Sebastian A. Jones has been slowly building the world of Asunda for the past 20 years. His epic fantasy comic The Untamed has finally been collected in graphic novel form, with a Kickstarter launched to give extra goodies to those wanting something special for their bookshelves. Sebastian and illustrator Peter Bergting were kind enough to sit down with me and talk about the journey in bringing the comic to life, and what's on the horizon for the characters.
Cameron Hatheway: The Untamed and the world of Asunda have been 20 years in the making. 20 years is certainly a long time to make sure every little detail is thought out in full. Who/what were some of the major influences on you, either in literature, film, or comics?
Sebastian A. Jones: It's crazy to think, 20+ years creating the world of Asunda, getting by with a more than a little help from my friends. And for the tale of The Untamed, 10 years, give or take. Simpler times. My reference to Stranger's time in hell mirrors my own. There be blood on these pages.
The torturous and beautiful journey has been influenced by creators that have wreaked havoc on my sense of being. Demonic conflicts found refuge in cinematic myth via Sergio Leone and the early Spaghetti Westerns my Dad introduced me to, the roaming lone drifter doing bad deeds with self inflicted honor, and saying all the right things without uttering a word. The opening scene to Once Upon a Time in the West will forever be my favorite and you might notice a note or three throughout the book. Naturally, Akira Kurosawa, and his classic Seven Samurai is at the top of the list. Other influences in film range from Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, Scorsese's Taxi Driver, Richard Roundtree in Shaft, and the early works of Spike Lee.
With comics it was The Incredible Hulk, the tragedy of the beast who could kill, but wanted to be left alone. This spoke to me from the earliest age, as did the X-Men. I always rooted for the outsider. Visionaries ranging from Jack "King" Kirby to Peter David and Alan Moore, there are too many to mention, and with literature, Alex Haley's autobiography of Malcolm X and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings still provide the two deepest well springs I draw from in both fantasy and reality. Tolkien was escapism from some of the uglier truths I faced and Malcolm gave me the courage to obliterate them, and to not settle for the curse of selling your soul for mediocrity and a haircut. Sounds preachy, but there you have it. I don't like the phony shit.
Music: John Coltrane, Muddy Waters, Ennio Morricone, Wagner, Nina Simone, Public Enemy, David Bowie, Wu Tang, Otis Redding, James Brown, Bob Marley, Toots and the Maytals, Skip James, T-Rex, Iggy and the Stooges, De La Soul, Howlin Wolf, and David Axelrod to name a few. Without music there would not be Stranger Comics. On a final note, there would be no Asunda without a number of amazing people who gamed in the world wearing Mum's torn up dressing gowns, wielding foam swords. These thrift store warriors helped me to sculpt the world and grow it. To them, I say thank you and I love youCH: Peter, how did you first meet Sebastian, and what did his pitch of the project to you entail? Did he hand you a collection of old scrolls written in an unknown language, or was he very precise in conveying what he envisioned?
Peter Bergting: No, it was more like Seb cracking my head open and filling it with hot lava. His vision was so clear and absolute that precise doesn't even begin to convey what he was after. We first met … ok, long story short: Scoot McNairy from that Monsters film, and more recently Argo and 12 Years a Slave, found me as he had a book he wanted to work on, but he had a love affair for The Untamed and introduced me to Seb. It was full on bromance after that.
SJ: After all these years let truth be told: I discovered Peter's amazing art online with his brilliant book The Portent, and asked Scoot to contact him. Being the Godfather of Peter's beautiful daughter… I have decided to come clean.
CH: There are several different races inhabiting Asunda. What steps did you take to make each race unique and different, while simultaneously maintaining originality in the sometimes clichéd fantasy genre?
SJ: Fantasy at times seems to dance between air polished dudes with English accents and bronzed weaves, and the regurgitated themes of saving the day in plate mail armor for the good of king, land, and the man above. As much as I yearn to wield Excalibur too, with Asunda I wanted to not only steep our world in rooted magic and myth, but also look at the landscapes from a universal view. A lot of Asunda's races may have familiarities, which I think is good footing for the fantasy fan, for example there are Elves. But, depending on their history of origin, trade, and travel, will determine their culture.
I felt it was redundant in nearly every fantasy tale; they were all blonde, and seemed to dwell in the same forest that was usually a day's ride from whatever obligatory castle you were reading about. For example many Galemren (Wild Elves) are tribal nomads that roam the deserts of Ujoa, wearing skins and wielding bone weapons. Along with my fellow Asunda crafters, we also wanted to introduce new races, and new philosophies that challenged the savage realities of the world, as well as our own moralities. We wanted to base our tales in conflict of character, that all can relate to.
CH: Peter, what influenced the look of your characters and settings when you first started? Who/what were your influences while at the drawing board, bringing the town of Oasis and its inhabitants to life?
PB: Well, I had a lot of photos of Seb in full costume standing on rooftops. That helped.
SJ: I like to dress up. Like a warrior…or a wizard.
CH: The Untamed was no stranger to delays since issue one debuted in 2009. How do you feel to finally see all seven issues collected together as quite the impressive graphic novel? What would you go back and do differently if you had the chance?
SJ: I feel a massive sense of relief honestly, and just very appreciative of everyone who has helped, and even those who have hindered. Without allies and enemies, there would not be a Stranger Comics. I would have done many things differently, mainly not biting off more than I could chew with the company as a whole, and to trust my instincts when it came to certain motherfuckers who smile too wide.
CH: Peter, you have an original graphic novel from Dark Horse coming out, Domovoi. What experiences and techniques when illustrating The Untamed have you taken with you to your other projects?
PB: Domovoi came out in summer of 2013 and I have my next one for Dark Horse just finished. I certainly took with me a feeling that I can achieve miracles when it comes to deadlines. But The Untamed is painted and I try to stay away from painted comics in general. I did one for IDW with Joe R. Lansdale but that's about it. They take way too long to finish. I generally have to spend three days on a painted page where I can deliver 9-10 pages inked and colored in the same time.
CH: Dusu, Path of the Ancient and Erathune help flesh out Asunda even more. We even see a cameo of a character from Erathune in The Untamed, providing a sense of continuity in this vast world. How many more Asunda titles would you like to see launched in the next decade? Surely you have hundreds, if not thousands, of stories to tell in this world?
SJ: Yeah, there are many more tales buzzing around my brain, especially regarding Niobe and her future, not only with Hareth, but beyond. If we could release a few titles each year, in both comics and prose I would be a happy man. I'm also starting to work with other creators, who can bring their voice to the world of Asunda for fresh perspective. For example, Hannibal Tabu has penned Waso: Will to Power, which follows the Tribe of the Gathering Wind in the aftermath of the Dusu graphic novel. Stranger Alums like Darrell May (Morka Moa) and Joshua Cozine (Blue Veins) will release tales, and we are currently working on a table-top roleplaying game. If Asunda became to fantasy fans what Marvel and DC are to superhero fans that would be brilliant.
CH: The action scenes were extremely gripping and beautifully violent at times. How do you approach illustrating such action packed pages?
PB: I take no credit, as most of those scenes were scripted by Seb and sketched by Darrell who also did thumbs for most of the book. I cleaned up and painted. If I can work like that all the time I'd definitely want to stay in the business.
CH: The other side of the world is an awfully long trip. What will be some of the upcoming hardships for Hareth and Niobe?
SJ: As the pair embarks on their quest, the Untamed does everything in his power to hunt them down. Champions from the pits of hell are always at their heels to ensure there is a never a moment's peace. In addition, old enemies bearing Hareth grudges some justified in their hate for him, as well as new foes wanting to win a God's favor or a king's riches will continue to peel back the layers of a thief king's past and an orphan queen's future.
Hareth has to learn what it is to be a father to Niobe, knowing anytime he can be reunited with his own wife and child by putting a blade across her throat, thus fulfilling the devil's deal. But in order to truly be with his family he must first regain his humanity. Niobe has a destiny to discover, and her conscience will be tested by hard choices as she will learn life is not so black and white.
Over the seasons to come, we will watch her blossom from orphan child into a warrior woman, and possibly the savior of the entire world.
CH: Special thanks to Sebastian and Peter for taking some time out of their busy schedules to answer a few questions. The Kickstarter for The Untamed graphic novel hardcover is now live, and you can currently buy the digital copy of the graphic novel at the Stranger Comics online store.