Josh: In your words, tell us what Spera is about?
Spera is about two princesses – Lono and Pira – caught in the middle of a war between their two kingdoms, and deciding the best course of action is to escape to the series’ titular land. They do so with the help of a fire spirit – Yonder – who takes the forms of an old, red-bearded adventurer and flaming dog. The (evil, evil) mother of one of the princesses is after them all the while.
The first book is essentially about escapism – the why and how we escape from our problems through entertainment and fantasies, and how these are only temporary solutions at best.
Spera is also about collaboration, and how everyone sees things differently. Many, many artists are involved with Spera, and there is a certain joy in making something with a large group that I hope comes across in the pages. Each artist is chosen for their unique style and thus their ability to show the world of Spera in a way that’s different from the others. I do believe it’s true that everyone sees the world differently, and I find all these different styles of art to be proof of that.
Josh: What are the major differences between the webcomic and the book?
The most immediate differences are those inherent to the mediums themselves. With a webcomic, for example, there are no real limitations, as HTML can be added to indefinitely. Many of the sections in the original online collaboration take advantage of this by having long comics that scroll vertically and horizontally in a way that cannot be easily printed. This kind of mindset led to the original collaboration being very experimental.
The book series is more accessible, with pages conforming to the dimensions of the book and fewer artists telling the main story. The original online collaboration had over 40 artists illustrating the main story, switching every few pages, while the book has four artists, with one for each 20-page part. We wanted to maintain the sense of collaboration while making the story more readable, especially for those new to Spera.
Josh: How did you come up with the idea of having a global collaboration?
I’ve been collaborating with artists through my personal prose site since 2004. At first it was only with close friends, but as I continued to work on the site I sought out more and more artists, usually finding them through deviantART. My first two online novellas, forming The Untitled Saga of Hana, were the first large-scale collaborations I worked on, and it is through these that I really branched out beyond North American artists. I realised more and more just how much is possible thanks to the internet – I can get in touch with an artist in Germany, discuss the project with them in detail and have a story/art collaboration go online within a month. The world is truly at our fingertips and it continues to inspire awe in me to this day.
The key to the prose site, as with Spera, was for artists to depict how they viewed the worlds and characters in the stories through their own eyes/styles, adding to these stories in the process. When I started Spera, it was as an expansion of what I was doing with The Untitled Saga of Hana and Radar Doesn’t Believe in the Supernatural. I desired to work with as many people from around the world as possible, and to involve them in the story in a way that furthered the sense of collaboration. The answer was to do it as a comic.
Josh: You have a number of artists drawing for this book, could you tell us how they became involved with this project?
The main story artists for the first book are Kyla Vanderklugt, Hwei, Emily Carroll and Olivier Pichard, with the character designs and cover art by Afu Chan
Kyla has been involved with Spera since the original online collaboration and continues to be a big part of the project. At this point Kyla knows the characters as well as I do, and so she was a perfect fit for the first part of Spera.
Hwei started on Spera with a pin-up for the website, and so was originally familiar with and supportive of the project. She has a light, airy, elegant style that carries into her storytelling, and after seeing samples of her comics online I knew we needed her in the book. She illustrates the journey sequence in Spera, where Yonder soars over hills, and you can really feel the rush of wind in her art.
With Emily Carroll, it was because I liked her taste in videogames. I actually saw her fanart for games like Bayonetta and Mass Effect before I saw His Face All Red, but it was through her fanart that I found her webcomics. Her love of fairy tale-style storytelling – filled as it is with cryptic elements – matched my own, and her love of subtle horror has helped make the creepiest moment in Spera: Volume I pretty dang creepy.
I’ve been collaborating with Olivier since The Untitled Saga of Hana, and we share a love of absurdism that’s extended to everything we’ve done so far. His watercoloured pages bring a distinctive bande dessinée look to Spera, and help bring to life the earthy atmosphere of the stay at Sana’s farm in the first book.
I first came into contact with Afu Chan on deviantART, where he was doing things with colour and line weight that I just wasn’t seeing anywhere else. This was again during The Untitled Saga of Hana, which I should mention started in the summer of 2007. Afu Chan illustrated the first piece for Hana, which was then used as the cover for the self-published book, and we’ve since formed a bit of a team together. Afu is basically the face of Spera, having designed all of the characters used in the book in addition to creating all the cover art.
Kyla is from my home province of Ontario, Hwei is from Malaysia, Emily from British Columbia, Olivier from France and Afu from San Leandro. Again, this book would not have been possible without the internet, where I first came to know all of them.
The book also features self-contained comics by Jordyn F. Bochon, Cécile Brun, Luke Pearson, Leela Wagner and Matt Marblo, along with pin-ups by Don Cocor, Paul Maybury, Jack Teagle, Leela Wagner, Sam Beck and Gigi Digi. I count myself extremely lucky to have so many talented creators in one book, and I believe readers who pick it up will feel the same way.
Kyla: How did you first get involved with the project?
I saw Julia Scott’s pages for the original web comic and got in touch with her to tell her how amazing they are, and she pointed me to Spera and suggested I join the project as well. I had never made comics before, but I thought I might want to, so I contacted Josh and asked if I could draw some pages.
Kyla: I’ve read one of your previous works, Riddle, and saw a few parallels with Spera. Did this help coming into the title?
I actually started working on Spera months before Riddle, but because of how the timing has worked out with the publication of Spera, Riddle was printed first, in the final Flight anthology. Both are fantasy stories, and that’s really what drew me to Spera and let me settle into the story and characters; I love the fantasy genre, and girls with swords and big flaming dogs are just the kinds of things I like to draw.
Kyla: What are your influences for your art style?
Probably everything I look at influences me in some way, big or small. I’m pretty easily influenced. I grew up with a lot of Disney, Ghibli and bandes dessinées, but I also spent a lot of time trying to perfect a Robert Bateman-esque photorealism so I could paint my pets (I can’t tell you how far short of the mark I fell). When I was drawing Spera I remember looking at a lot of Taiyo Matsumoto, Kay Nielsen and Persian miniature paintings. I don’t know how much they influenced me - some, I hope - but they sure did inspire me.
Josh and Kyla: What do you two recommend for people who are interested in getting into comics, especially in joint partnership like yourselves?
Josh: First I’d like to make a suggestion to aspiring writers: have the strength to see everything through to the end. I think it’s the only way to improve. If you keep writing beginnings, you’ll get good at beginnings but not anything else. If you’re writing an opening to a story, and you know it sucks, just keep going – perhaps you’ll come up with something in the middle or end that’ll surprise you, and that you can use to rewrite the opening. At the same time you’ll ensure you’re evenly improving your handle on beginnings, middles and endings.
When you find an artist, it should be with someone who believes in what you’re doing – and you need to believe in what they’re doing as well. This is especially important in comics, as they involve a lot of time, effort, focus and patience, often with little-to-no money involved. Passion is a must.
Keep working at it, keep meeting new people, and soon enough you’ll be where you want to be.
Kyla: The passion and dedication definitely needs to be there for artists as well, whether you’re going it alone or working with someone else. Don’t go into comics expecting to make money, but if someone has asked you to draw for them, do expect to be paid. You don’t have to be mercenary; realise your partner’s goal is to make a great comic, not cheat you. But you have to be honest with yourself about how much time drawing a comic takes and whether you can afford that time if you won’t be compensated. It’s different if the project is your own brainchild, or a joint one, of course.
Josh: For readers who are enthusiastic fans of the first volume of Spera, are there other resources available or future works planned or in progress?
Josh: On Spera-Comic.com you can find the original collaboration, new online comics and info on upcoming graphic novels. We’ve also printed up special Spera comics to sell and give away at conventions like TCAF and NYCC. The Archaia site is another good source of info for things like signings and upcoming releases.
We’re currently working on the second book for Archaia, but I’d like to wait a bit before announcing which artists are involved.
Josh and Kyla: What advice would you give for someone who is looking to get into comics and publishing their work, in either digital or print format?
Josh: For both I’m going to go ahead and say networking, in person and online. If you’re going to a convention, talk to people – artists, writers, editors, publishers – about what you’re looking to do and what you’re trying to get into. People are going to listen to you, so make it count and make it memorable, and good things will come your way.
In terms of the internet, try to get on a few social networking sites – such as Twitter, Tumblr and deviantART – and get networking. Post your work, post about your work, get in touch with people and get to know people. Take notice of others and they’ll take notice of you. Quite a few of the published creators I know were found by publishers in this manner.
Kyla: I’d also say don’t be afraid to start small. You don’t have to thumbnail an entire graphic novel and have it accepted by a publisher to break into comics. I mean, you could, of course, but that seems pretty daunting to me, and you might be waiting a long time for your debut. Finishing a shorter comic - even something just a few pages long - can bolster your confidence, and you can share or sell it online so that people can see your work. And people seeing your work is what leads to opportunities!