Gabriel Rodriguez has gained a loyal following for his hyper-detailed, inviting artwork in comic book series like Locke & Key, Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland and Tales from the Darkside — but for his next project, the newly announced Arthurian myth makeover Sword of Ages, he’ll be writing as well as drawing.
Announced at WonderCon Friday afternoon, Sword of Ages will be a five-issue space fantasy series that re-imagines the Excalibur myth in a story that includes clashes with alien forces and dealings with ancient civilizations, all seen through the eyes of a young warrior called Avalon.
Sword of Ages launches in October, but Heat Vision was lucky enough to get Rodriguez to answer some questions about what it’s like to write and draw a story for the first time, as well as the inspirations behind the new series, and the need to remain open to the unknown when creating comics.
Audiences know your artwork from Locke & Key with Joe Hill, as well as Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland, but Sword of Ages is the first project you’re writing as well as drawing. What has that shift been like?
Gabriel Rodríguez: This has been both the most exciting, and creepiest, creative challenge I remember. It was tough enough at the start, with added difficulty as I want to write it in English, which is not my native language. Luckily, I’ve been having support and help from fellow creators and editors who for a good while have been encouraging me to try writing a story of my own, and had both guided and helped me polish my writing skills.
Is there a particular way you go about creating each issue, in terms of writing versus artwork, or do the two come at the same time?
At the very beginning I intended to work this “Marvel-style,” doing a rough breakdown, then drawing the pages, and then the final text over them, but then I realized that I really needed to train my English writing in order to get a use of the language as fluid and natural as possible in the final dialogues. So I’ve been writing full-length pitch proposals, a backstory bible and then full traditional scripts. It had all forced me to face my creative fears while surprisingly helping me to drive the story more freely to where it needs to go.
There’s a playfulness to the world building on show: Merlin is a “biker-wizard” — you’re mixing and matching with genres, an adding sci-fi on top of high fantasy, for example. When coming up with the world of Sword, how tightly had you planned where you were going? Did you know your direction exactly, or was there space for happy accidents and inspiration?
I’m trying to make this as inspiration-driven instead of “planned” as possible. Happy accidents? Of course! And they have enriched many original ideas making them better and funnier. I’ve been thinking and discussing with my editors the idea for this story for over two years now, so part of the fun of this project has been to give it time to let it grow, mature and evolve.
It all started with a series of images I wanted to flesh out, built over the backbone of a myth that had always fascinated me. It will let me talk about subjects that interest me while creating a visual world of the kind I would love to get into as a reader.
Just having a clear idea of what I wanted to do with certain key characters and story elements, as long as I’ve managed to play with their own rules, I’ve been discovering new possibilities for the story and the universe in which it takes place. Instead of trying to set the story in a specific “genre” and build from there, I’ve been taking elements from different genres that might help me to shape characters and their stories in the way I want to tell them. It has been incredibly exciting to realize that it allows me to give space naturally to so many things I’ve always wanted to do in a fantasy adventure.
The preview artwork has a look that mixes your style with a more “Eurocomics” flavor — there’s a clear Moebius influence, but I also see elements of some 2000 AD artists from the 1970s and ’80s in places, as well. The genre, too, is fantasy-oriented, which feels more European than most American comics. Is this your love letter to favorite comics of your youth?
It certainly is. When I was young, in my “teen years” it was very hard to find any sort of comics in Chile, as in those days we had no local publishers or major distribution for foreign comics books. But a couple bookstores had some European comics in album format (fascinating for a guy with a “visual approach”), from Spanish publishers mostly, and some from France and the U.S. There, I fell in love with books from Jodorowsky/Moebius, of course, and also from artists like Phillipe Drouillet, Richard Corben, Boucq, Juan Jimenez, Jim Steranko, and many others.
And at the same time, I was an avid reader of books of all the sci-fi and fantasy classic masters: Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, Michael Moorcock, Gene Wolfe, Ursula K. LeGuin, Frederick Pohl, Jack Vance, and so on. So all their influences are what make for fertile ground in which this story has set its roots. But if I have to identify a patient zero that set the seed in my mind to one day try a story like this, it’ll probably was the reading of Moebius’ The Airtight Garage of Jerry Cornelius.
The world you’ve built for the series feels very big, for want of a better way to put it — an expansive space which you can use to approach familiar human emotions on a grand, (space) operatic scale. What are you trying to say with the story? Is there a personal core to it, beyond the adventure and mythical value?
I want a big, operatic adventure background as a framework to dig into deep character explorations. I want to squeeze the world-building and come up with a rich visual environment for the story, something that may set a sense of magic, mystery, threat and adventure by itself, for both the characters and the reader just by “being there.”
But it’s the characters’ struggles with their values, goals, affections, principles and flaws what I’m interested the most to explore. Confrontations will let us dig into the tragedies of doubt, loss, or betrayal, and rather than overcoming your enemies, I want to explore what it means as a challenge or achievement to devote to ideals of hope, aware that they might never get accomplished.
Not sure yet what I’ll be able to come up with in the end, but part of this creative adventure will be to figure that out. So if you’ll join me in this uncertain and exciting ride, sincerely hope you all will have as much fun with it as I’ve been having so far.