'Spirit' of Ambition: NW Studios talks 'Spirit of The Amazon'

Sun, March 23rd, 2003 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

[Spirit of the Amazon]
"Spirit of the Amazon" Preview Cover
Every month, comic book fans are bombarded with lots of purchasing choices and unfortunately, most of the choices are made from only two company's products- Marvel and DC. It's always been hard for smaller companies to gain a presence in the comic market and even with the upward trend in comic sales today, people still tend to trust the comic names they know- hence the relaunch of so many familiar comic names. But there's one Brazilian comic book studio that's created the number two selling comic in Brazil, second only to X-Men and it features superheroes doing something you might not expect: trying to save the environment.

No, this is not "Captain Planet'03." This isn't going to be one of those articles.

But this is an article about an ambitious studio from Brazil trying to bring their hit comic book to the United States and as they say, show that superheroes can make a difference. NW Studios' Vinicius Tavares, Vice-President of New Business, and Orlando Paes Filho, Creator, Writer and Art Director of "Spirit of The Amazon" were gracious enough to talk to CBR News, despite language barriers and special thanks go to Tavares for added translation.

[Alanya]"'Spirit of the Amazon' is a criticism of today's capitalism in an intelligent and dynamic comic book about six under-cover extraterrestrial beings who face a long and terrifying battle to protect the earth from its tyrant leaders," Tavares explained to CBR News. "Most of all 'Spirit of the Amazon' is aimed to inform, increase awareness, entertain and inspire people. We like to say 'Spirit of the Amazon' is the materialization of a dream, a way Orlando Paes found to provoke people to reflect on important issues in today's world - not only environmental abuses, but also political and ideological matters.

"The comic book series was originally released in Brazil in 1998 and in its debut issue became the second best-selling title in the country, selling over 18,000 comics that month. The American version will be in stores in May 14th."

"The following is a synopsis of 'Spirit of the Amazon':

Forget GreenCrap, Peaceful-and-No-Action Petitions and Nonsense Rhetoric Speeches! The only way to face environmental damages caused by corrupt CEOs and their reckless corporations is to counter-attack using their own rules: schemes, financial scams and the use of force!

NW Studios invites you to follow the story of a group of extra-terrestrial warriors who have embarked on a secret mission NOT to rescue damsels in distress but to battle against the dark side of today's rotten capitalism!

Because instead of your "little brother's" comic book you deserve a clever, complex and mature reality-based plot that will blow your mind…

"As far as the characters … below you have our warriors and their essence. Each of these character's mottoes provide the best representation of their personalities:"

Click images to enlarge with additional information.
Alanya Aranos Avalon
Kaena Shaula Volko

Tavares knows that in today's comic book market, pretty pictures aren't going to win over fans- it's the content of the comic that needs to be unique. According to NW Studios, "Spirit of The Amazon" is the different kind of superhero comic fans are looking for in North America. "First of all, as you can see, our warriors are obviously very unique and different from any other characters in the world of comics. Also, 'Spirit of the Amazon's' artwork portrays a retro-style-art that, according to the press and reviewers in general evokes the freshness of an early 90's Image type of visual. That is something very particular to 'Spirit of the Amazon,' which we believe will ultimately draw even more people to the series. But more importantly we see the combination of an action-packed story + the ideological/political message of our plot as something that will really appeal to fans. Furthermore, having all this under an Amazon rainforest setting makes 'Spirit of the Amazon' truly different from any mainstream top selling title. So, bottom line, 'Spirit of the Amazon' is everything but a ordinary comic book - it's a title that brings widely-acclaimed top notch artwork - up to the standards of the best in the industry - and a track record of being #2 in Brazil, only behind 'X Men' in sales. What else do fans need to at least give it a try???"

"Spirit of the Amazon" was developed at a young age by Orlando Paes Filho and with some very personal reasons, which Tavares is glad to share with CBR News. "Something that I think it is relevant to be said is that 'Spirit of the Amazon' is not a 'spontaneous' project where an artist develops an environmental comic book to take advantage of the current pro-green sentiment in the world. Orlando Paes Filho envisioned 'Spirit of the Amazon' in 1978 when he was 16 years old (he has the copyright for it dated 1978 as proof of his enduring vision for the story). Terrified by the violent actions towards nature he witnessed in the headlines in Brazil and worldwide, he wrote a fiction called 'Blue Planet' (Planeta Azul), which later inspired the series of comics now named 'Spirit of the Amazon.'

[Alayna]"To give you a straightforward answer I would tell you that Orlando was inspired by his desire to impact the world and make people thoughtful of the world around them. He is a passionate artist, a dreamer that just wants to express his beliefs and concerns to his readers, and ultimately help to build a better world. Since he was 15 years he hasn't done anything but feed his passion. Why the superhero adventure or why a comic format? Because as a true, hardcore comic fan his influences inspired him to fight back with his own group of warriors."

The series has a huge focus on the personal responsibility each person has to protect the environment and make the world a better place, but Tavares is quick to point out that "Spirit" is not a series that vilifies mankind, but instead explores the potential in each of us to do good. "The point is not to identify humans as cruel villains, but to point out indeed that we are complacent with the situation. We are not expecting people to join the EarthFirst movement, nor do we want people to become die-hard environmentalists. We just want them to reflect a bit more on important stuff around us and to become more aware of what is going on. That is why those themes are so important and that is why Orlando articulates them so well throughout the series.

"One of our major concerns is to emphasize that 1) This is not a shallow and opportunistic project that uses environmental appeal to promote itself and 2) This is not a 'preachy' book that features a 'let's all pray for the forest' kind of story. In the same way we do not want 'Spirit of the Amazon' to be seen as 'boring political crap' about how greedy and reckless human beings are, but instead to make readers, as I said, reflect a bit on important stuff, provoke their minds, and instigate their thoughts about the world…"

That all being said, the first issue of the American "Spirit of the Amazon" does show the solution to the problem as being violence, a notion that is quite controversial on it's own and moreso given the current political climate. "First of all I want to say that one of the ideas behind 'Spirit of the Amazon' was exactly to question until what point society, represented by thousands of environmental organizations will continue to ignore such important issues," says Tavares. Obviously peaceful and no-action petitions or speeches are not working. Otherwise, we wouldn't have a vast array of topics such as the Enrons of the world, the uncountable sweatshops throughout the globe from Asia to Latin America, the increasing level of pollution in major first-world cities or the heightened number of endangered species surging as breaking news on a more and more frequent basis. The point is not to use violence as the counter force to address these issues but to put the question mark in our heads - is an aggressive group of warriors the only way to end this destruction?

"Second, I should point out that violence is far from being the only instrument used to fight the evil forces presented in the book. Our warriors also achieve their means by political maneuvering, managing to throw corrupt capitalists against each other.

"Finally, I do have to say 'Spirit of the Amazon' is a comic book, not religious dogma. We are not telling people to start beating corrupt CEOs on the streets, the same way Eminem is not saying people should drive their cars off a cliff because someone doesn't respond to their letters. However, we do aim to create controversy, to plant a seed in people's minds."

Those who are considering purchasing "Spirit" are surely wondering what kind of commitment they're making by investing in this series and Tavares explains that as far as NW Studios is concerned, "Spirit of the Amazon" is here to stay. "'Spirit of the Amazon' is meant to be a permanent ongoing series. Orlando has the whole story already developed in writing (as I said he has the Planeta Azul book with more than 500 pages that ultimately guides him while creating stories for the comic book format). However he is always accommodating little changes, especially in the way of setting up the story, presenting the characters and the issues of the plot."

[Aranos]Looking at the advertisements for this comic book, one is struck by how diverse the cast of the comic is and it has some cynical fans asking if this is a planned marketing move. "I had to turn this question over to Orlando because, to tell you the truth I have no idea how he came up with these characters. Orlando told me it was absolutely by chance, not something intentional. After thinking for a while he responded: 'a racially diverse cast is just the reflection of being raised in Brazil, where like in the U.S. there was an incredible mixing of peoples through the 1800's and 1900's. There is just my natural way of looking at things…'

"I don't think this will help more or less 'Spirit if the Amazon' to appeal to more people. I think what it comes down to is the story, the artwork, and our readers' response to them."

When fans check out the first issue of "Spirit of the Amazon," not only will the diverse cast greet them, but so will the lack of traditional super villains and super technology. This is a comic book set in the modern day and while some liberties are of course taken to create the "super" context, for the most part, the villains of this series are morally corrupt people. "Crooked CEOs, bad- intentioned government officers, corrupt politicians and the like are the bad guys of our plot. But don't think this is all 'Spirit of the Amazon' has to offer…since Orlando changed the story from its original Brazilian version in order to make it even more appealing to the American audience, nobody but Orlando knows what exactly lies in this series' future…When I discussed this with Orlando, he added (in Portuguese, of course), 'Hey, I think even the greatest super villain in comic book history with their super-beyond-human powers would be shocked to realize the kind of power major international drug dealers, corrupt generals and super-billionaires have…after all in the real world it is not about being the strongest but the richest and the most influential…'"

No comic book series is complete without an artist and as noted, "Spirit" features a very early-Image look, courtesy of Brazilian Rodrigo Pereira and Tavares can't stop gushing about him. "We are indeed receiving several compliments on our artwork. Rodrigo Pereira, like most Brazilian comic pencilers, has a huge influence from American comics. He grew up reading the classic American stories…

"Pereira is a long-time friend of Orlando. Due to the fact the comic industry in Brazil is much smaller than in the U.S. and that comics in Brazil is a niche market, I am comfortable saying that everyone knows each other in the industry. The friendship between Orlando Paes and Rodrigo Pereira reached such a level that they know and spend time with each other's families. Orlando presented the project to Pereira in the mid 90's and after seeing it he accepted the invitation of penciling the book. Their first issue, as I said, came out in 1998 and was the second best selling comic in the country

[Volko's Office]"As far as Pereira being snatched by a big name U.S. publisher we really have no fear. We wish him the best, we love his work and it would be unfair to try to not provide him freedom to use his talent. He deserves all the opportunities that may come to him. NW Studios would be glad to know it was an essential piece in promoting his talent. I personally wish him the best of all."

Besides being flashy, the visuals in "Spirit of the Amazon" are also quite bloody and while Tavares wouldn't want readers to think this is a horror comic, he does say that this won't be a "kiddie" comic. "I wouldn't say there is a line that 'Spirit of the Amazon' won't cross. We are not interested in hiding or 'prettying up' the truth. Orlando will keep using strong visuals, mature language and a strong plot as much as necessary to convey the final output he has in his mind. Orlando also had something to add with respect to this question: 'We are going all the way…you will be impressed by what we will be talking about and as a consequence of that what we will be drawing as well…'"

Since "Spirit of The Amazon" must be translated from Portuguese to English, one might imagine it'd be an arduous task, but Tavares says that he's assembled a crew that's more than up to the ask and the process is going smoothly for the most part. "Translating the story itself was not a problem at all. We have a group of translators, all American, where one speaks fluent Portuguese. The only problem I would mention is that sometimes Orlando plays with the words, using metaphors or puns, or even 'poetic language,' which makes the translation much, much harder. One other thing I would say in particular is that some obvious terms and facts for the Brazilian audience turn out to be not clear at all for the American readers. What I am trying to say is that some cultural knowledge is so basic for the Brazilian audience, we find ourselves overlooking it and forgetting we need to have a caption for it in order for the American fans to understand it. One example? When Brazil's president met Bush we did not have any introduction at all for these guys in the Brazilian issue. Everybody knows who they are. In the U.S. no one would have a clue who Bush was talking to based on looks alone."

As previously mentioned, "Spirit of the Amazon" is the #2 seller in Brazil next to "X-Men" and while Tavares can't put his finger on the exact reason for the series' success, he has a few ideas. "In Brazil it is undeniable that part of Amazon's success was due to the fact it is a Brazilian comic and a lot of it was based in the Amazon forest. However, we are sure that that was not the primary reason it sold so well. The concept and plot behind 'Spirit of the Amazon' is universal. We know it appeals to a broad range of people mainly because the issues addressed in the book are intrinsic to all human beings (and possible to some extra terrestrial beings as well). We address issues that have no country or social class barriers. We are all being affected by what we are telling in the story and believe it or not reality is not quite different from what Orlando is writing.

"We brought 'Spirit of the Amazon' to the USA because we believe the US is the most influential comic market in the world. Concepts and trends are created here and we want to participate in this market! Our objective is to contribute to the variety and depth of the comic market. We are very optimistic about it and I know that we have an outstanding book. Our art is up to the standards of the best in the industry and I believe the twist of having the Amazon theme along with a mature political/ideological plot is something that will appeal to readers. The problem is that although it is relatively easy to develop new ideas and publish in the US comic market, you don't know what kind of reaction you are going to have. Small press has had a hard time trying to break through. Everybody knows that if you are not Marvel, DC or Image you will probably have a tough time promoting and selling your books, although a lot of the non Marvel-DC-Image publishers do a great job."

Even with all Tavares has said, the fact remains that as a small press publisher, fans have certain pre-conceived notions about what to expect and that includes an inability to keep deadlines and in this case, that all the issues won't be translated. The NW Studios VP is quick to address to concerns and explains, "I want to start answering this question by saying we are extremely committed to the US market. I did not have a chance to address the very important matter that we have changed the original book launched in Brazil specifically to publish it in the U.S. You don't know how tempted we were to just translate and print the book we have, ready to go as it was released in Brazil. However, we decided to suck up the extras costs just to have the certainty that we would be doing our best. Can I show you more of a commitment than this?

[Aranos]"I can tell you that we reevaluated our plan a couple of times. We committed a large amount of money to marketing and promotional activities. We rewrote the story. We enhanced the quality of the book. We presented it to licensing agencies. We are planning exhibiting at comic conventions including Comic Con International with our own booth. Again, I hope fans realize that we wouldn't be doing all this if we were not seriously committed to them. We literally went all the way and now I tell you there is no way back. I don't care what the orders will be from Diamond because we invested so much time, energy and money that we are releasing the book anyway, even if it is bellow our expectations. But I don't want to lie to you and say that we will stick around forever no matter what. We made up our mind. We are focused. We invested heavily. We are committed. And the good news is we have a much lower costs than many of the others guys so we can stick around longer should adversities come our way."

Before heading back to NW Studios to continue working on other projects, which include the talents of already popular artists in America like Roger Cruz, Tavares adds a few more reasons why readers should try "Spirit of the Amazon" in May:

"1) Everybody we've showed our art to agrees that it has stunning visuals and top notch art!

2) Intelligent plot and action packed story spiked together! It is something new and definitely different from the mainstream themes in general. We will blow your mind with the issues we are addressing!

3) It was a hugely successful release in Brazil! It outsold every single comic book but 'X Men'!

"But let me explain in details what fans can expect from 'Spirit of the Amazon.' To start off we are offering a 28 page highly acclaimed superb artwork printed on coated glossy paper.

"Story wise the book is very politically oriented. As I said, it criticizes the downside of capitalism, corrupt corporations and alike. So people who enjoy the lyrics and the attitude of rock bands like Rage Against the Machine or U2 will probably enjoy our message. People who sincerely care about environmental aggression will find something for them in the comics as well. However, we don't want 'Spirit of the Amazon' to be seen as a 'preachy' book or as a 'go hug a tree' anthem. Instead, we aim to entertain fans with stunning drawings (these Brazilian guys are awesome!) and a plot that mixes fiction with reality. And for that reason I believe 'Spirit of the Amazon' will appeal to people who enjoy reading a comic book with stunning illustrations or books that play with your mind, mixing reality and fiction in the same plot! In short, you can either open up the book and let your mind wander free without bothering too much with the political messages (and of course drool when looking at Alanya's or Shaula's curves), face it as an adventurous fiction about extraterrestrial warriors coming to Earth, or really get into some of today's most important issues!. Or any combination of the three. . .

"Finally, I want tell all comic fans and the comic community that we from NW Studios are very excited and honored to be part of the influential U.S. market. All we want from you guys is to check out our work. We really have made the best comic we could and I know you will like what you will see."

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