In a world of darkness, a couple alchemists have set out to destroy the creatures menacing them by Frankenstein-ing up a hardcore warrior woman named Sym, the sort of lady who’ll rip out a monster’s bones and find more uses for them than a Native American with a buffalo.
Sent back in time, Sym’s mission is to destroy the enemy before it can ever take power. But Sym is more than her creators intended. Within her is the capacity for learning, intelligence and vengeance, made with obscene magics…a Dark Engine.
That’s the premise behind the new fantasy/horror series Dark Engine from Image Comics, a richly colorful tale of magic gone wrong, terrifying creatures, and a great deal of butt-kicking dismemberment. With the first issue going on sale this week, we talked with writer Ryan Burton and artist John Bivens about bringing to life Sym and her world.
Newsarama: Ryan, John – where did the initial idea for Dark Engine come from?
John Bivens: It was one of three proposals that Ryan had sent my way. This one seemed like it housed the most potential for me to contort my drawing muscles into weird shapes.
Ryan Burton: I wanted a female lead, one that was made of fury. One that was unstoppable. I'm really keen on the idea of characters showing what they're made of through their actions, and not the words they say.
So, with those elements in mind, along with John's artwork, I set the story against a bleak, dark fantasy where the impossible and the weird run rampant. At the end of the day, I just wanted to make a comic I wanted to read.
Nrama: How did you develop Sym's world -- what were some of the biggest influences?
Burton: Tough question...I think about Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Toppi's Sharaz-De, Frank Quitely's fight scenes in We3, the sheer weirdness of Prophet, the work of JH Williams III...all that and more goes into Sym's world.
I might see something on TV or in the movies or read something, make a note of it, and maybe fit it into the story if it makes sense. If it doesn't, then I'll just keep it in my back-pocket.
Some video games, definitely. Ueda's Shadow of the Colossus will have a huge influence on the second arc.
Bivens: For me there was a lot of European influence. Moebius, Serpieri, and bringing in a bit of the Heavy Metal magazine feel I grew up with.
Nrama: How did you come to work with John on the book, and what's your collaboration like?
Burton: As John mentioned, I approached him with several pitches. He chose the one that, frankly, I thought he would choose. The collaboration is a balance between constant conversation about a particular page, idea, or even a panel...and a certain looseness that's really refreshing.
Nrama: What made Image the right choice for this book?
Burton: God...Image, man. It's like asking "what made sex the right choice with this very attractive person?" Or "why did you choose this broadsword over this knife?"
Since the days of WildC.A.T.s, I've been enamored with Image Comics. Their stance on creator rights, their support, the overall quality of the books they publish, their fairness, their sincerity--and that's just scratching the surface--all of that and much more is why Image was the right choice.
Bivens: Not only have the folks at Image been really supportive but they are kind of the big stage for creator owned comics. We had discussed which companies we might pitch to, and Image was #1 on our list. Really happy they said yes.
Nrama: How long do you see this series running?
Bivens: It's ongoing but has a definite endpoint. I'm seeing a 3 year (give or take) journey.
Burton: Yeah, the story is ongoing, but it's not going to be one that waddles around and takes more time than it needs. We're cutting the fat, and making the stakes high--we're keeping things moving. We know the ending, and it'll be one that readers remember.
Nrama: How did y'all come up with Sym's rib-sword? I hadn't seen something like that in a while, with the exception of the femur-knife in the 1980s melt-film classic Street Trash.
Bivens: I think Ryan stays up at night trying to think of stuff I'll have fun drawing.
Burton: John's not joking. I've woken up innumerable times thinking about Dark Engine, excited beyond belief about what we're doing.
The idea for the ribsword was pretty simple. What if Sym burst out of a thunder lizard's chest, was threatened by another predator, and used her surroundings to defend herself? She's vicious, but she's also an uncanny survivor--she's constantly using her surroundings. Knowing this about her, it made sense to have her snap the dead lizard's rib off and use it as a crude sword.
Nrama: What's the trickiest part of writing sequences from the POV of ancient, demonic, bone-ripping creatures?
Burton: Being sincere, being careful. Giving just enough to make things real and not forced. For example, we have a dragon living in the mouth of a dead colossus, surrounded by little demons called SporeDevils. With that type of fantastic set-up, it's important to me that I make it feel as real as a man living in a house, surrounded by his children.
Nrama: There's some heart-eating in this. What do you think hearts taste like, and exactly how much thought have you put into this, and should we be worried?
Bivens: My day job is a butcher, and I happen to be one of those crazy butchers that like the strange cuts (the offal). I've made (cow) heart before, for myself and friends. It is delicious...I recommend with a chimichurri, and leave it very bloody.
Nrama: …and you just made me a vegetarian. Give us the hardest of hard sells on this.
Bivens: I am going to do my best to take Ryan's script and turn it into images that start making brains melt and eyes bleed... in a good way.
Burton: John's art.
Nrama: What other books/creators are you currently enjoying?
Burton: I'm currently re-reading Urasawa's Pluto, which is totally fantastic. After that, I'm going to try and start Murakami's IQ84.
Bivens: Justin Jordan, Tradd Moore, Kyle Strahm, Igor-alban Chevalier, Nic Klein, Jason Howard, and pretty any of the artist and writers working in the Mignola creative stable.
Nrama: What else is coming up for you?
Burton: A few whispers here and there, but my main focus is telling Dark Engine’s story.
Bivens: There have been a couple of offers from other folks but nothing too concrete. I will be getting my MFA at MCAD and have another book coming out in the next year called Old Wounds with writer Russell Lissau from Pop Goes the Icon.
Dark Enginehits stores today, Wednesday, July 16.