Amala's Blade: Steampunk, pirates, and the Dalai Lama

The mythic world of Steve Horton and Michael Dialynas's Amala's Blade is divided into two warring groups: Modifiers, who use technology to improve their bodies and eliminate defects, and Purifiers, who eschew such modification. Amala, a young girl, is chosen to become the new leader of their country and to bring the two tribes together, but when strangers arrive at her house to bring the news, she flees into the night and joins a band of assassins instead.

Amala's Blade will run as a three-part series in Dark Horse Presents, starting with issue #9 (on sale in February). The series kicks off with a battle of wits and weapons between Amala and a pirate captain. I was intrigued by the premise, so I asked Horton and Dialynas to explain where they got the idea for Amala and where they are hoping to take it; Dialynas also shared some of the concept art.

Robot 6: Let's start with the elevator pitch: What is Amala's Blade about, and how is it different from all other adventure/steampunk comics?

Steve: Amala's Blade is about a girl picked at age 8 as a spiritual leader, raised by the state to stop civil war between two halves of the same country. She runs away instead, is kidnapped, and ignites 20 years of war. Recruited into a sword orphan cult instead, she's trained as an assassin, and now she's the sole surviving member. Making her way as a killer for the unscrupulous Vizier, her past is catching up with her in a hurry. To be honest, there aren't a whole lot of adventure/steampunk books out there, and there's certainly nothing at all like Amala. I wanted to do it because it was different, fun, and had exactly the right artist in Michael Dialynas. Robot 6: Steve, what is your inspiration for this story? Are you a longtime steampunk/sci fi fan?

Steve: Michael and I are mashing together our favorite influences like a mash-up album and what's coming out is entirely new. Our influences here are Moebius and Miyazaki, which can be seen in the two warring factions: the Miyazaki-influenced Purifiers, who eschew technology in favor of what they can build themselves, and the Moebius-influenced Modifiers, who implant bulky but high-tech implants throughout their bodies. Other than the overt influences, though, Amala's Blade strives to be as original as possible, and I think we've succeeded. Robot 6: The contrast between modifiers and the purifiers is an interesting commentary on environmentalism and technology. Where did you get the idea for that?

Steve: The original inspiration for Amala was reading an article on the Dalai Lama and how a new one was picked. Then, I thought about how a futuristic civil war would look like where such a leader would be needed. A division over technology seemed like the next logical step. Robot 6: Michael, what were your visual inspirations?

Michael: Well Miyazaki and Moebius have been the visual compass on Amala; I remember when Steve mentioned what he would like the comic to look like in one of our first emails and I can say there was a moment where I high-fived the screen. I have a nice section in my nearest bookcase with all the Incal and Nausicaa which have been out on my desk since we first started.

But yeah, I used a lot of Moebius with the cyber-punk Modifiers and also a hint of the Mega-Drive game "Zero Wing" (famous for the "All your base are belong to us" quote) with the cybernetic over the top enhancements. As you can see with the concepts ive given you, there are a lot of wires and screws on those pirates!  Robot 6: How did the characters evolve from original conception to final form?

Steve: Michael pretty much designed them whole cloth from my character bible. However, we have a fully-finished prequel which landed us the gig at Dark Horse. Due to the structure of Dark Horse Presents, we decided not to use the prequel and instead present a new, present-day story in three parts. The character of Amala's father, present in the prequel but an inner voice/ghost in the Dark Horse version, has been redesigned in the process. If we get to use the prequel in print somewhere, Michael wants to redraw the whole thing. Michael: As Steve mentioned, I do want to redraw the prequel if the chance arises. The characters have evolved on their own as they tend to do the more you draw them. The very first drawing of Amala had an oriental feel to her and her colour scheme was in hues of purple but when the DHP story came around and Steve told me that we are doing pirates, I knew I had to give her a costume change to fit the occasion. So now she has tints of green and more steampunk elements on her plus a scale-plate shoulder piece which I have always wanted to use! Robot 6: You sent me a prologue and a first chapter—will those appear together or in separate issues of Dark Horse Presents?

Steve: The three chapters of Amala's Blade: Skull & Crossbows will appear in Dark Horse Presents #9-11, beginning February 22. We're not sure about the prequel—at the least, it'll be redrawn and possibly rewritten. We're hoping to get to do more Amala in the near future, after the DHP run concludes, and the prequel will likely appear at that point.

I should note that the DHP version is a self-contained story about Amala's assassination attempt on the captain of the largest Modifier pirate ship in the world. Robot 6: It seems like there is a lot of story here—do you envision this as the first part of a longer comic? If so, what are your plans for it? Steve: We'd love to do a miniseries next. Actually, I think there's enough here to do a really long ongoing series, but a mini would still be awesome. Michael: Yeah, I would really like to draw these characters again and watch them evolve in new stories and adventures! Amala's witty little smile has really grown on me.

Concept art:

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