What if you mixed Mad Max with Dungeons & Dragons? Well, five people did - and the result is Image Comics' new ongoing The Realm.
Writer Seth M. Peck, artist Jeremy Haun, colorist Nick Filardi, letterer Thomas Maurer, and editor Joel Enos are banding together to tell the story of a group of warriors in a post-apocalyptic supernatural wasteland. While these five people are teaming together to make comic books, their warriors are coming together to fight a powerful sorcerer named Johnny Eldritch aiming for control of this shattered world.
Newsarama spoke with Peck and Haun about this new series, which debuts on Wednesday.
Nrama: Seth, you and Jeremy dive right into some hairy situations and establish the characters right away of The Realm, but can you give us a little backstory of the world at large?
Seth M. Peck: We step into the story about a decade after a global cataclysm that saw monsters from another reality overrun the planet. These creatures largely resemble monsters from myth and fantasy (orcs, dragons, trolls, etc), although their precise origins are unknown. Whatever force brought about this apocalypse also knocked out the electricity and rendered most technology useless. Since some time has passed, we are following characters who are "survivors," people who are resourceful, and maybe a bit more hardened than the average person.
There are characters, both good and evil, with designs on this new world, and it's the interaction of those characters (and their minions) that propels the story of The Realm.
Nrama: So your main character Will Nolan, how would you describe him?
Peck: Will is a guy who checks all the exits the minute he steps into a room. He's a strategist, and he's found his niche as the guy who can get you where you need to go, for the right price. His bravery and heroism is tempered with a very strong pragmatic streak, and he doesn't take unnecessary risks. He's a former soldier, and he's got the right blend of resourcefulness and training to thrive in the dangerous world of The Realm.
Jeremy Haun: We’re jumping into this world about a decade after the Break. People have had to figure out how to survive. Will isn’t just a survivor, he’s the guy who helps others survive- to get from place to place in this post apocalyptic landscape. Will also has his demons. There’s something that he’s running from that he just can’t escape, no matter how he tries.
Nrama: When coming up with designs for monsters and characters, what were some of the visual inspirations going into this?
Peck: I think a lot of it came from classic D&D monsters, with an eye towards making them familiar while bringing in new elements. The way our world appropriates items from theirs, and the way they take things from ours and repurpose them is something that is a big part of what we wanted to do visually. We wanted orcs using machine guns and human soldiers wielding warhammers and battleaxes.
We usually discuss the basic design elements of the characters, and then Jeremy noodles around with them and we talk it out until we feel like we've got it figured out. I think that Ben was the only character I really had a clear image of in my mind, and sketched out the details for Jeremy to translate.
Haun: When we were building the world of The Realm we talked a lot about “our goblins” and “our dragons." We spent a lot of time going through those old D&D monster manuals, picking out things we liked and figured out how we wanted them to look and feel. Once we knew what we wanted I just went crazy with it.
I tend to design a lot on the page, so even with the discussions and planning, I was still finding a lot of these crazy creatures as we’d go.
I loved designing the human characters. The setting of the book really allowed me to mix and match the looks in the best kind of way. I wanted the costuming to look and feel like classic fantasy design, but built from these elements of modern clothing.
One of my favorite designs is Rook. She has this helmet that she always wears. It was probably the hardest thing to design so far in The Realm. It had to be iconic and feel both modern and old school fantasy. I think I sketched it out fifty times before landing on something that we liked.
Nrama: There's a lot going on in this first issue with multiple viewpoints including one from the possible big bad. What can you tell us about him?
Haun: Heh. Johnny Eldritch. I can’t give away too much, but he’s just the best-worst. For now, he’s the first human we see amongst the dark army - a sorceror. Johnny’s from our world though. He had a life before the Break. His story is going to be a lot of fun to reveal as we go.
Peck: The first story arc introduces one of the major players on the "dark side" of things. Although you pretty quickly figure out that he's in the service of a larger evil, and exactly what that means is something that will play out over time. Just as our cast of heroes will grow and change over time, so will our villains. There's no shortage of evil in The Realm, and it's not always going to be obvious who is fighting for which side.
Nrama: Will has this secret that's touched on late in the first issue; what sort of trouble will this cause for him and his allies?
Peck: Will's hiding something that plays a larger part in the story outside of the danger it presents to him, and ultimately he will have to decide whether or not he can trust those around him with it. The notion of trust and what it means to have faith in others is a fairly major theme in the book.
Haun: A hero like Will has to have flaws otherwise they’re just not interesting write about. This is a hell of a flaw. He’s been holding it back, but this thing is coming for him. Like Seth said, that’s something that’s going to have a real effect on the rest of the group.
Nrama: Having Nick Filardi on colors, what was the color scheme you were going for here?
Haun: Nick is brilliant. Easily one of the best in the business. Colorists just don’t get enough love. Nick is a painter- my visual partner on this project. We’re honored to have him.
We took some real time building this book. Work started on it a year ago. Because of that we had a real opportunity to figure out exactly how we wanted it to look. Nick and I looked at a lot of color palettes to figure out what we wanted. We tried a few things and found what really worked. The temptation is always just to go washed out with post apocalyptic stuff. We chose to go another way. There are still washed out moments and locations, but more often the world of The Realm can get pretty saturated and beautiful.
Nrama: Jeremy, you're no stranger to creator-owned comic books but Seth this is your first outing in this field in a while. Why did you feel like The Realm was the right project to go into?
Peck: I've been friends with Jeremy for well over a decade and we've always discussed working together on something. I've got a full-time career and writing is something I've always enjoyed in my "spare" time. The idea of committing to an ongoing book is something I had to approach with caution, because I know the amount of time and energy it takes to really make it work. That said, when Jeremy came to me with the basic premise of The Realm, I knew that it was exactly the kind of project I'd been waiting for because it would let me dip into so many different genres while being rooted in stuff that was close to my heart.
Haun: If you’re going to create a long form comic, you’d better sure as hell enjoy the people you’re working with. Like Seth said, we’ve been friends for years. That part is easy. He’s also just one of the most creatively entertaining people I’ve ever been around. Every idea that one of us comes up with is made stronger by the other. The book shines for it.
Nrama: You guys have also included a music video of sorts with imagery of the first issue with Missouri-based quartet Me Like Bees. How did this come about?
Haun: I wanted to do something different with The Realm. I think about music a lot when I’m making these things. I know Seth does too. A lot of creators put up playlists for a book. I kind of wanted to take that to the next level.
I’ve known the guys from Me Like Bees for a while now. We come from the same small town. I pitched the collaboration to Luke Shafter from the band. He got it. We set out to do something that felt like the opening titles for something like an HBO or Netflix series. Somehow that one song grew into an EP.
We’ve released the first song “The River Divides”. It’s available streaming on http://www.realmcomic.com and to purchase on Apple Music. I directed the music video. I’m incredibly happy with how it all came out.
From there, we’ll be releasing a new song with each issue of the first arc - five in all. They’ll all stream on the site during the time that issue is on the stands. At the end of the arc, we’ll be releasing the full EP along with the trade paperback. Depending on how things go, we’d even like to do some kind of deluxe special edition. I really want a vinyl EP and hardcover. We’ll have to see if we can make that happen.
Nrama: What are you hoping readers take away from The Realm?
Peck: My only real goal is tell a story that people enjoy, because I think anything else I want to do with it is predicated on that first and foremost.
Haun: I just hope that people dig it. People like to say “fantasy is a hard sell.” I wouldn’t mind proving that wrong.