Last week, Image Comics’ released the collected edition of the five-issue miniseries Sky Pirates of Neo Terra. Spinning out of a Nintendo DS game from earlier this year, Sky Pirates of Neo Terra charts a world of forgotten technology and natural magic where the only thing that brings the warring tribes together is an annual contest called the Great Race. Using a unique vehicle called a ‘glide-wing’ – basically a surfboard with a magical jet engine – racers navigate a course through treacherous terrain to claim the top spot. But as more naïve racers will learn, their fellow competitors can be just as dangerous.
Under the employ of a villainous priestess called the Witch Queen, the Sky Pirates exert a heavy hand on the Glide-Wing races and Neo Terra itself. But for the brash rookie Billy Boom-Boom, he’s got no problem with standing up to the Sky Pirates and their leader the Pirate King.
With the Sky Pirates of Neo Terra’s collected edition in comic stores now and bookstores on December 7th, we reunited series writer Josh Wagner, artist Camilla D’Errico and series creator Sean Megaw to look back on the five-issue series and look forward in the future of Sky Pirates. Read the interview here, then check out the full first issue for free by clicking here!
Newsarama: Can you tell us about the world that Sky Pirates of Neo Terra is set in?
Josh Wagner: I like to call it post-apocalyptic for kids. An optimistic alternative to the typical dreary post-nuke/zombie/virus wasteland. The flavor of Neo Terra comes about hundreds or thousands of years after some forgotten cataclysm. The earth has renewed its natural potency, and people live in harmony with that nature. There's a balance between technology and magic. Opposing tribes work together while engaging in civil competition. In a lot of ways it's a metaphor for the world we should be trying to build right now; instead of waiting for a reset to force us into it.
Nrama:According to the text in the back of the book, this big idea all started with one character – Billy Boom Boom. Josh, can you tell us how the series bounced around and developed into this big world?
Sean Megaw: After I met Camilla and we locked down Billy's character, we bounced around ideas for the bad guy in this universe and settled on the Pirates King. The big inspiration for the Pirate King was Capitan Harlock. Then, we played around with the glidewings until we came up with the current flyer -- which is similar to Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, a show I loved growing up. After we had developed that base, I brought on Tyler Sigman to help me flush out the world and how the magic and technology works. Then we created the idea of the tribes, magic crystals, map locations, and characters. We then wrote issue 0 of the comic which introduces Billy, Suma, Ricket, Arra, The Pirate King, and why they are racing in the Great Race. We established how important it is for someone to beat the Pirate King.
Nrama: The idea of the glidewings is a really cool concept – I’d buy one. How did that concept come to you, and develop into what we see in the comic?
Megaw: I wanted something that was very mobile for the characters to hop on and off of but still different from the Star Wars Pod Racers. Actually, I originally came up with the glider idea in 1999, so I imagine the pod racers were a direct influence. But what makes the glidewings unique is how the mechanics use crystals in the engines to make them go faster. For instance, Billy's glidewing is one of the fastest in Neo Terra because it's powered by a huge chunk of uncut Fire Crystal. Also, every glidewing takes on the characteristics of the tribe where the racer is from. Camilla made Billy's glidewing more wooden because he's from the Bending Grasslands where as a Long Mine Racer's would be all metal. Jeff Simpson also did a great job creating the other glidewings for all the different racers in the video game.
Nrama: Camilla, let’s bring you in on this -- since you were the primary artist on the video game and the comic, how did you go about getting a feel for how the glidewings operate so you could depict them properly in the comic?
Camilla D’Errico: That was a real challenge, and Sean and I went through a lot of talks and discussions about them. There were so many, many designs in the beginning! At first I designed planes, steampunk style pirate planes, but it wasn't working for the style of the races. We opted for a more Nausicaamore style. The feeling had to be a lot more open and in a sense dangerous. There is nothing holding them in there, no seat belts of any kind. Thinking about that factor, I had to really "feel" the concept, and I spent a lot of time playing out and drawing the tricks and turns based on that. Which is why I designed the wings to fold and flip, allowing more maneuverability. These glidewings had to be really dynamic, but also be made from the ram shackles of what materials are available. So each area had to have a distinct look to their glidewings. The other concept artist on the game, Jeff Simpson, was great at fleshing out some of the other ones and together I really felt like our designs came together to give each tribe a distinct look.
Nrama: In our previous interview, Camilla told me that the Pirate King character was Josh’s favorite out of the whole cast. Can you explain to us your thoughts on him, and what potential you see in him for possibly more stories?
Wagner: I'm a sucker for a complex bad guy. The Pirate King isn't a force of evil. He's not even really that corrupt when it comes right down to it. He's overly-ambitious, and he's only looking out for himself. He represents the roots of corruption rather than corruption itself--which means he's still redeemable. He's good at what he does; he's clever and insightful at times. You can tell he's wrestling with a lot of internal conflict. It remains to be seen what side of the fence he'll fall on, and that what makes him so intriguing
Nrama: I really love the character design for the Witch Queen. How’d that develop – and not just for her, but her other minions too and the Forgotten Isle?
D’Errico: These characters were also a product of the mashing of Jeff's designs and my own. While I was designing some of the other characters, Sean had him working on the darker ones. Once Jeff had a design it was my turn to get in there and give it my personal touch. But I have to credit him with these designs, he really gave the Forgotten a creepy look.
Nrama: Camilla, re-reading this series – and the #0 issue – all in one sitting made me really see how your art developed over the course of the series. I see a real distinct maturation going on here. Can you tell us about your development over the course of the book?
D’Errico: I know! I look back and think "oh my god clean up your lines woman!". Its an interesting thing for an artist to see their older work, and compare it to the newer. I also feel that I really matured in style and in drawing. I remember the issue back then and it being a really fun and lighthearted issue, so as I drew it I remember having that in mind. My lines were much looser, and even my layouts were different. I think with all of my work I learn from the previous experience. For that reason i could come back to the five issues with a more refined pen. Not to mention Sean's editorial nazism. He is a perfectionist, and he'd never let me get away with a mistake, obvious or not. I think he really pushed me to be better than I had been.
Nrama: If people like the story in the comic, would the video game be considered the sequel they should go for next?
Megaw: They actually happen at the same time. The game has about 10 hours of story, and the comic story takes place about 60% of the way through the game. Basically we had a idea for a really cool story line that didn't fit into the game and expanded. We also had to change a few of the elements (like character introductions) because this is the first time the majority of people are meeting these characters.
Nrama: And as the series creator both in comics and video games, this release must be a uhge finish line for you after five years of work. What’s it like now to have the DS game out and the graphic novel edition of the comic?
Megaw: It has been quite the trek that's for sure. Over the years about 40 people have put in time creating the stories and games set in this world. It's amazing for me to see people finally start seeing some of this work in the real world. I'm also happy to announce that we are working on porting the game to the iPhone, iPad and Web right now so all of our fans can play the game even if they don't have a Wii or DS. We want everyone to enjoy this universe that we created. I'm also super proud of how the graphic movel turned out. The art looks amazing, the book's quality is great, and Issue 0 is in there in print for the first time ever. It's an amazing feeling holding it; Camilla's art is just incredible.
Nrama: What’s next for Billy Boom Boom and Sky Pirates of Neo Terra?
Megaw: More video games, more comic book, plush toys, future characters and just maybe an animated web series (fingers crossed!). In the near future, everyone will be able to play Sky Pirate adventures online, and I'll make other announcements I think people will be very excited about. Other than that, Camilla and I were talking about doing a black and white trade of Sky Pirates to sell at comic cons. We did an ash can for issue 1 and that was awesome so we figured we'll do all 5 issues together for our fans.
We are just now talking about the next series in the Sky Pirates universe. There are some really interesting things that I think we might be uniquely qualified to do in the digital comic realm using art created for the game that we are going to explore in the new year. I have to say I really love my iPad so I really want to tap into a way to uniquely deliver content to people with that or the iPhone. But I still love paper comic books more then digital comics, so you'll be seeing Sky Pirates in comic stores for a long time too!
Sky Pirates is in stores now, and you can read the first issue for FREE right here!What do you think of this idea?