Welcome back for the latest installment of THE COMMENTARY TRACK. This is the feature at CBR in which we invite creators to stop by and talk about their most recent releases, often in spoiler-filled detail. Go behind the scenes and into the minds of your favorite creators and flip through their comics with them. It'll be just like a DVD commentary, but without all the awkward pauses.
The tale is a new twist on the Atlantean myth, starring a young man called Aqua Leung whose father was a storied conqueror of undersea kingdoms. Spirited away as an infant to dry land in the midst of his father’s assassination, Aqua grows up to discover his true destiny and returns to the oceans in search of vengeance upon those who betrayed his father, conquering one kingdom at a time.
“Aqua is a real real tough cookie who's got to do battle with some real monstrous villains!” Mark Andrew Smith told THE COMMENTARY TRACK. “This kid has tremendous responsibility put on him as he sets out to fulfill his avenging task. He starts off unsure of himself but has to learn the ropes quickly or else it's curtains for him!
“Each Sea Kingdom in Aqua's world is ruled by a different over sized despot who betrayed Aqua Leung's father, and when Aqua conquers a Sea Kingdom, he doesn't just conquer it -- he destroys it! With each boss Aqua defeats, Aqua gets a magic scepter that makes him grow even more powerful and closer to his true form.
"’Aqua Leung’ has got it all. It's a complete thrill ride all the way -- full of adventure! Intrigue! Betrayal! Epic battles! Lobster Fighters! A vicious Crab King and Giant Eels! It's everything you've always wanted from a comic book and more!”
To learn more about this new graphic novel, Smith and Maybury stopped by THE COMMENTARY TRACK to share a selection of pages the book, to talk about their working process, and to highlight some of the characters they created.
Mark Smith: "Aqua Leung" is a 208-page original graphic novel that's done outside of the Marvel or DC system, with almost no budget to make. In many ways it's like anindie film where you get all your friends together to work for free and you go out with some cameras and actors to make a monster of a film with barely any resources. So for us, the success for Paul and I in making it comes from having a good support team of Thomas Mauer, Russ Lowery, Steven Finch, Cassandra Pasley, and DJ Kirkbride. Steven Finch is a dream to work with and Russ did an amazing job on colors.
MS: The preceding scene is a huge action scene where Aqua and his men are on a stealth mission and have just stolen the Deep Blue Sea Flame from the Unago Fortress and escaped by a hair with hundreds of guards on their trail.
This page is a vignette scene break and meant to show the passing from daytime to nighttime as a scene-bridge. I like it when comic books breathe and have what seem like more natural progressions in time.
With this page, we are dimming the lights to get the reader in the mood and calm them down a bit as we ease in from a very active action scene to one that's character driven.
Paul Mayberry: This was a weird challenge, because the script called for a nightfall in a kind of darker area, so the transition scene was pretty important. I thought to do some sort of flower that opens up at night. It starts out as something that looks like it will unfold into petals, but then sort of stays the same, only more dangerous to show what a vile environment it is. I also wanted to mirror the layout of the ending for this particular scene on page 110.
MS: These are the characters from left to right:
A) Aqua: the title character of the series.
B) Ringo: Aqua's small and very cute octopus sidekick.
C) Tiberius: the captain of the royal Lobster Guard who only has one eye.
D) Sonny: Aqua's trainer.
E) A Hobo Fish that has walked into the scene.
Working on "Aqua Leung," the script format changed depending on the section of story we were working on. So the script went from being tight to being very loose.
This section of the story was the loosest section of the original script. These pages were written like a shooting script for a film, with a certain amount of action or beats per page. For the most part on these pages, the panel breakdowns were left to Paul and he acted more as the editor and the director of the comic/film.
Some parts of the script are very detailed, while others like this one are more like a screenplay script. We have more of an "everything and the kitchen sink" approach to working together. That's a blend of tight script to very loose and just talking between us about how the scene should go. Every section of the book has a different approach to scripting and our work method. For me, it's much more interesting to work this way and it makes it a much more rewarding and collaborative process because I like the discovery of working and the unexpected.
The original dialogue in this scene was temporary to hold the positions of the text and was tweaked after the art and colors were finished. It's like doing looping or ADR on a film where I go through and do a pass only on text and give the actors the best lines as I watch the dailies from the film.
I wanted Tiberius to steal the show during this scene because up to this point he's very mysterious and we only know that he has one eye but we don't know how he lost it. Aqua has been nagging him relentlessly about it and asking him about it for days and days as they travel on their journey.
The Hobo fish is a part of the scene that I love the most. You'll see what happens to him later. But it's pretty funny because there's this intense tale from Tiberius and then this stranger comes in and well. . . you'll see what happens to him.
PM:Mark's been talking about this hobo fish forever. I wanted him to look really clueless, and comedic. I also loved doing all the shots of Sonny looking at him sizing him up with disgust. I feel like it was at this page where I really kind of found my voice with the artwork for the series. I had physically moved to a new state in between drawing the previous page and this one, and kind of taken a break from the book.
MS: When I was writing this page I was conflicted if I should use cut-away shots and show images of what Tiberius is talking about, but the decision was made to not cut away or to do a montage voice-over type of thing and to just keep it more character driven with only him telling his story. I think it was the best call because it leaves the images for the reader's imaginations to fill in the space.
I like the story beat in the last panel a lot and the cool twist that's discovered here.
PM: Doing these conversation scenes can be tricky. When I drew this I didn't have finished dialogue for any of it, so I just tried to do open panels in anticipation of it. I also tried to do some fun shots like the first panel where Aqua turns into Tiberious. Unfortunately the lettering covers up some of the transition but you still get the idea. I usually write up instructions for all the colors in the book, hand them over to Russ, then edit and retool his colors to get the closest thing to my vision of what I thought it should look like. In this case, for this page I didn't have to touch anything, because I think Russ did such a great job right off the bat.
MS: This page is famous between the Aqua Crew and a point of some controversy. Again, for this page a lot of the dialogue was replaced with new dialogue and swapped out.
As I went back on the dialogue pass I realized that this scene could be much more important and that I could use it as a setup for the battle at the end between Tiberius and the villain who he encountered as a child that killed his family and now is an important part in the ranks of Nero's army. The dialogue for what I wanted to tell in the story got really heavy.
It was after everything for the art and colors was finished and I was working on the script for the lettering pass that I realized that to tell this part of the story and get the most out of it, I would need another page of space to let the dialogue spill over onto. This is the only case in the book where this happened and a page was added. At the same time, when I needed the extra page we were under tremendous pressure to deliver the book and get it turned into the printer.
Paul should have killed me but a compromise was made where Thomas Mauer -- who laid out "Aqua Leung" -- put together a composite of images and colors for this page and added the extra page so I could put the dialogue in over it and Paul could turn his attention to more pressing matters as we all worked full speed to get "Aqua" ready and off for print.
I'm really glad I got to fit more text in there. Thomas, if you're reading this, thank you. Again.
But this page was created out of already existing art and added in postproduction to further the plot point with Tiberius and one of the main villains at the end of the story for their huge showdown.
PM:This is my favorite page, because I didn't have to DO anything! Well, that's not true. I did do some of the lighting effects and messed with the color holds, but that's pretty hands off for me. I think Mark thought I would probably fly to Korea and murder him if I had to do one more page, so we thought of this. My alternative idea would have been to insert Tiberious' tale on pages 86 and 87. I eventually wrote the playful commentary between Tiberious and Aqua about his missing eye for the joke I wrote in earlier about his depth perception. So in the end everything worked out even better than if we had done my original idea for the alternative and Mark got to include his extra dialogue to fully flesh out his back story.
MS: Here we are, back to the payoff for the Hobo Fish character coming into our story.
PM: More sinister Sonny on this page. I love that Sonny has probably been totally ignoring Tiberious too. The second panel is a nice single shot broken into two panels for style and dialogue's sake. The dramatic lighting Russ added on Sonny's face is pretty hilarious, as well. The last panel shows all of their personalities I feel. Sonny is kind of lethargically picking his teeth unimpressed, Tiberious can't figure out how to eat the fish with his face plate on, Ringo looks amazed as always, and Aqua is just chomping away.
MS: I think I originally wrote this scene mainly because I liked the idea of this nice fish showing up among our villainous characters and getting eaten. But from the short story and the hobo fish idea, the scene evolved more and more into something new.
I love this part and the way Paul drew the expressions on the character's faces as they chomp away on Hobo Fish. Life is cheap in the seas, and who's going to miss a hobo fish?
MS: For this page, the camera doesn't move but there's the progression of time as they sleep. As they sleep, Sea Monkeys come in and steal the Deep Blue Sea Flame.
Doing an underwater book, I wanted to have Sea Monkeys somewhere in the story. This was a great spot to do it and to get them out of my system. I like this moment because after the intense story, it's a more divergent and whimsical scene. It also teaches Aqua a lesson at the end of it.
PM:This page mirrors the day turning to night scene that we started on. Again, I really tried to push the characters' relationships and personalities while they sleep in each panel. If you notice, Tiberious is sleeping like a rock and is the only one who doesn't move at night. I kind of labored over the Sea Monkeys, even though they only appear in this one brief scene. Also, don't ask me what they all did with the rest of the hobo fish's bones. I just enjoyed drawing some poor hunk of meat that they just discarded.
MS: This first panel is one of my favorite panels in the book -- mostly because I love the expression of him just throwing his hands up in the air and shouting "Damn sea monkeys!" For me, it's kind of a Charlton Heston screaming film moment for Aqua Leung. He's gone through hell to get this flame that means that he can win his freedom, and now it's stolen. He's really pissed and losing it. Steven Finch did a great job on those letters in the balloon as well. You can see his Octopus sidekick, Ringo, in the corner mirroring Aqua and that's a nice and really cute touch.
PM:In the original version of the script, there wasn't much written about this page other than it was sort of a transition page to them leaving the camp, and Aqua being cross about it.
Mark had written some quick place holder dialogue for Aqua with the line, "Damn sea monkeys!!" I don't know if it was meant to be so funny, but I kind of worked the page around that one line. I tried to give Aqua an almost Charlie Brown type of reaction.
His fists remain in the air even in panel two, slightly in the foreground. Later while I was editing, I saw a revised version of the script with longer dialogue, but reverted it back to the old one line, because it was too funny the way Mark originally wrote it.
Thanks once again to Mark Andrew Smith and Paul Maybury for stopping by this week to talk about "Aqua Leung." The graphic novel is available now in comic shops everywhere in full color for $17.99.
As always, if you have any titles or creators you'd like to see a commentary track from, or if you're a creator with a book due out soon that you'd like to stop by to talk about in detail, let us know. We're especially looking for artists/colorists/letterers who are looking to talk about their craft, as we've had a shortage of those so far. We're busy behind the scenes lining up books for the weeks ahead, but there's always room for more!