It’s a world where the Catholic Church has become the dominant political power with an army of giant mech armors to enforce their status at the top of the food chain, battling vampires who roam freely in their own mech armor — the world of “Shadowlaw.” Created by “Thundercats” writer Brandon Easton, “Shadowlaw” follows the journey of Mech Battle Suit pilot Rictor Caesaro as he finds himself caught in an incredible conspiracy that could change the entire political structure of his world. In development for years and featuring a number of rotating artists, Easton’s “Shadowlaw” will finally become a reality in November as a original graphic novel published by Arcana Studios.
CBR News spoke with Easton about “Shadowlaw,” his main character Rictor Caesaro, the origins and long development time of the book while also sharing a few pieces of information about the currently airing “Thundercats” reboot.
CBR News: Brandon, tell us about “Shadowlaw” — what’s the general concept of the book?
Brandon Easton: “Shadowlaw” takes place a few centuries from now, where the Catholic Church is the dominant global political body. The government is a theocratic technocracy and they maintain military dominance through the use of their giant mech armors. Our story opens as that society is on the verge of political revolution, and because of a series of events, the biggest secret in their history will be unveiled. There was a global war in their past that resulted in a dark deal with some truly evil beings.
Let’s take things back to the beginning: how did “Shadowlaw” come to be? What’s the origin of the story itself and how has it developed over time?
I originally wrote this as a screenplay treatment back in 1996 as an undergrad at Ithaca College. I showed it to a few friends of mine and they hated it, so I put it away for about eight years. [Laughs] The original story was a Blade Runner meets the Lost Boys chase adventure through a post-apocalyptic landscape. The characters were searching for a bunch of artifacts they could use to kill the main vampire — much like how Harry Potter and his buddies search for the Horcruxes to dispatch Voldemort.
Ultimately, I realized that the story didn’t work because it felt forced and derivative of all of my literary and cinematic influences. I rediscovered the concept in early 2004 while cleaning out a box of old paperwork from college. I sat down, examined a few of the core elements and decided to up the ante with the world design and concept. I realized it needed to become a more personal story instead of a standard chase narrative. I wanted to do something that hasn’t been done in a sci-fi story in a very long time, and that was having it be set in a swamp. It would have been “easy” to use the typical mega-city Blade Runner visuals to reflect that universe, but by moving it into a more natural environment, it created another set of visual possibilities.
The main character is Rictor Caesaro, a Mech Battle Suit pilot. Who is he and what is his role in this world you’ve created?
Rictor is a man whose parents were killed by government troops during what was believed to have been a botched raid. He was eventually adopted by the Chancellor of the New Earth Alliance (NEA). In a bizarre twist, Rictor would be indoctrinated in the ways of the people who murdered his parents and later finds himself in a similar situation at the beginning of the book. Rictor ends up in a hellish situation and begins to discover that much of his life has been subtly manipulated for a specific purpose.
Besides Rictor, are there any other characters the story focuses on? How do they interact with each other and what is their eventual goal?
One of my favorite characters is Coronados, who is the warden of the “Sanctuary District” — that’s what the NEA calls their concentration camps. Coronados is a key character for many reasons that I won’t get into now, but he serves as a guide for Rictor when he first gets to the Sanctuary District. He helps Rictor understand the real history behind the establishment of the NEA.
The world you’ve created for “Shadowlaw” contains a number of different monsters — what are some of the adversaries readers can expect the characters to go up against?
Trin Shoa is the name of the main villain in the book. He spends most of the time in the shadows, but his influence is felt the moment Rictor arrives in the camp. The Vampire Troopers are some of my favorite creatures ever. The story’s first artist, Scott Kester, deserves one-hundred percent of the credit for the “Vampire-Mech” design concepts. When we first met, I told him what I wanted to see and he surpassed my expectations in every way possible. You’re going to see some interesting stuff in terms of mech design, as well. The final battle sequence has some cool mech action scenes.
“Shadowlaw” is a little unique in that you’ve got a number of artists working on the pages. Who are the artists and how well did they ultimately come together to create a cohesive visual style for your story?
I never wanted there to be multiple artists on the project. I actually hired and fired about eight different artists along the way, easily losing ten thousand bucks in the process. But it wasn’t the wasted money that bothered me the most; it was the loss of time. This series was supposed to have been published back in 2007-08, and month after month would go by without pages being completed and it drove me insane. There were retailers, Hollywood producers, friends, family and fans that I developed over the years at the conventions who were all waiting for the book to hit the marketplace. Scott Kester, who did all the art for the first chapter of the graphic novel, had to back out of the project for a variety of reasons which I completely understood. My problem was that two years had gone by the time he had let me know he couldn’t complete the series, and it would have been great to have known that at least a year earlier.
Afterwards, there was an eighteen-month period of hiring and firing art teams. None of them were “bad” people — they just couldn’t do the work, or were lazy, or believed that there was a “better” series out there that would offer greater prestige. What’s interesting is that none of those guys have turned up doing anything else, since.
Eventually I hired a guy by the name of Ryo Kawakami who had worked on the “World of Warcraft: Mage” graphic novel and he was amazing. Not only was he fast, but he “got” the visual sense of the story without much prodding from me. Ryo is immensely talented and I’m not just saying that because he was the savior of “Shadowlaw!” [Laughs]
As a writer, what aspect of developing “Shadowlaw” has proven to be the most fun?
Taking all the elements from all the shows, books and movies that I loved as a kid and merging them into my story. I love giant robots, mechs, armor suits; I’m a huge fan of Transformers, Voltron, Robotech, Gundam, Macross, Escaflowne and all those 1970s-era super robot anime shows from Japan. There’s no better feeling for a writer than to see their universe begin to take shape. I remember when I first conceived of the “Shadowlaw” world all those years ago and everything was a distant, abstract concept. Now, to have it be a finished product is an indescribable emotion. It’s a mixture of pride, accomplishment, determination, joy and confidence.
In addition to “Shadowlaw,” you’re also working on Cartoon Network’s “Thundercats” reboot. What aspects of the show has it been the most fun to work on?
I got the chance to write episode #24 of the series, setting up the two-part season finale. I believe the title of the episode is “The Silicon Soul” and it was an incredible experience. To work with Dan Norton (art director), Todd Casey (writer) and Michael Jelenic (producer) was like a dream come true because those dudes worked on a lot of my favorite animated series. Seeing the internal side of a major animation production changes the way you view the business. I haven’t lost any of my zeal as a fan of animation, but working as a creator alters your perception of the final product. I used to be relentlessly critical of shows I liked because I always felt they “held back” on certain themes and concepts, but now I see that there are many different factors in play, from advertisers, to ratings boards, to the whims of toy manufacturers and the ever-shifting demands from the large pool of producers. It’s mind-blowing.
Is there anything on the show that longtime fans should be looking out for?
I am sworn to secrecy on many things regarding “Thundercats,” but I will say this: fans of the original series need to understand that it’s not 1987 anymore. There are new technologies, a new generation of children who are unaware of the first show, and a kind of sophistication that wasn’t around when the latchkey generation ran home from school every day. If the old-school fans give it a chance, I truly believe that they’ll be surprised by some of the incredibly cool reinterpretations of classic storylines, and I know they’ll be blown away by the set pieces and action sequences. It’s a matter of understanding that it’s time to “share” our passions with another generation of kids sorely in need of great stories and adventures.