Interview with Team Reyn

Image Comics have recently shown an eagerness to return to the many worlds of fantasy, with titles ranging from Mice Templar to last year’s Sovereign, to the stable of current books like Rat QueensTooth and Claw, and Birthright, we as readers are getting our fair share of new realms to explore. Of these, one book stands out as a strange combination of fantasy, dystopic badlands, and the Western trope of the lone gunslinger: Reyn. The creative team of writer Kel Symons (The Mercenary Sea, I Love Trouble) and artist Nathan Stockman (I Love Trouble, Anti-Hero) were kind enough to join Josh Epstein and Mike Sains for a chat about their new book, the fantasy genre, and the ever-diminishing challenge of international collaboration.

Josh Epstein: What was the genesis for the idea behind Reyn?

Kel Symons: This probably goes back to my reading Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories for the first time only a few years ago. Growing up loving stuff like Dungeons & Dragons and The Hobbit, somehow these stories escaped my attention.  {Conan was} The first Schwarzenegger movie I obviously saw and enjoyed.  Looking back on it, it’s even better than I initially gave it credit for (compared to the recent attempt to reboot the series, it’s downright Shakespearean in its craft).  But I never got around to reading the stories.  I remembered seeing and liking the biopic about Howard some time ago, The Whole Wide World, and when I came across the first collection of stories in the store I gave it a whirl. I was expecting something a little workman-like and overwrought – that writing for 2-cents a word of the pulp era.  But I was struck by how tight, imaginative and timeless the writing was – between Howard and Tolkien, the 1930’s were a great era for fantasy fiction!  Not only that, the stories were damned fun.  So the idea of wanting to do a wandering swordsman character started to percolate.
Nate and I met through Paul Little, who was the colorist on I Love Trouble.  When that book’s artist became unavailable to wrap up the series, Nate stepped up and batted clean up by drawing our sixth and final issue.  I was immediately impressed by how readily Nate settled into the book, and how quickly he turned around pages.  But because he was trying to mimic the art style of the previous five issues, it didn’t give him a lot of space to explore his own style.  I remember telling Eric Stephenson at the time that I’d love to find something to work on together with Nate.  Sometime around the release of my next series for Image, I reached out again to Nate, and we batted a bunch of ideas back and forth. I can remember one being a dark, brooding and noir-ish, Lovecraftian thing, but then dammit if Ed Brubaker wasn’t already crushing it with Fatale.
Anyway, after a lot of back and forth, the idea of doing a fantasy adventure took shape.

Josh: With you working out of Los Angeles, Kel, and you out of Dublin, Nathan, what was the process of putting the book together like for the two of you?

Nathan Stockman:  To speak on the time difference. Being in the internet age there really isn’t a lot of difficulty with being in different time zones. Early morning for Kel is afternoon for me so there’s still a lot of overlap.

We video called early on to discuss the idea a bit, but since then it’s been a string of emails. There’s so many different ways to communicate now that it’s almost impossible to not be able to maintain a working relationship from anywhere in the world, as long as you have decent wi-fi! The working process from script to finished art is basically a mile long string of emails between myself, Kel, our colourist Paul Little and letterer Pat Brosseau. Everyone is in pretty constant contact with each other, which I love. It’s great to feel like you’re part of a team.

Kel: Yeah, I would agree with Nate – it’s really a non-issue.  This is my third comic series and I have yet to work with anyone who’s anywhere near me – not even in the same time zone.  Honestly, I have no idea how they pulled off these long-distance working relationships before the internet.

Josh: The comic market is seeing a real resurgence in tales of swords and sorcery. What do you feel sets Reyn apart from the pack where genre is concerned?

Kel: Good question.  Yes, there certainly has been a resurgence of fantasy in all genres, not just comics.  Which is a good thing.  I never claimed to be the most well-read comics fan, but other than a few standouts like Rat Queens, doesn’t most of this swords and sorcery stuff seem to be licensed material?  You’ve got Game of Thrones, Conan, Red Sonja, Dungeons and Dragons…  probably a bunch of other series I’m missing.

Now yes, we’ll be the first to admit that issue #1 of Reyn looks to be your standard fantasy realm.  And we don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.  Aside from the above mentioned Conan, the quest dynamic of D&D also helped shape this world, its characters and look.  (I told Nate that with the covers, they should look like they could be airbrushed on the side of a custom van in 1976.)
But we wanted Reyn to be more than just the hack-and-slash warrior.  We give him this legendary cadre of do-gooders that he’s supposed to hail from, but right off we see that, nope, Reyn’s not really the do-good type.  He’s not a bad guy.  But the only reason he gets involved is because he’s haunted – tormented, really – by visions that urge him on these quests.  Otherwise he would not be stepping in as often as he does.
So in that reluctant (and possibly unreliable) hero mold, I took a page from Leone.  When we pitched it to Image, I said “What if Frank Frazetta painted spaghetti westerns?”  As a result, there’s a lot of Western motifs going on here, both visually and thematically.  That opening scene of issue one – if it didn’t have a swordsman fighting a giant spider creature, you’d swear it looks like the 18th century Frontier.  And in the tradition of The Man with No Name, Reyn starts off as a guy you’re not really sure about.

Josh: The design for the reptilian race who seem to be calling the shots in the realm of Fate is both visually striking and and yet also elegant in a deadly sort of way. Where did that idea come from?

Nathan: Thank you! I believe Kel had a reptilian design in mind for the Venn from the start. He gave me a really good idea of what he wanted so it was easy enough to go from there. It’s a great visual shorthand to have a snake-like race. There’s something that you just don’t trust about them straight away. All slithery and suspicious!

Kel: I did have something reptilian in mind, but also wanted Nate to stretch his creative legs with design. I’d sent him some images of fire salamanders because I thought there was some striking color patterns there, and he took the ball and ran with it.  And he’s still going – you’ll see some cool variations in upcoming issues.

Josh: When will we learn more about the followers of Tek?

Nathan: We learn more about the Followers of Tek in #3. (Maybe Kel wants to elaborate more?)

Kel: Nate’s right – issue 3 is a bit of a “spill all” issue where so many of those burning questions the readers might have will start to get answered. Not to say it won’t present a few new questions, though.

Josh: On the subject of the followers of Tek, I’d like to ask a leading question, if I may: It struck me that both Seph’s staff and crossbow bolts she deflects are both metallic in nature. Would this have anything to do with the nature of Tek?

Kel: I will counter your leading question with a deflective answer (apropos considering the subject): I don’t think either of us even considered, much less noticed, the metallic connection with the crossbow bolts.

Mike Sains: Kel, you’ve demonstrated a very cinematic writing style in your book The Mercenary Sea. Sometimes dialogue feels like one of the least important parts of the larger story, but you always have a keen ability to use a sort of storytelling shorthand. Will you be able to utilize that same style with Reyn?

Kel:  I certainly hope so.  I remember someone commenting on my early work on I Love Trouble, saying that as a first time writer they were surprised I didn’t feel the need to paste tons of dialogue in each panel like a lot of other writers did, and just let instead the art do the work.  In fact, in the second issue of that series, the first 8-9 pages has only one line of dialogue, basically telling the first third of the book’s story with visuals only.  I sort of challenged myself to see how far I could go without any character having to say something.  Gotta say it was pretty fun.

I think writers use dialogue as a crutch sometimes, because they’re worried readers won’t get what’s going on if you don’t spell it out for them all the time.  This is a visual medium – let the art do the heavy lifting and use dialogue when your characters have something to say, not because the silence is making you uncomfortable.  And when they do have something to say, try to make it memorable.

Mike: Nathan, as the visual artist, what’s the hardest part of drawing a book like Reyn? Was there a specific element that you knew would take more time than others? 

Nathan: Overall, for me the hardest part of drawing the book is the struggle to let go of a page. We really want to hit a monthly deadline so in order to meet that you have to learn when to say “finished” on a page. I never sit back and go, “oh man, I nailed that!”, but I can take solace in the fact that I do the best job I can in the time I have available.

More specifically though, there are a lot of horses in issue 2! Those buggers are hard to draw!

Mike: Were there aspects of the artistic process that were / are a totally new challenge for you as an artists?

Nathan: I found the whole book to be challenging, artistically, but in the best possible way. I welcome the opportunity to grow creatively by crafting a story that presents things that are out of my comfort zone.  We’re creating a world from scratch, so there’s always going to be new and exciting things to draw. I’ve found the process of working with Kel (as well as Paul and Pat) really beneficial. It’s great when you’re on the same wavelength as your collaborators.

Kel: Always. I don’t know if I can point out one thing or another and say that was challenging.  But I can say that I’m always learning the craft by practicing it.  I can say that there are aspects of this world that will eventually defy expectations, so it there was a challenge to not get ahead of the story and let it all spool out at a natural pace.  I needed to keep reminding myself it wasn’t about the destination, it’s all about the journey.

Mike: Kel, fantasy, while a genre that seems to be coming back into the comics medium with titles like Rat Queens, Tooth and Claw, and now Reyn, can sometimes struggle to find its footing as being marketable, maybe even more so than most genres. Sure, Game of Thrones is a huge hit, but for every Lord of the Rings or A Song of Ice and Fire, there are countless others that fall by the wayside. What are some of the pitfalls that can make the fantasy genre a hard sell on a big scale?

Kel: That’s a great question but I don’t know if I can answer that just yet.  We’re at the beginning of this journey and all I can see is the woods in front of me.  But I think a possible answer to your question is that there’s an expectation to cash in on the popularity of a particular literary trend (dystopian YA novels, anybody?).  And it’s not all going to be as good as the trendsetters, so you get this glut of feeble attempts to achieve a level of success that few could ever aspire to.

So I can say that Reyn didn’t start out to capitalize on some trend to be a fantasy series because that’s what people seem to want right now.  I like Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings – we aren’t that and we’re not trying to be that.  Truth is, who could ever attain such heights?  Hubris!  This was only ever intended to be an adventure in a world of our own construction – a world I might add, that even after the first issue has a ways to go until you’ll see the entire landscape.  And even then, I think there’s still going to be hidden bits of real estate for you to discover as the series grows.

 

“Reyn #1” is available for purchase now. “Reyn #2” debuts February 11th, 2015.

 

 

Mike Sains

Mike Sains is a Writer, Interviewer, and the Editor of the Reviews Department for Capeless Crusader as well as other outlets online. He is also a podcaster and an avid collector of vinyl records and collectibles.

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