If you have a brother or sister, you know how much you can hate them from time to time. But while you might have fights within, you still pull together in times of stress. So what would it take to throw out those family bonds and hunt down your flesh and blood?
In the upcoming three issue series Carbon Grey, four well-trained and well-armed sisters are put at odds when the ruler they were sworn to protect is assassinated – and one of them is the prime suspect. In this tech-heavy world, the sisters are (or were) the trained guards of Kaiser, the ruler of Mitteleuropa. And with war breaking out across the world and their leader assassinated, one of the sisters is left with blood on her hands. The girl on the run is Giselle Grey, and she’s in panic mode as she tried to defend herself from her enraged sisters as well as find out who really killed the man she was tasked with protecting.
Set to debut on March 2nd, Carbon Grey is spearheaded by a video game artist who has a history with comics – Hoang Nguyen. After making a name for himself in the early 90s with stints on Punisher: War Zone, Alien Legion and several titles for Malibu, Nguyen stepped away from comics for a full-time career in the world of video games. He spent years at EA before jumping over to Namco Bandai to become studio art director on such titles as Afro Samurai and Splatterhouse. But while his days were filled with video games, his nights were still full of comic book ambition and Nguyen spent the past eight years honing the ideas and art that would become Carbon Grey. To get this project out of the sketchbook and onto the shelf, Hoang enlisted several friends in the industry including Khari Evans (Shanna The She-Devil, Daughters of the Dragon) to make the project shine and in just over a month it’ll finally debut.
Newsarama: So what can you tell us about Carbon Grey, Hoang?
Hoang Nguyen: Without giving too much away, for me the story is about the potential in us to be either creative or destructive. At the core of it, it’s about family, traditions and honors. Carbon Grey is our creation myth, and hopefully that grand statement will make more sense as the series progresses.
Nrama: The solicits for the first issue tell me about a group of siblings known as the Sisters Grey. Tell us about them.
Nguyen: The Sisters Grey are descendants of Gottfaust. the mythical hero of their nation's golden era. The sisters are beautiful, wise and deadly; bred for purity and groomed to perfection. Their role is to protect and counsel the Kaiser, and for over three hundred years that's what their family has done. For generations there have been three sisters, one for strength, one for grace and one for wisdom. Now with the birth of twins, Giselle and Mathilde, there are four, and this imbalance is exploited by some unseen hand.
Nrama: This isn’t Earth as we know it – what’s this world like?
Nguyen: The world of the Greys is a few degrees away from our own. It's a world caught up in its first great war, a conflict in which the two major players are both technologically-advanced, industrialized nations. Its history, politics and geography are similar to ours, but it's important to note that Carbon Grey isn't set in a parallel universe or alternative history. Later in the series we plan to show exactly how it relates to our own history.
Nrama: Interesting. Getting back to the sisters this series revolves around, one of the sisters, Giselle, is the number one suspect in the death of the man they were protecting, Kaiser. How’d this all come down, and how can she even hope to outrun her sisters?
Nguyen: That's a hard question to answer right now, it's perhaps enough to say that the Kaiser's death is the catalyst for the events of the first arc and beyond. As for Giselle, there's something about her, some small hidden flaw that perhaps gives her the edge over her sisters.
Nrama: Is it just her sisters out to get her, or is there someone else pulling the strings to frame her?
Nguyen: There are a number of forces at play, all pulling at different strings. All will be revealed as the series progresses.
Nrama: I’ll let you slide there. Let’s get to the title – “Carbon Grey” – is it one of the sisters, or something else?
Nguyen: The Carbon Grey is the subject of a prophecy made centuries ago by Gottfaust, forefather of the Greys. Exactly who or what the Carbon Grey might be will be revealed later in the series. The design of the title's logo is an important clue. Watch it carefully over the coming issues.
Nrama: We will. The first issue comes out March 2 - how many issues do you expect this to run?
Nguyen: The first story arc will be a three issue mini-series. It will take 13 issues to tell the tale of Carbon Grey. If the series proves to be well-liked we're hoping to give more insight into the secondary characters in a series of one-shot stories.
Nrama: In the press release it says you’ve been working on this book for eight years. Tell us about that time.
Nguyen: That is correct, this project has kept me going for quite some time. I started it back in 2002 with a sketch and two sentences. From then on it was work done between jobs and family, whenever I can find the time. I often stay up till 2 or 3 AM to work on it, but knew that I could not do it alone. I brought in Mike, Khari, Paul and Kinsun to help me finish the book. And this past year I was determined to get Carbon Grey finished and into the hands of everyone.
Nrama: In doing research for this book, I found you were born in Vietnam in 1966 and spent your first nine years there. Do you think living there during the war and that tumultuous period affects your personal projects like this?
Nguyen: Yes, I can't deny that it affected me growing up and having it spilled over onto my art. I remember seeing the tanks and jeep rolling through the streets and the many bomb raids at night. Almost all of the houses have a little bunker and I guess we got used to it. One particular night it was pretty loud, it must have been terrifying for my mom, I remember her carrying me into... ah, I guess I've gone off on a tangent.
Getting back to the comic, I always have had an interest in military history and how it shaped our world. As an artist, I'm intrigued by the design of costumes, weapons and military machinery. I love to draw them and as a child I would take thing apart and try to put it back together, just so I can see how they work. A lot of these elements come into play when I design the world of Carbon Grey.
Nrama: This marks your return to comics after some time spent working as a character modeler for video game company EA; what brought you back?
Nguyen: You’ve done your homework. [laughs]
I always have a love for comic and felt that, even though I wasn't producing comic for anyone, I was still active. I spend a lot of time coming up with ideas and sketches, some simple and others are well-thought out. Over the years Carbon Grey became my most important personal project and I never seem to get bored with it.
I was at EA for a period of time, but left the company in 2007 where I took up a position at Namco Bandai as a studio art director. Since then we have shipped Afro Samurai, Pacman and Splatterhouse for the PS3, Xbox360 and the Wii. But my love for comics never diminished, and I would work on Carbon Grey in my spare time in between my job and family. That's why the project took 8 years to complete.
Nrama: On the art for Carbon Grey it’s you, Khari Evans and Kinsun Loh. How do you divvy up who does what?
Nguyen: When I first started Carbon Grey, I actually did the art. I laid out and penciled 15 pages of the first issue, but felt that it lacked excitement. I then ask Khari to take over the penciling duties and I focused on the layout and inks. We did that for a bit and eventually Khari went all digital, so now he does the pencil and ink in Photoshop. Those pages are then passed onto Kinsun for digital painting. I would do some touch-up for continuity and handle the covers as well as some interior pages.
Nrama: Carbon Grey’s a real team effort it seems. How’d you assemble these four guys?
Nguyen: I've been fortunate in my career to have the opportunity to meet many talented artists and writers. I've also kept an eye out for talented newcomers that show potential. I can usually tell if someone's got the chops, even if they're rough around the edges.
As for how we came together, Mike Kennedy, Khari and I worked at Namco for a while and we all shared the same passion for comics. I started Carbon Grey with a sketch and an idea and got Mike on board. He helped me flesh out the story and later I got Khari to join as well. Eventually, we all moved on; Khari went to Marvel working on Daughter of the Dragon, Mike went to EA Chicago and I went to EA HQ in Redwood Shores.
When I came back to Namco Bandai Games, I convinced Khari to join me and we started it back up again. And that's when I met Paul Gardner, the creative director behind Afro Samurai. His writing was incredible. As for Kinsun, I was testing out a number of artists to color the book, when I came across his work. He was doing a lot of Chinese comics and his work has a distinct style that was very Eastern. I wanted to try something new and different; what if I combine Western art with an Eastern sensibility? The result was spectacular; Kinsun did a test for me and blew me away. I knew he was the man for the job.
Since Mike was tied up with too many other projects, I convinced Paul to join us. Khari and I spent a lot of time working out the details of the story, but we had a hard time tying it all together. Paul came in, took all of our ideas and made it work, it was brilliant. I was really happy with the story and the witty dialogue. I felt that the comic needed two ingredients to make it work; great art (to draw people in) and great story (to keep people coming back). My goal for the book was to make people care about the characters and the history behind it. Once we achieve that, then the series will be a success.