Aspen Comics' "10 For 10" initiative sees the release of ten new titles throughout 2013 for the introductory price of $1 each. One of the series involved is the April-releasing "Jirni," a story of magic and sorcery by "Soulfire" and "Fathom" writer J.T. Krul. Fresh off of his exclusive contract with DC Comics and New 52 runs on "Captain Atom" and "Green Arrow", Krul's workload has not diminished as April will also see the release of his first prose novel, "The Lost Spark." A story over a decade in the making, the novel spins a tale starring a young girl on a magical quest to save her grandfather.
CBR News spoke with Krul about both projects, with the writer readily providing new details about "Jirni" and "The Lost Spark," the challenges of writing prose and how his real life experiences have influenced his creations. Plus, exclusive cover art.
CBR News: J.T., "The Lost Spark" is a prose book you've been working on for the last decade. What's it about and why are you presenting the story in prose rather than a comic?
J.T. Krul: "The Lost Spark" is a fantasy adventure about a teenage girl named Angie who's reunited with a magical world she all but forgot as she embarks on a journey to save her grandfather. The essential premise of the book is that when we are young, there is one special object or heirloom -- be it a toy, piece of clothing, or stuffed animal -- that was most precious to us. It was our private talisman or spark. With it, we would imagine doing great things. The problem is once we get older, we forget about that connection. We forget about the magic. Our sparks break, get lost or even given away. We leave that part of our childhood behind and move on with our lives.
When Angie's grandfather has his spark stolen from him he begins to lose his mind, and it's up to her to find what he lost before it's too late. But first, she needs to find her own missing spark because she has forgotten all about that part of the world.
Even though the book has a young adult or teen fantasy vibe, it's much wider in scope and offers something to readers of all ages. Within the story, we follow not only Angie's story, but also that of her aging grandfather, left languishing in a retirement home. There's also a former baseball player, a forgotten teenage boy, and a young couple exploring this magical world together as kindred spirits. And in the shadows, there is a bitter old soul, clutching at all the magic he can with desperation -- motivated more by greed than wonder.
The world in the book is very much the world we live in, except for the fantastical nature of the sparks themselves. They are not out and about in the general public, so there is a bit of the world beneath a world aspect going on here.
Like you said, I've been developing this story for a long time, and it was always meant to be a book. I love comics, but I also love books and this was a world I wanted to explore in that format. Plus, the very nature of the story deals with our ability to imagine and create with our minds, and that aspect is strongest I believe when reading books -- where we are given the opportunity to visualize and experience the people and the world of the story as we see it.
We initially solicited the "The Lost Spark" for a January release, but in order to better coordinate a wider launch, we moved the release date to April.
Since you've been working on the book for over ten years, have you gone through any specific real life experiences that changed your perspective on characters or help fuel plot points over that time?
Absolutely. When I started writing this book, I didn't have children yet. That's affected the book a great deal. There's something about watching your kids experience the world around them for the first time that is incredibly rewarding and engrossing. We take so much for granted as adults and aren't amazed very often. We get so caught up in the daily grind, we forget to take time to see what is right in front of our face. I think being a father has helped me to better tap into that whimsical aspect of childhood, while at the same time understand what maturity brings (both the good and the not so good). It's all helped to crystalize some of the characters' motivations and give them more depth.
You mentioned the book features talismans or "Sparks" unique to each individual, but what does that mean in a physical and metaphysical context?
From a physical standpoint, the sparks are toys or other items we hold precious -- that one special thing we cherished most as a kid. For some, it's a baseball bat that hit that first home run. For others, it's the action figure they spent countless hours playing with alone out in the backyard. A halloween mask, a baton and even a piece of silly putty. In many ways, they are extensions of the security blanket.
You say metaphysical, well, there you go. Each spark gave the child what they needed most at that time in their life. For instance, though it's not actually in the book, the notion of a security blanket "protecting" a child who is scared of the dark or the unknown or strangers. Perhaps, in this world, he could turn that blanket into a huge shield to literally protect him. Within the book, the sparks can provide protection or security, bring confidence and power, or even offer companionship.
What traits does Angie posses that set her apart from her peers?
At the most fundamental level, Angie has a good heart. It's been hardened over recent years since the death of her mother, but she's a good person. And now, she finds herself wandering the halls of high school, trying to find out where she fits in when it comes to the world. She's unsure of herself, confused, feeling very isolated and alone. I think this aspect speaks to virtually everyone at one point in their life. In life, especially during those formative years, we all try to make sense of the world around us as we start to become the person we will be. We begin identifying what's important to us, what traits we value most, and what kind of people we want in our lives. It's a universal journey I think everyone can relate to.
Can you tease anything about the secret danger looming over Angie and the threats she may face on her adventure?
In particular, there are a pair of individuals -- a short man named Pennyworth with an affinity for needles, and a tall, lanky figure named Jakob. Their job is to steal sparks from unsuspecting victims. Calm, cool, and creepy, they are the very definition of stranger danger and will be haunting Angie every step of the way. But as bad as they can be, it's nothing compared to their boss.
What does Angie have at her disposal to face these threats -- is she the type of person to ask for help if needed?
In the beginning, Angie will not even have her spark -- so the first step will be for her to find it and see if she can still tap into that special magic again. While admitting the need for help is a struggle for her, this adventure is unlike anything she's ever faced. She comes to rely on others to help guide her through this hidden world, from a retired baseball player named Emmett to a boy named Colin. She'll take some comfort in knowing she is not entirely alone for a change.
What was your "Spark" growing up? Do you believe children of the new millennium still latch onto "Sparks" of their own that aren't video games or iPads?
Hmm. There are a special few that I recall. One that served as something of a catalyst was a particular Star Wars action figure -- the Han Solo in Hoth gear. There was a period of time when I moved into a new house in another part of my hometown of Hastings. None of my friends lived close by, so after school I was mostly on my own. During the winters, I would trek out into the snow with my Han Solo and have many an adventure on the vast tundra in the backyard.
As far as today's kids, the answer is yes and no. I think some still manage to find something special to cherish, but a large part of the power of a "spark" is the ability to use one's imagination in creative play. And while kids still do that to a certain extent, I think the distractions from television, video games, and the like dilute it. Don't get me wrong, all those things are extremely fun and entertaining, but it's not the same thing.
During a CBR video interview at Comic-Con International in San Diego last year, you mentioned it's both "terrifying and exciting" to be in complete control of the "Lost Spark's" world. What's terrifying about it?
To start -- it's my first novel. That in itself is exciting yet scary. It's such a different beast to create. As a comic writer, readers don't see your written work (aside from dialogue). The comic script isn't the finished product, but rather an elaborate letter to your artists, explaining the story as you see it. With a book, the words on the page are the finished product. Everything I write is out there for the reader to see and absorb.
Lets switch focus to your new, creator-owned Aspen comic, "Jirni" as part of the company's 10th anniversary "10 For 10" program. Tell us more about the main character, Ara, and what exactly the series is about.
"Jirni" is my love letter to all things fantasy -- "Lord of the Rings", Conan, Flash Gordon, Dungeons and Dragons, the "Dark Tower" series, and basically anything Frank Frazetta ever drew. For Aspen's "10 For 10," I wanted to add to their strong stable of characters and worlds. Part of the joy in working on "Soulfire" has been creating the world of that book, especially developing the mythology and history of the past. With "Jirni," I am doing that again, but in a different fashion. It's a rousing adventure tale, chronicling an epic quest about self-discovery as much as its about anything. It's in the title itself -- "Jirni," a play on "journey." We've all heard the phrase "the journey is the destination." Well, that's true here as well. It's about the adventure and the mystery and the world.
The central character Ara is a warrior princess searching across her world for her mother -- a queen who was kidnapped by a sorcerer with the help of his d'jinn. The genie aspect is a main part of the book and there is a real Arabian vibe to it. Ara was raised in a peaceful kingdom, hidden away from the brutality of the world, but now she must venture out into the unknown.
What are some unique elements of "Jirni" making it different from other Aspen titles you've worked on like "Soulfire" or "Fathom?"
In both "Fathom" and "Soulfire," the rich mythologies of the worlds play as a backdrop for the story itself, but in "Jirni" the mythology is the story. Within the larger quest, there are adventures and encounters that serve as almost fables for that world. There is a much more classical fantasy feel to the book.
You mentioned the antagonist in the series is a D'jinn and the mysterious sorcerer who controls it -- what is their connection with Ara, and what type of powers or abilities does she possess to take on these threats?
Ah, great question. But one that I cannot answer. All becomes quite clear in the very first issue though. That correlation is central to the book.
What was your process in finding artist Paolo Pantalena to make sure "Jirni" visually fit the Aspen brand?
One of Aspen's greatest strengths is their eye for talent when it comes to artists. With Paolo, we found the absolute perfect candidate for the project. We've seen his stuff before and thought "Jirni" would be right up his alley. Proof came quickly with the very first character design he did for Ara, which he nailed on his first try. He possesses tremendous talent and its obvious with each and everything he's turned in. Part of being a good comic writer is picking the right artist and simply letting them work their magic. "Jirni" is giving Paolo a wide berth in terms of being able to create a whole range of characters and creatures. I consider myself extremely lucky to have him on the book.
Is there a deeper meaning to the title aside from a play on words?
It is a play on words, but it's more than that. It's a philosophy of sorts -- calling for us to accept life as it comes, both the good and the bad, because everything that happens is part of a larger narrative that shapes and molds us into who we are. I know that I have learned far more from my failures and mistakes than I have from my successes. It's also about appreciating life itself -- taking the moments and making the most of them.
What other work do you have on the way in 2013 you can tell us about?
Now that "The Lost Spark" is getting ready to come out, I've started working on another novel -- something completely new. Not sure if it'll be released before the end of the year, but we'll see. More "Soulfire" for sure, as the 4th volume is pumping along. Writing Dark Grace coming unhinged as an agent of total chaos has been a lot of fun. We're really challenging Malikai and the gang this time around. At DC, I've still got "Superman Beyond" coming out and I'm talking to them about other stuff. With my exclusive at DC over, it's given me the chance to expand my horizons. There are a few other things simmering with other publishers, but nothing to announce yet.
J.T. Krul's "The Lost Spark" goes on sale in April, and "Jirni"debuts for $1 on April 17