A Writers' Commentary: Ben Acker and Heath Corson talk Kings Quest #1, on sale now from Dynamite. Cover is by Marc Laming and Lara Margarida. Interiors by Dan McDaid and Omi Remalante.
BEN ACKER: Let me start by saying that I love this book. I love the story and I love the characters, but the thing I want to talk about here that I love above and beyond all that is I love collaboration. In this book, I get to work with three people with whom I've been dying to work for as long as I've known them. Page one, you got an artist named Bob Q, who at the time of this writing isn't credited, but I hope he will be by the time you're reading this. Bob Q has a unique style that is clean and cool and just dynamic. He's doing flashbacks that set the scene along the way in this series and, in issue 3, you'll see way more of him. I've always loved the personality of his art. I'm sure you'll see more of him, but you're on the ground floor with the great Bob Q, here!
Dan McDaid is a genius. Every page, every panel, he knocks me out. We'll get to him, as we're talking about Page 1. But Dan is a guy I've known a little longer than Bob Q. I think we've come very close to working together a few times over the years, and when he was available and down to do this book, I couldn't have been happer.
Omi Remalante is not someone I've had to wait to work with. I've done a few books with Omi and he is consistently wonderful, as you'll see. He kills it on colors and always has.
Heath Corson has been a great friend of mine for years and years. We've never collaborated a lick and it was a little daunting, what with him being a powerhouse writer in his own right. Let me tell you that the process of collaborating with him was a joy. His sense of story and character and action and plotting – everything – he's just great at the stuff of writing. I could go on and on. Heath is just as good at the stuff of collaboration. Egoless and inspiring. You don't know how it's going to be to do work with your friend, but you hope it's just like this.
And now I'll let him tell about the book. Hit it Heath!
HEATH CORSON: First of all, everything Ben just said and then some. We have had just a blast working together and the fact that ON TOP OF THAT we get to work with all these amazing artists, is just cream in our collective coffee. Now… To the book:
Since the "Quest" aspect of King's Quest is returning to space to get Dale Arden, who was left behind, we really needed to start out with a unique, grounded perspective on who Dale is and why she's special. With that in mind, the most interesting POV was Jen's. So we start with an intimate recollection between Jen and Dale. Which also serves to ease us into Jen's VO that narrates this issue and throws us headfirst into the…
PAGE TWO & THREE: DOUBLE PAGE SPREAD!
BEN: When I read Zarkov's line, I cheered. Good stuff, Heath!
HEATH: Thanks buddy. Also, I love Phantom Jen's design in the purple hoodie. Man, I want that hoodie.
BEN: This is a good spread. You get all the characters and their POVs and relationships and roles in the group starting to come out. And this layout is all McDaid.
HEATH: Yeah, we hit the ground running… Or crashing as the case might be. But it let's us dive right into playing with the character dynamics, which is my personal favorite part of writing ensemble stories like this.
BEN: You nail it here, Heath. I love this dialogue, of which yours is the lion's share.
HEATH: Here we see how great Flash's reflexes are… And how itchy his zap gun trigger finger is. The man loves to vaporize space creatures. This monkey is no exception.
BEN: I love that Lothar Phantom in panel 1. Make yourself at home, Phantom. This is the first time I noticed Zarkov's flask. So good. And those monsters in the last panel. This commentary is just gonna be me chanting McDaid! McDaid! Over and over. Like I do in the emails I send him whenever I get new pages. I'd call, but he lives overseas.
PAGE SIX & SEVEN:
HEATH: Dan McDaid, folks. Drink that in.
BEN: McDaid! McDaid!
HEATH: I love these pages. These are the pages as a writer you hope you get back when you pass the storytelling off to your artist by saying stuff like: "A bunch of hideous monsters jump out here. Everyone freaks." Plus, I LOVE Valiant's expression here and how chuffed he is to chop things in half.
BEN: I love Zarkov's Jack Bennyish take on what's going on. And how many trunks does that elephant monster have? McDaid! McDaid! Gubba gubba gubba gubba!
HEATH: How cowboy cool is Mandrake here? Throwing doves at monsters without breaking a sweat. And doing it in formal-wear. Mandrake might be my favorite to write. Lothar, on the other hand, takes no chances and just opens fire. Which is the other side of the badass coin.
BEN: These colors are amazing! Remalante! Remalante! Remalante!
HEATH: Yes, yes! Let's tip our collective tops hats to Omi Remalante, our genius colorist. More of him coming in hot.
BEN: There's a thing in commentary tracks where the commenters are just relating the experience of watching the movie or reading the book, not because we're taken with what we've created, but because creation like this is a collaboration and we're so enjoying the work of our collaborators. It makes for solid work, but sometimes a commentary that just feels like narrating what you're seeing. Sorry, not sorry.
HEATH: Hahaha. It's true. You realize that in comics we're all fans as well as creators.
Uh-oh. Shambling, scream-y mound has a secret, you guys. Wait for it…
HEATH: Yup. It's JUNGLE JIM! I found his dialogue really fun but deceptively challenging to write. I think Ben had to confer with actual Brits to get some of the phrasing correct. Right, Ben?
BEN: Credit to Humphrey Ker, a decidedly English name for a decidedly English person giving me the Englishisms. Also credit to the "How British Am I?" sketch by the brilliant comedy group Superego. Once Humphrey pitched "dashed," all I could think of was Superego's Matt Gourley voicing Jungle Jim. And I love the "Ming's forces" turn in here, so I hope it was Heath that wrote it, or else I'm just patting myself on the back. You know it's a good collaboration when you're not sure who wrote what.
HEATH: I always assume if it is funny or clever, it was Ben. You should too.
HEATH: Ming's forces, on the other hand, were really fun to write with their terrible corporate-slash-military-slash-Kafkaesque circular reasoning. And, peep those awesome spaceships! McDaid bringing it. Hard.
Again, can we also just call out the COLORS here by Remalante? The jungle, the creatures, the spaceships and our heroes. All fantastic vibrant colors reminiscent of the pulp origins of these heroes. Makes it all sing.
HEATH: Yeah, this would scare ME if I was a Ming flunky. It's also a nice reminder how crazy powerful Jim is. Beast mode, indeed.
BEN: More of Humphrey's help here. I love beast mode that sounds like Downton Abbey.
HEATH: It was right around finding the line "Be merciless for Ming" that it really sunk in that I was writing Flash freakin' Gordon and these HUGE iconic characters that I grew up with. So cool.
BEN: And look at those guys. These designs – the monsters and the soldiers – they're so killer. And they only exist for a few panels. That's crazy! So fully realized. McDaid! McDaid!
HEATH: This Mandrake page is my favorite of the issue. Ben and I talked a lot about playing with his sense of theatricality and performance. Between the astounding art and the dialogue I felt like we all really did justice to Mandrake on this page. PS: THIS is the McDaid page I desperately want in my office… You know, just in case he's reading this.
BEN: Ha! Next issue's Mandrake page is my favorite of that issue and is the one I want in my office. I told McDaid already. And to the point of the theatricality of Mandrake, I really love that he's an old school stage magician at his core. It sets him apart from your Doctor Strange and Doctor Fate. Mandrake is not a doctor. He's a smoke and mirrors guy and look – the illusions he's casting are smoke!
HEATH: Flash is a helluva action hero. He's a real "shoot first, ask questions never" kind of guy. It was important to show that and McDaid really captures his physicality here.
BEN: Yeah, usually we make it fun that he's so gung ho. Like "maybe relax, Flash and ask a question or two before you charge in." But here, when it's clear, when it's as black and white as Flash sees it anyway, you get to spend the bulk of a page having him say a cool thing and kick a bad guy off his rocket.
HEATH: I like this Jen/Lothar beat here. We talked a lot about their mentor/mentee dynamic and how it's on Lothar to get Jen to step up. I like that Jen is out of her league and really sharply feels that deep into this adventure. But she IS supposed to be the Phantom and that's a honest struggle for her to take on that mantle… Especially in the face of Lothar being as good a Phantom as there's ever been.
BEN: Yeah, there's something really interesting to me about the nature of Lothar's relationship with the mantle of the Phantom. I hope we remember to get into it in one of these issues.
HEATH: This page layout is just such wild fun.
BEN: McDaid! McDaid!
HEATH: You get this great heightened sense of flow and movement in Valiant. We see that the guy is an unstoppable freight train of violence.
BEN: And also Simon Bowland, the letterer, is just as much the boss of how your eye takes in this page. Bowland is a real pro, consistently just great. Bowland! Bowland!
HEATH: No kidding! Kudos to Bowland. Especially since in the first lettering pass, I'm pretty sure we accidently reversed all the dialogue from the bottom to the top. Which would have made everyone's eyes cross.
HEATH: Jim realizing Valiant is still telling off the baddies makes me laugh a lot. That was a Ben joke that showed up in the second lettering pass. It took me by surprise when I read it and I totally laughed out loud.
BEN: Thanks, Heath. You wrote Valiant's pure joy here and I love it. I regret that we didn't find a moment for Jungle Jim and Zarkov to share a drink. Maybe next issue!
BEN: I love how McDaid draws Barin. His little mustache!
HEATH: Prince Barin. Finally! We've only been looking for him this entire issue. But he's got pretty bad news…
BEN: You bet he does. It's been two years, not the two hours it felt like it took. This is one of the most important details of the book and Mandrake is about to explain it, and Flash gives him "Who cares why!" I love that. That's so Flash.
HEATH: HOLY CRAP! Dale is… Empress?! Does that mean she's married to Ming? What the-?! I love this twist. And it only gets worse, you guys. Much MUCH worse.
BEN: Stay tuned.