Night’s Dominion is a strong break from what readers have come to know from Ted Naifeh; gone are the cute and whimsical worlds of Polly Pringle and her pirate gang, lost is Courtney Crumrin and her dark but precocious designs, replaced by a band of anti-heroes in an ancient and mystical setting.
After talking with Naifeh about the book's inception earlier this year, Newsarama stikes up a conversation again, now two issues in, about the events thus far and what's to come from November 23's Night's Dominion, and from him as a whole.
Newsarama: So Ted, Night's Dominion #2 just hit stands the past few weeks, where are you in the process of making it right now?
Ted Naifeh: Wrapping up #6. I should have been done last month but the last two issues involve marching armies and tons of detail.
Also, convention season sucks up a lot of energy.
Nrama: What's been fan reaction so far to it that you've seen?
Naifeh: The fans seem to like it, but it's a big departure from my usual fare. It's not an all-ages book. It's not cute. At all. It's a strong cup of black coffee compared to the bittersweet chocolate of Courtney Crumrin.
But the initial critical reception has been overwhelmingly positive for the most part. A lot of great reviews came pouring in right away.
Nrama: So going from one flavor profile to another, as you put it, was that hard to break away from initially or as the story progressed and more of it started to flow, did it get easier?
Naifeh: It was more like being possessed by a craving. This story just bubbled up in the back of my mind, and nothing else would satisfy.
Nrama: Where are our characters in the story by the end of #2?
Naifeh: #1 sets them on a path, robbing this powerful death cult of the money they've presumably collected from the followers. Issue two ends after they've attempted the heist, it went sideways, they've barely escaped, and they now face the city's self-styled crime-fighter. So it's out of the frying pan into the fire for our beleaguered heroes.
Nrama: A number of adventure stories fall into this trap of not letting the story breathe properly and its go go go. I apologize for the food analogies, but is there a place where Night's Dominion takes a pause and allows things to simmer properly so it doesn't get burnt?
Naifeh: Yes, but simmering also lets the flavors deepen. I never had any interest in stories that rush from one action sequence to another. If you don't know or care who the characters are, it's not really a plot, just a bunch of stuff happening. Every good story needs time to sit with the characters and let the plot take effect on them. I'm not talking about exposition, where the characters yammer incessantly and the plot gets needlessly complicated. Nor am I talking about characters telling one another how they feel in excruciating detail. That's just lazy writing. I mean epic character moments.
Rorschach acknowledging that his view of good and evil is nothing more than a desperate attempt to impose meaning on his pointless suffering. Or Furiosa realizing that there’s no green place to escape to. Quiet moments can speak volumes. Plot is just the characters revealing who they are, transforming, and discovering truths about themselves. It doesn't really matter whether they do it through violent action or just sitting on a toilet. If it's powerful enough, the reader doesn't even notice the difference. But if the transformations and truths are weak, then world-shattering explosions don't make a difference. They just provide a cheap distraction. Which never works for long.
A well-crafted whisper can shatter worlds more effectively than any explosion.
Nrama: Okay, that makes sense here. Stepping away from story, let's talk about design. Back in April, we talked briefly about the designs of the characters from the Asp and the Night, so who are we going to run into from issue three onward you're excited to show off?
Naifeh: I've introduced all my pieces, more or less. But if you've read the second issue, you know that the Furie will get a little face time in issue three. Surprisingly, it's the Furie that seems to puzzle some readers the most. Their impression of issue one was that it would be a straightforward swords and sorcery, that a fantasy crime caper was genre-bending enough. And then, in walks a bona fide superhero. This threw some readers right out of the story. But I don't quite see why. I suppose they weren't expecting chocolate in their peanut butter. But that was the point of the recipe, superhero surprise. So there will be more Furie. There will also be more about the looming threat of the cult. And some tears, of course. You can have a good story without a little sadness.
Nrama: With the Furie, you made him your Batman so to speak, that has a look that's like a dragon or a bird of prey. When you were trying to get his look down, what were you trying to avoid the most?
Naifeh: Truth to tell, he was the easiest character to design.The main thing I wanted was to make him easy to draw. I wanted that for all of them, really. So I suppose the thing I most tried to avoid was excessive detail. Which is hard with fantasy. The genre likes detail. You can cover characters in weapons, pouches, finely tooled decorations. These are the signifiers of fantasy. So my challenge was to evoke a sense of ancientness without drowning in detail. And without being dull.
I also needed to create a superhero look without resorting to the standard design tropes. No tights, no domino masks with white eyes, no costume details that are clearly impossible, like Iron Man's expression-changing eye holes. He's clearly a superhero, but he's just as clearly a man in leather armor and a steel helmet.I had to find a way to evoke both, and I think it works wonderfully. He’s clearly a classic dark stalker of the night type superhero. But he also looks like he could stand next to King Arthur and not look out of place.
Nrama: In contrast to that, who was the hardest to design for you?
Naifeh: The Night, by far. She carries the series, so she needed to be unique and memorable. I quickly found myself in uncharted territory. What was easy for the Furie was incredibly challenging for the Night. I didn’t want people to think of her as a medieval Catwoman. That’s fine for side characters, but not the protagonist. She had to look unlike anyone else in comics. Her design should feel both heroic and villainous, protective but not clunky, and appropriate for her world rather than jarringly anachronistic. I also wanted her to be a touch sexy without making it a “sexy outfit.” No sword-fighting in lingerie. Not in this book, anyway.
I looked at Catwoman, of course, and Elektra, plus lots of paintings of dark elves, Art Nouveau dancers, the TV version of Green Arrow with his greasepaint mask, and Arkham Origins’ wonderful design for Copperhead. All that plus ancient fashions and extremely modern fashion deconstruction rattled around my head for a while. In the end, I think I came up with a design that feels very iconic. Unlike the Furie, you don’t look at the Night and think she’s just a variation on some other character. She’s quite unique.
Nrama: As you're promoting Night's Dominion, do you get questions about if you're continuing any of your other series?
Naifeh: All the time. People really want more Ugg, but the story arc was meant to be just eight chapters, and I found I didn't have another one waiting to tell. Ulga's story needed nothing more. If I think of another one, I'll get on it. But for now, I'm obsessed with Emerane.
Anyway, it means I left 'em wanting more. That's a show business success in my book.
Nrama: Do you feel like you'll ever want to return to Ulga's world, or Polly or Courtney's for that matter, because of fan demand alone?
Naifeh: No, not merely because fans demand it. That's a great way to create an unnecessary and pointless sequel. I'll do it when the next idea hits. And if I have time in my schedule. Of course, the fans can influence me to prioritize something. Just not to try and come up with something new. Only good old-fashioned inspiration can do that.
Nrama: It sounds like you're winding down with Night's Dominion, but knowing you, you already have something else lined up. You've done fantasy and adventure, what do you think you'd like to do next?
Naifeh: To be honest, I've already written the next three chapters in what will be an eight chapter follow-up arc to Night’s Dominion. And I have detailed plans for three more arcs after that. It's obsessing me.
Nrama: Why do you think that is?
Naifeh: No idea. Maybe because it gives me the opportunity to reinvent superheroes. I can play with beloved tropes, but in a completely unique way. That dynamic opens up a whole world of possibility. Superheroes are wonderful, but they’re limited by the genre’s conventions. Moving them into a different genre allows me the opportunity to reexamine them, and recontextualize the ideas they explore.
Nrama: Looking back on your career, you’ve done fantasy, adventure, a few Batman projects, which I know you were excited about, and so much more, do you feel like you've done everything you've wanted to do so far?
Naifeh: Not even close. There are so many things I'd have liked to do. But the industry is set up in certain ways. It's always seductive to imagine playing with characters I grew up on, but they are most assuredly the property of corporations, and even if I got the chance, I wouldn't have carte blanche to do what I liked, which I find intolerably stifling.
Some people do their best work under those conditions, pushing themselves to soar within confining limits. But not me. I do my best work when I can just let my imagination have free rein. So my career has conspired to keep me doing my own creator-owned ideas. In that arena, the only limit I have is time.
There isn't enough time or energy to do all the things I'd like to.