Kingmaker: A Lost World came out to great success last week from the publishers of 2000 AD, Rebellion, and with a long lazy weekend ahead we thought we’d save this interview for today. Call this interview with both writer Ian Edginton and artist Leigh Gallagher our early Easter treat for you, dear readers, to ease you into this Good Friday late afternoon and early evening. I’d grab a drink first though, as this is a long, but very enjoyable read that is essential reading for any fan of Kingmaker. Let’s have it, shall we, folks?
Olly MacNamee: World building is a pretty daunting task at the best of times, but in Kingmaker A Lost World you’re effectively creating both a world of sci-fi and one of fantasy and then having then come crashing together. Where does one start when creating such worlds? And, how does an artist best fit into this process?
Ian Edington: Because Leigh and I were taking on two well established tropes, high fantasy and space opera, a lot of the groundwork had already been done in the works of Poul Anderson, Piers Anthony, Tolkien, Roger Zelazny, Frank Herbert, Robert Heinlein, Larry Niven and so on. We wanted the background sources to be identifiable and then we’d put our twist on them and send them off in directions that you wouldn’t expect. It was just a matter then of weaving our characters and storyline into that mash-up of worlds.
Leigh Gallagher: Cheers buddy, I’m excited as balls to finally have it out there. Where do we start? First of all, there’s the extreme excitement of thinking up and designing new worlds, races, space ships, monsters…. which is then followed by “Oh fffffffffuuuuuu….. I’ve got to think up and design all new worlds, races, space ships and monsters…..” before you even get to drawing the actual story. But then you have a cup of tea with three sweeteners, maybe a Creme Egg or three, and then you get started.
Obviously it includes a re-watch of the original LOTR trilogy (the good one), soaking all that Middle Earth atmosphere in, but also making mental notes to try not to repeat anything. You stack up a pile of reference pictures for inspiration, have another cup of tea, and start to fill that frightening blank white page with rough designs of the main cast. With Crixus the Ork being our main hero, I wanted to get him right first. Once you crack the look of the lead, things *should* flow after that. But it’s a brilliant experience. The exact thing you get into comics for. I’ve wanted to draw a sci-fi series for so long after being the “period drama fantasy” guy on Defoe and Aquila, so to get to draw an alien invasion of Middle Earth, with Ian and Ellie DeVille on letters, is amazing!
OM: Now, it’s the law to compare any fantasy strip to The Lord of The Rings, but there is certainly far more than a passing similarity in the narrative with events from this epic. Was this your chance to tell a great heroic quest while also playing around with the tropes, code and conventions and our own expectations, of the fantasy genre itself, Ian?
IE: Absolutely. The whole idea for Kingmaker came from when the kids and I were watching the Lords of the Rings movies for the umpteenth time. It had reached that point in Return of the King when Frodo and Sam have almost completed their task and out of the blue I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if a bloody huge space ship appeared and blew the crap out of them?’ All that build up, all that epic struggle and to have it derailed at the very last minute. That sort of set the tone for Kingmaker!
OM: On first impressions, Wizard Ablard seems more Rincewind than Gandalf. Furthermore, with mentions of aristocratic alien houses, it reminded me a little of Dune too. What other influences informed your story and, Leigh, the artwork?
LG: I’m afraid I’m not cultured enough to know of Rincewind, and I’ve not seen Dune (NEWS JUST IN: Good looking 2000AD artist has not seen celebrated sci-fi film!).
Ian asked me to base Ablard on the actor Richard Bremmer, and I was happy to do so as he has a brilliant face full of character. I think he also wanted me to draw him covered in bird crap, smelling of wee. I tried some variations on his wizard hat, including a twin cone version, but in the end we just stuck with a classic, but dirty, wizard look.
As for everything else, there’s no secret formula. It’s just 42 years of living on this planet, soaking up every Saturday morning cartoon, sci-fi/ fantasy film, and taking notice of people and locations on your travels. For instance, when I was working on the script for episode 4 of the second series, it called for a rocky environment. By coincidence that weekend I was visiting a National Trust park that had the exact surroundings perfect for that scene.
IE: Obviously when you think of wizards, Merlin and Gandalf are usually the first ones that come to mind. I wanted to take that sage-like character and underscore him with some very human foibles so he did start to morph into Rincewind a little, which is no bad thing.
Again it was the idea of taking the expected trope of what a wizard would be like in these kind of stories but then make him more fallible and less omnipotent.
Dune was also an influence, amongst other things. I told Leigh that the space opera aspect should have a 1970’s Heavy Metal magazine feel. The work of Moebius, Angus MacKie, Philippe Drulliet, Enki Bilal. It should be splendidly audacious and over the top.
OM: It’s an interesting concept. Alien overlords from space harvesting what the natives call ‘magic’ and the invading forces, lead by Duke Eschatus of The Thorn, call ‘quintessence’, or ‘fuel’ to put it another way. What was the genesis for this series, Ian?
IE: It’s an idea I’ve floating around for a while. There’s an Arthur C Clarke quote about any sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic. So I thought what if magic was actually a quantifiable and highly prized element? It sort of took off from there!
OM: As an artist, Leigh, how much collaboration was there between your and Ian when it came to visualising this planet, its architecture and the various different species living there? There’s an awful lot to cover from vast space ships to thrilling vistas full of flora and fauna, such as when Ablard and Crixus meet with Lord Tycho in the Heartwood.
LG: Yeah, Ian’s the daddy and I’m the mummy of Kingmaker, so we worked pretty closely. For that awesome scene he wrote in the first episode with the gigantic alien warship first appearing above our armies of our “Middle Earth”, he described it as “like something from the pages of a 1970’s Heavy Metal magazine or science fiction book cover. It looks like a cross between a Rococo palace and a refinery. It was once ornate and elegant but now looks like an old clunker but a mean one, that would run over dogs.” So you couldn’t get clearer than that with such brilliant direction. He’ll often provide great descriptions like that.
Other elements such as the various space ships and alien races you see, Ian told me just to go crazy with it. He saw the Thorn alien race as using/forcing other aliens to do their bidding, comparing them to the Reavers from Firefly and Serenity. Now that I colour my own strips, I’m able to add the scratched paint effects that really shows their beaten and cannibalised look. It’s subtle, but really works.
As for everything else, I’m kind of flying by the seat of my pants, so don’t have time to think of designing every scenario in advance.
OM: This isn’t your first world building either, Ian, We saw it in Brass Sun and also, in many ways, Scarlet Traces. I assume this is an approach you enjoy, but it must be an immense and intimidating every time, I imagine?
IE: Yeah, it is. Building worlds appeals to the megalomanic in me! I’m not an avid gamer but when I do play I spend most of my time just wandering around checking out the environments more than actually playing.
OM: Even with each episode only running for a few pages every issue, that’s still a lot to do to hit that weekly deadline, I can imagine? What were some fo the biggest challenges on this widescreens epic and were there any all-nighters pulled perhaps, Leigh?
IE: I give Leigh a lot of headaches. He’s young, he can take it!
LG: What’s scary is you describing it as a “weekly deadline”. True, when it comes out in the shops it’s weekly, but generally we have about 10 months lead time on it. It takes me a while to get into the groove of things with a fresh book, so by the time the first episode comes into shops, I usually have 3 episodes left to draw, which can be terrifying. By that point it pretty much does turn into a weekly deadline!
As for challenges, anything that involves multiple armies fighting! Especially when it comes up in one of the last episodes that I’m rushing to get done in a week! Luckily I was able to use a combination of sneaky ancient artist tricks, 3 all-nighters in a row, and manly crying to get it into the readers hands on time!
I should add that Tharg The Mighty graciously allowed me to retouch 13 pages for our new collection, so anything that got smudged with my manly tears has now been fixed!
OM: When reading through Kingmaker: A Lost World, it also felt akin to a buddy movie, with both Adlard and Crixux not necessarily the best of friends at the start of this saga. Although Princess Yarrow is a welcome inclusion who acts as something of a calming influence, happily listening to them both.
IE: They’re unlikely allies. Ordinarily they’d be enemies but the alien invasion has changed the dynamic in their world and they find that they have more in common with each other than they do with their own kind. The same with Yarrow, we’ve also made it clear that there’s no love interest between her and Crixus. She’s valued in her own right and not as a romantic adjunct to Crixus story.
OM: The theme of prejudice and intolerance has featured in your writing before now, and so it rears its ugly head again here, with Crixux the Ork being a target, but certainly not a victim. Is this something more easily included when writing for 2000 AD given its history for including such content than, say, American tastes? What are both your thoughts on this was both creators and long-time readers of the galaxy’s greatest comic?
IE: Maybe a few years ago we might have had problems trying to place Kingmaker with an American publisher but not so much these days. You only have to look at Isola by Brendan Fletcher and Karl Kerschl or Coda by Si Spurrier and Matias Bergara. We opted for 2000AD because we wanted to tell a long form story also the larger page size meant we could have some mighty meaty splash pages!
I wanted to focus on Crixus as the protagonist because in any other story he’d be the bad guy but why? What makes the bad guy’s bad? We know that people are shaped by circumstance and up-bringing, is this what happened with the Orks, Goblins and Trolls?
At one point in the story, Crixus says that if you keep kicking a dog it’s going to eventually turn around and bite you, at which you then say, ‘See it was a bad dog after all!’
Because they don’t look like ethereal elves, noble humans or stoic dwarves, they’re branded as ‘the other’ and treated like scum. I wanted the scum to save the day and oblige the other races to acknowledge them. Likewise some of those elves humans and dwarves aren’t as honourable as they’d have you believe. The alien invasion in Kingmaker dramatically changes the status quo.
OM: It’s an epic read, but we’re clearly not seen the and of this saga yet. By the end of it, we at least get some sense of Crixux ultimate destiny, but only a hint. What can we expect next when we return to this Realm with Nine Kingdoms and Kingmaker? There’s still plenty of scope there, right?
IE: We’re only about a third of the way through the story, we’ve just been positioning all our players, in the series to come we’ll see the game really getting moving. Crixus finally accepts that he’s been purposely gifted with the Ebora (the world spirit) to unite the Nine Kingdoms and battle the Houses of the Thorn. However, the Thorn are not the only enemies he has to contend with as we saw at the end of the last series!
Kingmaker: A Lost World is available now from Rebellion. Go ask your local store to save you a copy and support local, independent businesses before you throw money at the big boys, if you can.