Since Simon Roy’s comic book debut in 2009, the artist has shown a knack for infusing pulpy stories with deeply weird world-building, from the far-future adventures of “Prophet” to his newest tale about a questing shaman in the Ice Age.
While many first took notice of Roy’s European-inspired art on the Conan-In-Space re-launch of “Prophet,” the artist — who hails from Victoria, B.C. — has shown impressive range. From his eclectic collection of comics on the Study Group site featuring talking animals, alien barfights and a bromance on a deserted island between a guy and a gorilla, to his debut indie sci-fi book from New Reliable Press, “Jan’s Atomic Heart,” a grounded science fiction tale with lo-fi terrorist robots.
Most recently, Roy completed his first solo issue of “Prophet” and a three-part story set to debut in “Dark Horse Presents.” Roy spoke with CBR News about both projects, how the unique collaboration on “Prophet” works, his love of speculative zoology and more.
CBR News: How did you hook up with Brandon Graham on “Prophet,” and what were your first thoughts when you were approached to work on the book?
Simon Roy: I’ve been friends with Brandon since 2009, when we met at the launch party for “Jan’s Atomic Heart” in Vancouver. We got to talking, and found we shared some similar tastes and aesthetic concerns when it came to sci-fi and comics, so we stayed in touch.
When Brandon came to me with “Prophet,” we immediately clicked onto the “Conan” potentialities of a cryogenically frozen super-soldier. What if he’s been frozen way too long past his due date? What would his far-future Earth look like? Would there be swashbuckling and aliens? I’m a huge fan of both pulp serialized adventure stories and “speculative zoology,” like the weirdo work of Dougal Dixon and others. So the chance to have free reign combining the two seemed too good to be true.
There are at least four of you working on the Image Comics/Extreme series. Can you break down how the Team Prophet collaboration works? Has your role changed since it launched last year?
Well, my role is pretty fluid on all this. When we started working on the first “Prophet” issues back in summer of 2011, it was extremely collaborative — we came up with the story beats of the issue, passing layouts and character designs back and forth — Brandon did a good post on the ideal collaborative process at Warren Ellis’ site.
At this point, when I’m not drawing, my role is generally a more editorial one. First, Brandon and I will talk through theÂ overall plotting and story stuff, before the drawing starts.Â Once the drawings are all done and it’s time to nail down the narration, Brandon will send over the script and I’ll pick at it, cutting and adding where I feel is necessary. By now,Â the collaborative layouts we did for the first few issues are too time-consuming with the monthly schedule, so now Brandon does the real heavy lifting (of storytelling) and lays out most of each issue himself. Now, back in the artistic role, having the pages already laid out really frees me up to enjoy drawing all the weirdo stuff in-issue.
Also, having Joseph Bergin III on board is awesome. He’s an immensely flexible, talented guy. He’s been doing very flat, almost European-style colors on Giannis [Milonogiannis]’ issues, but when it came time for coloring my work, he seamlessly switched up his style towards the more realistic, lighting-driven color I want on my stuff. The tough part for him will be on some of the upcoming issues where both Giannis and myself will be putting art into…
Have you started working on those issues yet? And how much of a jam comic willÂ it be between Giannis and you?
Well, aside from some panel crossover, we’re treating the two narratives asÂ separateÂ for the moment. It’s not a “jam” comic so much as it’s the first of several issues where both the “Earth Empire” and “Old Man Prophet” storylines will be sharing space in the same issue. The idea is to make both denser issues and start showing how these two storylines affect one another.
“Prophet” #32 was a solo affair for you — with the exception of Ed Brisson’s letters — and it introduced John Ka, a lady Prophet. Was this a character you created, and why is it important for you do this issue solo?
Mainly to go back to those aforementioned pulp serial roots and do something that I’d like to see: a nice concise, self-contained, and most of all accessible single issue.Â But as you can see from the development sketches I posted for the issue, John Ka herself was kind of secondary to that — it just had to be any Prophet clone. Part of the fun of working on the “Earth Empire” part of Prophet is putting together a society that is at once equally post-gender, cartoonishly barbarian and high-biotech, and seeing if it works.
But in terms of reasons to do the issue solo, part of the motivation was to just put something entirely my own out there.
Currently the comics conversation is very writer-dominated, andÂ even though I’m a bit more intimately involved in writing “Prophet,” doing issue this was kind of an effort to push against that and stand on my own a bit.
John Ka’s brain-fly was another great, messed-up creature in a book consistently full of weirdo alien life, and you mentioned your interest in speculative zoology. Have you guys designed any creatures that you felt you went too far? Do you have a favorite?
Hmm. That’s a good question. I don’t think any of our critters went “too far” at all, even taking into account the vagina/onion/chicken monster from issue #21. They are aliens, after all, so the critters probably don’t go far enough. The levels of mollusk, creepy deep-sea fish, and cnidarian-inspired aliens in “Prophet” are far too low for that. However, if I had to choose a favorite, it might be the Mold People from issue #21. Eusociality and the caste systems that go along with it are endlessly fascinating to me, so trying to design a blind termite-esque society around larger creatures was particularly fun.
It’s been interesting to see the way you guys bring the Extreme characters into the story. Which ones have you had the most fun bringing back?
Well, the one I was most looking forward to was bringing back the dead Supreme as a power source. Honestly, though, that’s more Brandon’s thing. I wasn’t a comics reader in the early ’90s, being a small kid and all, so I don’t feel particularly connected to the old Extreme characters.
You also have a story set to debut in “Dark Horse Presents #21.” What can you tell us about it?
Well, it’s a short story about an ice-age shaman [named Tiger Lung] who is forced to descend below a huge glacier — and thus into the spirit world — to save the soul of his father.
It’s based off of a concept I’ve been working on since 2010 or so, but this particular three-part story was co-written with my friend Jason Wordie, who’s also doing a bang-up job of colors on it. We’ve been working on this for almost a year now, so I’m really looking forward to finally seeing it in print.
The Tiger Lung concept sounds like a 180-turn from “Prophet,” with it taking place in the far, far past. Looking at your other work, on the surface, it’s an eclectic mix. “Jan’s Atomic Heart” was a grounded lo-fi sci-fi story, and then your stories on Study Group vary in tone and genre, from talking animals to alien bar fights. Do you see a through-line for the type of stories that attract you as an artist?
I’m not sure if there is a clear through-line, in all honesty. As a creator there’s always that tensionÂ between making and imitating theÂ stories you enjoy, exploring the concepts and issues important to you, and doing what comes naturally (in terms of visuals, story and/or character). It seems very easy, particularly in comics, for writers and artists to fall into that imitative space — where original concepts read more as thinly veiled fan fiction then anything else. While I understand that approach, I’d rather try and achieve some sort of synthesis between these competing concerns and make something distinctly my own — especially if it’s eclectic.
“Shipwrecked with Dan Gorilla” might have surprised people that have only seen your sci-fi work. Where did the idea do to a surreal and sad story about a man, a gorilla and a deserted island come from?
I’m not exactly sure where it came from, actually, but I have a few ideas. There’s a book called “Ishmael” about an intelligent gorilla who takes on human philosophical students that I read in the year before “Shipwrecked”, which I’m sure that played into it. There was also this sketch, (sort of a throw-away idea for a T-shirt) that I drew around the same time, too, so the inter-species bromance angle was already well established.Â Of course, I did both “Jan’s” and “Shipwrecked” stories, in part, about the distance between friends, in my first year living away from both home and hometown — which is definitely indicative of something.
Who are some of the creatives that inspire you no matter what project you’re working on? Are they mostly comic creators, or are there authors, filmmakers, artists that fuel your creativity, too?
Well, sci-fi writers like Philip K. Dick, Jack Vance, Charles Stross, Bruce Sterling, and William Gibson have been a tremendous source of creative fuel, not to mention the creative teams on the “Savage Sword of Conan” and “Kull the Conqueror” comics that Marvel produced back in the ’70s. I grew up reading the tattered “Conan,” “Kull” and “Carson of Venus” comics that my father had kept from his own childhood, and I still feel a bit of a thrill re-reading the old issues I connected with as a little kid.
But Bill Watterson, the creator of “Calvin and Hobbes,” is the one artist I feel the most inspired by. I’ve been re-reading the same strips my whole life and yet they never seem to get old.
Is there anything else you’re working on?
Well, aside from “Prophet” and freelance illustration work, I’ve also been working with a local Victoria writer named David Gaffney on a new project called “Pilgrim.” It’s a sort of supernatural spaghetti western set during the crusades, but that’s not giving it the credit it’s due.
“Tiger Lung: Under The Ice” debuted in Dark Horse Presents #21, on sale now, and the “Pilgrim” ashcan will debut at Emerald City Comicon.