Creator Interview: James Turner On The Warlord Of Io Graphic Novel

As many indie creators are well aware, getting your book published and onto the shelves of comic book stores is no easy feat these days.

James Turner, the Canadian comic artist behind Rex Libris and Nil: A Land Beyond Belief, knows the truth of this better than most.

When I spoke with him last year for the Fabler, the Ontario-based illustrator/artist had just recently received some disheartening news about his latest project, Warlord of Io.

Io was to be his latest miniseries, published by Slave Labor Graphics and starring a young galactic prince who wanted to be a rockstar but was instead saddled with an empire.

Diamond Comics Distributors, the primary distribution channel for comic book publishers in North America, declined to carry Io on grounds that it didn’t meet its new benchmark standards.

You see, last January DCD raised their advance sales order minimum by roughly another 2/3rds over what it previously was.  This spelled doom for indie creators trying to get a new product into distribution.

The first two issues of Warlord of Io, as well as a one-off special issue titled Warlord Of Io And Other Stories , were made available for digital download. Plans for the book were shelved.

DCD proved the insurmountable obstacle that would end Turner’s ambitions for making Warlord of Io available in comic shops across North America.

Warlord of Io

Fortunately for all of us, this Warlord wouldn’t be beaten so easily.

Turner pressed on, completing enough of Warlord of Io to assemble a 206 page graphic novel.

The Warlord of Io graphic novel is due out in July, and is presently being solicited in the May issue of Previews. It features a complete story about Zing (the unwilling Warlord) and his out-of-this-world companions.

I chatted with Turner about the new book, and the resulting interview is below:

KD: When we last spoke, the chances of Warlord of Io seeing a retailer release via Diamond Comics Distributors were looking pretty bleak. With that in mind, it must have been a fair-sized gamble for you to go on ahead and complete enough of Io to fill an entire graphic novel, on hopes that as a standalone full-sized release it will do better against the benchmark.

What made you decide that this was a gamble worth taking?

JT: I was already heavily invested in the project, and I figured that the higher price-point would make it a good bet for distribution. The higher the price, the fewer orders you need.

But if that didn’t work, I intended to put the whole thing up on the net. Either way it wasn’t going to just sit on my shelf. That kept me going.

KD: Why was it so important to you that you see this story release as a hard, physical copy? Why not just keep releasing the individual issues as purchasable digital downloads?

JT: While more people are reading online, most still want to read a hard copy, and the Warlord of Io digital issues simply did not sell in large numbers. Some people refuse to read comics online.

I also have an attachment to printed books that people who drink Pepsi may not share.

KD: Let’s talk about what exactly is going to be in the graphic novel. Will the first 2 issues presently available for digital download form the beginning of the tale? What about the W.o.I. & Other Stories one shot?

JT: The story begins with the one-shot. It goes on through the first 2 issues that are on the net, but I’ve altered them.

I took advantage of the cancellation to delete and add material, refine dialogue, enhance backgrounds, and generally polish it up.

Once I’d finished the whole work and gotten the ending ‘drawn’, I went back and pulled the rest of the book tighter together. It was all plotted out, but as you write, you discover, alter and add things. It’s harder to go back and ret-con elements if it’s the material already published in pamphlet form. After having some people read the first draft, I emphasized some elements more, and pulled other parts back.

Warlord of Io

KD: You’ve said that Warlord of Io is the breeziest work you’ve  done. Could you elaborate on that?

JT: Picasso apparently said that art is the elimination of the unnecessary.

I’m well known (infamous?) for text heavy work, particularly with the first few issues of Rex Libris. Well. It was about a librarian, after all. And the comics I read as a kid were much more text heavy than they are now. In any case, the density of the text alienated a lot of people.

And since these days we’re constantly bombarded by information (by magazines, newspapers, television, radio, film, games, email, ipods, etc) people are skimming more. They want the information delivered distilled. I can understand that.

KD: You mentioned in our last interview that accessibility was a big priority for you with this particular project. Now that the book’s completed, do you feel like you achieved what you set out to do on that front?

JT: I’d like to think so, but the verdict won’t be in until the book comes out in July. It’s a very tough market out there, and it doesn’t support idiosyncratic work as much as it did just a few years ago.

I don’t think Rex Libris would last two issues if it came out now. It helps if you have a natural, mass market sensibility.

KD: Just for fun, let’s rock the book description Mad Lib style. Fill in the blanks:

JT: I’d say…

Warlord of Io is like The Lion King crossed with Flash Gordon, dripping with a healthy portion of Star Wars and served with a side of Doctor Who.

Warlord of Io

KD: What are some of the highlights of what Io fans can look forward to as Zing’s adventure continues in the graphic novel?

JT: Imperial Ion Rock music, asteroid belt jungles, space battles, massive electrical storms and charged ion clouds teeming with plasmaforms, floating calciferous slabs the size of continents, megalomaniacal villains, and pirate treasure.

KD: The universe you’ve built with this story is, much like your other books, as distinguishable by its unique visual style as it is by its creatively curious language.

When you were making up names or phrases while you put together the book, (like for instance, “minnow suicide torpedoes”, “Moxy Comet”, or “Dak Wyr Plotka”) did they just pop into your head as you were writing or did you ever have to actually sit down and brainstorm some of the more fantastic stuff?

JT: A bit of both. Moxy Comet is meant to follow sci-fi and fantasy conventions. Combine ‘Moxy’ (or Flash, or Buck), which she has in abundance, with a ’space’ term, such as ‘Comet’ (or Skywalker or Starkiller. Maximillian Zing(Max Zing) follows the same lines. I wanted them silly but not too silly.

Minnow suicide torpedoes are named after their minnow crew, and are a reference to the TTA (Terran Trade Authority) books I read as a kid, which had an Alphan ship called the ‘Minnow’.

Dak is a term for general in Ionian; I wanted to have a few, not many, just a few, custom terms. Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs has hundreds like this, as do many other sci-fi books. You can really over do it, but in moderation I think it’s a fun (and funny) convention. So I added in a few terms that had the same sort of sound and feel as Burroughs.

He had his own units of measurement (haads, for example) and time for Mars, so I have Ions measure time by Tics and Tocs. Not different enough to be unrecognizable, but hey, it’s another planet so you have to rename ordinary things something else. Like hydrospanner instead of screwdriver, or visiscope instead of telescope.

Plotka is an acronym for Press Lots of Keys to Abort. Text messaging is going to have an effect on language, so I put in some texting abbreviations. I stripped some of them out of the final graphic novel, but there are still a few left.

Other names were just meant to be evocative of a similiar term, like Grymak and grime. Another sci-fi/fantasy convention.

Warlord of Io

KD: Is Warlord of Io: the graphic novel going to be Volume 1 of a larger series? Could you see yourself taking it beyond the current story that you’ve fleshed out for the book?

JT: Both. It can end with this volume, no problem. It’s got a good wrap up. I’d like to do a sequel, as there’s lots more stories to tell about Io, but if there’s no demand, well, no one is left hanging.

KD: How has the whole experience of getting Warlord of Io onto the shelves of comic book stores affected your perspective of Diamond Comics Distributors or about the distribution process for independent publishers in general?

JT: I think pamphlet comics are going to die off as far as independent publishers are concerned, except as promotional pieces distributed at cons for upcoming graphic novel collections. Otherwise, the big shift is to the internet for instalments.

DC and Marvel will keep them going for awhile yet, I imagine. They’re all about keeping IPs alive, and if they lose a bit of money on publishing pamphlets, so what? Their real revenue is in movies, toys, lunch boxes, tie-ins, and the like. The pamphlet helps keep the property in the public eye.

As far as graphic novels are concerned, the Direct Market is more friendly for small publishers (as comic book shops actually buy their work) than the big bookstores are (who can pulp the ones that don’t sell and not pay), so I hope it persists.

A big thanks to James for providing us with some lovely preview art from the forthcoming graphic novel. You can watch a trailer for Warlord of Io below: (In case you’re curious, the appropriately cinematic voice of the narrator does in fact belong to James Turner himself.)

For more from James, you can check out his website at jtillustration.com.

-Interview by Kevin de Vlaming

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  1. By Canadian Comics – The Fabler Blog on August 25, 2010 at 9:57 am

    [...] James Turner (on the Warlord of Io graphic novel) [...]

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