Reyn: Exploring The World Of Fate [Interview]

IMAGE COMICS: REYN begins as a fantasy story before revelations unveil a sci-fi element. Were you seeding this revelation in the first volume via designs or dialogue?

KEL SYMONS: I guess a little of each. In the original script—essentially a dialogue between me and Nate and the rest of the production team—I laid out the idea that the land of Fate had a very medieval/frontier look. Some of the dialogue would appear archaic, though peppered with modern terms or phrases. I think the first example of this is right after you meet Reyn, who has just defeated some big bad, and he's talking to his "vision," Aurora. He's talking to her as though you might expect a medieval knight to speak, but then he slips into something a little more contemporary, adding, "Seriously, I could use a break here."

We wanted to layer in touches like that, but the trick was not to let on to the audience exactly what's behind it all. So at first stuff that is technology-based comes off as magical, given the setting. We knew we wanted a very slow build-up to our big reveal, and started spooling out more and more information. By the third issue, technology is introduced, and the reader is definitely wondering about the setting and era.

I remember feeling frustrated early on in the series, especially when I'd get asked a question in an interview like, "What makes this different than just your standard fantasy story?" Obviously there was a lot more under the surface, but at that stage we didn't want to tip the big reveal, so it was difficult dealing with the idea of being labeled "just another fantasy story."

NATHAN STOCKMAN: Visually it was tricky to keep the reveal under wraps for the first couple of issues. The readers are perceptive, so the minute we hide a car or something "modern" in the background, that's the secret blown. I did try to set Seph's people, the Teks, a little apart visually. The sigils on their uniforms come directly from some of the different work stations of the ship. Though the origins of these sigils are lost to the Teks, they carry on the traditions passed down to them. The design of the Tek's uniforms is inspired by a faction of the original crew who we meet later in the story. But more in a photocopy of a photocopy kind of way.

Issues 4 and 5 in the first volume especially had quite a lot of sci-fi. But it was isolated to the Venn, so I think that hid the reveal of Fate well. Aurora's look is definitely a nod to things to come too. It's neither fantasy nor sci-fi, so it's another element that we wanted people to chew on.

With volume two, we're just laying everything on the table. We're answering questions and raising new ones from the get go!

IC: You two worked together on I LOVE TROUBLE as well, along with colorist Paul Little and letterer Pat Brosseau. Tell me about this team—what keeps you folks together? What do you like best about each other's work?

KS: I think we worked well together. There's definitely a shorthand that develops between everybody that makes things a lot easier. A comfortability with each other's work and a level of trust that you can rely on.

Nate came on board for the very last issue of I LOVE TROUBLE, so he was picking up where another artist had left off, drawing established characters he never got a hand in developing. But his work was great, and I told him I'd love the chance to create something together. Eventually we got to emailing ideas back and forth, and Reyn slowly took shape.

Paul is actually the guy who introduced me to Nate in the first place when we were looking for someone to come in to replace the original artist. He had a wonderful grasp of what we were doing and just delivered great work time after time.

Pat's just fantastic—I've worked with him more than anyone else—he's lettered all the books I did for Image. He knows the world of comics backwards and forward. I remember early on I tasked him with coming up with something cool and unique for the alien dialogue and I think he did a wonderful job on that.

NS: Kel nailed it with the "shorthand" comment. We're all working very closely together to make sure everyone is on the same page in the planning so that helps a lot with the execution. There's no surprises in there. We're always aware of what each other is doing but we're not breathing down each other's necks. I think the smooth and fun work process is what I enjoy most about working with Kel, Paul, and Pat. Plus it helps that each of them is excellent at their jobs!

IC: Aurora is a very cool character. What went into her origins and design?

KS: From a story standpoint, her purpose was to act as Reyn's conscience and guiding angel—visions and voices that kept him on mission, sort of like Joan of Arc getting divine guidance. At first you question whether or not Reyn is imagining her—issue one you only get his side of the conversation, so that makes sense. Then in issue two you "hear" what he hears, until the third issue where we reveal her physical form.

Aurora has attitude...a little know: moxie. I guess that's another example of a slightly anachronistic facet, where Aurora came off as more modern than Reyn or their surroundings.

As for developing her look, I want to say that Nate was responsible for making her a classic '40s film star. Does that sound right, Nate? I definitely know there were early versions he did up of her looking angelic; concept drawings before the first script was completed. But since we didn't see her for a couple issues I think that gave Nate a little time to evolve into the way she ultimately looked. I definitely remember Nate and Paul talking about giving her a black-and-white appearance, like she walked off the silver screen. Pretty sure Paul found this great effect to lay over her that had scratches like old film and a soft focus look.

Anyway, I'm glad she stood out. She was fun to write for.

NS: As far as I remember, I had the initial idea to make her a '40s style starlet. Like Kel said, since we had a bit of time before she revealed herself, she went through a couple of iterations before this look. There were more medieval and angelic concepts in there too. We toyed with the idea of giving her vividly colored dress, but ultimately I thought the black and white would stand out well against a fully colored backdrop. Paul's addition of the grain effect over her worked really well, and the added texture made her pop even more.

Her look itself is explained in this volume. We try to answer a lot of the bigger questions from volume one. Since we knew the answers ourselves even before we started, it was easier to navigate towards them throughout the story.

IC: What's the status quo at the beginning of the second volume of REYN?

KS: Well, at the end of the previous issue we dropped the hammer about what Fate really is, pulling back to reveal that they're all aboard a giant generation starship with a massive wilderness environment contained inside. Everything you knew from the story up to this point has drastically changed. In a sense we're dropping you into an entirely new story, so with the beginning of this volume we have a lot of explaining to do in order to answer the inevitable WTF moments the readers must have been feeling.

IC: What can you tell me about the origins of REYN as a whole? What was the first spark of an idea you had for the series?

KS: I wanted to do a fantasy adventure in the vein of Conan the Barbarian—a wandering swordsman, battling monsters and villains. When I talked to Nate about it, he was interested, but only if it had something more to it—not just standard fantasy fare. We talked about stuff like the old Thundarr Saturday morning cartoon—a world where technology had mixed with magic. Doing a swords and sorcery tale but with a twist became setting it aboard a giant starship tumbling through space off-course, where the original crew had forgotten who they were and where they came from. I guess that has become its own sub-genre in sci-fi.

As I was coming up with the proposal, I also liked the idea of Reyn as a Man With No Name-type. This slightly dark "hero" you weren't 100% sure was going to do the right thing. This added an element of a classic western archetype combined with that Conan spirit—I kept saying that we wanted this to be like if Frank Frazetta drew spaghetti westerns.

Interestingly enough, though, I feel that Reyn, while being the titular character, is often overshadowed by Seph. She transitions from sidekick to the main hero by the time you get to the end. I feel that while you may care about Reyn—especially in the kicking ass and chewing bubble gum mentality—it's ultimately Seph's perception of him, her feelings, which carry more weight than the reader's. Or at the very least informs their opinions.

IC: You had to design everything rustic and feudal to high-tech and alien over the course of this series. Was there anything you used as a guide so that you didn't go too far afield? How did you know when you found "the look" for the series and the human characters?

NS: Before we started the series Kel sent me a folder of fantasy and sci-fi images he liked. Things like movie or book covers, paintings, etc. Looking over these, I got a good grasp of what he was thinking. I didn't really go back and reference any of those images once we started, though. Looking at a Frazetta painting while trying to draw fantasy yourself can be pretty demotivating, haha.

Knowing roughly what Kel was wanting, I just went from there. I really like the design process, and the different challenges of mixing genres was genuinely enjoyable for me. I was never bored on this book! There was always something really fun in each new script to dive into!

I think I started to get a decent handle on the world in issues 4 and 5 in the first volume. It takes a couple of months at least to get used to drawing characters and how you want them to look and act. Especially creator-owned. You know that Spider-Man should be energetic and fun or that Batman is brooding and imposing, but with your own characters you're literally breathing life into them yourself and feeling them out. So it takes a little while. It's very rewarding to see people enjoy a character you've made up from scratch though!

IC: Aurora's acting and expressions are really strong, particularly very early in this collected edition. Were you using photo-ref here? Playing it by ear?

NS: Thanks! I do use photo ref sometimes. It's photos I take myself, though. Usually of myself or my lovely wife. There are plenty of embarrassing photos of me posing with a plastic ruler that ended up as Reyn with his sword, haha.

I'll generally sketch out what I want first in a thumbnail or layout, and then take a pic based on that. I don't want to be beholden to a photo and have to work backwards from that. I don't use photo ref for very panel or anything, though. Just ones I feel I could use a visual reference for. And even then, it's never an exact duplication. I just have them to look at while I'm drawing. A camera or mirror are some of the most useful tools an artist has.

REYN is available in two collected editions, on sale now.