Image Watch – Revving The Dark Engine With Ryan Burton

By David Dissanayake

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Out July 16th from Image Comics is Dark Engine, a new dark fantasy/mystery ongoing by Ryan Burton and John Bivens.  It's a twisted story about a brutal woman created to travel in time to destroy the enemies of her alchemist masters.

It is an immersive first issue that gives you a tantalizing glimpse into a vast and intriguing, yet compellingly tormented world.  I was left wanting more.  Much more.

Check out a preview for the first issue after the interview.

I was lucky enough to catch Ryan for a fun chat about the new book and what we can expect from the story as it moves forward:

David Dissanayake: So give us the pitch. What is Dark Engine?

Ryan Burton: Dark Engine follows a savage, brutal woman named Sym who was created by obscene magic and is powered by a special type of engine. That engine shoots her back in time to murder her creators' great enemy. What the incredibly unstable, desperate alchemists don't realize is that the engine is their downfall. The world they live in is cracked, barren and full of things that want to devour them–not just monsters, but other men, albeit just as corrupted. Everyone is trying to survive in this horrible, horrible world. The story just happens to start off with them having already sent Sym on her mission, praying the world as they know it will be erased.

DD: Where did this idea come from? Is this a story that you've been developing for a while now?

RB: There's really no one place I can point to and say, "Here. This is where it came from." I can tell you a lot of influences went into it, not least of which was John [Bivens'] artwork. He and I started developing the story in early 2012. Before that, before John and I started talking and collaborating, Sym's character was much different–she was this female Sinbad powered by a steampunk engine and she sailed around the stars with an eclectic crew of adventurers… God, just writing that makes me wince in pain.

DD: How did you and John Bivens come to work together on this project, and what is your collaboration like? Was this story you two built together or did you bring the fully formed idea to him? Do you two work with full scripts or is it a more fluid creative process?

RB: I've known John for, what, maybe five years? Message boards, social media, that sort of thing. I had been approaching him for a while about doing something, and when I pitched Dark Engine to him (along with two other stories), we started talking quite seriously. I had an idea, a concept, a story. But chatting with John about the world, the atmosphere, and what our lead character would look like, it…it became less and less me pitching him an idea and more of an organic process of development.

I work with full scripts, send them off to John, who then sends thumbnails, pencils and inks. For the first issue he's doing the color too, because he's a talented maniac who happens to make anything I write look phenomenal. The script certainly isn't set in stone, though. We have a chat once every two weeks, bringing each other up to speed on what's happening. Often we'll talk about certain elements of the script that makes sense, and others that are problematic.

DD: It seems like there is going to be a lot of world building going on in Dark Engine.  Tell us a little bit about how you started creating this world? Do you and John have a big story bible and/or outline for the series?

RB: It just started off little by little. A lot of it was me just thinking of what I would like to read, or what I would like to see John illustrate. The series itself is outlined–there's a definite beginning, middle, and end. Different sections of the world Sym comes from will be revealed over time, issue-by-issue. As will the people and the monsters that populate it. It was important for me that if we were going to do a dark fantasy, that we introduce monsters only John was capable of capturing on paper, like the SporeDevil.

So one day, I sent John a description of a little monster that had lungs on its back. I was calling it a "Gear." He came back with something that had horns, tiny hands, a dribbling mouth, and two sets of eyes. From that day on, it's been a SporeDevil. That type of collaboration sums up our world-creating nicely, I think. There are rough ideas that are out in the ether, and as they become important to the story, we talk about them until they're polished and make sense.

DD: What can you tell us about the structure of this book? Is this going to be an ongoing or a smaller, limited series?  Is John in it for the long haul? 

RB: This is our baby, so yeah, he's in it for the long haul. We're thrilled to be making comics, thrilled to be with Image…and Jesus, we just want to make this comic. It's a rush–so yeah, long haul.

It's ongoing, but I'm sure there will be a break here and there. John is actually starting his masters in sequential art soon, and I'm expecting my second kiddo in the Fall, so it'll be a juggling act. But that's life, and we fucking love comics, so we'll make it work.

DD: What would you say were some of the inspirations and influences on Dark Engine?

RB: The first Conan movie, along with Basil Poledouris' soundtrack. That perfect prose that one finds in Cormac McCarthy novels. Herbert's Dune. God of War. Anthropology and socioculture. John's artwork.

DD: What are you reading/watching/listening to these days? What has you really excited?

RB: In our world? Let's see…Image and Boom! are always putting out quality work. I'm in the store whenever a new Prophet is out. I really appreciate what Mignola is doing in Hellboy in Hell. I'm really looking forward to Stokoe's Wonton Soup collection that Oni's putting out. That looks mighty fine. As does Farel Dalrymple's The Wrenchies. I watch very little TV, but I'm fascinated by Adventure Time, True Detective, and Game of Thrones. Music? That list is way, way too long, but some of my go-tos are Prince, Otis Redding, Beastie Boys, and I've been listening to Black Keys, Vampire Weekend and Chvrches a lot lately.

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Dark Engine #1 is released July 16th.  Tell your local retailer to preorder you a copy with Diamond Code: MAY140574

David Dissanayake is a Senior San Francisco Correspondent at Bleeding Cool.  Give him a shout on Twitter @dwdissanayake or come say hello to him at Mission: Comics & Art in San Francisco.