The fantasy genre has made a recent resurgence in the comics world, with a great array of titles like Reborn, Elsewhere and Rat Queens. Now, Shirtless Bear-Fighter’s Sebastian Girner and storyboard artist Galaad- in his first American comics work- bring us their spin on the genre with Scales and Scoundrels. When penniless adventure Luvander sets out to find and loot a legendary dungeon, she’s just out to fill her pockets. Little does she know, one of her own dark secrets will change her entire world.
ComicBuzz’s Chris Adair sat down with Sebastian and Galaad to get the scoop on the series!
Can you give us the elevator pitch for the series?
I’m terrible at elevator pitches, but luckily David Harper, writer and runner of the Off Panel podcast and SKTCHD.com came to our aid when he described the book as “Classic Final Fantasy as done by Hayao Miyazaki” which is a huge compliment but actually hits the tone and themes of the book right on the head. Thanks, David!
Scales and Scoundrels clearly takes its inspiration from epics such as LoTR but there is also a manga element to the art. Could you both describe what influences you brought to the table when beginning this story?
G: Manga has had a long and durable influence on my art style, starting from my reading of Dragon Ball as a kid, to Akira, Nausicaa and 20th century boys. I was born in a golden era of Japanese animation on French TV, with shows like Saint Seiya, the Secret of Blue Water or the Mysterious Cities of Gold. These series were my first venture into worlds of wonder, mysteries and adventure. Ever since I read the Hobbit and played Zelda games, I’ve been wanting to draw my own series of fantasy adventure. I’m not attracted to the typical fantasy tropes like swords, sorcery, prophecies, etc. What I like in fantasy is the call to adventure. That tower/dungeon/cave you see on the horizon, the sense of wonder you experience when exploring an unknown and beautiful world, or that tingle of excitement you get when embarking on a long journey to far, distant places.
SG: I was an avid reader for YA fantasy novels growing up in Germany, which were a really popular genre at the time. So that’s a big influence on me, alongside comics like the ones Galaad mentioned, all of which were also personal favorites of mine. Especially early Dragon Ball and Asterix that were always really exciting and thrilling but first and foremost they were just funny, like I remember laughing out loud while reading them. That kind of joy is something I’m hoping to bring to SCALES & SCOUNDRELS.
A lot of mainstream comics on the stands tend to be aimed at a mature audience. How important was it for you to create a truly all ages comic?
G: We’ve seen so many dark and gritty tales of fantasy that I’d started to long for something brighter and more colorful. Like all genre literature at some point in their history (as for superhero comics), in an effort to legitimize the genre, creators started to delve into darker and grimmer themes. But by doing this, fantasy was stripped of what made it appealing to me, chiefly the fun and rollicking adventures. I have little interest in the grim hardship of the grey-brown world of Game of Thrones. Which doesn’t mean I don’t like sex and violent deaths in my comics! Haha! I also want to tackle more mature stories in the future, and I’m curious to see how I could bend my style to fit those type of stories. It would be quite interesting. But Scales & Scoundrels is a love letter to the series of our youth, and we owe it to ourselves to do something everybody can enjoy, and bring back some of that fun and excitement. It’s not that easy to pull it off!
Luvander is your lead character in this story. Can you tell our readers a little about her?
SG: Luvander is a firebrand. Brash, cocky, easily excited and loathe to back down. She’s the kind of character who immediately gets into trouble wherever she goes just by being herself. So any situation we put her in will quickly spiral out of control, as she’s just a big ball of energy and excitement. But there’s a lot more to her than meets the eye. In #1 we already get a glimpse at the weight she’s carrying in her heart, and a big part of the first arc, and the first big adventure, is discovering Lu as a character and bringing her into focus.
Scales and Scoundrels is is high action with plenty humour but also has this mystery of who/what Luvander is. Will this lead to darker themes appearing over time?
SG: For sure. Like Galaad said, SCALES & SCOUNDRELS is an all-ages, all-readers book, but we’re not going to tiptoe around darker or more serious subject matter. We want to challenge ourselves to tackle story and drama in a way that is approachable yet impactful, without relying on excessive violence or exploitation. Sorrow, loss and grief are all aspects of life, unpleasant as they may be, so our characters will have to struggle with these things if they are to truly resonate with the reader.
By the end of the first arc readers will have a pretty good picture of the spectrum of stories and themes we want to deal with in the series.
After reading the first issue, I think it’s fair to say that Luvander appears to be motivated by selfish needs. What was the thought process behind this rather than the classic selfless hero we’re used to seeing in fantasy?
SG: Part of it was precisely that, it flies in the face of the “classic” do-gooding fantasy hero who rolls into town and sticks their nose into everyone’s business to find quests that need completing. While I have a lot of love for those laundry-list heroes, but with Luvander we wanted to add a bit of spice to the mix.
When we meet her she’s out for herself and wants nothing more than wealth and fame (and who among us can say they don’t entertain those notions again from time to time). But a lot of the fun and drama of SCALES & SCOUNDRELS is our characters struggling with their own desires and the obstacles fate (or they themselves) keep putting in their way. Life is what happens while we make other plans.
We’re also introduced to a slew of other characters in the book. Will the story be focused solely on Lu or will the supporting cast get their time in the spotlight?
SG: By the end of #1 the reader will have met our four main scoundrels: Luvander, Prince Aki of the Scarlet Sands Empire, his bodyguard and royal shadow Koro, and a plucky dwarven lady named Dorma Ironweed. These are our core cast for the first arc.
Luvander remains the main character, and her destiny is at the heart of the series, but every character in SCALES & SCOUNDRELS will have an arc, a history and a journey and over the course of the first big adventure we’ll get to know them all much better. I’m really hoping readers will find a favorite character in our group.
Sebastian, with Shirtless Bear Fighter and Scales and Scoundrels, you’ll soon have two books released in quick succession. What made now the right time to jump from editor to writer?
SG: The timing just worked out, the stars aligned. When scripting work on Shirtless Bear-Fighter wrapped up about two years ago, I had created a little structure for myself where I would write an hour or so every morning before beginning any editing work. With Shirtless wrapped I was looking into replacing it with something, anything else, just to keep that habit going.
It was around that time that Galaad and I first started talking about working together. The fact that both books would come out within a few months of one another is just one of those coincidences, but one I did steer towards a bit. A lateral move in comics can be pretty difficult, if you’re known as an editor (or an artist, inker etc) it takes a lot of force to allow for people to see you as anything BUT that. So I know that if I wanted to make a foray into writing, I’d need more than one kind of story and one kind of genre to breach that wall. I couldn’t be more proud and excited to make my writing debut with comics like Shirtless and Scales.
Who edits the editor?
SG: In SCALES & SCOUNDRELS Galaad and I tackle the creative challenges of editing together: working out storylines and character moments, making sure it all feels natural and earned. We also go over storyboards and page layouts together, between my experience as an editor and Galaad’s talent and work as a storyboard artist we built a great system that provides Galaad with a lot of freedom but still puts each page through a process where we workshop it until it’s just right.
How long’s this story been in the works? Have you planned multiple arcs or are you waiting to see how sales go?
SG: Galaad is currently working on #7 and we have scripts broken down through #10. The third arc is the one I’m currently most excited to write, and I think sales will be strong enough to allow us to make SCALES & SCOUNDRELS for quite some time. Obviously we have more story ideas than we know what to do with, but I also have a desire to keep the issues tight and fast and not get too indulgent.
Ultimately, we have an overarching story in mind, and a path to get there. How many detours or stops along the road we make on the way there does depend on our ability to keep the book and sales viable, but we’re both confident fans of SCALES & SCOUNDRELS will have plenty to look forward to in the months and years to come.
How does the collaboration work between the two of you in creating an issue?
G: I am fortunate enough to have a “tailor-made” comic written for me. Sebastian and I started discussing this series together from scratch. We realized we had many common influences and wanted to tell the same story, so we just put all our ideas into a giant bible document and started from there. We don’t want to bore the reader down with walls of world-building and lengthy dialogues, but that lore gives the world coherence and it fuels our creativity.
Sebastian’s scripts are very open. I like the freedom. There is no going around the fact that, in the end, comics are a visual medium. I prefer to discuss scenes over a storyboard than big, convoluted panel descriptions. And there’s no denying that the real talent of a comic writer is to suggest powerful images in a few words. Not everybody can do that.
Once we’ve storyboarded the whole issue, I pencil, ink and color everything myself digitally. Barring any complications, I produce one page per day.
SG: Galaad is a dream to work with. I can write a little paragraph about an idea or a concept that came to me and he’ll shoot back a sketch or a rough and some thoughts and notes of his own within a few hours, and that fuels me to alter, tweak or solidify that idea. We have a big and ever-growing document of ideas, concepts, lore and places for the series that we draw from. The first big adventure has been set in stone for some time, but we’re actually now reaching the point of working on the issues where we expand the story and explore the world more, which is really exciting.
At this point I’d also love to call out our series letterer and designer Jeff Powell, who does such a brilliant job with the lettering and general design and feel of the series. We wanted to make a fantasy comic, but with cutting edge and modern design sensibilities to stand out from the pack, and Jeff does that with bells on. I can’t recommend hiring a professional letterer and designer to new comic book creators more. They will take your work and make it look superpro.
Galaad, correct me if I’m wrong but this is your first foray into American comics. How did you get involved in this project? Does your approach to this book differ from how you tackle comics back in France?
G: Ha! Where to start?
I got involved in the project after I contacted Sebastian, because I was quite ignorant of the American way of doing comics and wanted the insight of a top-notch editor. Turns out Sebastian is an even better writer than editor, he liked my art, and we decided to work together!
I used to make storyboard and design cinematics for video games, so my experience with French comics is that of a reader more than a creator, but there’s a huge difference on how we produce comics. I’d say both methods have their pros and cons. Most French comics are bigger format, with a bit more action and detail on the page… which I don’t like personally. It makes the pages more difficult to design as it becomes more cluttered. Too many panels, too many angles. In comics, each page tells a story, but has to be designed as one giant illustration. You need balance, composition. When the page is a mosaic of panels, it becomes quite a challenge to keep it whole and unified. And that, as you may know, is why Moebius is revered among comic artists.
As a result, pages take more time to produce, production times increase and the idea of a monthly comics is something alien to Franco-Belgian BD. These books have become works of art that take years to publish, which is so frustrating. Of course, some creators have started to break free of the traditional way of making BD.
A fact that would surprise the American audience I think, is how widespread and mainstream bande-dessinée is in France. Every bookstore and library, no matter how small, has a BD section and everybody reads them. That’s why, although superhero comics rarely break a few thousand sales over here, big titles like Lucky Luke, Blake & Mortimer or Asterix domestically sell in the 500.000 or more, for only a fraction of the population of the US. But do not be fooled by those sales numbers. The situation is dire for many French creators, and these titles are so expensive to produce, from the art to the actual printing, with beautiful, gloss hardcovers and thick paper stock, that BD has stopped being a popular medium and is now in the realm of luxury items.
So, circling back to your question after this whole essay on comics, working on an Image title is a way for me to produce a fast-paced, monthly ongoing story that sprawls hundreds and hundreds of pages, the likes of which I could not have done in France.
What else are you both reading at the moment that you’re not currently working on?
G: For my part, I read Saga, Shutter and, unsurprisingly, a good deal of manga. I’m reading an ecchi manga called Nozoki Ana. More accurately, I’m reading previous works from this mangaka, but Nozoki Ana is his superior work. Don’t google it at work though, this is NSFW. I’ve also just read Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (Yunagi no Machi Sakura no Kuni), a short drama about the aftermath of Hiroshima bombings.
SG: The past year has been one of the busiest of my career so far, so my pleasure reading time has really taken a toll. But I have recently finished Takemitsu Zamurai by Issei Eifuku and Taiyō Matsumoto and I think I may finally hunt down the last few volumes of Tezuka’s Phoenix that I’m still missing.
Any final words for our ComicBuzz readers?
G: Thanks for the interview, thanks for reading it, and if you’re considering buying Scales & Scoundrels, we hope you like what you see and want to give it a try! We’ve worked very hard to bring a true all-ages ongoing series to the market. We’re very excited it’s finally in the reader’s hands.
SG: What Galaad said! If you’re looking for a large, diverse, sprawling fantasy adventure, look no further than SCALES & SCOUNDRELS!
Thanks again for taking the time to talk to us. Scales and Scoundrels #1 hits shelves 6th September