feature by Sam Stone, originally published in IMAGE+ #15
For a genre labeled as “fantasy,” the tales of swords and sorcery can sometimes come off as overly self-serious. In a post-Game of Thrones world, the genre seems more preoccupied with grounding narratives in realism and unflinching graphic violence than embracing the swashbuckling sense of fun that has endeared countless fans to fantasy in the first place. So it’s like a breath of fresh, magic-filled air that comes with Sebastian Girner and Galaad’s SCALES & SCOUNDRELS, an epic fantasy tale that depicts a world in transition as new kingdoms arise while humans begin to intermingle with classic fantasy races like goblins, dwarves, and elves. In the dawn of this new age is a fun-filled tale of redemption and self-discovery as a fiery young woman named Lu finds herself on the road and on the run from dangerous forces on all sides.
When asked about his motivations for creating the visuals of the comic, Galaad explains, “I wanted this world to be a counterpoint to the dark and gritty fantasy that we’ve seen so much of these past years, where every color palette is either gray or brown, and every character ends up dead because, hey, life was tough in those imaginary times. But when I think of fantasy, I think of wild, beautiful worlds of wonders and adventures. That sense of beauty and amazement is what I want to capture in the series.”
“The world really came to life for me when I saw the first pages of Galaad’s art,” agrees series writer and co-creator Sebastian Girner. “There’s such a vibrancy and joy in each page, and I wanted to embrace that because I felt that it energized me immensely. A lot of modern fantasy can get pretty dour with the perpetual dark ages these worlds seem to be stuck in. We set out to make a different kind of fantasy, a world that beckons to readers to come get lost in it.”
SCALES & SCOUNDRELS features very real consequences alongside themes of atonement and identity. It’s a high adventure on bandit-ridden roads and within mines and mountains, and like a good Pixar film, the series is all-ages friendly without compromising its narrative.
“I have a two-year-old son, and a few days ago, he sat on my lap and pointed at SCALES & SCOUNDRELS’ art on the screen. I told him ‘This is Papa’s work. Do you like it?’ and he nodded,” reveals Galaad. “This comic being all-ages friendly is very important to me. That doesn’t mean we should shy away from all forms of sex, swearing, and violence. I believe you can craft something with very high stakes without resorting to graphic or gruesome depictions. You just have to be more imaginative in the way you do it.”
This visual imagination immediately inspired Girner: “When the first pages came in, I was struck by Galaad’s art style. The grace and humor and ageless sense of discovery and joy he brings to every scene unlocked something in my heart and mind that I think had lain dormant for a long time. It transported me back to the feeling I had reading fantasy comics and books as a kid—that pure sense of excitement...Here then, was a chance to make a comic I sorely wanted to have exist, and also the kind I think there needs to be more of,” elaborates Girner. “But like Galaad said, we’re not going to shy away from telling real stories with our characters, about love, loss, sacrifice, all the facets of the human experience. But we’re going to do it and present it in a way that we feel like anyone can read and get something out of it.”
Like many fantasy protagonists, Lu has a hero’s journey of her own as she tries to learn more about her mysterious past, and her destiny ties very closely to the brave, new world around her. As she explores the diverse settings of SCALES & SCOUNDRELS, Lu finds herself teaming up with a ragtag ensemble of misfit adventurers in the finest tradition of The Hobbit and Chrono Trigger.
“Lu’s true nature and the crux of her character is shrouded in mystery at the start. We wanted to play with that a bit and not just dump her backstory on the reader…you know how you get to know someone? By spending time with them. Sooner or later the bonds of friendship and the desire to be seen for WHO you really are will cause even the most secretive and guarded person to let slip what’s in their hearts,” explains Girner. “And having a larger cast also let us explore and show off more of the ancient history, the breadth of different nations, races, and experiences in this world. Each of our main cast hails from a different corner of this world, and they’re all here in this story for personal reasons, allowing us to explore different viewpoints.”
Ultimately, Girner and Galaad look to create a rollicking fantasy adventure as timeless as the tales that helped inspired it, yet with a fresh perspective, modern sensibilities, and a rambunctious, diverse cast. Both a love letter to the fantasy genre en masse and an attempt to make swords-and-sorcery stories fun again, SCALES & SCOUNDRELS pays homage to its inspirations while breathing new life into the venerable genre.
“A strong influence of mine is, and has always been The Hobbit—and, to a certain extent, The Lord of the Rings,” notes Galaad. “There’s a sense of rambunctious adventure to The Hobbit that I have rarely seen in many later iterations. I think I can safely say that we also channel all the lighthearted, upbeat fantasy material that we’ve watched and appreciated from our youth to nowadays, from Willow to Stardust. But we’ve also dusted the genre off and introduced some very modern themes and a more diverse cast. In that regard, I think it’s both familiar and new. I hope the readers enjoy the journey!”
SCALES & SCOUNDRELS #1 debuts 8/16 and is available for preorder now.
Sam Stone is a veritable pop culture guru living just outside of Washington, DC. He is the producer and co-host of the Geek Out Show podcast on iTunes and knows a stupidly unreasonable amount about The Beatles. You can find him on Twitter @samstoneshow but should probably consult a physician first. IMAGE+ is an award-winning monthly comics magazine that's packed with interviews, essays, and features about all your favorite Image comics and your first look at upcoming releases.