Comics are a lot like fire – some burn bright, some burn out quickly… but only a few burn for a long time.
Introduced in 2003, the Image Comics series Firebreather burst forth as a four-issue miniseries from creators Phil Hester and Andy Kuhn as a look into the life of teenager growing up. It was your usual growing-up story, unless you count the fact that the teen is half-dragon. The teen in question is Duncan Rosenblatt, and growing up is a bit tough – as part-dragon living in the human world, but also as part-human living in the dragon world. Since that first miniseries, Firebreather has returned in a one-shot and several Image crossovers – but this winter, it’s expected to burn brighter than ever before.On November 24th, Cartoon Network will debut an all-CG animated Firebreather movie and the following week an all-new comic series will debut. The new comic series, titled Firebreather: Holmgang, follows Duncan in the aftermath of his father’s death as he comes to terms with that loss as well as the new responsibilities thrust upon him as his father’s heir. To avoid any further dragging around on this dragon saga, let’s talk to Hester and Kuhn...
Newsarama: In the last series we saw Duncan’s father fall and Duncan being one of the only people to know about it. What’s going on as this new series opens?
Phil Hester: We pick up right after Vol. II #4. Our new #1 is functionally #5 of that second series with some new scenes added to make it more accessible to new readers. So, Duncan's torn up about his father's death, and his vow to keep it secret. He's also dealing with the fact that it looks like Jenna is moving on with her life without Duncan. Plus, there's the matter of a mysterious stalker who seems to be capable of a lot of the same super human feats as Duncan.
Nrama: Duncan was really enamored with Jenna – but hey, he’s part dragon. Would you let your daughter date a dragon? What’s it like being Duncan out in the real world?
Hester: [laughs] Well, maybe not. I mean he's always getting into blockbuster brawls with giant monsters. A trip to the Sonic with this guy could turn into Armageddon at any minute. It does point up how tough it will be for Duncan to maintain a normal life, especially now that his father is no longer protecting him from the more unsavory elements of monster society. Humans shun him, monsters want to stomp him.
As I said earlier, his physical appearance is an allegory for being a teen. He's becoming powerful and capable, but also awkward and fumbling. At some point as a teen most people feel like an alien in their own bodies. For Duncan, this is an everyday experience.
Nrama: As you said, Duncan’s got someone following him from his dragon side of the family – as seen in the preview artwork. How does Duncan fit in with the monster world – what is he to them?
Hester: That is what the next two minis will explore. He is Belloc's heir, but at the same time a freak among monsters for being half human. He's both wunderkind and abomination, and if he wants to ascend to his father's role someday he'll have to fight for it. We really focus on that in the next mini when Duncan is thrown into a worldwide tournament of monster combat to determine the next King of Kaiju.
Nrama: Andy, your cover for the new first issue really sums up Duncan’s life: working between the dragon world and being a normal teenager. Since you’ve had sometime between this series and the last, has the concept of Firebreather evolved or clarified itself in your mind more?
Andy Kuhn: The core concept of Firebreather has never changed, but the overall shape of the story has certainly evolved. Phil and I are always thinking of new bits and pieces that we'd like to throw into the Firebreather mix at some point. We definitely have way more ideas than we'll probably ever actually get to make into comics. If only it was as easy to make a comic book, as it is to think one up.
Nrama: The subtitle of this series is 'Holmgang'; what does that mean?
Hester: It's an old Norse term. It means, loosely, "honor combat." Two combatants would square off on a small island or roped off area and battle to resolve a specific conflict. This isn't coincidence; Duncan's stalker has roots in Norse culture and has a very specific score to settle our hero.
Nrama: One of the coolest parts of Firebreather for me is seeing Andy's designs for different monsters. What’s the design process like that for you, and do you have some new ones coming up in this series?
Kuhn: Thanks for the kind words about my work. Character design is definitely something that I put a lot of thought into, however, when I see character design work by artists like Sean Galloway, or Eric Canete, it's always an exhilarating, and painful reminder of how much more I have to learn.When I'm designing a character it's usually just a trial and error process of many, many drawings. Sometimes my designs are based on real world objects, or elements. In the first issue of the new mini-series I had to design a pair of stone robots. My inspiration for their design came from a Sow Bug (also called a Pill Bug), which is a little grey armored bug that rolls up into a ball when you touch it. Design ideas are all over the place, you just have to keep your eyes, and mind open to them.
There are definitely some new characters to be designed for this series. One character in particular that I've already designed, is going to play a major role in Duncan's future, or lack thereof (teaser!).
Nrama: What’s it been like to get the gang back together for a new series, and an animated series hot on your heels?
Hester: Very exciting. I wish we had kept Firebreather rolling since it debuted. We could be on issue 75, like Invincible, but the real world keeps getting in the way. That said, I'm very proud of the work we've done to date, and I think the next batch of stories will hit that same level of quality. There will be marked changes in the status quo of Firebreather over the next two series, changes I hope the readers find as exciting as I do.
Kuhn: Phil, and I, and colorist Bill Crabtree, are all super jazzed to tell the next part of the Firebreather saga, and the animated film that Cartoon Network has made is like the icing on the cake. The movie is based on our first mini-series, and director Peter Chung really knocked it out of the park. We can't wait for everyone to see this movie. We're like proud parents sending our child off to school for the first time. Except in this case, school is a cable network, and our child is a total badass!
Hester: The movie stuff is so surreal it's tough to get a handle on it. I mean, the talent assembled for it has been just breathtaking. Director Peter Chung has made a movie unlike anything seen on TV to date. It's feature film quality stuff. Jim Krieg did a masterful job of using the first mini series as a springboard and taking the film in all the directions it needed to go to be a satisfying movie experience. Just seeing characters that existed once only in your imagination come to life on screen is magic. I'm ecstatic. Hopefully, more people will find their way to the book after the movie runs on Cartoon Network.
Nrama: What prompted you guys to reunite for this new series, Firebreather: Holmgang?
Hester: We didn't reunite as much as just pick up the pace. Our goal for the last series was to become a successful monthly, but that was not in the cards. We decided to regroup, get some issues in the can, and come back when we could assure our readers and retailers of on-time shipping. I feel like we've been working on the book continuously all the while. That said, it's great to see Andy's pages showing up in my inbox again. He's an even better artist than last go 'round.
Nrama: For people who want to know if the issues will be on time, how far are you two along in making the issues?
Hester: By the time #1 ships we should be close to wrapping the mini. Fingers crossed.
Nrama: The team on the movie seems awesome – at YCC you sat with Phil and director Peter Chung, all three of you artists. How do you think having each of you know your way around the drawing board has helped the project?
Kuhn: As far as Firebreather the comic goes, working with a great writer who is also a great artist is a joy. Phil is very hands off when it comes to the look of the book, unless I ask him for his artistic input, which I do from time to time. The way he writes is very visually oriented, and he really give me a lot of leeway to tell his story my way.
Hester: We all think visually, and in both comics and films that's a huge leg up. We all speak the same language, so there's no miscommunication. Honestly, it becomes easier to "prove" an idea when you can just show it. The cool factor of an image trumps the convincing you might have t do with verbal explanations. Instead of selling us on the changes Peter wanted to make in Duncan's look he just drew it and showed it to us. We could see how awesome it was right there; no explanation needed.