Each of us has our own unique abilities and gifts that we're ready to share with the world. In the fantasy adventure world of ROSE by Meredith Finch and Ig Guara, magically gifted citizens known as Guardians are relentlessly hunted down by the brutal regime ruling over the kingdom after their mystical companions, the Khatz, begin to disappear. But in times of institutionalized repression and persecution, it is more important than ever to let those fires of individuality and inner strength burn bright and true. As Rose, the fantasy epic's protagonist, comes of age and learns of her fledgling abilities as a Guardian, she quickly finds herself in the middle of bloody civil war while on the run from those that would kill her for her abilities.
A sword and sorcery tale in the finest tradition of The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, Finch & Guara have created an immersive world in ROSE that shows the importance of embracing your true self while drawing on your natural strengths and abilities to make a difference.
SAM STONE: Can you establish the world of ROSE for the new readers out there? What's going on in this fantasy realm?
MEREDITH FINCH: ROSE is set in a land of magic. The powers of life and the health of the land are tied to magical creatures called Khatz. Each Khat is then bound to a human guardian who embodies a heroic trait or virtue. Together, they are responsible for maintaining balance and harmony throughout the land.
IG GUARA: For me, ROSE is fantasy, but dark fantasy! The world is oppressed, filthy, and cruel. Most people have give up hope, some have allied with the dark forces, and I try to convey that in the design of the world. Cities are crumbling, people are weird and suspicious, and even the heroes are a little shady. In addition to that, I try to add a little more reality to the drawings. As someone who has played role-playing games and Magic the Gathering for many years, it really is a blast to create such a world!
STONE: The Guardians used to work with the mythical Khatz to defend the kingdom from tyranny. What are the Khatz? Can you tease what led to their disappearance?
MEREDITH FINCH: The Khatz are amplified versions of wildcats. I really love the sense of mystery and independence that even our domesticated house cats have about them, and those characteristics are only amplified in their feral cousins. The Khatz are wild, magical creatures who have chosen to bond with humans, but they are equal partners and very much have their own personalities and priorities.
Throughout the ages, writers and storytellers have explored the juxtaposition of forces vying for power, and this story is no exception. Just as the Khatz are a part of the forces working to maintain balance and harmony, there are other entities and forces that want discord and instability. We are going to find out more about these forces as the story progresses, but I think it is safe to say that something or someone dark has had a hand in the disappearance of the Khatz.
GUARA: All I can say is that they are SUPER fun to draw. Each one has its own personality!
STONE: How has growing up in a world of persecution informed Rose's motivations?
FINCH: It was my intention within the story to create almost a microclimate that exists around Rose because of her powers. In issue one, we see that where she lives still has running water and greenery. Because of this, and because she has lived a very sheltered and protected life, she has been able to maintain a sense of wonder and innocence about the world. It also shapes her reaction to events, because the dark things that happen are much more of an affront to her sense of justice and how the world should work in a way that other people within the kingdom wouldn't experience. It's very much the frog in boiling water analogy in action. The rest of the kingdom has had time to acclimate to the horrors around it, but Rose is being dropped in all at once.
GUARA: Rose is the light in a dark world, at least that is how I try to draw her. Although a little naive, she is determined, courageous, and strong. She is becoming an adult and learning how to deal with her own emotions, and all that appears in her design, poses, and appearance! It is cool to show a character growing over time, and the visual changes that go with it.
STONE: While there are dark undertones from the outset of the story, there is still a sense of wonder and awe inspired by the magic within. How do you manage that balance when writing and drawing the story?
GUARA: There are some things I try to do. First, there is how I depict the magic and the action! Also, I try to show that this world was once beautiful by showing the ruins, big castles, and strong people that remain. Of course, we have the main characters—Rose, Thorne, and Drucilla—they are all extraordinary!
FINCH: Again, I really wanted to create an environment where it was possible for Rose to view the world in a much more open-hearted way than the people around her. I think we all know people who just seem to be born with a sense of innocence and optimism. I wanted that for Rose.
Speaking of the art side of the book, Ig Guara is a genius, and he has really brought the openness and innocence I envisioned for Rose to life on the page. His ability to create a character that is both expressively fierce and innocent is incredible. Beyond Rose, Ig has given each of the main characters such a unique sense of identity, and they have a charm and charisma that has really brought the book to life for me in a way that I couldn't have predicted. Both he and Triona Farrell, the colorist, have actualized Rose and her world in a way that far exceeded my expectations. Triona has the most incredible sense of light. We talked early on about creating a subtle sense of vitality and freshness around Rose in contrast to the other characters through the color palette. What she has been able to achieve is breathtaking.
SAM: The dark forces in power seem to have their own connection to the world of magic. Will we see how this relates to the Guardians and Khatz?
FINCH: Just as the powers of the Guardians and the Khatz are linked to virtues, the magics used by the dark forces in power are linked to the levels of depravity to which a soul can sink. We get our first real hint of exactly what that entails in issue four.
SAM: Visually, there are shades of Game of Thrones and other fantasy classics. What are some of the influences and inspirations behind ROSE, from both the writing and art perspectives?
FINCH: I have loved fantasy fiction since I was a young girl. My grandmother was always buying me books, and she first exposed me to the genre with C.S. Lewis's Narnia series. It was an easy transition to Anne McCaffrey and David Eddings, and by then I was hooked. I definitely feel that the connection and bond between the Khatz and their Guardians is heavily influenced by my love of the Dragonriders of Pern series.
GUARA: In terms of art, I can say I love the Lord of the Rings, Vikings, RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, and Legend of the Five Rings, plus a touch of Magic the Gathering and some Mad Max too!
IC: Ever since the disappearance of the Khatz and purge of the Guardians, the land appears to have become more desolate. Is there a connection between that magic and the lifeblood of the kingdom?
FINCH: Unquestionably the magic and the lifeblood of the kingdom are inextricably linked.
SAM: Meredith, your work on Wonder Woman and The Little Mermaid also featured young protagonists trying to find themselves. What is it about questions of identity that you find intriguing enough to explore in your stories?
FINCH: I constantly find myself drawn to the question of identity because it's so universal. I can't think of a time in my life when I wasn't questioning who I was and what was important to me. As I have gotten older and my life has gotten more complex, it's about looking at how that has evolved over time. Ultimately, it is the question for which the answer is always changing because our lives and the events that shape us are always changing too.
ROSE #1 is available for preorder now and debuts 4/12.
Sam Stone is a columnist and translator for Image Comics living in the D.C.-area. He is one of the foremost experts on the work of Shigeru Miyamoto. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @samstoneshow.