Mesoamerican Fantasy Comes to Life with MEZO

"Mezo #1" preview
Credit: A Wave Blue World
Credit: Josh Zingerman/Doug Garbark (A Wave Blue World)

Ever since The Lord of the Rings, the fantasy genre has leaned Anglo-Saxon. So, when something pops up that’s not based in Arthurian Legend, it’s worth taking note. Mezo, a new fantasy comic from A Wave Blue World, is just that kind of something.

Set in the titular Mesoamerican nation-state, Mezo tells the story of the Huax’kin Tribe, the last holdout against the ever-expanding Tzalekuhl Empire. Told through the eyes of characters on both sides of the struggle, Mezo is a story of family, leadership, and the cost of living free.

With the first issue on-sale now, Newsarama sat down with the Mezo writer Tyler Chin-Tanner, artist Josh Zingerman, and colorist Doug Garbark to talk about the characters that inhabit the world, how it changes the genre, and even how thier unique serialization strategy is aiming to change the way people buy comics.

Newsarama: This story starts off in a very emotional place by giving us two perspectives on either side of a war. The first perspective belongs to a character called Roden, the second to a character named Kyma. Tyler, who are these people heading into Issue One?

Tyler Chin-Tanner: At the beginning of the story, both Roden and Kyma are very concerned about the future of their people. The safety and welfare of their families are at stake and this has a big impact on their decisions moving forward.

Roden is a soldier in the Tzalekuhl empire. He believes that the best chance for his children to grow up in a peaceful world is to help their empire conquer all of Mezo.

Kyma is the daughter of the Chief of the Huax’kin tribe. She watches as her father is killed during the Tzalekuhl invasion and is thrust into the leadership position. She’s really the last hope for her people to survive this conquest.

Credit: Josh Zingerman/Doug Garbark (A Wave Blue World)

Nrama: Tell us a little bit about Mezo, the world in which Kyma and Roden live. It has the look of a Mesoamerican civilization, but is it set in that era? Moreover, is it set on our Earth?

Chin-Tanner: The story is set in a fictional world, so it’s not our Earth. We drew inspiration from Mesoamerican history in the same way that many fantasy epics draw on Anglo-Saxon history.

Doug Garbark: A big part of this book from a color standpoint revolves around the skies. Where blues would begin to turn to more of an orange and ominous sky as the story plays out. Another fun element was adding a lot of grit and blood stains to the warriors. I didn’t want everyone to look pristine during the battle. I wanted to show the toll of the war on the characters.

Chin-Tanner: For the fantasy elements, I wanted to downplay them to a degree. In the first issue, the colors are more gritty and realistic, whereas future issues bring in a more whimsical element that wouldn’t have worked as well during the battle.

Nrama: There's this sense of deep lore one gets when reading Mezo #1. Can you give us a summary of the mythology/history behind it? How does this lore affect our character's lives?

Chin-Tanner: There’s a rich history, a lore, behind the world of Mezo that we see in the comic. I didn’t want it to weigh too heavily on the story, but a lot has happened in the past, some of it generations ago, that affect the events in the current timeline.

Nrama: Final plot question, I promise: What's the significance of the upcoming solar eclipse?

Credit: Josh Zingerman/Doug Garbark (A Wave Blue World)

Chin-Tanner: The answer to this has a lot to do with the previous solar eclipse, which caused the earthquake and volcanic eruption that destroyed the previous home of the Tzalekuhl. We hear the Emperor, Vuh, refer to it as “The Day of Destruction.” According to his preachings, they were being punished for not following the god Kuhl. And in order to ensure their survival during this upcoming eclipse, they must make sure all of Mezo worship this deity.

Nrama: Alright, let's talk creating this fantasy epic. What was the original idea for this comic, and what happened between it and your first pieces of concept art?

Josh Zingerman: Tyler and I knew we wanted to work together and the timing worked out that we met up for lunch one afternoon in New York after I'd come back from a trip to the Amazon jungle. I suggested we work on a fantasy book - something epic and mythology-driven. Given my recent trip, I wanted to play around with the Mesoamerican look, much like Avatar: The Last Airbender plays with Asian cultures. Tyler shared my enthusiasm.

The beginning of designing Mezo was capturing the look and feel of the world through its creatures, characters, and environments. We were creating a universe out of nothing. With my concept art, Tyler started to build out the story and mythology, and once we had the first script locked down, we were off to the races.

Nrama: How did you use color to fully flesh out this world? Did you draw any inspiration from anything in particular for creating the feel of this story?

Garbark: A lot of my inspiration came from movies/shows like Apocalypto, 300, and Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Games like Assassins’ Creed: Odyssey/Origins have been great for reference as well. For the costumes I researched images of various Mayan and Inca warriors and infused their style with centurion armor to come up with the look of Roden and company.

Nrama: My favorite character design in this book is one of the main villains, a character called Phegor. Can you talk a little bit about his design? How the heck does he see outta that helmet?

Zingerman: Honestly, he was the most fun to design. So much of the character was in Tyler's script. Essentially, he’s like the Mountain from Game of Thrones if he were also blind, hence why his helmet covers his eyes. He's pretty badass.

Nrama: Mezo isn't just something new story-wise, it's the beginning of a completely new way of publishing comics, A Wave Blue World's Premier #1 Program. Under this program, you release a printed first issue of the book, then finish the book digitally, then publish the book physically once it's complete. How/why did this new way of publishing come about?

Credit: Josh Zingerman/Doug Garbark (A Wave Blue World)

Chin-Tanner: The Premier Program was a response to the current state of the comic industry. We’re seeing stories written and consumed in short story arcs (approximately five issues). Many readers “trade wait” but that doesn’t allow for the possibility of testing out a series first. That’s why we came up with the idea of putting out a Premier first issue with extra concept design in the back. Readers can still choose to read along with each issue digitally, or jump straight to the trade paperback, which comes out within two months.

Nrama: How did the program affect Mezo? Did it have the same deadlines/timeline of other monthly comics, or did Premiere #1 change how you created it?

Chin-Tanner: I’d say overall, it’s become our strategy to get as much done on a title as we can before we put it out. This eliminates delays and makes for a better experience for readers.

Nrama: Why start the program with Mezo?

Chin-Tanner: Mezo was the perfect title for launching the program because of the epic nature of the story. We’re inviting people into a new world, one we hope will be around for a while. Dead Legends is also part of this Premier Program launch, coming out just one week later, so people should check out that title as well.

Credit: Josh Zingerman/Doug Garbark (A Wave Blue World)

Nrama: Finally, this is a fantastical comic, set in a very different world than our own. In your opinions, what makes it a relevant story for readers today?

Chin-Tanner: Allegories are a great way to take a deeper look at our own world without it seeming too didactic. In the end, we are all people and our struggles are all the same.

Zingerman: Mezo is a fantasy story, yes, but it draws from a mixture of real-world cultures that are rarely portrayed in comics today. That special, unique vision was something that we really strove for. Similar to Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, this story also features a host of memorable characters that readers will easily be able to identify with.

Garbark: Mezo has beautiful locations, badass characters, unique beasts, and dynamic action sequences. It’s a fun book from start to finish and I always look forward to jumping back into the world when starting new issues and I think readers will get that same feeling.

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