"Aqua Leung is the son of a slain octopus god and he wants to conquer everything on Earth and beyond," said writer Mark Andrew Smith of the title character in his new Image Comics graphic novel series with artist Paul Maybury.
Smith is best known as the co-creator of the rock and roll adventure series "The Amazing Joy Buzzards," while Maybury is well recognized for his webcomics work as part of the ACT-I-VATE collective and Zuda, as well as having worked as a muralist for the city of Boston. Both creators sat down with CBR news to talk about April's "Aqua Leung's" mythology, genesis and future.
"It's an Atlantis story about a boy who's father," Smith said, "was supposed to be this great conqueror of the Seven Seas as told in a great old story. The people closest to his father, his generals, all turn on him and conspire against him, so just as his castle is being stormed, a child is snuck out by a pod and he goes to land. So Aqua, the boy, grows up on land not knowing where he came from with adopted parents. Everything is going really well until a Dagon Assassin comes to his house and he finds his foster parents killed. There, he's met by Sonny, the fighting fish, who gives him a ring of Atlantis that allows him to exist and he starts to take a plunge into the oceans that will lead him to his destiny.
"When he arrives in the Ocean in Atlantis he's taken into Custody by King Calamari who starts his training as a conqueror under Sonny. Calamari is the retainer of Aqua's father's kingdom and he told his father in his last minutes that he would prepare Aqua for his path of revenge.
"Each sea is ruled by a different oversized despot who has a Scepter of the Sea. These scepters hold great power, so with every dictator that Aqua overthrows he absorbs the power of the scepter and he starts to grow out octopus tentacles in his back and take on the appearance of his dead father.
"So the book is about a little bratty warlord kid just kicking all kinds of ass against giant oversized sea rulers, but the twists and turns in between are fun, and we have to see what effect power will have on Aqua and his thirst for revenge. So in a way it's a bit like 'Star Wars' where you have this really cute kid that you like, and you know he's going to turn into something very evil when he grows up."
Maybury describes what makes the "Aqua Leung" version of Atlantis – a territory well mined in the fantasy genre-- different from other depictions. "This book simply shares the name and the concept of underwater characters, but the similarities end there. It's more of a setting and an opportunity to do something different with the visuals and colors. Nowhere will you see people swimming around in underwear punching holes in submarines. While I think that's cool, we didn't feel the need to go there."
"We set out from the get go to make our Atlantis very different," Smith added, "very fresh, and interesting. Paul is the most responsible for this and he took the book well on its way with characters and then the color selections for the book."
"Aqua Leung" was born out of the creators' view that comics lacked a "perfect" underwater book, and the challenge of creating such a work was compelling for Maybury and Smith. "'Aqua Leung' is far more influenced by super action comics of Japan and old big action Japanese Cartoons with giant robots running amuck," Smith said. ''Aqua Leung' is a mix of video games as well, for our well of inspiration, but also board games, such as 'Risk' and 'Stratego' and television shows like HBO's 'Rome.' There are a lot of very classic themes involved as well. 'Aqua Leung' is Stanley Kubrick intensity, in many ways, meets '60s Japanese classic cartoons."
Said Maybury, "I'm known or unknown outside of 'Aqua Leung' for doing 'indie' comics. So naturally I turn around and draw a big epic adventure book. There's so many cool video games out there as Mark mentioned, and I'm sort of a role playing game nerd, so it was fun to kind of create that world for this, and draw on that as an inspiration. So for me the idea was to do a nice homage to that.
"Video games aside," Maybury continued, "I love, love, love movies like 'Fantastic Planet' and 'The Point.' There's just a ton of really cool '70s and '80s animated films that have just stuck with me my entire life. I'm not the colorist on this book, but I was fortunate enough to have the ability to come up with the color schemes for things, and then hand them off to the colorist. So a lot of those images I remember as a kid are leaked into the book either in character design or color."
As is the way of things in the 21st century, the "Aqua Leung" creators found each other as a result of the comic book internet community, specifically Deviantart.com. "I think I just mentioned I wanted to work on something and Mark sent me an email the next day," Maybury said. "At first we were going to do a different book together. I saw some of the early ideas of 'Aqua Leung' at some point, and the name alone made me drop what I was working on and start developing this book with Mark instead."
"We've been working on 'Aqua Leung' for about two years and it's changed a bit since the original inception, but a lot of the elements are the same as well," Smith said.
Maybury added, "Most people know, comics aren't a gold mine usually. So a graphic novel can be a bit time consuming when it's not all you have going on. The off-and-on-again, two-year process turned out to be a good thing though, because we've both grown as story tellers so much from then to now."
"Aqua Leung" is an ongoing series of 200-page graphic novels. "There's that age-old saying that every comic book might be someone's first comic book," Smith said. "I think that's true with graphic novels in a series as well. Our goal is to recap so that someone who hasn't read the book can understand it from the get go and have volumes that will stand alone, but they're also built on events from previous volumes. We're going to try for a volume a year around the same time. There is a definitive end for the series as well and I really like books that can come out and entertain but also wrap everything up well and give a good sense of closure. If you did that with someone like, say, Superman it would make the story great. "
"OGN is just smart business, Maybury said. "Especially with an unknown property and a pretty much unknown artist. There's a lot more creative freedom story telling wise in this format. You can take your time and not worry about the cliffhanger on page #21!
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