'Geoffrey Thorne first caught the public imagination as a cast member of the television series In The Heat Of The Night alongside Caroll O'Connor and Howard E. Rollins Jr. After making a mark as an actor, he completely reinvented himself as a writer, cutting his teeth working through the ranks of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Now, as with executive producing and show running experience under his belt and a set of comics from Marvel, Dark Horse, and his own shingle, Thorne is taking on the fantasy genre with a brilliant new webcomic. Trapped in his home under the societal quarantine we call normal; he took the time to answer questions for Bleeding Cool.
BC: We're not going to insult you by asking you to run down your decade's long career; that's what IMDb is for. How about you tell us about what current projects you have happening in this time of quarantine?
GT: I am currently trying to launch two upcoming comics. One's still a secret, and the other is REDJACK, the winner of last year's BATTLEBOOK challenge. I have a couple of pitches languishing at Marvel Comics. I'm about to wrap mop my time as a CO-EP on the first season of GHOST, the sequel to the hit series POWER.
BC: Languishing? It seems like they'd have some time on their hands …
GT:*laughs* people often misconstrue how it works for freelancers at the Big Two.
BC: This sounds like a fun digression before we get into the meat of the interview. How so?
GT: I can certainly keep pitching but, as neither of the books I wrote for them caught fire, I'm not what you'd call "First Tier." I imagine my pitches are in the lower half of the incoming pile. Despite whatever people think of my Hollywood "stature," in comic book land, I'm probably not high on Marvel's freelancer go-to list. I can get pitches in, sure, but how soon will they be looked at? How seriously considered? That's anybody's guess.
The titular characters of Sist3rs by Geoff Thorne and image used with permission.BC: Let's focus on something more immediate: your WebToon project Sist3rs. This is a big fantasy adventure with three compelling leads. Could you talk about how this project came to exist?
GT: Sure, the same way most of my stuff does. 1) I didn't see anything like it getting made — a fantasy adventure featuring women of color. Also, I was inspired by the amazing success of the AVATAR cartoon universe. I wanted to build something that cohesive with a big old works and magical system
BC: Let's come back to "magical system" in a bit. Could you tell us about each character, what they're capable of, and what they bring to the table in the group?
An image of M'Para from Sist3rs and used with permission.GT: These three women — M'Para, Ruul, and Izzakeen — are servants of a character called the Wise Mother, a sort of queen sorceress in this world. The color of their cloak indicates which discipline they follow- Green for the World, Red for the Story, Black for Justice. How they serve depends on their powers, which has nothing to do with their sect. M'Para is a soul shaper meaning she can manipulate and transfer life essence and interact directly with a person's "soulspace." It's not quite telepathy, but it's close. Ruul controls the First Light, which is a sort of raw fundamental magical energy. She can't do Green Lantern tricks with it, but it is hella formidable in a fight. It functions as a shield and, as we've seen, as a pretty powerful weapon, channeled through her control bars. "Izzy" or Izzakeen serves "the Story," which is one of the mysteries of this universe. She's a future seer, and she can interact directly with the Story in a way others can't. In fact, even other seers aren't as capable as Izzy. There are several trios like them — one for each sect — wandering the land fixing what's broken on behalf of the Wise Mother.
BC: So many questions to ask, but we'll come back to a lot of that. We've already seen them have one battle with a gigantic enemy. What kind of adversaries are on the table for these ladies?
GT: Oh, everything from human traffickers to angry and spoiled gods. I just wanted to use this adventure to drop folks into the story and see how they land. They just lost their original leader, Surari, who was a mentor to both M'Para and Ruul. Izzy showing up re-establishes needed balance but also upsets things as she's NOTHING like Surari. Surari was more like She-Hulk personality-wise. Her connection to the Story allowed her to shapeshift
BC: "Showing up" — so they don't have an application process or a website or anything?
GT: The Wise Mother notices a girl with power and sends out a representative, usually a red cloak, to bring them home, then they choose a cloak (or it's chosen for them, depending on how you look at it). Then they are set into a triad. This last can take a LONG time. All the girls' powers are unique, so it's a bit of a bumpy ride. There's a training period Once the triad's set, they're given missions to undertake. Each girl, each novice, has to have proper handling, so it's part monastery, part Hogwarts, part X-mansion until they get their cloaks. High Sisters, the ones who want to, after they survive the Wandering, come back to serve as instructors under the Wise Mother.
BC: Coming back to the system of magic, how did you lay out the rules of that and make sure elements were balanced and not overpowered?
GT: Oh, the balance. Well, that's part of the fun. Ruul is INSANELY powerful but has little control, and there's no one really to teach her control, so she's gifted with the control bars to act as both focus and restraint. M'Para has a rough origin story, which I won't tell here, but she had to learn, very slowly, how to turn her power on and off so she wouldn't randomly kill things and people.
BC: Are the different powers naturally occurring phenomenons, like mutations in Marvel, or is there another reason for their variations, and who ends up with them?
GT: All magic comes from either the Story or from Qandisa, who we can call the Enemy. Everyone has some connection to the Story, but NOT everyone has enough to manifest as magic. The easiest analog would be Force-users from Star Wars but, instead of the Force powers, they get randomized gifts according to their life conditions and personalities. Only women get powers from the Story. Qandisa gives them out like candy, but there's always a heavy price.
BC: Cool. The Wise Mother sounds great, but not everyone can be happy with her interventionist policies. What stands to oppose this force? Qandisa? How are the triads perceived in society?
GT: These ladies piss off a lot of folks. They don't give a damn about local deities or their squabbles. If they see something wrong, they fix it. If a god is responsible? Oh well. Part of the reason they're set to random wandering instead of just targeting bad guys and taking them down one-by-one until the Wise Mother's just running everything is because situations are often complex, too complex to just walk in and start smacking people. Triads are NEVER made up of three people from the same root culture for this reason. They fight sorcerers, evil kings, and queens, monsters — what Izzy calls "Qandisa's Babies."
BC: Sounds like a lot of enemies and only the gratitude of the saved on their side. Given this kind of world-building, has the thought of tabletop role-playing games ever come to mind for this?
GT: Honestly, no. It'd be great, and I'd love to see something like that, but I haven't got connections in that world and wouldn't know where to begin. Also, it's early days. I started drawing this in 2016, I think, and then let it go. The art is, well, it was the best I could do then. Considerably less than my best now, so the next installments will reflect that.
BC: We live in a great time for fantasy comics, from the new Adventure Finders to the wealth of D&D related comics, including Critical Role. What is your secret origin in discovering fantasy, and how did that lead you here?
GT: My first books in that realm [were] the Narnia series, but the first one that took hold of me was A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA by Ursula Le Guin. Multi-gendered. Multi-ethnic. Effortless.
BC: Effortless seeming to us, anyway.
GT: Yeah. She was a genius. As for leading me, I've read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy over the years, and frankly, as much a love most of it, most of it was either derivative of Conan or of Lord of the Rings, and I'm over those. Nothing against them or those who love them, but I'm with Ursula. Either everybody gets to play, or I'm out.
BC: You've told a lot of types of story in your career — heists, science fiction, superheroes, adventure. What different kinds of writing muscles did you have to bring to this project?
GT: I don't think i'd ever written a straight-up fantasy before this. Maybe one short story. The rest have been urban fantasy (magic in modern settings) or sci-fi-fantasy mashups (magic meets science fiction). Nothing purely IN the genre, so this was that. I like how culture shapes language as much as personal life does, so this sort of thing gives me a chance to flex my idiomatic dialog muscles, and nearly everything I write has a lot of snarky banter in it so …
BC: Can you discuss any research you did to develop these characters and this world?
GT: Yes, but some folks will get mad.
BC: Getting people mad is at least 50% of what Bleeding Cool does. Please, continue.
GT: I love mythology, so "research" means just delving into my store of books on the various ancient faiths; then, I toss out worrying about being faithful to them and just pick out the bits I like for my story. I'm not a big fan of worrying about offending this particular sect or if I used the proper avatar of this or that deity for my story. This isn't a textbook we're writing. You need to KNOW those things, yes, but mostly so you can throw out the bits you don't like or don't need for your story. This world is made up of analogs for ancient Asia, Africa, Scandinavia, and Polynesia. I wanted to mess around with all the versions of them I could.
More action from Sist3rs by Geoffrey Thorne and used with permission.BC: Without spoiling anything, what are a few things people would be surprised to learn about this fantasy world you're building? What's it called? Is it totally removed from everything we know?
GT: There's sex in it. Tasteful sex, I hope.
BC: Who would want tasteless sex?
GT: I'm not big on exploitation. Generally, sex scenes don't serve the stories they're in, so I consider them a waste of space. THIS story hangs on a sex scene so, it's up to the audience how tasteful. The biggest surprises are part of the mystery of the story, so I can't spoil them. There is a level of real-world brutality based on the time period. It's connected to our world in the same way the Avatar TV series is. Not us, but they feel like us. The biggest surprise is really that I had the nerve to attempt to draw it myself! I'm nowhere near good enough for this story.
BC: You're five weeks in — how much of this story do you expect to share with the world?
GT: Oh, all of it.
BC: That's really specific.
GT: The WEBTOONS thing is new to me, but I'm digging it a lot. The shape of the stories is self-contained. When this arc is done, we might be done with these characters for a while. It's just me writing all this stuff, plus my "day jobs" plus the new stuff I'm not drawing, so I have to do everything in bits.
BC: That's the kind of specificity that people love!
GT: Okay, specifically, this story will conclude and then get set aside in favor of the upcoming WINTER-VERSE project. I have artists on tap for that –, not ME — and the venues for those books isn't determined yet. Still deciding if we're staying all-digital and if all the books will be free, going forward. REDJACK #1 is in process and looks GORGEOUS.
BC: Cool. If people want to find out more about you and your other works, where would you send them?
Hannibal Tabu is a writer, journalist, DJ, poet and designer living in south Los Angeles with his wife and children. He's a winner of the 2012 Top Cow Talent Hunt, winner of the 2018-2019 Cultural Trailblazer award from the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, his weekly comic book review column THE BUY PILE can be found on iHeartRadio's Nerd-O-Rama podcast, his reviews can be found on BleedingCool.com, and more information can be found at his website, www.hannibaltabu.com.
Plus, get free weekly web comics on the Operative Network at http://bit.ly/combatshaman.