When you undertake a good old-fashioned quest, you need good companions. In the upcoming fantasy anthology Hunters, an assortment of characters team up on a holy quest – and the individual creators of each short story in the anthology are doing the same.
Scheduled to be released June 13 from Lion Forge, Hunters is a rare anthology in which all the stories are smaller adventures that are connected to a larger adventure that runs through the course of the 232-page tome. Josh Tierney, Paul Maybury, and Miguel Valderrama take the lead I this project, acting as writers, artists, and curators in this unique fantasy universe. They’re joined by creators such as Travel Foreman, Irene Koh, Alexis Ziritt, Benjamin Marra, Ramon Sierra, and Vlad Gusev.
Newsarama: Hunters is a unique book - it’s an anthology, but it’s all the short stories are part of a larger story with continuity to one another. Before we get into those nuts and bolts, what is the larger story?
Josh Tierney: The main story is that of famed hero Azarias gathering a group of the greatest warriors in his kingdom in order to save the life of their cursed king. At two points the warriors must split up, and it is then that our team of creators tell their stories as they try to gather artifacts or make their way through dark, abstract labyrinths. These tales are fully integrated into the overall story and are just as important as the main parts when they're all together.
Nrama: How'd this idea to do an anthology like this come about? The closest comparison I can come up with is a Marvel or DC event book or prose anthologies like the Thieves World books.
Maybury: My original story outline was a nod to Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts. Josh was able to take that premise to new heights with his wonderful script. Hunters functions much like early DC and Marvel books, where you have characters created by individual teams of creators joining up for the very first time. I suppose the big difference is that this project is self-contained. Readers won’t have to spend a fortune to jump into our lovingly curated universe. In the early 2000’s, there was an anthology boom. I personally contributed to at least a dozen of anthologies during that period. One thing that I always noticed was that I would inevitably skip over a story that didn’t seem my cup of tea. The true goal of Hunters is to give readers a reason to view the collected work as a whole. In a best-case scenario, we turn someone on to a style of comic that they wouldn’t seek out themselves.
Nrama: So who is Azarias and the army he gathered?
Tierney: Azarias is the main hero, with his own set of morals in a violent, oft-warring world. He's very much inspired by the heroes of '80s fantasy films and comics, from the obvious like Conan the Barbarian to the less-so like Krull. In some respects I wrote the main story of Hunters as if it were an '80s fantasy B-film but with an infinite budget. Each member of the small army he's gathered was created by one of the creators in the book, giving us a very diverse range of characters from a mute ninja girl to a brooding bounty hunter to an aging storyteller.
Nrama: What are they after - and who's to stop them?
Tierney: The warriors are seeking the dust of a mysterious island god, and pretty much everything on the island from deadly-poisonous ants to giant white vultures are attempting to stop them the moment they set foot on land.
Nrama: Let’s use this to bring in some of the other creators and their characters.
Ramon Sierra: Jabez and Diggory are new at this. They are wanna-be adventurers. Don’t ask me who saw these two signing up to save their king and thought “ Yeah, sure. They will do just fine.” Diggory is eager but ill-prepared. Jabez is just not feeling the whole adventurer deal.
Vlad Gusev: In my story “In the Bright Darkness,” Samaria is part of a circle of healers that were under the king’s protection. But when all of their efforts failed to heal his curse, they lost all the privileges and were left defenseless. To restore king's trust, Samaria has to find the cure by any means.
By nature, Samaria is a solitary person with a tendency of thinking highly of herself, she is very sharp and prefers to work alone. One of my favorite parts of "In the Bright Darkness" is the conflict between her and the veteran warrior Loach as they are put against a real threat that surpasses their individual strengths. So, the only way for them to survive is to learn to work as a team and rely on each other, which might be the real challenge for Samaria.
Nrama: What are they after individually?
Sierra: For my story, Jabez and Diggory are after the glory, the bragging rights and the realness of facing danger on a daily basis for a living. Or at least that’s what Diggory is after. Who’s to stop them?
Nrama: How did you three - Josh, Miguel, and Paul - come together to do this originally?
Maybury: Josh contacted me to do some art for the first volume of Spera (and a story for the second), off the strength of my fantasy work on Aqua Leung. It wasn’t long after, that I approached Josh about working with me on Hunters. The original line-up was comprised largely of creators who went on to contribute to Prophet and Island. Many creators came and went after various delays and dead ends with publishers. We eventually restructured the project with a new cast. Miguel really blew me away with his short and we were very fortunate to have him take over for Afu Chan on the main chapters.
Tierney: Paul invited me through DeviantArt many years ago, and then I invited Miguel through DeviantArt much more recently. Originally Afu Chan was going to draw the main story, but his schedule ended up getting full, so I immediately thought of Miguel after the incredibly detailed and energetic work he put into his chapter with his brother Carlos.
Miguel Valderrama: I was trying to work in comics, and I wanted to start with some short stories or anthologies, that’s when I found Josh and he offered me a little chapter for Hunters. Being my first professional comic, it was unbelievable to ended up doing almost 100 pages for the entire book.
Nrama: And how'd you go about recruiting creators for the other stories?
Tierney: Some I spoke to at conventions while many of them came from my fantasy series Spera, which also involves a large group of rotating artists. We sought artists with very distinctive styles who would be capable of creating totally unique characters for the project.
Maybury: Everyone I solicited for the project I knew personally, with the exception of Josh. Despite working together for eight years, we’ve never had the opportunity to meet in person. I suppose I need to get myself to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival next year and change that.
Nrama: If I may ask, how does the ownership work on this - it feels like a creator-owned anthology, but some of the stories aren't completely theirs right?
Tierney: Everyone owns their own characters and comics, something Paul was always passionate about as we sought a publisher for the book.
Maybury: As I mentioned before, this project suffered long delays due to finding the right publisher. All of the characters, with the exception of Azarias and Gaspar, are created and owned by the individual creative teams behind them. Meaning, if I (or anyone else) wanted to expand on their character or story they are free to do so at any publisher and at any time. Everyone has their own contract that allows these characters under the umbrella of this specific project to appear in each other’s stories. If I wanted to launch a book off my contributed character, Loach, then I would have to get permission and work out a separate deal to have another creators character appear in a new story. Make sense? Probably more than you wanted to know!
Nrama: Big picture, what are your goals for all of this?
Tierney: My goal as the main story writer is to hopefully give readers one of the biggest and best barbarian adventure comics they've ever read, something I believe is possible thanks to the contributions of all the incredible creators involved. I'm also excited for readers to see this world and these characters through a multitude of styles, including several that people wouldn't normally associate with this type of fantasy project. If Hunters ends up becoming popular enough, I'd personally love to continue the stories of some of the characters I helped create, or even delve deeper into the past of their unique world.
Maybury: Now that the structure is in place we can easily expand on this universe, via follow-up anthology or individual series. I’d love to see some of our past contributors come back to revisit some of their shelved ideas; schedules and interest permitting. That said, this book should definitely hold folks over. We pushed the limit with how many pages we could fit in Hunters at this low price point.