Dynamite has sent us a new writer's commentary by Crystal Frasier for Pathfinder: Spiral of Bones #1 that hit shops this week. Cover by Diego Galindo with interiors by Tom Garcia.
I've never really tried to give a running commentary on my own work before, and the closest I've ever done is watch MST3K, so let's cross our collective fingers and hope this turns out well.
We open up on a splash page of Valeros fighting a troll. You can tell it's a troll because he still lives in his mother's basement, and just before this shot he was complaining how girls ruined comics.
Aaaaaand I am beginning to suspect that's not the sort of commentary you were hoping for, so let me take another shot.
Well, like I said: We begin as Valeros picks a fight with a troll, because there are two things I love: Opening a story in media res and people shouting about themselves in the third person. Why are they fighting? I'll figure it out later! Who is that? That's Valeros, he just said so! Does the troll have a name? I don't know, but he's holding his own guts in his hands, so something's going down! You know who's there and we don't have to waste time on anything else. Boom! Danger! Round One: FIGHT!
Spoilers: The scene's a little misleading, because one of the quirky things about Kaer Maga, the City of Strangers, is that it has a small population of troll augurs, who cut themselves open to read their own entrails. This is actually just an elaborate "I demand to speak with your manager exchange," as Valeros is unsatisfied with his service. The troll cut himself open. Probably. There is blood on Valeros's sword, but I think that's a coloring error.
Fun Fact #1: This story is set in the weird city of Kaer Maga, created by author James L. Sutter, so I asked Tom Garcia to add a little James Sutter watching the fight, AND HE DID! James is to the left of Seoni, wearing glasses. Fun Fact #2: The troll does have a name: Handsome Pioter. He's very popular with the troll ladies of Kaer Maga. Or the troll gentlemen. I'm not here to judge you, Handsome Pioter!
Yes! Page 2 and we're already into some action and death defied! One of the fun things about Pathfinder trolls is that the regenerate VERY quickly from almost any injury. That's why troll augurs can make a living reading their own entrails instead of, y'know, dying painfully. Just about the only thing that shuts it down is fire, hence Pioter's little comment about "No fire, no victory." Even a skilled fighter like Valeros can only chop so fast.
I'm glad Tom did such a great job portraying the squicky little process of troll regeneration.
And don't worry about Valeros. He's okay, and he's a pretty big badass with his swords (we get to see more of that in later issues), but for now we wanted to reinforce Valeros's own self-doubt by placing his introduction in a scene where he's in over his head and his friends have to consider stepping in to save him.
This is where we get to the dramatic entrance of this arc's guest star: she's a badass orc with a bow, a couple of holy symbols, and a big red coat, so obviously she's a vampire hunter. Sort of. Imrijka works for Pharasma, the goddess of birth, death, and prophecy, and part of her job is to make sure the various fortune-tellers in Kaer Maga aren't ripping people off too badly.
I'm pretty happy with the dialogue here. Valeros is fun to write and pretty witty when he wants to be. Pioter's no slouch, either; he's getting paid for his time!
I love Tom's art throughout this exchange. Valeros looks genuinely offended and Pioter's just sort of absentmindedly poking his guts back in. The city in the background looks so grungy and used up, too, right down to the rat skittering away in front of Imrijka?
Again, we get to see Valeros's wit, and get the idea that his friends are used to pulling him out of trouble with the local authorities.
I think one of the most useful pieces of comic-writing advice I ever got years ago was to try and mention every major character's name in the first few pages, since any given issue (but especially #1s) could be someone's first issue. It's something I have to consciously think about, because I know all these characters and have worked with them for years, so I'm pretty proud of myself for getting all the introductions out of the pay by page 4.
We finally get our establishing shot, and I do not envy artists who have to draw establishing shots of cities. Especially Kaer Maga because it is a mess of urban planning, and coupled with three-point perspective that sounds like a sure-fire recipe for staring daggers at your writer. Sorry, Tom! Great work!
On the interior scenes, Tom did a great job of illustrating what a pit of ne'er-do-wells Kaer Maga really is. And if you look closely, Count Skittersby is staying in the same hotel as the Pathfinders! Is rodent-scale political intrigue in their future? No… no, it isn't. But it could have been, and hope is what keeps dreams alive.
Harsk and Ezren are my favorite old men to write, because they basically want the same thing but they have different perspectives on how to get there. Sadly, I did not spell out which one was Harsk and which one was Ezren, so new readers will need to decide for themselves. The transition between a raucous night in a goblin bar and two old men arguing in a basement is a classic trope and one I didn't want to ignore.
And here's where things start getting interesting: A mysterious room with even more mysterious statues, with Ezren and Harsk trapped. Tom made the architecture under Kaer Maga blocky and distinct. And to toot my own horn briefly, Harsk gets to use his dwarven stonecunning to identify how deep under Kaer Maga they arrived, and as anyone who plays dwarves can tell you: Opportunities for this are few and precious!
Ezren is in fact not diplomatic enough to convince a whole hive of xenopterids (flesh-eating, human-sized bugs).
I could certainly comment on my brilliant writing of words like hssssk, twang, and vok vok vok, but really let's let the art shine here. The boys are taking off high-speed rather than try to fight a dozen bug-folks, and the last three panels feel almost more like a storyboard and they barricade themselves behind a stone door.
More opportunity to use rarely-discussed dwarf abilities! In this case, Harsk can see in pitch black, and his little dwarf eyes gleam like a cat's.
They're trapped now, but no worries: Ezren is a studious fellow and always carries the right spell for any occasion… unless a lazzy writer makes him drop it while fleeing from bug-folks! I kid you not: One of my biggest challenges writing this issue was "well, why doesn't Ezren just get them out? He's a wizard! Wizards can teleport!" Well, not so smart without your notes, are you, Mr. Wizard?
It's the night after a raucous party and I have to say: Those tavern floors are SPOTLESS. I don't know what the owner pays their mop-lady, but they should double it!
Anyway, Merisiel's off-hand reference to "frog juice" is absolutely a thing I cribbed from the real world. It's modeled after jugo de rana, a drink from Peru's Lake Titicaca region made with maca, coca, honey and most of a frog. I've never had the pleasure myself, but I've had maca and frog's legs on different occasion and I can't imagine it would be the worst combination in the history of hangover cures. Basically, Merisiel's unwittingly easing her hangover with lots of protein and a low-key cocaine high. Like you do.
That frog juice is good stuff, because Merisiel's going back for cup number four, and we get to see Valeros and Imrijka without their armor because… reasons. One of my favorite things to write are quiet, characterful moments, where everyone can just sort of casually be themselves without needing to push the plot along. Seoni's all business and focused, Merisiel's a little quiet, Valeros is thinking about priorities first, and Imrijka also like a steaming mug of frog juice in the morning. Breakfast of champions!
Anyway, now that Valeros is gone, time for the girl talk! Imrijka and Valeros were going at it like bunnies all night, and loud enough to wake an elf! I mean, yes it's just fun as a writer to let your characters have a good time on occasion instead of just torturing them, but it's also a fun way to look at their characters. Merisiel is put out, because SHE is the one who's supposed to be having sex, dammit! She's the only one is a serious, committed relationship, and her girlfriend in on vacation, so no one else is allowed to have sex!
Seoni, on the other hand, obviously doesn't think sex is that great a thing. I mean she can fly, spit lightning, and set people on fire with her mind, so after all that rubbing meaty bits together just seems kind of amateur hour.
Imrijka, though, she's low-key and maybe a little smug. She knows what she likes and she's had a rough life, so she's pretty down with sharing so long as she can have some, too. She's not even offended when she briefly thinks merisiel might have a thing for it. Imrijka's unofficial motto while I was writing this arc was "if we're not being shot at, then I'll give it a try."
This was also a fun chance to confirm a fan ship that's been making circles on the internet since we first introduced Imrijka in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game back in 2010. Do we call it Imeros? Valryka?
A lot going on across this page, with six people spread across two locations, plus two solid punchlines. Ezren and Harsk are going to brew up some tea for a little staycation, while Valeros is eating a meat pie without any idea if the vendor has a food handler's permit! Comedy gold!
Anyway, now we have our main plot: Brave the dungeon and rescue the old men in distress!
Scene change, and now we're on to some funky-big stairs. Merisiel makes the comment that the stairs seem too small for giants, but they're pretty big stairs, so maybe Merisiel is just trying to sound like she knows what she's talking about here because she doesn't want to confront her feelings. Emotions suck.
We get into what exactly Imrijka does as an inquisitor: protection, hunting baddies, bringing of justice, a touch of healing. All cool.
But Merisiel is still having emotions! And she's got a holy symbol of her own! Meri, why do you have that? You can't cast spells!
Quarter-orcs! Remember that line, because it'll pay off in Pathfinder second edition when we introduce the quarter-orc. Really (not really)!
Anyway, like everyone who becomes an adventurer, Valeros has family issues. And that's fine, because family drama is like writer crack. Or writer frog juice.
Fun Fact #3: My creative director, James Jacobs, objected to me having one of the cloakers scream "cannibals," because technically humans eating cloakers isn't cannibalism, as they aren't the same species. I countered that it's fine, because these cloakers skipped high school English a lot to smoke out behind the gym. They're bad girls who don't play by your patriarchal rules of etymology, man!
Splash pages are THE BEST as a writer, because all I have to write is "Now they fight," and I get paid for that!
Seriously, though, splash pages are a fun chance to let your artist stretch their legs, and I think Tom did a great job here. There's a nice flow from the eye-catching explosion, with a leaping Merisiel sort of guiding your eye down to Valeros's fight, and then you drift over to see Imrijka and Seoni in the background, doing their things.
A lot going on in this fight, including my secret delight at someone calling a thief a "backstabber." A little RPG humor for the folks in back.
I know I've been geeking out about the art a lot, but can we pause and geek out over Mohan's colors here? Those stark warm tones for violence, juxtaposed against those cool, ominous blue tones once Imrijka starts invoking her death goddess? I love the effect so much!
A really great art execution here. Tom ran with some pretty simple stage directions and gave a really dramatic conclusion to the fight. I got to do a little bit of writing down there at the bottom of the page, too. That was nice.
Oh! Payoff from the setup on page 14, where we weren't sure if Imrijka would be a good stand-in healer!
I'm not a very religious person myself, but the prayers turned out to be one of the more interesting things to write in this whole book. Imrijka worships the goddess of death, and that goddess just smote a monster on her behalf in the last spread. So why does a death goddess heal someone? What do you say to your literal goddess of people dying and moving on in the afterlife to convince her to heal your almost-dead friend? I guess, in this case, Imrijka's options were either "hey, she's not done growing" or maybe "you're pretty busy, so why I don't I kick this can down the road a little?" I'm glad I went with the former. Sounds prettier.
Wait a second. Valeros, what are you doing?! We don't pick up strange, pillow-beset valuables in a dungeon!
And this is why we don't pick up those things I mentioned.
Fun Fact #4: If you write about death, you totally sound deep.
Anyway, Valeros is dead now, so I guess that's the end of the arc! Great job, everyone!
Wait, what do you mean I have to write four more issues about Valeros? He's dead! What else am I supposed to say!?
Uh…. Hey, Valeros, who's your new friend?