Coming out of Comic-Con at Glasgow the comic that probably impressed me the most, even managing to push aside my obvious attraction to Saltire due to my nationality, was Skies of Fire, a comic set in a wonderful world of massive airships. Beautiful artwork, a cinematic style and strong writing made the opening two issues a genuine pleasure to read, which is why I’m feeling pretty happy to present to you guys a short Q&A with Vince and Ray, the creators of the comic.
I hope you enjoy.
Baden: An obvious place to start, but where did the whole idea for Skies of Fire come from? Tell us a bit about the world, the story and the characters.
Vince Ferriero: Skies of Fire goes back to 2008 when I was studying at NYU for Film and Television. I have always been a big fan of airships. Watching movies like Howard Hughes’ Hell’s Angels and Miyazaki’s The Castle in the Sky gave me inspiration to write my own epic sky adventure. The story itself is set in a fictional world roughly analogous to post World War I Europe. Instead of planes, airships rule the sky. We follow the adventure of Captain Helen Pierce as she goes on the hunt for Delmonte, an air raider who is wreaking havoc over her empire. In the center of the story, and this part of the world, is the endless storm known as The Expanse. Within its undying winds lies the key to Helen’s mission and a safe haven for the storm raiders.
Baden: Skies of Fire is a Kickstarter baby, brought to life by a lot of people who clearly loved the idea. Did you always want to use Kickstarter, or did you shop the concept around some of the traditional publishers first?
Ray Chou: When we first started our goal was to get published by a big company. We looked into a lot of submission policies but also knew about Kickstarter from the news and our film school days. The more we looked into the Kickstarter option the more appealing it seemed to be. We decided to go for it and see how far we could take it ourselves. It’s been a really great learning experience learning how to make everything about comic books work.
Baden: What’s has it been like having everything funded by the fans instead of absolutely knowing that you’ve got everything you need from the start, like when you have a traditional publisher?
Vince: It’s an exhilarating and frightening adventure for sure. It’s awesome to see how many people have connected with the story and want to see it come to life. But, we don’t want to disappoint them either. Ray, myself, and the rest of the team have sunk in hundreds of hours to make sure this story is as great as we imagine it. We want to keep telling Skies, and for that, the story needs to be great at every turn to keep it alive.
Baden: Was there a backup plan in case Kickstarter failed?
Ray: Honestly? Not really. I don’t think we talked about it. I guess in the back of our minds we figured we could always pitch it or put in more of our own money. Vince and I had basically been putting all of our savings into the project and were prepared to do so as long as it took to get it made.
Baden: Sticking with Kickstarter for a moment, now that you’ve successfully used it to fund a project do you see yourselves returning to it for future work? And is Kickstarter the way forward for people wanting to tell stories that companies like Dark Horse, Boom or even the likes of Marvel and DC aren’t willing to take the risk on?
Ray: Yes, we definitely see ourselves returning to it for future work. Kickstarter is allowing for some amazing things to happen in the comic medium, chief of which is this explosion of genres that are suddenly finding hungry audiences. I think that’s really cool and is the only way the industry is going to truly grow. It’s never a bad thing when people are empowered to create art.
Baden: Skies of Fire is the first time I’ve seen a cartographer listed as a member of the team. What’s the story behind that?
Vince: We wanted to tell a story set in a believable world. Everything that we present should feel real. When Ray and I were thinking about the map, we wanted to create something that you’d think was an actually map we took from our world. For that, we scouted online through a couple of cartography forums and art sites. We found Josephe Vandel there and were blown away by his expertise. Not only did he have a degree in Map Making, but he also majored in Heraldry Design! He was the talent behind making the map alive and real.
Baden: The artwork is absolutely beautiful. How long did it take to dial in the look of the book, and how long on average does it take to complete a single page?
Vince: Ray and I both knew what Skies should look like before we met Pablo and the rest of the team. Instead of picking up an artists and trying different styles, we were able (through the internet) to find someone who matched the style we were going for. When working with the artists, it took around Four months of tweaking to actually get it right. Depending on the complexity of the page, a completed work can take three days to a week to complete from rough sketches.
Baden: It’s fair to say that each issue takes a while to complete. What’s it like seeing it all come together, piece by piece?
Ray: Things seem to only come together towards the end. What I mean by that is putting together the finalized issue always seems to be the hardest and most stressful part for Vince and I. Once we get all the pages colored, we’re simultaneously: 1.) rewriting the issue (we always do a pass with the images) 2.) Finalizing the graphic design / getting print ready 3.)planning the Kickstarter campaign. There’s always points along the way though where you can’t help but smile. When you get all the pages in and can flip them from beginning to end – that’s really satisfying. Again when you see the word bubbles and they feel good. Those moments are the best.
Baden: The first two issues manage to setup the world and story remarkably well, something other books can struggle with. Is it fair to say that moving forward our story is all about the crew of the Zephyr exploring the ever-raging storm known as the Expanse? Or are we going to get to spend more time outside of the Expanse as well, since there’s obviously such a rich world out there.
Ray: Yup, the majority of the story takes place on the Zephyr and the Expanse. There’s more to it though than meets the Eye…
Baden: Speaking of which, how much in terms of the story have you already gotten planned out? What can we look forward?
Vince: We’ve actually gotten the entire story written out to the end. That’s important to us. We always want to know we can complete it and give our audience a satisfying finish to this epic tale. That being said, we have learned more of our story over the issues. Ray and I always find ourselves rewriting pages up to the drafting part of production. The story keeps taking us in new directions and we’re excited to see if it ends the way we initially wrote it.
Baden: Sort of going back to an earlier theme, is it a little nerve-wracking knowing that you’re essentially working issue by issue, that at anytime you could fail to get the money you need, whereas with a traditional publisher you might have more of a safety net?
Ray: Yes, but there are no guarantees anywhere. If we worked with a traditional publisher they would for sure be on our ass about our speed. Also, having a publisher doesn’t mean they’re going to be pimping your work for you, so in a lot of ways you’d have to do the same stuff if not more marketing wise with a traditional publisher, making sure you have enough preorders and all that. Plus, doing it all ourselves means having to learn it all ourselves, and honestly I think that’s been key.
Baden: Skies of Fire originally began life as a movie in the mind of Vince, according to your Kickstarter. Why opt for this medium instead?
Vince: We did think about optioning the script to a production company, but we also wanted to be able to develop the story ourselves. Turning to comic books is a perfect alternative because it allows us keep our artistic vision and also is financially feasible for Ray and I through crowd funding.
Baden: There’s a certain cinematic quality to the art. Was that a deliberate choice, to try to bring a little bit of that original movie vision into the book?
Ray: Definitely. We knew early on we wanted to use large panels often as wide as possible. One of the things we loved about Pablo’s work was how he framed shots; everything was always just so balanced and epic. We love the cinema; it’s why we became creatives.
Baden: Getting into the story a bit more, is there some sort of specific motivation driving Captain Pierce to head into the expanse past simple duty?
Ray: Ambition. She knows that she’s the best possible person to take down Delmonte. She managed to turn a dressing down into a promotion, but in the process double- downed on her career by betting on herself. Yes, duty is important to her, but so is success.
Baden: The crew of the Zephyr are going to be a mix of military and pirates, so obviously there’s going to be tension and problems right there. But did you view the interaction of the crew as one of the most important pieces of the story? Was it hard to nail their personalities and create a crew that were going to play off of each other?
Vince: The conflict that the crew faces in the story between each other is a vital part of the adventure. We built an expansive world full of places, cultures, and religions. Character interactions are not only important for the plot, but also a great way to open up the world for the audience. Some characters were harder to develop than others. For Helen, it was difficult because we wanted to create a character that was nuanced in her actions. For Delmonte, he came alive through the help of all our artists through a few sketches and designs.
Baden: So we’re now two issues in, which begs the question; what’s going on with the third installment? Are you still in the planning phases? When can we expect it?
Vince: The third issue is when you finally get to meet the entire crew and things go sideways between them. It’s going to be awesome to finally meet the entire cast. We are inking the final pages and are now going straight into colors. We hope to release it late December, early January.
Baden: All right, I think that’s us nearing the end. So, you can all read my glowing review HERE, but in your own words tell us all why we should go out and buy the first two issues of Skies of Fire?
Vince: If you like epic adventure stories about a crew coming together to succeed in a mission, like Firefly or Star Trek, then this might be something for you.
Ray: Cause you’ll need the first two to make sense of the next six!
Baden: It has been a great pleasure chatting to you. Thank you very, very much for your time!