“Wizard Gods Tripping On Ultimate Power” – Steve Skroce On The Magic Of Maestros

by Hannah Means Shannon

The Image series Maestros is coming to trade collection next week, on October 31st, and all 7 issues of glorious art and story by Steve Skroce, with colors by Dave Stewart, and letters by Fonografiks, will introduce readers to the strange lore of a magical world with extreme and madcap violence, along with some interesting ideas about power.
William is the son of a world-building magician in a line of magicians known as Maestros. After an uncomfortable period spent trying to fit into his father’s court, Will returns to earth to hide among mere mortals and practice cheap magic for profit. When that whole paradigm shifts, he finds himself at the reigns of immense power, and immense troubles. What will happen to a guy who was already grey on morality when he can control the laws of time and space? In Maestros, we find out.
This Eisner-nominated series is so intricately illustrated with crazy fantasy elements that you’ll spend plenty of time just combing through the details, if the story will let you, that is, since its pace, like its jokes, fly fast. We’re very honored to have Steve Skroce on the site today to talk about Maestros, his thoughts behind the series, his creative process, and lastly, whether we’ll ever see more of this strange and compelling story world.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Maestros is a beautiful comic, but it’s also a very grotesque comic. How important is it to you on a project to incorporate both? Or is that decision more based on the story type?
Steve Skroce: I’m pretty squeamish in real life. I avoid true crime news stories and can’t take the gory details when it comes to real tragedy, but I love it in certain genres. Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films, the 80’s Fright Night, Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive made an impression on me when I was a kid, and since then I’ve always liked things that can simultaneously scare me, gross me out, and make me laugh.
The horror elements just seemed to fit Maestros. Wizard gods tripping out on their ultimate power felt like it needed some brutality along with the absurd comedy.

HMS: William is a character you just can’t look away from—he’s alternately mildly charming and totally repulsive. Where does he come from creatively for you? Where does his voice and personality come from in terms of your life experiences?
SS: Fantasy stories often have characters that are inherently good or evil, and I guess I was reacting to that. Harry Potter is pure-hearted and Sauron is pure evil etc. I tried to make Maestros’ characters have shades of both. It felt more honest to me, and I thought I might get some fun story mileage out of it. Will wants to do good, but goodness is such a matter of perspective, and it can be paradoxical too. It was entertaining having him assume his power would carry the day, and have it blow up in his face. He’s young and the “valley of the douche bag” is a place that he must pass through on his way to self-actualization, but he may camp there awhile.

HMS: I feel like life in Maestros is somewhat absurd, but death is definitely absurd. Particularly since the whims of magic wielded by vain people controls it. In your own philosophy, do you see death as more absurd or tragic?
SS: As I get older, it just becomes more frightening! I wish someone would make Big Macs healthy! I’m not a practicing religious person, but I’d be open to an afterlife. I especially like the one in Albert Brooks’, Defending Your Life. It has great weather and food, it’s kind of a resort town for spirits, and there are past lives viewing booths that let you see who you were. I’d love to find out if all my past life occupations were as sedentary as my current one.

HMS: Can you tell us a little bit about how your process works in creating a page for Maestros?  
SS: I start with a big sketchbook, I make notes about story and characters at the same time I’m doing sketches, and then I revise it all over and over. I’ll put big Post-it notes down on top of old notes, and eventually the sketchbook is full to bursting with sketches and writing. When I’m zeroing in on a plot and flow that I like, I’ll move to my iPad and do page layouts in Procreate. If I do anything worthwhile, I can easily export it as a PSD file and use it in the final pages that I draw in Photoshop with my desktop computer and my Wacom tablet.

HMS: Mardok is such an ambiguous character, and I’ll avoid spoilers by saying much more than that. What do you think this ambiguity brings to storytelling possibilities and to readers? Does it make it harder for them to make snap judgements about good and evil in the story, for instance?
SS: It’s fun to play with expectations and I hoped that Mardok’s story would be compelling. He appears to be just another henchman, but as his story unfolds, you understand it’s tragic and not unlike Will’s own.  I like villains that can resonate and have points of view that you can empathize with, even if you don’t agree with them. Ambiguity is tough in stories. If there’s too much, the reader disconnects, but real life is full of ambiguity, so it finds its way in naturally, I think.

HMS: I think one of the biggest themes in this story is power, and the alarmingly high speed at which power corrupts. We see it rampage through the Maestros line. In the comic, and in real life, do you think there’s any hope or antidote for this danger?
SS: Power corrupts, but it also creates the terms by which our values are often defined. People are constantly looking for belief systems to organize their lives around, and once we’ve settled on them, there isn’t always an incentive to question them. People like to feel good and right, to know that what they believe matters, and is in service to something greater. History is written by the winners and all that, but there’s a lot of pain and suffering conjoined to our prosperity that we choose to un-see, such as civil rights, how we treat animals, and the environment. We wake up to these things slowly, but it’s always a fight. Power is the means to define good and bad and what corruption even is.
I think the antidote is in keeping the conversation going. People need other people in their lives that they love and respect that’ll challenge their perspectives and certainty. That’s Margaret and Wren’s role in Will’s life. Sadly, that kind of mutually respectful back and forth seems harder to come by in the real world.

HMS: What’s your favorite variety of dismemberment to draw?
SS: This is a tough one. Do I want to live in a world where I have to choose just one kind of dismemberment!? I know it’s cop-out but I love them all!
HMS: Is this the finale for Maestros, or might we see more of this world in future arcs?
SS: I’m doing a post-apocalyptic adventure next, but I’m returning to Maestros right after. Earth is this weird magicless world in the Maestros universe, and it was created as a kind of entertainment for the Wizard Kings. It’s evolved technology instead of magic as the foundation for civilization. Will’s from Earth and now that he’s Maestro he’s going to bring Earth back into the fold and enable magic on Earth, so he’s going to solve all our mundane problems with it, and then it’ll probably blow up in his face. Stay tuned!
Big thanks to Steve Skroce for answering these questions for us, and for the mega teaser about the return of Maestros! Earth will clearly never be the same.
Pick up Maestros Volume 1 on Wednesday, October 31st, at your local shop!

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