Writer’s Commentary – James Sutter Talks Pathfinder: Runescars #4

Dynamite has sent us a new writer’s commentary by James Sutter for Pathfinder: Runescars #4, which hits shelves today. The issue has a cover by Jonathan Lau and interiors by Ediano Silva.

Pathfinder: Runescars

Page 1:
We’re kicking things off this issue with a quick dream/memory of Tanin’s death at the end of last issue. Normally I hate dream sequences (okay, except in Sandman), but here it felt like a nice way to set the scene and still skip forward to where this issue needed to start.

I’m also pretty happy with “gutless horn-sucker” as an insult. Swearing in fantasy is always challenging, as it’s easy for in-world epithets to sound silly. I felt like this was the sort of thing somebody might reasonably call a Hellknight, and carries the proper oomph and sexual connotations without getting too graphic for the censors…

Page 2:
I’m not going to lie: my favorite comics are at least 80% talking. (Is there a generally accepted term for readers like me? Maybe “Bubble-lovers”?) And these first three pages are, for me, one of the high point of the entire series. Because one thing that never seems to come up in RPG-style stories like this is how much adventuring sucks. On the road all the time, never able to put down roots, watching friends die, knowing that each new mission may well be your last… it’s certainly not a life I’d want for myself. Which is why I felt like it was so important to not just address that issue, but to have it be Valeros, who’s questioning things. For years we’ve presented him as this brash, good-humored, devil-may-care sort of warrior, but that’s just a stereotype that we — and he — have embraced. Underneath it is a real guy, and that guy ought to be shaken up by the death of a friend.

And speaking of which: When we were first plotting out the series, Wes and I had considered having Tanin and Valeros hit it off romantically, but we quickly moved away from that — it was too predictable, and knowing that Tanin was going to die midway through the series, the whole thing smacked of fridging (the annoying practice of introducing a female love interest just to kill her off in order to create pathos for the hero). Instead, we quickly realized that it would be more interesting to have Tanin be more Valeros than Valeros — she does everything he does, only better, and he knows it. It made for a lot of fun gags in the early issues, but I really love what it does to this scene. Because with Valeros seeing so much of himself in this person who’s just died, it’s inevitably going to make him ask some big questions about his own life choices.

Of course, he’s still Valeros, so it’s not like he’s going to deal with those existential questions sober…

Page 3:
This is a direct callback to the very beginning of the Pathfinder comics, when Jim Zub was still introducing the characters. In one of those scenes, Kyra comes across a hung-over Valeros vomiting in a field, and lectures him about self-control. As soon as we started plotting out the series, I knew I wanted to reprise that scene and turn it on his head like this, and Wes was totally on board. The joke almost didn’t make it past editorial review — it’s obviously out of character for Valeros, which is what makes it funny to me — but in the end, Paizo Publisher Erik Mona and Creative Director James Jacobs trusted us enough to roll with it.

Pages 4–5:
Originally, this entire issue was going to have Valeros making foot puns everywhere, much to Quinn’s chagrin. As the story arc came to focus more on Valeros’s ennui, that no longer made sense, and the jokes transferred over to Merisiel, which I think we can all agree makes way more sense anyway.

Also, I want to point out that we didn’t invent Gatefoot for this issue — it’s been part of Korvosa since the very beginning of the game, but we’d never really done anything with it. Just a giant foot, sitting there in the middle of one of our most important cities. As soon as Wes and I realized that, we knew we had to use it in this issue. It’s basically Chekhov’s foot.

Page 6:
Poor Valeros. He’s had a rough day.

Page 7:
…and it looks like his day isn’t getting any better.

Page 8:
This is exactly why I love writing Merisiel. Because when you’ve been fried by a lightning bolt, you would definitely say “ouchie.”

Page 9:
Also maybe some screaming.

Page 10:
Originally, I assumed the manticore’s posture in Panel 1 would be “crouched and ready to attack.” Instead, Ediano drew him more “lying on the couch watching Netflix.” Which honestly makes a lot more sense. He’s been in that chamber a long time, with nothing but that statue of Runelord Sorshen and the occasional summoned victim to keep him entertained.

Page 11:
“Beardo” is an insult that translates perfectly into any genre.

Also, this double-eyeball-stab is directly inspired by Pathfinder Creative Director James Jacobs once telling me about a short story he’d read, in which someone stabs someone else in the eyes with two knitting needles, then steps back, points at the guy with needles poking out of his eyeballs, and yells “SNAIL!”

That’s the sort of thing we talk about at the Paizo offices.

Page 12:
I’ve been waiting for a chance to use these mushroom people—myceloids—ever since we first published them in Bestiary 3. Mushroom people are something of a time-honored tradition in fantasy RPGs, but when Paizo’s head art director Sarah Robinson got the art in, they had this super-creepy hillbilly look that cracked us all up, and we sent them to print like that.

Page 13:
This page is almost enough to make you feel bad for the mushroom people, but don’t worry—that little one in the last panel totally survives. Right after this scene, Valeros sets him down, gives him a stern talking-to about making positive choices, and sets him up with some money for college. He goes on to eventually become the first person of fungal descent to get tenure at the Academae, Korvosa’s most prestigious school for wizards. This is absolutely canon. You can’t prove it’s not.

Page 14:
The big guy is a Red Reaver, and you can find stats for him in the Curse of the Crimson Throne adventure path hardcover. And yeah, they’re not actually evil, just very protective of whomever they bond with—in this case, murderous mushrooms. Sorry, big guy.

Page 15:
I would like to officially thank my friend Kurtis Wiebe of Rat Queens for inspiring me to write phrases like “hot blast of mushroom love” in a professional capacity. You’re a guiding light for us all, Kurtis.

Page 16:
Cue the ’80s montage music! Here we’ve got a pukwudgie riding some zombies, a chimera chowing down on Quinn’s beloved coat, a magma drake, and a half-fiend minotaur who looks like he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. We told you that bus stop was dangerous, dude.

Page 17:
The taxidermist did a really great job with that dragon. He looks so peaceful and happy.

Page 18:
Nice work, Seoni! Because while Lazku may not mind killing people and stealing their skin, she hates being mischaracterized.

Page 19:
It’s time for the VILLAIN BACKSTORY MONOLOGUE! YAAAAAY! *muppet flail*

Seriously, though, I love what Ediano’s done with the art on this page. Doing a whole story without panel borders like this always runs the risk of creating a garbled mess, but he totally stuck the landing, and the result is gorgeous!

Page 20:
Merisiel’s “WHY DO WE ALWAYS HAVE TO GO?” is one of the few lines of dialogue that we wrote at the series outline stage. Having worked on Pathfinder: Hollow Mountain together not that long ago, Wes and I were cognizant of the fact our heroes have been getting into some pretty amazing treasure troves recently, but always have to leave before doing a thorough looting, which of course offends Merisiel’s professional sensibilities. Poor Merisiel.

Page 21:
Hey, it’s Tiro from Issue #1, back to save the day! The Sable Company he’s talking about here is a big part of Korvosan history, but one that’s run into a bit of trouble with the queen right near the start of the Curse of the Crimson Throne adventure path, which is when this particular series is set. (Which I suppose means you can now extrapolate the exact in-world dates of all the Pathfinder comics — someone alert the Pathfinder Wiki team!)

Page 22:
Pro tip: Always end an issue with hippogriffs.

And that’s it! Thanks for reading, and see you all next time, when Wes and I co-write the grand finale in Issue #5!

For more on Pathfinder: Runescars #4, click here.

About Dan Wickline

Has quietly been working at Bleeding Cool for over three years. He has written comics for Image, Top Cow, Shadowline, Avatar, IDW, Dynamite, Moonstone, Humanoids and Zenescope. He is the author of the Lucius Fogg series of novels and a published photographer.