"The Untamed: A Sinner's Prayer" marks the beginning of a new fantasy comic book universe, written and overseen by Sebastian Jones. The debut offering of Stranger Comics, "The Untamed" introduces the world of Asunda, as stunningly illustrated by Peter Bergting. Jones has distributed issue #1 at conventions, but a new and expanded version of the issue will be arriving in stores Spring 2010. CBR spoke with Jones about world-building and modern fantasy in "The Untamed" and the land of Asunda.
"Asunda. 'Tis a vast and volatile world. Born of the mother dragon, Esu.
"That is the uber geek intro. And that is why I wanted to introduce folk to Asunda, not through the bog standard, epic sweeping battle for world domination, but rather a beautiful and harrowing tale of revenge and redemption, confined to the hell-hole Town of Oasis," Jones said. "Enter 'The Untamed.'"
Jones explained that, while tightly focused on a single time and place, "The Untamed" will still give readers a clear picture of the entire world of Asunda. "The world can be seen through this intense and contained moment in time and space. In fact, there is a pit fight, where a glimpse of the outside comes to the town in all its terrifying glory!," he said.
"As a kid I grew up often wondering why, in all the fantasy books, the elves were white and the evil elves [Drowe] were black, or some bizarre shade of dark purple… and in fact it seemed that all of the folk easily seduced by the obligatory dark lord had at least a jolly good tan, and perhaps a turban, etc. I thought this was fucking ridiculous, both morally and financially," Jones said. "I look back now (I have spent 20 some years creating Asunda), to see how that has molded my desire to create a multicultural landscape. Now, that might sound like some cheesy fucking commercial, but it's not. It is as simple as, if you're an Isinniel [Elf] from Herfang [Scandinavia], chances are you're white, if you're from Ujoa [Africa], you're black. Case closed.
"I work with Art Director and anthropology major Darrell May to make sure our world is as real and honest as it gets! But this isn't some scientific world. This is natural evolution, but rest assured we have our gods, mythos, runes, dragons, religions… [it's just that] in Asunda, it is not all based in an Arthurian-looking venue. It is harsh, brutal, and unforgiving, with fleeting moments of romance, serenity, and gentleness. And assassins. It is medieval, for fuck's sake."
The main character of "The Untamed" is on a mission of vengeance, having returned to the land of the living for seven days to collect seven souls. "He was bad man who ran the Town of Oasis, in a fucked up Tony Soprano meets Al Swearengen kind of way, although he had his code: don't hurt children or women," Jones said of the unnamed protagonist before his death. "Ironically, it is the women and children in his life he has emotionally hurt the most.
"Now, he's hell-bent on vengeance to reap the seven souls that betrayed and murdered him and his family. When they were killed, his family was on the verge of turning him for good. Think of Clint Eastwood or Toshiro Mifune coming back to kick ass," the writer continued. "Our Stranger has been given a taste of the devil's power to unleash ten years of torment. It's going to get messy."
Jones said that this Stranger, though no hero, is still sympathetic due to his imperfections and righteous quest. "Ultimately, though, he was and is the epitome of man with all his flaws and redeeming qualities for us to sit back and eat pizza and cast our holier than though judgment upon," he said. "We will love him and hate him as he is conflicted with everyman's struggle between love vs. lust, and whether he can tell the difference.
"He is so compelled to avenge his family's death; he is willing to do bad things. It is the journey he takes where we hope he finds redemption, and possibly even salvation."
Jones also suggested that the Stranger would not be the standard wise-ass anti-hero. "I have had my fill of bad toupees and affected English accents on bullshit antiheroes of today who smile for the over-stylized hero moment. Twatty sword fights and corny one-liners," Jones said. "I was raised on 'The Wild Bunch' and 'The Yakuza.' I was in awe of Woody Strode and Jack Elam. Waxed eyebrows, douche bags, and made-for-TV comic heroes reek of cosmetics purchased at a shopping mall. Our dude is you and me. Fucked."
As the Stranger is ferried back across from the land of the dead, his conversation suggests that he's not the only person ever to be offered this chance to return and right some wrongs. "It is an extremely rare instance when a person is ferried back from the dead," Jones told CBR. "A person returning from the Hell has become Vorkas, which translates to child of Arukas - a child of the devil himself. Undead. Every Vorkas is different. Every deal is different. Perhaps we will see more in the future. You have touched a nerve with this one!
"Oh yes. Others will react with fear and disbelief. But perhaps not all."
The writer said that he's also put considerable thought into secondary characters, complementing his world-building strategy. "Being inspired by filmmakers like Sergio Leone and Akira Kurosawa, I wanted to honor each character with a past and a future to hope for," Jones said. "I don't want to get too descriptive, because our hero has to rediscover them upon his return from hell. His memory is a tad bit wonky."
Niobe, whom Jones described as "the soul of the series," is a young girl who puts the Stranger in mind of what his daughter may have been like, if she had not been murdered with the rest of his family. "She is his conflict, as she represents his opportunity for salvation," Jones said. "There is a lot to discover about Niobe, as to how important she truly is."
As to Phylax, the leader of the Kraven Guild," Jones said, "I love this dude. He is the Stranger's older brother who is stronger and more menacing then Stranger could hope to be, but he is governed by his jealousy and his rage." Phylax betrayed his brother for embittered love of Lariel, "the M'lady of the tale."
Jones also mentioned young con man Stutters, whom the Stranger had raised like a son. "His allegiance will determine everything," the writer said.
"Oh, I have to talk about everyone's favorite albino Grachukk [Great Orc]: Kersheg The Mute," Jones said. "He is on the cover of our issue #1 Limited Edition, masterfully painted by Hyoung Taek Nam. Hyoung captured the quiet intensity that glares from Kersheg's ice-green eyes, and is a perfect representation that our heroes and villains are very real, with real pasts. His stoic power is legend. Due to a tainted brand on his tongue, the immense Kersheg cannot speak. But… we will offer tales about his past soon!"
Swedish artist Peter Bergting provides a distinct look for "The Untamed," but Jones said that illustration isn't Bergting's only valuable skill. "Peter Bergting can cook better than any other artist I have come across," he told CBR. "Legendary Swedish Meatballs! I am a skinny bastard, so that goes a long way.
"I just got dubbed with the honor of being the godfather to his beautiful daughter, Amelie. A big hello to him and his family!"
On the subject of Bergting's art, Jones said, "It was his genius book 'The Portent' that had me mesmerized. If you haven't read it, please do. It is a rare and unique gem. A breathe of tangible fresh air in a sometimes stale climate.
"I am humbled to work with Peter," Jones continued. "He brings a master's touch to the series, and his own voice that conveys our tale with rich and vivid imagery. The mood is set. We dial this in with Darrell, and Peter evokes and conjures the magic with a visionary filmmaker's eye. We can feel the hot sun, we can smell the stink of sex, and we will drown in the art that compliments our tale perfectly."
Other upcoming Asunda titles will include "Dusu, Path of the Ancient," which Jones co-writes with Stranger Comics production designer Christopher Garner and which features art by "Silent Hill's" Steph Stamb, and "Erathune," written by Jones and Darrell May and illustrated by "Freshmen" artist Sheldon Mitchell. Discussing "Dusu," Jones said, "Hidden from his kin and sheltered from his future, Dusu is raised among the Galemren (Wild Elves) in the secret heart of the Ugoma Jungle. A world in which he does not belong. But Dusu is not entirely human either. He is on the 'Path' to something more… Dusu must focus his rage and become the savior of Ugoma before all he loves is destroyed.
"Think of a 'Last of the Mohicans'/'Apocalypto' tale about a man out of his element, finding love, and losing himself to a higher power," he continued. "We really draw a lot from tribal cultures from around the world."
The story of "Erathune," Jones explained, hinges on an enchanted weapon. "Soul Sunder, the cursed axe of Death Goddess, Madraq, has led Buxton Stonebeard deep into the ice mountain city of Erathune," he told CBR. "She has promised the old and troubled Macgrom (Dwarf) two more souls to collect and he can be rid of the axe. One is a monster who seeks war upon his kin; the other is Buxton's brother, Lord of Erathune, who cast him out upon pain of death out a thousand years ago. Buxton must choose between saving a city that spurned him, and being free of the axe that has enslaved him.
"Buxton is joined by two legendary heroes, who both make guest appearances in 'The Untamed.' Actually, you will see Buxton in issue 2 of 'The Untamed' hacking up a Grachukk in The Pit Fight."
Launching several series in quick succession showing various aspects of the Asunda world will, Jones hopes, create a sense of vastness to the fantasy world he's envisioned. "In addition to being a comic nut, I have read decent amount of fantasy books in my day," he said. "I felt that some concentrated on the characters, but their world felt small. Some populated a huge world with two-dimensional stereotypical heroes. Few seem to get it right. I was always disappointed when I felt, if I was there, I could travel across the huge realm by horse in two weeks.
"What I am doing with Asunda is building a Marvel universe for fantasy. We have our heroes and villains to tune in and follow, which have had years of invested organic research and development [gaming]. This will allow the world to breathe.
"With all of our projects I am aiming for readers to be absorbed and thus fall in love with the flaws and imperfections of the characters, as they discover the immense and demanding world around them."
"The Untamed" and other Stranger Comics titles will be printed on recycled paper, and prominently advertise such on the back cover of each title. "Can you believe it costs me quite a bit more to print on recycled paper? Bananas!," Jones said.
"As resources vanish, we wanted to do our bit, especially during these times. I don't begrudge other companies for not striving for going green, it's just our stance," he continued. "I have a kid, so I think about this stuff a fair bit. A lot of people I speak to don't give a fuck. But there a healthy portion that do, and frankly I feel it is needed.
"We are a very small company so our print run on 'The Untamed' was not massive, but to give you an idea of what we saved with our first issue:
- 3114 LBS of wood
- 3937.8 gallons of water
- 7.8 MLN BTUS of energy
- 948.6 LBS emissions
- 505.8 LBS of solid waste
"This info is on the backs of our books, but I felt it was important to also mention here to CBR fans. When these numbers came in, it blew my doors off. And actually, the organic paper has a beautiful matte finish to it, which compliments our organic tales perfectly. Gritty texture to a gritty, Untamed land."
The publisher's environmentally-friendly platform is also bolstered by the availability of its titles online and on digital devices. "As far as the digital arena, it parallels our green efforts in addition to giving a different voice and perspective to comic fans of old, and hopefully excites the new digital dude to become a comic fan," Jones said. "I think it is the shifting trend for people who are becoming more comfortable with watching video and reading books and comics on a digital format, although as comics are an American tradition dating back to 1833, they will never be replaced. Printed comics are a religion. I am embracing the digital arena to market my wares and gain new friends who might never have seen 'The Untamed.' I want to honor and enjoy both mediums.
"We are bringing a new look to motion comics as well. Issue #1 can be seen on this part of our website - just click watch. And a preview can be seen on YouTube. It was directed by me, and produced by Ken Locsmandi ('The Matrix' and 'Fight Club') and the Filmworksx crew ('Aplocalypto,' 'Zohan').
"Issue 1 is on the terrific panelfly.com for the iPhone. It is free!" Jones continued. "I wanted as many people to see our issue 1 to realize we will produce beautiful material in all formats. Hardcore traditional comic fans will pick up our printed books regardless, and all I have spoken to are unaffected by the read on a digital format, or are simply waiting for the book to hit the shelves, so I believe both mediums can co exist and cater to all.
"The future looks bright!"
Though a complete-looking version of "The Untamed" #1 has been made available to fans at conventions and to retailers as a buzz-builder, Jones said that, in coordination with the other Asunda launch titles, a new and larger edition will also be released in 2010. "In the relentless pursuit of excellence, Stranger Comics got an opportunity. Material from one of our other World of Asunda titles became available months sooner than we expected, due to some talented people being even more amazing than we expected," Jones explained. "We looked at what came in and saw that it would enhance the already critically acclaimed work in 'The Untamed' #1 ... and made the very difficult decision to wait until it could all go together before we unleashed it on the world. In 2010, an all new 'The Untamed' #1 will be released to comic book stores in North America with all new material added, and we believe it will make the reader's experience even richer."