Some creative teams just can’t get enough of each other. That seems to be the case with “Witchblade” and “Artifacts” collaborators Ron Marz and Stjepan Sejic who have worked together for the past several years. While they’re each still working on their own corners of the Top Cow U — Marz still writes “Artifacts” and Sejic is moving from that book to “Aphrodite IX” — the duo will continue to make dynamic sequential stories with a series of original graphic novels called “Ravine.”
Sejic’s brainchild, “Ravine” is an epic fantasy story packed with dragons, warring factions, kings, intrigue and the kind of characters that will keep readers coming back for more. Instead of going the traditional monthly comic route, the plan is to produce several 160-page (or longer) OGNs a year to further the story. In their past collaborations Marz has written the stories and Sejic has drawn them, but with “Ravine” they are mixing things up — Sejic will handle the bulk of the heavy lifting creatively as writer/artist and Marz will back him up as co-writer and scripter.
CBR News spoke with Sejic and Marz about their new creative dynamic, the fantastic world of Palladia and how the duo decided to work on yet another project together.
CBR News: You two have worked together quite a bit on various Top Cow books. Did conversations for “Ravine” flow from that?
Ron Marz: Truthfully, I’m not even sure when Stjepan told me about “Ravine,” because it seems like I’ve known about it forever. It’s just something we knew we were going to be working on together. I think we figured out quite a while ago that we have the same sensibilities and influences, so this is a natural fit.
Stjepan Sejic: “Ravine” has been my pet project in development for 11 years. For most of the time I was searching for a stylistic approach to the artwork, as far as the story goes. Its base was always around, and after some point remained relatively unchanged. It was about four to five years ago I first mentioned the possibility of cooperation to Ron. We had been working together on “Witchblade” for a while, and alongside the nice cooperation, we had a nice little friendship going on. I guess the real push for me was the first time I had a trade that contained Ron’s work on [the Crossgen series] “Sojourn.” That was when I realized that he had the same view on fantasy comics as I did.
How is the collaborative process on “Ravine” different from that of “Witchblade” or “Artifacts?”
Sejic: My one great desire was to make a great fantasy comic, one that would contain a believable world and believable characters. That part was never really the problem. The true problem was the fact that no matter how eloquent I may be in my use of English language, a translated thought is just that. Dialogue suffered from inherent stiffness, clunky sentence structures and often butchered grammar. Initially I approached Ron to help me with a rewrite of the dialogue. But it, of course, evolved beyond that initial intention. Being a well experienced writer, Ron became both a co-writer, adviser and editor, often pointing out any and all plot holes which, in a complex layered story, will always pop out. My old man taught me, in life you focus on what you do best, if someone can do something better, ask for their help. And Ron has a way with character dialogue where he takes the information I need in it and then he makes it amazing.
Marz: With “Ravine,” this is really Stjepan’s story and I’m collaborating with him to bring it to life. “Ravine” is definitely a creator-owned project. On things like “Witchblade” or “Artifacts,” which are work-for-hire projects, we’re playing with somebody else’s toys. Top Cow gives us a great deal of freedom on those projects, and it’s a lot of fun, but it’s still different than creating something from scratch. On a traditional Top Cow book, we’ll kick around ideas for the story, I write the script and Stjepan draws it. With “Ravine,” he paces it out and draws it, and then I’m coming in and giving my two cents and writing the dialogue.
Tell us a little bit about the world of Palladia. How does the actual ravine come into play?
Marz: The ravine itself is the result of the use of magic in the past. The world is pretty fully-realized. Stjepan’s been honing story for years, and has been crafting the details and the history of the place. There’s more back story than we’ll ever have room to reveal.
Sejic: Ravine is the name of the continent this story takes place on. Back in the old days, the continent was named Harrak, or “the center,” but an event happened that changed the fate of the world. In the northern regions of what is now the Saradrion Empire, through the ravine now known as Aertes’ Cleave, dragons, eani and many other creatures fled into the world of Harrak. This event changed the world so vastly that over time people started referring to continent of Harrak as Ravine, or sometimes Scar.
Palladia is the central city of the alliance. United kingdoms were initially formed to oppose the force of Necryte Varda. Now, for the last two hundred and twelve years, the alliance has prospered in the age of peace which seems to be nearing its end.
The alliance stands inherently divided, more and more people turn away from kings and lords and stand by Azhi Damanul a mysterious sealed god under mount Palladron. His presence has brought bliss to Palladia but over time has started a power struggle between King Godwyn of Palladia, and Rimad Gregorius of Damanulite faith, Melchial Asheri.
Focused on their own power struggles, lords have underestimated the rising threat that is attacking the strategic points of Palladia. Dragons grow restless, mists are gathering and whisperers whisper. It seems that times of great turmoil are ahead, and it is at these times that fate chooses its champions. The wanderers.
Stjepan, you mentioned that “Ravine” has been in the works for more than a decade. What originally inspired this tale?
Sejic: “Ravine” originated from my desire to make a fantasy comic series that was a full blooded fantasy tale with rich character development, layered, well-motivated villains, and a deeply detailed world. And that takes time.
How did you guys come to the decision to do “Ravine” as a series of graphic novels instead of standard 20-odd-page issues? Are there particular risks or challenges that come from this format you’ve had to deal with?
Sejic: That is a simple one. We felt that the format of 20 pages with forced cliffhangers would do the story flow a great disservice. Graphic novel format offers more room for character moments and a story build-up. Since “Ravine” is not a simple quest story of the go-fetch type, it required a different approach.
Marz: I think the biggest reason we’re doing it as a series of original graphic novels is that Stjepan has so much art finished already. He’s not producing this issue by issue, he’s producing it graphic novel by graphic novel. There are honestly reasons to do this as single issues first, financial reasons. We probably have a better chance of turning a profit by doing single issues and then a collected edition. But this story kind of demands to be told in large chunks. We want this first release to be read as one big story, not serialized, so we’re going straight to the collection. It’s a bigger risk this way, but I think there’s a bigger reward creatively.
Do you have a certain number of graphic novels you’re aiming for or is it open ended at this point?
Marz: Every time we talk about it, Stjepan gives me a bigger number than the last time we talked about it. If all goes as planned, I think we’re looking at nine or ten volumes. But check back with me in a week, it’ll probably be a dozen.
Sejic: The initial first story is twelve issues long. One issue every four months. If people like it and sales justify it, then of course we can move on to a five-issue miniseries that would show, in-depth, Nebezial’s story, something that will be explained sufficiently in the first story, but there is a vast difference between expositing and storytelling, and this story is also already worked out.
And then if there is still interest, then we kick off the final twelve-issue arc. Of course, it is quite obvious that these plans are tentative at best and stand on a foundation built of many ifs. But what can I say, Ron and I are storytellers at heart. We have no delusions of getting rich with this project, but we hope people give it a chance. It truly is a labor of love.
The first 160-page “Ravine” original graphic novel by Stjepan Sejic and Ron Marz debuts from Top Cow on Feb. 13. For a deeper look at the characters of “Ravine,” visit CBR News in early February when we’ll discuss them with Sejic in more detail.