Today we are thrilled to be joined by the multi-talented Jason Rosen, not only is Jason a special effects artist but also the founder of Skinwalker Studios. Jason joined us for a chat to talk all about Monsterwood.
Hi Jason, thanks for joining us today. We are so happy that you have taken time out of your busy schedule for us; we are delighted to chat with you and find out more about Monsterwood.
It’s great to be with you, Shabbir! Thank you for speaking with us!
For some of our readers who may not be familiar with your work, could you please tell us a bit about yourself?
Creatively, I have an eclectic background. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, devouring comics and film. Looking back, it still feels like a golden age of both comics and film. All of the great work, artists, and stories of that time had such an influence on me. I have always known I wanted to do “that” before I even knew what “that” was. I now know it is to tell stories and create worlds. I have worked to do just that, on everything from children’s puppet shows to horror movies, from performing along with Henson puppeteers to being directed by the late Wes Craven. I have contributed designs, both 2-d and 3-d maquettes for pre-production on film and television, done special effects makeup, as well as specialty props, etc. So for me, the medium with which the story is told can take many forms. With Monsterwood, the graphic novel format allows us to tell the story the way we want to tell it and as large as it needs to be told, without any limitation of medium or budget.
I also hold a B.F.A in Fine Arts and a M.F.A. in Dramatic Arts with a concentration in puppetry from UCONN, one of the only accredited programs of it’s kind in the country.
Could you tell us about the origins of Monsterwood?
Sure! The first spark of Monsterwood was tied to the birth of my first born son. I was doing the first-time parent thing and just staring at this little being. I knew “how” he got there, and enough high school science to understand the process, but I couldn’t just chalk it up to mere biology. I kept staring at this little person asking myself where they were from, why they were here, and what they came to do. No doubt, universal questions, but they had never seemed so profound to me. The complete blank slate of a life and so many possible destinies. He was the impetus for one of the main characters, Jovis, the scrappy orphaned street rat raised by his adoptive Mahru ( Monster) grandmother. From there, Jovis’s world grew and so did his role and purpose in it. All of the characters are so intertwined in the collective outcome of their world, just like we are all connected. I worked hard to make Monsterwood an entertaining, wild fantasy adventure with some horror elements while also exploring universal themes about finding our own purpose and path through life, while having to face some harsh realities that we do not have the luxury of turning away from.
How did Steve Ellis join Monsterwood, and what made him the right artist for the book?
It was an unexpected blessing. I actually had started doing some preliminary work with another artist going back and forth on trying to dial in what my world looked like at that point. He was finishing up another gig, so it was about six weeks of talking and dialing things in a bit. As we were about to start working on the first graphic novel, he got a full time gig for a big video game company, so I don’t blame him for taking it. He’s a great guy and very talented and we are still in touch today. However, at the time, I needed an artist and not just one of the many super talented people out there, I needed to find the artist that was right for Monsterwood, my dream project. I turned to an old childhood friend, Mike Mrak who is now Design Director at Scientific American and told him I need the right artist right away! Being familiar with the project, Mike threw some real heavy hitters my way, all with varied styles. Then I saw Steve’s work and in particular, High Moon. We actually met in an old manager’s office in NYC. We quickly had a creative short hand and I was absolutely sold. At this point, I can’t imagine doing it with anyone else. Steve is a great guy and his work is just amazing. His skill and imagination are limitless.
There was a bit of a gap between the release of book one and book two; why was that?
My life kind of imploded. My elderly mother was the victim of a violent home invasion and was assaulted. I found her, barely alive on her kitchen floor, two days later. At the time, I was working two jobs to pay my son’s college tuition, in addition to coordinating life for my mother. Six months later, I found myself facing a divorce after 23-years of marriage. I went into survival mode. (This is not an invitation to my pity party, but I believe in speaking the truth in order to normalize how traumatic and messy life can be.) Throughout all of that, I was mailing out Kickstarter rewards from the first Monsterwood book and eagerly planning on getting back to Monsterwood book 2.
Nicholas Efstathiou joined you as co-writer on book two; how did that come about?
It was a question of timing. Monsterwood is my original IP, based on a screenplay I wrote way back then. It has evolved over the years, but still stayed very true to that original draft. Through the years there were so many variations and directions I could have taken or developed the story. I had another collaborator I was going to work with, but the timing didn’t work out . This time, I found myself in need of a co-writer. Nick and I had some mutual friends locally and he had even backed the first two Kickstarters. Little did he know he would be co-writing Book 2 with me! I was familiar with Nick’s writing through his great and creepy horror series, Cross, Massachusetts. I love collaborating. I think working with another writer who is familiar with the spirit of the piece helps me focus and fully define all of the thousands of ideas that live in my head. Monsterwood is a huge world, with its own history; flora and fauna. I can’t put it all out there in three books, and some of it doesnt need to be there at all, but Nick, Steve, and I need to know it. It makes for a more fully realized, cohesive world.
How would you describe Monsterwood?
It is a high concept fantasy adventure with some horror elements. It’s my love letter to all of the great fantasy, horror, and scifi that I grew up on.
The series follows the difficult, sometimes brutal journey of a scrappy commoner raised in the slums of the city, and a sheltered princess as they move from the innocence of youth to the open battle of adulthood, set in a fresh and unique world filled with outlandish creatures that feels like The Jungle Book meets Lord of the Rings.
Monsterwood takes place fourteen years after the king and queen of Magog met mysterious, violent deaths at the hands of a group of deformed outcasts known as monsters. Now, as a new ruler is about to be crowned, two young people from completely different backgrounds–Jovis, an orphaned independent young boy, and the Princess Jocosta, herself the courageous, willful heir to the throne–will reluctantly join forces on a journey into the dark and forbidding forest known as Monsterwood. There, they will discover the truth about what really happened in those dark days of betrayal and murder…and begin to fulfill their own destinies.
At its core, it’s a coming of age story that combines a fairy tale aesthetic with appropriately dark edges, significant twists, Monsters, strong characters, and tons of action and adventure in a world that is both haunting, and beautiful. The world of Monsterwood explores many themes; young people transitioning into adulthood, aspects of the classic hero’s journey structure set in a new and captivating world, powerful people behaving badly, magic and supernatural elements, madness, pain, love, loss, and even some humor .
Book two ended on a cliffhanger; what can you tell us about book three?
No spoilers, but I can tell you it is going to be bug nuts! The first book felt kind of like a landing pad, a good introduction to the world and characters. The second book the threat became more real and defined. The third book, it’s all on the line for everybody. There is no chance for a peaceful resolution and we are not lying when we say that “a battle is coming and not all those who enter will survive.” We also have some surprises coming up which are going to turn a few character’s perceived realities on their heads. There are also some nice set ups for some characters that will allow us to take things even farther and expand the world of Monsterwood even more, in time.
As a creator, does crowdfunding your project make it easier than dealing with a traditional publisher?
The easy part is you don’t need to ask permission to publish, you don’t need to pitch, have an editor, wait for someone else’s publishing calendar, etc. You have control of all of those things. It is harder because you don’t have all of the support that a traditional publisher brings. Editors can be a writer’s best friend, just like an art director can be an artist’s best friend. Win, lose, or draw, all of the creative and business decisions are our’s to own. So we work hard as a team, communicate and delegate, stay focused, and most importantly, love what we do.
Crowdfunding also has an aspect to it that is not the same when working with a traditional publisher, that being the relationship with the backers, who in turn become our readers. It is such a humbling and fulfilling aspect of a crowdfunding project. We know each and every one of our supporters’ names. We never lose sight of the faith and the funds invested in us. There are a lot of great projects out there. When people choose us, it really does mean the world to us and the fact of the matter is, without their backing we just simply would not be able to produce these Monsterwood books.
What has the feedback been like for Monsterwood?
Overwhelmingly positive! We even have some 5 star reviews on Goodreads! I love hearing from people about Monsterwood. It is always so interesting to hear who their favorite character is, what their favorite scene is, or what aspect of the story or who’s story arc they want to see resolved. The most common question I am asked is when is Monsterwood Book 3 coming out! I can’t think of a better question and my answer is, “Hopefully soon, with your support!”
When you and Nicholas are writing, how does that work; do you write a full script and send it to Steve?
My original screenplay was the source for the outline of the books. Based on that, Nick and I initially work on outlines of scenes together. They are a little more than outlines actually, containing notes and descriptions of key elements, actions, or dialogue of each scene. This then goes to Steve and the three of us go over everything together, with Steve breaking down how many pages he thinks he will need to effectively capture it all. From there, Steve works on thumbnails that then come back to Nick and I. We then write the script for those pages according to the thumbed panels. This way we all can see if we need to expand the page count, or sometimes shrink a scene before we proceed. Final art means one more round to polish edit any last bits of dialogue.
Do you have a favourite Kickstarter reward?
Of course, the book! That is the reason for the campaign. We really want to finish this story, for ourselves, for our readers, and for people who haven’t read any Monsterwood yet and just like what they have seen so far.
Past that I like the 3-D Scrag head magnets and the tapestry of Steve’s amazing cover for Book 3!
Steve’s special edition books with pencil drawings, inland wash or even watercolor always turn out amazing and are really something not to be missed! They make the book that much more special and rare. I mean, who doesn’t want an original drawing by Steve Ellis? I certainly do!
Any message for the ComicBuzz readers?
If you like what you see, consider backing the campaign at any level. Every bit truly does help and the greater number of backers helps us raise visibility too. Beyond becoming a backer, please share word of the Monsterwood campaign with like minded folks. We really do think you and others will enjoy the world we have created for you. We can’t do it without backers! To that end, check out the campaign: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/monsterwood3/monsterwood-book-3-annihilation-graphic-novel
A big thank you to Jason for sitting and chatting with us, we would like to wish Jason and all of his team the best of luck with their Kickstarter.