Amy Chu writes, regarding Dejah Thoris currently published by Dynamite:
I am knee deep writing issue #9 right now, and have come to realize as I build towards an epic ending in Issue #10 (no spoilers here!) that I’m way too close to the story and characters to talk about them without sounding like a rambling lunatic. Which is why, for this commentary, I asked my intrepid New York-based interns, Alexa Arce and Spenser Nellis, to come up with some fresh questions. They took this task VERY SERIOUSLY with absolutely no prompting or direction from me.
The only thing they did NOT ask about was the covers, so let me start by saying how much I dig these covers by veterans Mike McKone (@__mckone__), Stephane Roux (@frenchwookiee) and the team of Sean Chen (@seanchenart) and Cris Peter (@cristiandpeter). I’ve included their Instagram handles so you can follow all their cool process and sneak peeks of their work. (You’re welcome!) I’ve known Sean Chen since he drew one of my very first creator-owned stories for Girls Night Out and I love that he put the awesome Martian telescope you see in this arc. I met the amazing Cris Peter, the colorist for the cover at the amazing CCXP convention in Sao Paulo, Brazil where we shared the stage for a Women in Comics panel there and have always wanted to work with her, so yay! Definitely keep an eye out for her work!
Okay so Alexa and Spenser, let’s see what you have for me here…
Q: How do you handle crowd scenes like this and making sure the background characters aren’t too generic? How much guidance do you give Pasquale and Vincenzo?
A: That speaks to the skill of the artists (and what kind of deadline they have…) And because of the deadline Pasquale decided to share this issue’s duties with his colleague Vincenzo Federici so I don’t know exactly details of how they worked together. This is sci-fi fantasy so I tend to leave it up to them. In other cases, especially if it’s a real life crowd scene like in Red Sonja #0 set in present day New York, I’ll try to provide photo references or videos of crowds. But honestly, I rarely ask for crowd scenes from artists because I don’t like to be hated.
In case you’re wondering, the script for this panel literally reads “Inside the ship. Crew members, male and female lined up along a hallway at attention, sleeves pulled up to show their bare right arms, unmarked. Xahar, the female officer (from Issue #6 p.3) walks with Keel, Dejah in her armor.” So there you go!
Q: Do you have fun playing around with the creatures of Mars like the Sorak?
A: This wouldn’t be a Barsoom story without the fantastic beasts created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. We needed something on the ship besides Red Martians so I went through some of the old books and found the Sorak which I thought would be perfect as Dekana’s pet. It wasn’t originally a part of the script but then it became a part of the plot. Isn’t it wonderful how writing works?
Q: How do you find the right tone of authority for Dejah in these formative years?
A: Dejah Thoris was born into wealth and accustomed to getting her way. I just channel entitled princess that needs to step up in order to become a leader. The hard part is making her likable and not a brat!
Q: What inspires the designs for the Mars fleets for you and the art team? Any notable sources?
A: The original books were all text with just a very few illustrations so much of Barsoom is left to the imagination which is part of their attraction in my opinion. I sent a lot of references including some of Joe Jusko’s fabulous paintings, but Pasquale and colorist Valentina Pinto came up with all the designs.
Q: Dejah is learning the responsibilities and political intrigue that comes with being Jeddak, how do you get into her headspace and figure out how she is coming to terms with it?
A: This is a prequel so I know where she needs to be. I’m just trying to get her there. It also helped to binge watch Game of Thrones…
Q: How do you balance the level of respect and authority Dejah has with Keel and everyone else on the ship?
A: It’s important to understand how each character would interact with each other, especially in a story like this where the military play a big role. Chain of command would be paramount. But when it comes to royalty, or Martian royalty as it were, it must be different. Dejah is the apple of her father’s eye.
Q: This is another moment of Dejah’s strategic prowess. She’s learning the ropes and also incredibly talented, but how do you make sure one doesn’t trump the other?
A: It’s a balance, of course. When you’re writing characters, they need to have flaws or they become basically uninteresting. The real challenge in a scene like this is to keep it from being too expository. Also I was trying to tie this in with a similar scene in Issue #0. (If you haven’t read it yet, you can download it free on Comixology )
Q: We get a glimpse of both Keel and Dejah’s history and Dejah’s struggle with being a leader, how do you find a rhythm of quiet, vulnerable moments like this in between the political intrigue and war?
A: This is the writer’s job, to create the pacing that enables these moments to happen. In this case I felt it was necessary for the reader to find out more about our handsome Keel or he would just be a sexy two dimensional character. I also wanted to create some bonding between the two. It’s just finding the right time and space within the the 20 pages. And that’s not always easy!
Q: Where does the architecture design for the Xataxian come from? It feels like a warship with a castle inside it.
A: Good question! Most details are designed on the fly by Pasquale. We really don’t have the time to plan everything out. Movies get a whole department to work on these things. In the script description I only specified a “grand circular set of stairs” and a “large round brightly lit chamber” and suggested we reuse the Tree of Life mural from earlier. So the short answer is, everything comes out of Pasquale’s imagination…
Q: How do you capture the physicality of the Martians in these fights?
A: Again, that’s all Pasquale. No, I lie. Also, Tom Napolitano, the letterer. Sound effects and lettering placement have great impact in a scene like this. As the writer I establish the size and the panel counts for each page so for a scene like this, I say go BIG, but the rest is up to the artist.
Q: I like how this scene captures Keel’s sense of duty by checking on Dejah, even though he was the one who was hit.
A: Well, Keel is an old-fashioned Martian guy that way. The royal family comes first.
Q: You establish this character earlier in the issue, which acts as a good hint considering he would know about the secret tunnels …
A: The ingredients of a good reveal should force to you think back, or maybe even go back and reread and then say, “Aha! Of course!” It should never be a complete surprise or worse, completely obvious. This is truthfully the nerve wracking part for the writer.
Q: The Sorak is back again, is it a favorite of yours?
A: It just seemed like a good accessory for Dekana. And you never just want talking heads in a comic like this.
Q: We see some of Dejah’s grandfather’s diplomacy skills here. Despite the anger in the room, he can still handle things calmly.
A: It’s important to represent your characters consistently. Every page I do a logic check — what would Dejah do in this situation? What would Tardos Mors do here?
Q: How do you manage the various factions on Mars and the societal dynamics between them?
A: It’s tough. Sometimes my brain hurts thinking it through, but there’s enough parallels with the real world that I’m not actually inventing anything new here.
Q: We can see how Mors and his father rule between this and the last two pages, they seem to have different levels of aggression?
A: Again, I’m trying to create different personalities here. I see Mors Kajak is more impulsive than his father. Burroughs wrote these books almost a hundred years ago so the characters needed a little reinterpretation.
Q: Does Dejah being relatively new to the political world help her see the social dynamics a bit clearer and question them?
A: Sure, she’s not all cynical and jaded. She’s got the idealism of youth (at least youth by Barsoom years.)
Q: This is a nice, quiet moment before things ramp up to 11. How do you keep the momentum going right before the issue ends?
A: I think the quiet moments are important to contrast with the next scene. Same with any musical composition (except I guess heavy metal or punk.) You need to vary the tempo up to keep things interesting.
Q: Everyone rushing at you is never a good sign. Does having all of these people in the background help elevate the stakes?
A: Again, kudos to Pasquale for continuing to draw all these people in. I read a review that he just keeps getting better and better with each issue, which is true!
Q: Another great ship design, how does the art team play around with this one and the sense of scale compared to the Xataxian?
A: All I said was I wanted a giant ship. I didn’t expect it to be this giant, but it actually works better this way. I was originally thinking a battle in the air, but as you can see, the pirate ship is actually swallowing up the Xataxian. Stay tuned to find out what happens in Issue 8….
I hope you found this interesting and insightful, and thanks again to Spenser and Alexa for making this commentary so easy! You’ll be able to see all of us at the upcoming New York Comic Con at the Javits Center in October. Pasquale is flying in from Italy so bring all your issues for us to sign! New York area stores, let us know if you want us to sign copies for you! Thanks for reading!