The sci-fi magical epic about a boy taking on the vastness of a strange universe in search of his missing father, Star Mage, wraps up its current arc next week in Issue #6 and in the issues leading up to the finale, protagonist Darien Conners found himself fast-tracked through his training as a mage in the wake of increasing dangers. While he’s posed with the possibility that his father has been won over to the side of evil at the hands of Orasmas, Darien holds out hope that it’s purely the work of a powerful spell, and vows to set things right. The fate of many worlds depends on him, after all. No pressure, right?
This all-ages series from IDW is written by J.C. de la Torre and drawn by Franco Cespedes and was de la Torre’s first venture into the comics medium away from his long bibliography in prosecraft, and has not only been a success, but looks to be an ongoing series with future arcs. De la Torre also teases that there’s been some adaptation interest into film or TV, as well as plenty of upcoming work in comics. He didn’t run away screaming from the comics medium at all, and that’s reassuring.
This uber-fan of things sci-fi, including Doctor Who and Star Trek, talks with us here at Bleeding Cool about his experiences working on this first arc of Star Mage, the implications of its first arc finale, and where things are headed from here in his creative life.
Hannah Means-Shannon: Good to talk with you again, J.C. I was here for the initial impact of Star Mage and some big fan reception for the series when it opened. What’s your experience been like with fans during this arc?
J.C. de la Torre: Yes, and I thank you and Bleeding Cool for helping getting the word out about Star Mage! It’s been a pretty wild experience for me. As an author, you’re sometimes in your own little world and if you get fan reaction, it’s typically someone upset that you killed off their favorite character (I feel ya, George). With comics I was amazed at the outpouring of love and admiration for the work. I found it odd at cons when people wanted photos with me. No one had ever asked me for that before.
It was validating for me and my belief that there can still be world-building in today’s comics. I spent a lot of time during the series delivering backstory and building the world of the Sarru Kishpu and while it was a bit different than many comic readers are used to, it was generally well received.
HMS: Now, something interesting about this comic, among many things, is that though it is roughly all-ages, it does push the envelope a little in terms of the psychological and physical challenges Darien Connors faces as he assumes his new destined identity in space. How did you decide where to draw the line on that and where to keep things “real” despite his suffering?
JCDLT: t certainly wasn’t easy, lol. I wanted Star Mage to be accessible to all readers, with the exception of My Little Pony, it seems that most comics now-a-days are geared toward an older demographic. I wanted parents to be able to look at Star Mage and feel comfortable there wouldn’t be anything Little Johnny shouldn’t be reading.
With that said, I do feel that to tell a good story, it can’t just be cupcakes and rainbows. There has to be some drama and a challenge your protagonist has to deal with.
HMS: In issue #4, Darien, through his magic lessons, helps introduce us to the most famous sorcerers in the universe, and their greatest enemies. What kind of process went into developing that mythology, and is this a set up for bigger conflicts ahead since it seems like struggle runs rampant in this universe?
JCDLT: Great question! I always knew there would be a brother-vs-brother-vs-brother type struggle in this story. However to fully flesh out the world, there needed to be much more. Coming from the world of novels where you don’t have the luxury of pictures to help drive the story, world-building and establishing your minor characters as well as your, to use a gaming term, NPCs, are crucial to making it feel more real.
There were a few complaints about the weird language of the spells. I didn’t want to use Latin, everyone uses Latin for magic and I thought to myself, “If this is an ancient race of necromancers who seeded magic throughout the universe (nod to Giorgio Tsoukalos – ANCIENT ALIENS!), there should be some of the world’s oldest known language in their spell work. Now, I’m no linguist as I’m sure professionals in those fields would attest, but I found a great glossary on Ancient Sumerian and picked a few words here and matched a few there. I have no idea if the context is correct or not. It wasn’t that important to me. I wasn’t doing Ancient Sumerian, I was doing a new (or old, depending on the timey-wimey) magical language with powerful words that evokes the Star Mages’ power.
I also mentioned the world-building in that I felt, while Orasmas is a superb antagonist, I wanted the readers to know there are many more dangers out there for our beloved quartet.
HMS: In #4, Darien also has to leave some of the comforts of his “school boy” life behind and gets fast-tracked into some big combat scenes. But those, however life-threatening, seem matched by the emotional impact of being told that his father is essentially “evil” now through allying with Orasmas. What do you think it is about Darien’s personality that keeps him from fully believing things are that simple? Is it just youthful wishful thinking on his part?
JCDLT: Darien just loves his father and refuses to believe he’s gone dark mage. He’s seen what Orasmas can do and let’s face it, the last thing his father expected was to be kidnapped while on a NASA mission to Mars.
Darien has to believe that his mission is to free his father from whatever spell Orasmas has over him. He didn’t grow up in Eridu, has no allegiance to the Sarru Kishpu and doesn’t really care about the war. He only cares about his dad and his new friends.
HMS: A general question—you do incorporate some degrees of “swearing” or language into the comic. How do you decide how far to go with that? What makes you decide to use some strong language the comics?
JCDLT: There’s a tiny bit of swearing but nothing that would be more than PG, in my humble opinion. I don’t know if it’s a conscious decision, to be honest. I go where the imagination takes me and if it’s a scene where the character has to say, “Who the hell do you think you are?”, it is what it is.
HMS: In issue #5, we hear quite a powerful thematic line, “Evil is a point of view”. How far do you think that is true philosophically, or is it just the nature of evil to work on ambiguity like that to accomplish more to persuade people to give up?
JCDLT: Yes, indeed that is a theme I promote. Some have said there are parallels to the Sarru Kishpu and how many foreign countries view my beloved United States. There’s truth there. To us, America is the greatest nation in the world. We’re liberators bringing freedom to countries who are oppressed by tyrant regimes and religious fanatics.
To many others, we’re an evil empire bent on world domination that needs to be stopped. I think it’s important to remember one man’s liberator is another’s conqueror.
HMS: Let’s talk geek for a moment (and well, more later). In issues #4, #5, and #6, there are several geek references, most strongly from Star Trek, and also at least one overt nod to Doctor Who.
Is this part of the joy of writing science fiction as a fan that you can tie in those cultural references that the audience will get? To what degree is this just realism, too, since we view science fiction through the lens of tradition, and so do the characters?
JCDLT: Ha ha! You got me. Yes, indeed there is certainly some of my fandom bleeding through at times. And I’ll have you know I’ve consciously and purposely put some Doctor Who easter eggs throughout the series. Most avid watchers of Doctor Who can spot references to the Silence, regeneration and something else for the most eagle-eyed of the Whovian nation.
These are the things I love. They’re part of me and I know some cynics will say, “Oh, he’s just ripping off Star Trek there or oh man, that’s straight nicked from Doctor Who,” but that’s not what I’m doing at all. It’s homages to these amazing things that have shaped me as a sci-fi writer and those who have come before me. It’s intended as a celebration of those things.
HMS: Here’s a big probably Star Wars inspired question, but it all goes back to mythology. What do you think the psychological impact is on Darien when he’s put in a position where he has to try to “rescue” his own father?
If he loses, he has to let go of his father as “evil” and if he wins, well, he’s essentially disempowered and become greater than his father. Both are going to have some impact and be stressful for him.
JCDLT: It’s a great challenge for Darien but I think as a kid, all he wants is his father back. Remember, for quite some time Darien thought his father was dead. To discover he’s alive but being used (he hopes) by his brother in an evil plot to overthrow an empire that he just recently discovered existed. Well, it’s all a pretty big mind-job, don’t you think?
At this point, there’s only one goal, save Dad. He’ll deal with the aftermath once his father is freed.
HMS: Couldn’t avoid more geek questions for long: at the time of writing this, I have literally just watched the Doctor Who Season 8 premier with the rise of Peter Capaldi. Were you glued to the TV too? What do you think Capaldi brings to the role, and how INSANE was that plot??
What’s the allure of a science fiction narrative involving time travel, in your opinion? This actually isn’t totally off topic, since in Star Mage, it looks like Darien manages a kind of time travel to view past events through astral projection of some kind.
JCDLT: Capaldi was everything I’d hoped he’d be. He was funny, had that Malcolm Tucker snark we love so much but then when he got dark he was downright scary. It just showed his amazing range as an actor. To be honest, Capaldi had me at Attack Eyebrows. I have a sneaking suspicion he may bump David Tennant from my top spot of Doctors.
Time travel is an amazing vehicle for a science fiction writer. I’ll be exploring it in another project directly but essentially for Star Mage, it helped get the reader up to speed with the world in a short period of time.
I’m a huge history buff (History Channel is one of my favorite go to channels), so when Doctor Who or a show like Highlander or even True Blood has a flashback to a bygone era, I eat it up. There’s also that wonderment of our future. Will it be a Mad Max post-apocalyptic era or will we have New new new new new new new new York?
HMS: Ok, I’ve heard some vague rumors here—what do you think that Star Mage’s chances are in ever making it to TV or the silver screen? What makes this a narrative that might work well in those formats, in your opinion?
JCDLT: Oh, well for that I can’t say much other than to confirm that yes, Hollywood has indeed taken notice of Star Mage. Most of my work I write like I’m seeing it on a movie screen, so it makes adaption fairly simple.
Frankly, I think if the right studio got their hands on the project, it could be a huge summer blockbuster. Maybe not Guardians of the Galaxy, that was just cinema gold, but it can be right up there with the Thor and Iron Man type flicks. It has all the elements that would make for a great popcorn flick.
I don’t know Hollywood though, so I’ve joined forces with a Hollywood manager, Mikhail Nayfeld of Heroes and Villains, to help me through that process and weeding out the truly serious interest from the looky-loos.
I’ve been told the gears of Hollywood grind slowly, so I don’t know if we’ll have anything concrete to report on that for a while, but I’d suggest to any movie company looking for the next hot comic property with mass appeal, you’d better not wait too long on Star Mage.
Remember how many people passed on Harry Potter? Star Mage may not have that fanbase…yet…but it has that level of potential. Think about that, Hollywood. :)
HMS: Can we expect the first arc of Star Mage to be collected into a complete edition for us? Also, though #6 does conclude a substantial storyline, you rather confidently left in place at least two loose ends that suggest further stories and also more involvement concerning Earth. What’s up for Star Mage?
JCDLT: Yes indeed! All six issues will be collected, plus a never-released five page Star Mage short comic written by my friend Martin Dunn and the guys over at Con Artist Entertainment.
Issue six does wrap up this particular story arc for Star Mage, but there certainly will be more to come.
The collection should be out in early December and would make a great stocking stuffer for Christmas.
HMS: Are you taking a breather, either way, now that the first arc of Star Mage is done? What other things have you been working on, or will you be working on now?
JCDLT: Oh no! Busy, busy, busy! We’ll be putting together Star Mage Series Two. I’m not sure if we’re going to release that as individual issues or just go straight to graphic novel for that one. We’ll see what IDW wants to do there, but there are definitely plans for the next series.
Series One has closure, but there’s so much more to learn about Darien and his new friends, maybe a love interest (Darien and Tirwa shippers might be happy) and a new challenging villain. I’m actually going to be adapting the story based on something my lovely wife Rita wrote. We’re going to be doing it together because number one, it’s a great story that fits perfectly for Star Mage and two, it allows her to be more than the money behind the project.
As for some of my other stuff, fans that pick up Star Mage #6 will get a preview of my new vampire project, White Chapel. It’s based on a novella series I wrote a couple years ago. I’m adapting it for comics with Martin Dunn, art by Derrick Fish, colors by Rob Torres and lettering by Magnus. It’s a true horror story that I don’t think will be all ages. These vampires don’t just sprout fangs, they go through a werewolf-style metamorphosis. They are terrifying creatures. Plus, it’s told from three vampires’ points of view: Allister, a 200 year old vampire forced to sire a new progeny, Arianna, a new fledgling vamp, and Allister’s night father known as Jack the Ripper. You may have heard of him.
The other exciting project I’m focused on is Continuum Force, which is like Doctor Who meets Stargate SG-1. Thanks to reverse engineering a downed UFO, the US Military discovers the ability to travel back in time and witness history’s events. They discover that they’re not alone – Aliens! Have been messing about with our history. How do we know our history is real or changed by the Aliens? The Continuum Force is there to preserve, protect and defend the fabric of reality.
I’m excited about this one because not only are we developing it as a comic, we’re also developing it as an audio play. The story will be told in an episodic format and I have NY Times best-selling author Debbie Viguie (Wicked, Sweet Seasons) and her husband, creator of Doctor Geek’s Laboratory of Applied Geekdom and a man that has more degrees than the Librarian, Dr. Scott Viguie, writing it with me.
It’s been great fun. Look for it soon!
Plus, I’m still holding out hope that Titan Comics will give me a crack at writing a Doctor Who story. Come along, Titan!
Star Mage #6 arrives in shops from IDW on September 3rd
You can also check out J.C. de la Torre’s podcast, Transmissions from Atlantis, to hear more of his thoughts on the Doctor Who season opener and his plans for Dragon Con 2014.
J.C. de la Torre finished up this interview ready to head off to Dragon Con this weekend. You can find him there at the following panels, discussing many things British and sci-fi:
80 Years of Flash Gordon!
Description: From comic strip to awesome movie and cartoons back to comics, this panel runs down the awesomeness of Flash (ah-ah!) Gordon.
Time: Thu 08:30 pm Location: M303-M304 – Marriott (Length: 1 Hour)
Ghostbusters: 30th Anniversary of Mass Hysteria
Description: This panel will remind us of when you tried to drill a hole in your head.
Time: Thu 10:00 pm Location: M303-M304 – Marriott (Length: 1 Hour)
A discussion of new casting and rumors and a comparison of the American version, Gracepoint, also starring David Tennant.
Fri 01:00 pm; « Macon; (1 Hour)
Nothing Is More Airwolf than Airwolf
Description: On its 30th anniversary, this panel explores the awesomeness of the high-tech ’80s TV helicopter.
Time: Sat 02:30 pm Location: M303-M304 – Marriott (Length: 1 Hour)
Real Ghostbusters: The Best & The Beautiful
Description: Favorite episodes are discussed with a crowd of gatekeepers and keymasters.
Time: Sat 04:00 pm Location: M303-M304 – Marriott (Length: 1 Hour)
Understanding Science Fiction & Fantasy Podcasting
Description: A discussion of the complexities of attracting an audience of different sci-fi and fantasy fandoms, keeping that audience, and growing reach.
Time: Sat 07:00 pm Location: 203 – Hilton (Length: 1 Hour)
Description: Archaeology plays an important role in the SG franchise, and Atlantis is no exception. This panel digs into truths and fiction.
Time: Sun 01:00 pm Location: Chastain HIJ – Westin (Length: 1 Hour)
Description: Sherlock Series 3 has come and gone. A chat on all things Sherlock and its many incarnations, future prospects, and past mishaps.
Time: Sun 02:30 pm Location: Grand Ballroom West – Hilton (Length: 1 Hour)
Sci-Fi for your Wi-Fi
Description: An inside look at Doctor Geek’s Laboratory and the new production Continuum Force.
Time: Sun 08:30 pm Location: Chastain HIJ – Westin (Length: 2.5 Hours)
Brit TV You Should be Watching
Love British TV but don’t know what to watch? This panel will help.
Mon 01:00 pm; « Macon; (1 Hour)
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