What inspired you to write The Shepherd?
The Shepherd is the story of a young woman named Astrid, and the wounded monster that crosses her path.
I am endlessly fascinated by the prospect of the monstrous. One of the treasured books on my shelf is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the most classic of monster tales. And yet it’s not the horror of the monster’s actions that grips me; it’s the heart anchoring the story. Shelley lays out the true conflict on the very first page, with a quote from Paradise Lost: “Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay To mould me man, Did I solicit thee From darkness to promote me?” And with that, Shelley has given us a window into the monster’s soul.
Victor Hugo wrote one of the most touching scenes in all of literature; it’s a scene I think of nearly every time I put pencil to paper. The scene opens on the flogging of a guilty man—an ugly, hateful monster of a man, caught in the act of kidnapping a young woman. After his flogging, the man is left to bake on the pillory, and to the delight of the mob he begs for a drink of water. And who should step forward to give him water but the young woman he’d kidnapped the night before. Hugo describes with great detail each step Esmeralda takes toward the Hunchback—he describes her fear, and the way she recoils when Quasimodo touches her hand—he paints a picture not just of compassion, but of the intense courage Esmeralda draws from to commit such an act. That’s why the concept of a monster is so powerful to me—monsters require us to dig deep within ourselves to respond to them—they reveal something about what’s inside us, whether we like it or not.
Can you give our readers some insight in the world of The Shepherd?
There’s something really gripping about a world at the dawn of its age of discovery. A world spilling over with life forms, civilization, technology of every kind, that’s so big no one has quite been to the opposite end of it yet. Astrid is a tribal shepherd—her inspiration came from goat and sheep herders you might find in the highlands of Tibet or Kazakhstan. She wears tribal jewelry and uses the simple (though sometimes magical) technology of her people, and it forms a stark contrast to the poachers who come hunting the monster, with their big guns, polished metals, and robotics.
Artist Ron Joseph and I wanted to create a world that felt like it had texture, variation, and history. We made giant dinosaur-like creatures and had them walk through the ruins of past civilizations. We wanted it to have a touch of familiarity, while still remaining otherworldly, so we drew from the history and animal life of our own world and just pushed it as far as we could.
The Shepherd is planned to be a 24 page One Shot comic, which seems very short for what looks to be an adventurous story. Were there any thoughts of stretching The Shepherd into several issues?
Believe it or not, The Shepherd actually started as a 5-page short story. In this earliest version, it was a purely visual story with no words at all, a bit like Larry Hama’s famous Silent Issue of G.I. Joe. But as I continued to write it, I realized certain moments and concepts in the story had so much in them, and there were so many opportunities to expound on. Before I knew it, the story was 8 pages, then 15, then 24. And I could see it double that size—spreading out the story to more pages would allow us to focus in more on the quieter, more contoured moments, while giving us more space to show off the scope and variation of the world we’ve created. I think I could see us either expanding to several issues, or releasing a double-sized one-shot, if our campaign were to go exceptionally well and raise substantially above our goal.
How did you pick your talent (artists, colorists,etc) for The Shepherd? Did you already know who you wanted to help bring The Shepherd to life?
I met artist Ron Joseph quite by accident. I was perusing the artist submissions on the BOOM! Studios Facebook page, when I stumbled across this two-page spread of pencils Ron had done, of Cthulhu rising up out of the ocean. It was spectacular, and energetic, and jumped off the page with texture and detail, and I thought, “I have to work with this guy.”
Ron is very much an old-school penciller. He has a collection of pencils and works at a drafting table on 11×17” art boards, and I’ve noted on more than one occasion how important it is to Ron to have good light (he has this lamp on a swing arm that he shines right over his shoulder onto the page). And when you see his finished pencils, it becomes evident why light is so important—without it the subtle detailing of his pencil work would be lost.
Our inker, Jake Isenberg, came at Ron’s highest recommendation. Jake works with us from his studio in Indiana, where he prints out the pencils in light blue and takes his ink brushes to them. With the brushes, Jake is able to cover an awful lot of ground in a very short period of time, and in great detail. It can be really incredible to see him ink. (Watch Jake ink below!)
Zoar Huerta responded to an ad we put out for a colorist. She was one of several hundred artists who responded to our ad, and almost immediately we could see a certain painterly aesthetic to her work. We asked her to color a rough sketch of our maniac poacher Rul, and when we got it back not only had she colored the character, she had also added atmosphere and a painted background that sent her straight to the top of our list. Zoar works with us from her studio in Monterrey, Mexico.
On your Kickstarter page, you talked about how comics from the 70s played a part in your life. Have any of your favorite comics influenced the story and characters in The Shepherd?
I love the work Moebius did in Heavy Metal magazine in that era. Back then so many American comics had such an emphasis on superheroes, but the guys in France were interested in imagining new worlds. The worlds they created were so visual, so familiar and yet so foreign, that they couldn’t help stoking the flames of the imagination. Several of our characters are deeply influenced by that era—Astrid has a level of detail in her tribal clothes that should feel familiar to lovers of Moebius, and Rul would feel right at home on one of the desert planets you’d find in old school Heavy Metal.
Ron’s connection is even deeper, though. He likes to call himself a “child of the 70s,” and has a special place in his heart for the stuff he read back then—the Incredible Hulk, Fantastic Four, Micronauts, The Defenders. I think there’s a certain aesthetic feeling of depth and line work Ron gets from those comics in his art, but there’s also an attitude that comes through—Marvel comics in the 70s could feel so hopeful, so bright and lacking in cynicism—they were indicative of a kind of optimism for the world. And when you talk to Ron, the kid reading those 70s comics still shines through—even with a wealth of experience he manages not to be jaded about the world. And all this matters to the art—every stroke of the pencil says something, and when Ron creates art it says everything.
What are some of the rewards readers can expect if they Kickstart The Shepherd?
It was very important to me that there be a very low entry point for backers, because I think even a $1 pledge is important in building the audience for our comic. So at the $1 level, we offer a beautiful digital wallpaper and the first ten pages of the comic, as well as the backer’s name in the book.
Starting at the $5 level, backers have access to the comic itself (as a PDF), as well as a pinup of the story’s antagonist, Rul, pencilled by Ron Joseph and inked by legendary Marvel inker Joe Rubinstein (famous for his work with Frank Miller on Wolverine and John Byrne on Captain America).
Collectors of comics will love the $25 level, which is where our signed-and-numbered series begins. Fully printed comics and prints, all of them limited-edition, signed and numbered pieces.
One of my own favorite tiers is the $100 level, which truly brings backers into the world of the comic when I translate their name into Astrid’s language and make them the protagonist of their own short story in that world, and at the $400 level that short story is paired with a custom page of 11×17″ of comic art by our art team to illustrate the story.
And, the Cadillac of rewards for the hardcore comics collector, we are offering a limited selection of original 11×17″ pages of art from the comic at the $450 and $500 levels.
Help kickstart a wonderful comic, with a strong, yet gentle spirited female lead and flood the world with some outrageously gorgeous art by pledging to The Shepherd on Kickstarter! With 9 Days to go, they are more than half way to the goal! Let’s make this comic happen!