It takes special skills to be a secret agent - turns out, being able to transform into a miniature grizzly bear is one of them.
In the new digital miniseries Codename: Ursa Minor on Stela, Dennis Culver and Denis Medri mix Cold War-era espionage with wierd science and a little bit of humor. Think Winter Soldier but with a small bear.
Newsarama talked with Culver and Medri about Codename: Ursa Minor, which is being serialized on Stela every Tuesday.
Newsarama: Dennis, "Codename: Ursa Minor" - which came first, the concept or the name? And how did it develop?
Dennis Culver: I think the basic idea and name landed in my head fully formed. Initially it a bit more straight-ahead science adventure but it wasn't quite working as a concept. Once I added the Cold War and Espionage elements the story really came alive for me.
Nrama: How did you connect with Denis Medri on this one?
Culver: This project was initially greenlit with Stela with another artist but he had some conflicting commitments and had to back out of the project. I'd always been a fan of Medri's work and he was on a very short list.
Denis Medri: I received an email from Dennis last year. We'd never worked together before and he asked me if I was available to work on a digital comic for Stela called Codename: Ursa Minor. Once I read the pitch I couldn't say no!
Nrama: The visuals of a diminutive grizzly bear assassin are something, both as concept art and in sequential storytelling. As an artist yourself, how quickly did you key upon that as a striking image that could serve a story well?
Culver: I love shrinking stories. I think comics is a great medium for that kind of story. A tiny grizzly bear just makes it more interesting!
Nrama: So just who is this assassin grizzly bear?
Culver: Codename: Ursa Minor is a Vietnamese operative for the former Soviet Union. Our story begins when he's activated now for a new mission and his brainwashing malfunctions causing him to act without his programming for the first time in years. Danny unraveling his identity is part of the story.
Nrama: This sounds like some weird science - is it just relegated to the bear assassin, or is there other elements in the series?
Culver: In the world of Ursa Minor no country is currently engaging in miniaturized espionage due to a Small Arms Treaty. Ursa's mission breaks that wide open activating other operatives that we'll meet in the series.
Nrama: What are they up against here?
Culver: Ursa's awakening puts him at odds with both remnants of the old Soviet Union and the United States government.
Nrama: Denis, you've developed your style since I saw your work last over at DC, especially with line weights and using shape. Is this style something you've been wanting to do for some time?
Medri: Of course, the style in Codename: Ursa Minor is completely different than my DC work on Red Hood/Arsenal. I like to take chances with style and try new approaches. I'm pretty versatile in general and the style for any given project happens naturally as in the case of Codename: Ursa Minor.
Reading the script inspired in my mind this cartoony approach that I immediately wanted to try.
Nrama: You also appear to be coloring your own work here. How is that changing how you draw?
Medri: Yes, the process has been very different than my usual way of working. It was the first time I've handled such a large amount of work as colorist too. The pages are made digitally, and there isn't a middle pass between layouts and coloring. I was able to use color to define, fix, and create atmosphere in the final look of the pages. I had a lot of fun working this way and I think it's an original spin to my style that I'll probably use again in future.
Nrama: This is being serialized on Stela, but you've already said you have a print edition in mind down the road. What's it like developing it for two drastically different formats?
Culver: Medri and I worked closely in developing this series with both digital and print in mind. I did some very rough layouts as comic book pages that also accommodated the Stela format and Medri worked off those using the template for the app.
Nrama: Big picture, what are your goals with Codename: Ursa Minor?
Culver: We're already talking to publishers about a print edition and Medri and I are both open to exploring other mediums for our story.