In the land of Maar, Her Majesty Queen Olwyn has been transmuted into a tiger with her protector, Rook, as her only companion and hope to be restored. Rook and Olwyn’s only chance at returning her to her natural state lies in the Isle of Isola, land of the dead, and getting there will be hell. Literally.
The trio of Brenden Fletcher along with Karl Kerschl and Michele “MSassyK” Assarasakorn helped usher in another side of the Batman-verse with the critically-acclaimed Gotham Academy, now bring readers to the mythical world of Isola where superstition and the sword rule.
Newsarama recently spoke with Fletcher, Kerschl, and MSassyK about all things Isola which hits stands April 4. They’ve also included some exclusive artwork to give readers a better look at the world of Maar.
Newsarama: Okay so, Brenden, Karl, and Michele, Isola was announced about two years ago and things seemed to be lined up for a summer release last year. How's it feel to finally come out soon?
Brenden Fletcher: Surprisingly harried! [Laughs] You’d think that after taking so much extra time to get it together that the launch would be as smooth as silk, but there are always so many new things to consider when moving from putting the story and art together to actually preparing for a book’s release into the market. We’re suddenly spending a lot of time on design and outreach, doing interviews like this one, Lan.
Karl Kerschl: We’re pretty far ahead but as soon as that first solicitation goes out things get crazy! It’s hard not to freak out, especially considering that this is our first Image book together and we’ve been wanting to do this for twenty years.
Fletcher: But honestly, it feels so great to finally show off some of Karl and Michele’s incredible artwork. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and oh, man, I don’t think there’s ever been more truth to it then when considering how to get readers excited about Isola - there’s no pitch I can give you for this series that’s more compelling than just putting a few of Karl and Michele’s’ pages in front of you.
Nrama: Brenden, Karl, you've know each other since you were kids. Does something like collaborating on Isola feel like the culmination of your friendship?
Fletcher: I guess I have said in press that this is everything we’ve been working toward in our careers and through our friendship, so...maybe? [Laughs] I mean, it is the culmination, in a sense but I also don’t wanna think that, y’know, this is it and there’s nothing more to come. It’s just that this particular story carries a little more weight given its lengthy origin.
Kerschl: I don’t know if this is even a friendship anymore; it’s more like a marriage. It’s definitely the culmination of one of our life goals. We were very close to doing something like this in, I think, 2001?
Brenden: That sounds about right...
Kerschl: But things went differently - I went and did a bunch of work for Marvel and DC and Brenden performed and made an album and we didn’t really get seriously back down to it until we did our Flash story in Wednesday Comics and then Gotham Academy with Becky and Michele. You should see the number of unpublished pitches we’ve got lying around from our twenties.
Fletcher: I still think about our Namor story every now and then...
Nrama: Let's talk about the world of Isola. What's going on in the world when we jump into the first issue?
Fletcher: A lot! We really throw you into the deep end in the opening pages of Isola #1. The inciting incident takes place a couple of days before the issue kicks off, in a kingdom that our protagonists have fled. Queen Olwyn of Maar has fallen under an evil spell that’s turned her into a giant cat. Fearing for her Queen’s life, the loyal captain of the guard, Rook, finds a way to steal her away to safety. Their plan is now to uncover a way to break the spell on the Queen and Rook’s got one doozy of a crazy idea how to do it.
Kerschl: To literally go to hell.
Fletcher: Spoiler alert.
Nrama: Michele, can you talk about what you wanted for your palette?
Michele Assarasakorn: I love being outdoors so being able to capture it into this comic by creating magical but realistic atmospheric environments was important to me. The palette I use heavily depends on what’s happening in the scene I’m painting. I usually base naturally lit scene in local, actual colours to make them more believable but moodier scenes are more monochromatic because I’m pushing them towards a feeling. I want the color to be part of the story-telling so I usually create a colour script after I’ve roughly painted all the pages and then go into different sections to manipulate them into a sequential palette so that it would feel consistent with the story.
Nrama: You guys have talked about how Hayao Miyazaki films inspired a lot of the aesthetics but where else did you pull inspiration from?
Kerschl: Most of my inspiration comes from nature. I did a webcomic for several years called The Abominable Charles Christopher (which is on hold at the moment, but you can read it at Abominable.cc) that’s just an outlet for me to draw animals and trees and all the stuff I grew up with in the forest behind my house. Isola is a combination of all of those things and my love of myth and fantasy stories.
Assarasakorn: For me, I’ve always been inspired by the aesthetics of traditional background paintings anime and old Disney classics - Sleeping Beauty especially. We tried to keep the backgrounds in Isola a little less rendered than in Gotham Academy so I try to take designing/stylizing cues from old cartoons.
Also just like Karl, I’d say the biggest influence is nature. I grew up in a tropical country, and live on the West coast of Canada now so I’m just super keen to throw things from my visual library into Isola.
Nrama: What kind of audience did you make Isola for?
Brenden: We’re telling fans of Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki’s films in particular to run out and grab Isola as fast as they can. We’ve also talked about the series being perfect for young adult readers but to be honest it should appeal to just about anyone who can get into myths and sagas, fables and fairy tales and adventure stories where ladies in armour battle monsters.
Kerschl: Also for fans of tigers, wolves, foxes, owls, birds of any sort…
Assarasakorn: ...and people who like moss. Lots of moss.
Nrama: How would you guys describe Rook as a character?
Fletcher: There’s no way in hell Rook should be the Queen’s captain of the guard. Everything about her screams to high heaven that she’s not cut out for the gig. She’s brash and unpolished, without the grace and manners of someone set to serve in a Royal Court. And yet, here she is, charged with protecting the most important and powerful woman in the land.
That’s not to say Rook doesn’t have her strong points. She’s tough as nails and just as loyal. She’s also got an intriguing history with Olwyn, that informs how she ends up in her position at the Queen’s side.
If you want a little insight into how Rook stumbled into the job of captain of the guard, the Isola: Prologue story that originally ran in the back of Motor Crush #1-5 is available to read in its entirety here.
Nrama: A lot of fantasy comics have such a rich mythos from page one, but in my experience, could use a glossary page. How accessible do you feel Isola is for readers if you don't have one?
Kerschl: You won’t need to learn Elvish or anything. I’m certain Rook doesn’t know it.
Fletcher: We hope that readers find it very accessible. We’re never going to spend a ton of time outlining the details of our worldbuilding, explaining the minutiae of how and why everything works as it does. We want the world we’ve created to complement the story we’re trying to tell, not overpower it. Our focus is on the characters and their journey, their relationships with each other and how they grow and change as they search for the path to the land of the dead.