Star Mage debuts from IDW on April 16th as a 6 part story, and established science fiction writer J.C. De La Torre (Ancients Rising, Rise of the Ancients) is venturing into the comics medium for the first time. As if those two mediums aren't enough, he's also a podcaster, with a passionate interest in all things sci-fi and occult, which naturally means he's a raging Doctor Who fan. Look out for his discussions of that below and also in the upcoming science fiction issue of Bleeding Cool Magazine, where you can also see a photo of his "living room TARDIS" (are there others? A "dining room TARDIS" to match?)
It's clear from his various pursuits that De La Torre has a volcanic imagination, churning with intricate ideas, and in Star Mage he not only creates the interior world of teen protagonist Darien Conners, but an entire universe where magic is pitted against technology, with technology as a "lesser art". Did I mention he creates who languages too? Like I said, a volcanic imagination. But what grounds Star Mage are the real-life situations Darien encounters on Earth and beyond, often gritty enough to take the sheen right off the slightly saccharine trends that can pop up in YA fiction.
Artwork by Ray Dillon on issue #1 (picked up by Franco Cespedes thereafter) creates a fluid universe where the ordinary breaks into the extraordinary through riveting transformations, and clearly setting up the world of Star Mage in this issue is an exercise in belief for both De La Torre and Dillon, belief in the power of science fiction to alter our own perception of reality. It's an inviting journey, even if Darien Conners is in for some real challenges right off the bat.
J.C. De La Torre talks with us here at Bleeding Cool about his milestone leap into comics and why science fiction is such a big part of his life:
Hannah Means-Shannon: What was the first element you came up with that made you pursue Star Mage as a story? Why did you decide to work it into a comics story rather than prose?
J.C. De La Torre: Well, the funny story is the first part of Darien's story actually appeared on Amazon as an e-book novella called Darien Connors and the Necromancy of Eridu. I'd never written for young adult fiction, so it was sort of a testing of the waters. It was a solid story with a lot of the same elements that you'll see in the comic but it hadn't been fleshed out as it should.
I went to a Harry Potter convention where I actually got to pitch the story to a few Lit agents as a novel. One in particular was very intrigued but when push came to shove, she decided against representing it. She did give me a good piece of advice though – this story was too good to be independently published and I should take down the e-book immediately.
I did so and then began working the project into a novel. I didn't have a problem with the story, but I just wasn't happy with the narrative and I had this nagging feeling I wasn't doing it right.
I was reading a Doctor Who comic from IDW and a wild thought crossed my mind. What if instead of a novel – I turned Darien's story into a comic book series?
I love comics and my writing has always been visual – like I was writing a treatment for a movie script or even a comic book series.
I had a high standard and idea of what I wanted as an artistic partner and the rest, as they say, is history.
HMS: How did you go about creating the alien language(s) and names in the story?
JCDLT: Great question! I've been waiting for someone to ask me that one! So in just about every story where you have magic involved, the spells typically center around Ancient Latin. It's a good choice because it has familiarity in so many languages and in some ways lives on today.
For my Mages, I wanted something unique and different. Now, I'm not a linguist – but I did stay at a Holiday Inn recently. I decided to use one of the oldest languages known to man, Sumerian, as a basis of my spells. Sumerian hasn't been spoken for thousands of years so there's plenty schools of thought in regards to how the structure of simple sentences are formed. Of course, I ignored most of that because I'm weird and impatient. I took a little bit here, a little bit there and formed an ever expanding spellbook and glossary. In the end, it will make the linguists cringe but I think it works as a basis for my spells.
HMS: Tell us a little about your process in building a universe for a story. Do you make lists, charts, maps, that kind of thing?
JCDLT: I have a Darien Connors Bible, where I basically map out the universe, the races, their powers, their home worlds. It also keeps me honest with canon and is a reference for the spells I use.
It's essential to my process and I reference it quite often. You see a bit of it on our Star Mage website (starmagecomic.com) but not all of it…
Supporters of our Kickstarter campaign last year received a scaled down but more fleshed out (so it's readable for someone other than myself) copy of it as an exclusive.
HMS: When you saw the first artwork back on the book, what was your reaction? How did it feel to realize the project was really happening?
JCDLT: Oh wow. There isn't a feeling in the world like seeing something you've written turn into visual art. The thrill of seeing Ray's first images will be something I'll never forget. I still get that woosh of adrenalin with every new page.
As to the second part of the question – I still can't believe it's happening. I'm just praying I don't wake up and find out this was all a cruel dream.
HMS: Doctor Who question: who's your favorite Doctor and why? Favorite episode?
JCDLT: My standard answer to that question is the one with two hearts (as most Whovians know, Time Lords have two hearts, so every regeneration has two). If you put my feet to the fire – my first doc was Tom Baker, I loved his fourth doctor and no other could touch him until…David Tennant. I just think David was brilliant in the role. Funny yet he could pull off dark and serious. He had a swagger and romance to the character and you could truly see the passion he had for being the Doctor.
Favorite episode…oh man. There's so many, it's hard to just pick one. It quite literally changes every day. Today, I'd say Silence in the Library. Ask me again tomorrow, I might say Blink or Pyramids of Mars or the Girl in the Fireplace or…
HMS: Why write an all-ages comic? How do you think that comics can impact kids positively?
JCDLT: You know, I'm fully aware of the industry's trend to sensationalizing and sexualizing the comics. It's been a bit disturbing for me because I pick up a Spider-Man comic and don't recognize the characters I grew up with. I understand it, believe me.
I wanted a story that anyone can put in front of their kids and be comforted that there won't be any strong language, suggestive themes or blood and gore. There will be lots of action, but there will also be underlying commentary on the horrors of bullying and how those who do bad things gets their comeuppance in the end.
Now, I'm not a hypocrite. While Star Mage won't have the elements that are prevalent today, another project I'm working on with Martin Dunn, White Chapel, will have blood, gore, all the things you see in edgy comics now. It won't be an all ages comic at all (there will be a small – tame – preview at the end of issue six of Star Mage). I don't have anything against going that route and will go there quite often in the future with franchises other than Star Mage.
But for my first foray into the comics world, I wanted to deliver a fun story for everyone.
HMS: What's your history as a comics reader? Did any early loves come in as an influence on Star Mage?
JCDLT: I was a Marvel guy when I was young. Spider-Man and Ghost Rider were my favorites. As I grew older, I left the Superhero comics behind and started reading the darker stuff like 30 Days of Night, Spawn, Frank Miller's stuff and OBarr's the Crow. Now-a-days I read a lot of licensed stuff like Doctor Who, Star Trek and Buffy. Of course I read Kirkman's the Walking Dead. Who doesn't?
I think you'll see a lot more of those influences in White Chapel than you will in Star Mage. No, Star Mage is definitely a different direction in my writing. You'll see a bit of Harry Potter, some Star Wars, some Last Starfighter elements. I think it's truly rooted in the "young boy discovers powers he didn't know he had" trope and goes from there.
HMS: What's the point of science fiction in your opinion? What difference do you think it makes in our world?
JCDLT: For me, Science Fiction is about the great big, beautiful tomorrow (thank you Carousel of Progress). It captures our imagination, helps us think out of the box and strive to achieve amazing things. Who can watch a classic episode of Star Trek, see Kirk talk into his communicator and not think of an IPhone? Who can watch Star Trek TNG and not think they're using tablets? When Dave talks to HAL in 2001, is Siri HAL's grandmother?
There are plenty of examples where Sci-Fi has led the way to innovation and exploration. It's not just that, though. There's an inherent wonder that Science Fiction captures. What if you could travel through time? What if there are amazing alien worlds that have a culture that is completely different from our own?
Sci-Fi is about the possibilities. As my good friend Dr. Scott Vigue likes to say, apply your geekdom! Let's get to Mars. Let's find Atlantis. Let's do amazing things.
And here's our preview of Star Mage #1:
Star Mage is coming to shop on April 16th from IDW
Hannah Means-Shannon is EIC at Bleeding Cool and @hannahmenzies on Twitter