Last week I was able to exchange a few emails with author, publisher, and comic book creator, Chris Roberson. We spoke about his new book on Image Comics, Sovereign, how he manages his time, and what his current feelings are on the recent acquisition of ComiXology by Amazon. Be sure to check out issue number two of Sovereign when it hits the shelves on April 23, 2014.
The fantasy genre has always had close ties to religion. Whether it be literal in terms of the characters and their beliefs or allegories that speak to ones in our own world, you do not have to look far to find religious beliefs laced throughout the genre. Why do you think that is? Does that ring true with your own work?
I don’t tend to think of it as “religion” in the context of fantasy works, but rather something closer to “natural philosophy.” In worlds in which the supernatural demonstrably exists, you aren’t dealing with characters who have “belief systems” or “spirituality” necessarily, but instead in many cases are presented with characters who are attempting to understand the ways in which their world works. And sure, those explanations might evolve into dogmas in time, but at the outset it’s more a question of “this magical thing happens, I wonder why?” And that’s certainly the case with the world of Sovereign. It’s just that different people in different cultures have come up with different explanations, and have had different experiences, for that matter.
In Sovereign you are telling at least three very different stories that happen in a much larger, shared world. This is something that is relatively common in fantasy, however, usually in books; books that go on for a very long time like The Lord of The Rings or A Song of Ice and Fire. What are some of the challenges you face when presenting that same thing in comic book form? What are some of the benefits of going with a graphic novel instead of prose?
Well, ultimately we’re telling one big story with multiple viewpoint characters. They just haven’t run into each other yet. The only real challenge came in giving each of the viewpoint characters equal “screentime,” as it were, while at the same time making sure that each of their narratives had a distinct voice. As for the benefits of doing this in comic form rather than prose, it’s the immediacy of the combination of words and pictures, I suppose. Plus, I don’t have to type as much! My artist Paul Maybury has to do the hard part!
One of the main characters of Sovereign from issue number one was Pol Ravenstone. He was, to me, the most intriguing of the bunch because he hints at something that is rarely seen in Fantasy, and that is the concept of Philosophy. I’m not sure why, but the Man of Reason is very rarely ever represented in fantasy. What was your inspiration for his character?
Just that, actually. That we’re usually presented with characters that already have set explanations for how their world works. (Or they’re visitors from our world, or one very like it, with established explanations of their own already in place.) I thought it would be interesting to put a scientist in a fantasy story, to see how they would deal with the magical and supernatural elements, and our “natural philosopher” was the result.
Does his use of Reason perhaps lead to the introduction of outright Science? How do you feel that combination of Fantasy and the scientific jive together?
Well, Sovereign is what I consider a “rationalized fantasy,” in that there are very set and rigid rules to how the supernatural works in that world. The characters might not know all the rules, and the readers surely won’t, but I do. And beyond that, the “magic” is something closer to what you’d find in a science fiction story than a traditional epic fantasy, only we’re presenting it with fantasy terminology.
As many people know, you’re not just a comic book writer, you are also a co-publisher and founder of Monkeybrain Comics. How do you find the time to handle both creating your own and managing other people’s content?
Monkeybrain is my avocation, the thing I do on nights and weekends during those times that other people might be pursuing their hobbies or playing video games or what-have-you. And my wife Allison Baker handles all of the financial and logistical stuff, leaving me to run the editorial and production side of Monkeybrain. So it’s really not that difficult, honestly.
From a publisher’s stand-point, one that deals heavily in digital content, how do you feel about the acquisition of ComiXology by Amazon?
I’m enormously optimistic about what it means for comics as a medium and as a business. Amazon is very good at getting things into the hands of consumers, and having digital comics in that lineup is only going to serve to expand our readership and make for a healthier comics field in general.
Do you have any predictions or concerns, going forward, with how this change in ownership might affect your publishing company?
We don’t anticipate any significant changes at all, at least in the short term. In the longer term, who knows? It will be interesting to see, either way.