Monstress: Awakening

Authors: Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda
Release: July 16, 2016
Series: Monstress
Genre: Steampunk | Horror | Dark Fantasy
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 192
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

I picked up a copy of Monstress because I liked the look of the artwork—a mixture of art-deco-influenced steampunk and manga—and I was intrigued by the storyline. It’s set in an alternate version of Asia in the 1900s where humans, animal-hybrids called Arcancs, and other magical races, inhabit the world. And Neil Gaiman calls it “a beautifully told story of magic and fear”. This was enough to convince me to give it a try.
The writer, Marjorie Liu, is the author of several comics, including X-23, Black Widow, Dark Wolverine, and Astonishing X-Men. She has been nominated for a GLADD Media Award for outstanding media images of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. The illustrator, Sana Takeda, worked on X-23 and Ms. Marvel for Marvel Comics.

SPOILERS AHEAD
In a post-war society, Arcanics are hunted and sold into slavery by the Federation of Man. The Cumaea, powerful witch-like humans, dissect the Arcanics for a lillum, a substance that is only produced in their bodies. Maika Halfwolf, a 17 year old Arcanic, survived the war and found that she possessed a powerful magical ability that she does not understand—one that only comes out when she is in mortal danger. She chooses to sell herself into slavery in order to infiltrate a Cumean stronghold, free the other slaves, and gain a measure of revenge against the witches. While enacting her plan, Maika encounters fragments of an ancient and powerful mask that even the witches fear. The mask, it seems, is part of her history and her second contact with it radically changes her life. Now she is on the run from her own people as well as the Cumaea and does not know who to trust, or how to control the power growing inside of her.

Providing everything from the pencil sketches to the colors, Takeda’s artwork is stunning. The mise-en-scène on each page is an absolute marvel. A reader could get lost simply gazing at the intricate backgrounds. It provides a good grounding for the story world that Liu has created.

And the world is complicated. It would be easy to get lost in the story-threads. But Liu does not lead the readers through the story by the hand, although the lectures at the end of certain chapters by Professor Tam Tam, former First Record-Keeper of the Is’Hami Temple and Learned Contemporary of Namron BlackClaw, help to fill in any gaps. (Yes—he’s a magical talking kitty with four tails. Don’t let that throw you.) Instead there is a deliberate progression through scenes and situations that let the story (and the world) unfold slowly. This helps present the world more as a living mythology rather than a cardboard setting where events simply take place. There is a nuance to each scene that leads readers deeper into the mythology and creates a sense that this is a real place with a definite history.

Monstress has a unique structure, epic battles, and an intriguing storyline. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys steampunk, horror, and dark fantasy. Some of the artwork is graphic in nature, so I would recommend caution for the younger crowd. This comic is definitely meant for adults.

Introducing Carl Jackson of the Victorian Bareknuckle League

Page4finalNo, today’s guest doesn’t actually participate in Victorian bareknuckle boxing. He’s actually a comic book writer and artist whose first steampunk graphic novel, The Victorian Bareknuckle League, is currently live on Kickstarter. Carl Jackson has been kind enough to share the above page of his graphic novel with us along with much of his creative process and future plans for this awesome project.

Please give Carl a warm welcome!

Can you tell us a bit about Victorian Bareknuckle League?

Victorian Bareknuckle League is my first comic book. I have read comics since as far back as I can remember. I used to get He-Man toys as a child. You got a little comic book in the back about the characters and I loved them. As I got older I then progressed to Marvel comics and never looked back. I have always drawn characters, like superheroes and fighters but never managed to pull them all into an idea as cohesive as Victorian Bareknuckle League. I think it’s a mix of my major passions. It’s a comic book via the way of Street Fighter II, WWE wrestling and the Victorian era.

The League itself is exactly what it says. The story of the Victorian Bareknuckle League and all the characters who inhabit it. Some of the people are based on real life characters, some are pure fiction. For instance, the character M’butu is based on Bill Richmond, an Afro American slave who literally boxed his way to freedom and ended up in the palaces of European aristocracy. I think it’s important to have a narrative in comics that are based on combat. It is too easy to fall into the trap of filling a comic with fighting without the characters having a real reason to win. As such, the first four issues follow the path of a woman named Millicent Figg. Without giving too much away, she witnesses the murder of her lover at a bareknuckle bout and begins a descent from gentle pacifist into a hardened, world weary, violent fighter.

This sounds like a really unique steampunk story, one which really focuses on the dark parts of the Victorian era and humanity in general rather than focusing on all the shiny experimental tech in steampunk worlds.

 

How did you develop the idea for Victorian Bareknuckle League?

The idea actually germinated as the idea for a video game. The idea was for an old school beat em up that used Victorians as characters who bareknuckle boxed. I had been watching a lot of shows like Penny Dreadful, Ripper Street and I think it came from that. So I set about designing the characters and getting some people who are better artists than me to flesh it out. However, it stalled when I actually researched the actual amount of money and people that are needed to make a game, even one you consider fairly simple. I then took it back to the drawing board. I knew I had this idea but needed to do something else with it. A comic was the obvious answer. So I had all these characters, and I had developed backstories for each. Then it was just a case of deciding which would be the most interesting story to tell first while managing to introduce some of the other characters and as such I chose Millicent. The real turning point was when an author friend told me that I should take my character from the highest point they can possibly be at to the lowest point they can reach. That was the catalyst.

Starting with a comic is definitely a great way to create a story that may eventually become a game. I also think a lot of the strongest stories start with characters, because these stories are the truest to the characters’ personalities.

 

What was the most challenging part of creating Victorian Bareknuckle League and how did you make it easier for yourself?

Aside from deciding which characters to follow in the first arc, the most challenging part was actually just the general business side of it. I am not a business man at all. So when I set off I was pretty adamant that I didn’t want to crowd fund. I didn’t want to work out how much comics cost to print, how much it is to post things, work out percentages going to the crowd funding website and such forth. However, when I had my first offer from a publisher I froze when I read the part about signing my characters over. It just hit me like a bullet that all these characters and backstories would no longer be mine. So I began to look at crowdfunding, researching it and it became more and more appealing.

I had no idea you had to give up character rights for publishing deals in comics! I’d definitely go with crowdfunding too–staying true to my stories is worth all the extra effort and expenses.

 

How did you first get into steampunk?

I think I was into steampunk long before I actually realized what steampunk was. I did a trip on the Trans-Siberian railroad after university (which is pretty steampunk in itself) and I remember coming back with loads of crazy stuff from Soviet antiques markets likes goggles and old Tsarist war medals. But it was actually this book that got me into steampunk as we look at it now. Before I had begun creating it, I pretty much just read superhero comics. I knew about steampunk but it was just a thing that existed in the background. Then when I began my research I soaked up everything. Books, graphic novels, movies, TV, cosplay. By the end of it I had a pretty good grasp of the genre. The most amazing thing about steampunk is that most of the best works were created before the term was actually coined. It’s also strange that a definitive steampunk canon or universe does not exist. Star Wars has this whole universe of characters, locations and planets that transport you away across the galaxy. Marvel and D.C. have massive Superhero universes that allow us to imagine godhood. But if we want to lose ourselves in this world of Victoriana and machinery we don’t really have a definitive steampunk world to do this in.

What do you love most about steampunk?

The thing I really love about steampunk is the cosplay aspect. Very rarely do you see bad steampunk cosplay. With superheroes and anime it seems to be allowed to do a bit of a crap attempt but that does not seem to exist within the steampunk scene. It was probably this that had the most influence on my book. I would design characters with the image of a cosplayer in my head. That is the day I know when I have made it, when someone takes weeks to fashion an outfit representing one of my characters. Detective Van Der Brouck is crying out for a cosplay makeover. In fact, the first person to mail me with a really great Victorian Bareknuckle League cosplay can have a signed comic for free.

Steampunk cosplay really is something amazing! I’m aching to get into it, but I’m rather untalented with sewing and purchasing good cosplay is often crazy expensive. Here’s hoping the opportunity will come soon!

 

What steampunk creators inspire you?

One of my favourite steampunk artists is a guy named Fyodor Pavlov. Although not strictly steampunk, he draws in a style that perfectly encapsulates that Belle Époque era both in his subjects and style. I would really like him to do a cover or standalone issue at some point. Be warned if you check out his website as he does have some dirty stuff on it!

Where do you plan to take Victorian Bareknuckle League after this Kickstarter?

I have so many ideas for this book. All of the people you will meet in the first four issues have a story that needs to be told. Currently, I have about 12 issues written that deal with a few of the initial characters. After that I have so many places I want to go with it. At some point it is inevitable that the circus will come to town with all its freaks and weirdos. In the first arc I have deliberately used characters that you would find in the UK at the time but the British Empire is vast and a commonwealth championship will be on the cards at some point. Plans for an LGBT fishing vessel named the Rainbow Trout will hopefully take us on the high seas. I just have to get past the first Kickstarter

Sounds like this is a massive project you’re embarking on. I really hope everyone rushes over to support the Victorian Bareknuckle League Kickstarter and help you bring them all to reality.

 

Does Victorian Bareknuckle League sound awesome to you? Do you want to see more graphic novels on The Steampunk Cavaliers? Let us know in the comments section below!

Introducing Sante Mazzei of Sìon, The first Italian Steampunk graphic novel

banner-sponsorizzazioneI’m as big a fan of Victorian England as the next person but one thing I’ve been really looking forward to since I started this blog is the chance to explore steampunk in different regions in the world. I’ve already delved into Japan with my Steampunk in Animation series and now it’s time for us to start exploring Italy with Sìon, the first steampunk graphic novel set in Naples, Italy. Sìon is currently funding on Indiegogo and has almost a month left to go. Sante Mazzei, one of the writers involved in Sìon, has taken the time to tell me all about the creative process that brought this masterpiece together. I hope you’ll enjoy learning about this magnificent graphic novel as much as I have!

Can you tell us a bit about Sion

Sìon is a graphic novel set in a version of Naples that started to take advantage of the Vesuvius volcano as a source of geothermal energy. The use of electricity has changed the citizen’s way of life introducing new ways to entertain, travel, communicate and even kill. Our main character, named Sìon, is a physically mute Jewish man, taken from his community, who begins to investigate on several terrifying creatures spotted in the underground of Naples
What part of the story came to you first?
The setting was one of  the main things we worked on. We added electricity to a particular historical context and calculated every possible outcome.  We imagined a huge “Corona” around the Vesuvius volcano, in order to harness its energetic potential. The plot, in order to work, would have needed a setting as extraordinary and believable as possible.
Why did you choose to crowdfund this project? 
Crowdfunding gives authors the chance to express as best as possible their potential. We decided to have full control over our story, without censorship or cuts, and the materials and packaging that our graphic novel will be made with. We will use a never before seen kind of paper for a comic book, the Dolce Vita, allowing the details and lighting of the electrically lit setting to shine through the page. All this is made possible by working with industry experts like the international-level typography: FonteGrafica as well as Favini, a world leader in supports for innovative graphics. We believe that crowdfunding is the best way to give life to an idea, thanks to the participation of all fans. In this case, the birth of the comic book is not only an achievement for the authors but for all those that have supported the project.
You’re also working on a limited edition Sion board game. What convinced you to take on this ambitious project? 
The board game represents the possibility for the reader to enter the world of Sìon and take part in his investigations. We love role playing games and board games with strong and convincing settings. We saw in our comic book a perfect setting for a role playing board game, that will allow you to “live” Naples as we imagined it, hunt during the night, conduct research in our refuges, while a deus ex machina moves the creatures and the fate of the city. We love the ideas that we developed regarding the game and we can’t wait to know what our supporters think of them!
Are you planning to create more graphic novels in the world of Sion
Our graphic novel will be a self concluding story. The investigations of Sìon will come to an end. But the universe we created is huge and we would love to explore other aspects of the story and allow the reader to discover all of its details. When structuring a multi-faceted setting as ours, having to tell only one aspects of it turns out to be too superficial for the readers. So yes, we will confront other aspects of the city and of the universe that we created.
Sion_3What drew you into steampunk in the first place? 
We ourselves are readers of comic books, as well as lovers of games, movies, music and all other art forms. Steampunk has found a way to live within all of these, with masterful stories and atmospheres of great beauty. Lately it has grown a lot as a genre and we will give our contribution deviating from the ground that other authors have already laid.
What do you think is the most interesting part of the steampunk genre/culture?
We feel it is the introduction of a technology so distant from the historical period presented. It allows us to calculate social, political and economical implications of a society. The screenwriter of Sìon is an Archeologist who is currently involved in anthropology. He has always been fascinated by the social transformations that followed discoveries and scientific applications. For this reason Sìon has been envisioned from the beginning as a steampunk work.
Sion is live on Indiegogo right now. How are you working to keep momentum going throughout your entire campaign? 
We are hard at work in consistently publishing new content and details on the perks that make up our campaign. Pictures are grafico-percentuali-immagine-2worth more than a thousand words and it is for this reason that we prioritize illustrations and characters, as well as their descriptions. We hope that you will love our project as much as we do