Some of their experiences are the same in dealing with absentee dads and not fitting in with everybody around them.