Constructing "Mice Templar's" Epic, 22-Page Long Continuous Battle Scene

Originally planned as a nine- to eleven-issue maxiseries, the Image Comics-published "Mice Templar" transformed into a much longer and larger project that will be finally see its end in 2015 with Issue #19. In August, Issue #12 arrived on stands, the first of a number of battles which will have massive repercussions on the series as it hurtles towards its finale. Titled "Charge!," the issue was designed as a twenty-two page continuous image which panned across the battlefield.

It's an ambitious and complex undertaking, so CBR News spoke with "The Mice Templar" team of Bryan J.L. Glass, Michael Avon Oeming, Judy Glass, Victor Santos, Serena Guerra and Jim Glass to discover what inspired the project and the many moving parts which had to be properly orchestrated in order for it to come together..

CBR News: First of all, set up where things are when Issue #11 of "Mice Templar IV: Legend" concludes. Where are we when Issue #12 opens?

Bryan J.L. Glass: The grand speech on the eve of battle is a staple of any genre once they touch upon war-based themes. If the plot has been building to any form of military showdown, there is usually some epic rallying call before the actual combat begins. With Issue #11, "The Mice Templar" has at last fulfilled that particular contract with its readers and delivered the speech no fan of the series would have predicted.

Our young hero, Karic, has been on quite the journey these past seven years and three preceding arcs: from naive idealist to prophesied savior, from audacious hero to spectacular failure. But the preceding issue brought Karic face-to-face with his biggest opportunity yet to become the hero so many believe him to be; as well as to challenge generations of ideological division in one spectacular moment that unites the Templar for the most significant charge in their history! 

Issue #12, "Charge!," doesn't look or read like a typical comic. Can you explain a little about the thinking behind it?

Bryan J.L. Glass: It's something that has rarely been done in a comic before! The entire issue is not only about that one grand charge against the legions of tyranny, and a statement of unification for a long fractured order like the Templar -- the issue itself plays out as one incredible 22-page pan across the battle field! 

At first, the Maeven archers fill the sky with arrows, preceding the charge of the Templar mice against the battlements of the rat army -- but then the Cats show up! Halfway through, a layer of attacking Bats create an aerial layer to the battlefield action below -- yet just as soon as the sky is filled with vindictive flying rodents, that's when squadrons of Owls enter the conflict. And did I mention our coven of rat Druids sacrificing their own to harness and unleash horrific tendrils of "Death Magic" to suck the very life energy of the unwary?

Where the heck did this idea come from?

Michael Avon Oeming: Bryan had this idea, like, ten years ago. We were on a road trip to a con, talking about our giant, expanded 9-11 issue "maxiseries." Things have really changed since then! Anyway, I remember Bryan telling me about this issue he wanted to do, one giant battle scene that wasn't mindless fighting; not an issue of sword clashing, but an issue showing the horrors of battle from beginning to end as one long tracking shot. It was ambitious enough ten years ago that no one has done it from when Bryan came up with the idea. I was looking forward to drawing it, but alas, I think it is better hands with Victor. Hell, thats a lot of drawing! 

Bryan J.L. Glass: The big battle is a necessity when telling any story of epic portent. If a creator fails to deliver one, they had better have replaced it with something far more spectacular than merely to mess with an audiences' expectations; you can do that throughout your tale, but there are those moments one simply has to deliver if you've set certain ingredients in motion. We have. We are.

But as I was outlining Karic's ever-expanding saga ten years ago, I knew we needed something more fascinating than just an issue of battle leading to an otherwise predictable finale. I wanted to do something that would stand out -- something that would take what the medium of comics could do, and push it to an extreme!

Outside of historic examples, like those Jim Glass -- our military buff letterer and production guru -- can elaborate on, I'd been unaware of this approach ever even being employed in comics before. In fact, it wasn't until this interview was set up that Image Comics provided us with something similar executed by the otherwise incomparable Mike Allred in 2008's "Madman" #9, wherein the titular hero runs the length of the issue in one sequential battle across several city blocks with one of his bizarre foes. It is such absolute genius storytelling that I can only wish we'd stolen our idea from him!

In the end, I wanted the battle to speak for itself, and not be co-opted by any other character drama -- and yet the battle itself is made up of interpersonal dramas playing out across the length and breadth of the charge. In this approach, they've all been equalized -- each little skirmish and squabble plays its own small part in the larger tapestry of the conflict.

Anyone who thinks about this even briefly realizes that this is a pretty involved concept. How do you usually assemble an issue, and did it have to change for this issue? Walk us through the process.

Michael Avon Oeming: I watch in amazement as Bryan orchestrates all stages of production, keeping everyone on the same page, literally and figuratively. 

Judy Glass: In editing "Mice Templar," I see my job as helping everyone else express themselves in the best way possible, primarily in the text, and sometimes in the visual presentation. I think I bring an objectivity to the process that those more directly producing the art and text are not in a position to have. My work ranges from basic proofreading to sounding board and discussion partner for Bryan, confirming, refining and even inspiring great ideas that get worked into the story. A substantial part of my work has to do with the back matter and supplementary material of each issue, working with our team of writers as they tackle a wide variety of topics that have bearing on and relevance to the Mice Templar universe.

Regarding this issue, "The Charge!," I have been ringside to its evolution over ten years, from Bryan's first conceiving and describing this massive concept, drawing upon influences such as the grand battlefield tracking shot from the end of Kenneth Branagh's "Henry V," and trying to imagine for myself how it would be executed across the pages of a single comic issue. What a delight watching Bryan turn outline at long last into script, Victor turning script into pencils and then inks, Serena fleshing out with color and effects every character and setting at both aerial and ground levels, Jim adding in all the lettering and assembling all the pages for single issue format as well as reformatting for two roll-folds for the collected editions. Editing and proofreading feels like such a small part of this magnificent tapestry, yet crucial, I know, to make the final presentation to all our fans as pristine and luscious as possible.

Bryan J.L. Glass: Outside of my taking Mike's 6-issue miniseries notes a decade ago, and transforming them into this forty-issue mega-saga we're approaching the end of today -- our typical approach is fairly industry standard: I script from my Oeming approved outline; Victor Santos then translates my script into pencil layouts which both Mike and I parse through for any constructive notes; Victor progresses to the inking stage; after which I create distinct letterer and colorist scripts for Jim Glass and Serena Guerra to work on their stages simultaneously; Judy gets the first look at the lettering as it comes through, and I'll apply her notes to my next revision; letters and colors are ultimately combined and we get a pretty book that uploads to Image for printing.

This issue, however, required a far more hands-on approach from me, meddling in the kitchen as "master chef" far more than I'm usually qualified to do. After scripting in excessive detail, offering both Victor and Serena helpful time and sanity saving suggestions I believe they both chose to ignore, I then went through the entire script in the way the artist would, creating little visual thumbnails of the entire 22-page sequence, making sure all of the various actions I'd scripted actually flowed from two-page spread to two-page spread. I went through multiple thumbnails of the entire sequence until I felt confident to create a master thumbnail for Victor that identified and tracked every character through every phase of the larger action.

It consumed four days, and definitely made me appreciate the challenge we writers often inflict upon our visual partners. But by the time I was finished, and photoshopped my entire sequence into one grand panorama -- I was almost too afraid to actually send it to Victor and Mike. I feared Victor would take one look after downloading, get on the internet horn to Mike and say, "I know Bryan often asks for crazy things in 'Mice Templar,' and I try very hard to not disappoint -- but this -- THIS is a flaming bridge of poop too far!" After which, Mike would drop the hammer, lay down the law, and force me to crawl back into my cave for a fresh, more standard approach.

Instead, Victor did what Victor does best -- delivered goods that exceeded expectation!

Victor Santos: Usually, I have a lot of freedom in the storytelling. Sometimes I change little things, maybe split a panel in two or change a scoop. Bryan thinks very visually and always guides me about what the point of view of a scene needs to show, but at the same time I think my job is taking what he's trying to transmit and raise the level to something epic.

With the Bryan layouts, I made very simple sketches. My first concern was to place every important character of the cast in the right place. All the "stunts" were drawn very, very simple. When the main cast, with all that stuff with the Bryan's data, was drawn, I worked with the rest of the characters -- a lot of characters -- and created new stories, brief visual episodes. So when you are reading the issue, something is happening in every place of the battle. The minor characters are not simply clashing their words.It was hard to keep the continuity and coherence from page to page. Plus, the action takes place in two levels: earth (battle with mice, rats, moles and cats) and sky (owls and bats), and sometimes characters from one level jump or descend to the other! So I draw the two levels separately for Serena. At the end, it was something like the SFX of a movie or animation, trying to fit in these separate pieces.

Bryan, do you usually draw thumbnails for the issue?

Bryan J.L.Glass: Rarely. I will typically only provide a thumbnail for a panel or page if I've asked for something beyond the ordinary and Victor just doesn't understand what I'm asking for, no matter how I try explaining it in words. Maybe we'll include a gallery of my awkward thumbnail and chicken scratches in the final collection? 

Victor, when Bryan gave you this idea, what exactly was your response?

Victor Santos: My first thought was, "This is an issue I really will enjoy as reader, but I'm going to hate it drawing it" [laughs] The purpose was very interesting, because I love the storytelling process. Some of my favorite comics -- from "The Spirit" or "Zot!" to modern comic books like "Kane" or "Hawkeye" -- are about how to play with the visual storytelling tools. After drawing almost thirty "Mice Templar" issues, I was excited about changing the working process and the usual approach and doing something different.

Serena, did this approach shape any of the coloring choices you made, or were those more dictated by the unity of place and time and how that plays out?

Serena Guerra: This approach has absolutely shaped the coloring choices I'm making. Victor has separated the battle scenes for me into two levels. The first level, on the ground, will start out as the focus, but as the focus moves from the first level to the second level, the air, I adjusted the line work and color of the characters so that there is a gradient effect, from first level to the second, so that the first will fade slightly, leaving the second level in focus. This way, I can create depth of field as well as provide an extra guide for the viewer's eye's when moving through important sequences of the battle and story. I also love playing with lighting and cast shadows, so there are layers of shadows and light that are used to create depth of field, along with adding to the emotional tensions of the scenes.

Jim, you letter the book and oversee the production. When Bryan approached you with this, were you excited, or did you think, "This is going to be a lot of work?"

Jim Glass: Aside from the general excitement of knowing "The Charge!" issue was at long last going to become reality, from a lettering and production standpoint, the issue did not present any unique challenges. In fact, this may actually turn out to be the easiest issue I have ever lettered, with Bryan, Victor and Serena doing all the heavy lifting! You will notice that there is no extensive banter between characters, but largely single/double ballon expressions, comments, reactions from individual characters with the "longest string of balloons award" going to Karic on the very last panel of the 11 "charge" spreads. In a typical comic, where pages are mostly divided up into multiple frames, arranging balloons and captions artfully into the confines of these often restricted spaces can present difficulties. While lettering "The Charge," the expanse of the full, double-page spreads made positioning the balloons and captions quite easy, as there was always a comfortable area in which to locate these elements without the need to obscure any significant details in the art that so often occurs when lettering.

You will also notice the almost complete absence of sound FX, those familiar typographic accents used throughout comics that are applied to action sequences to emphasize a sound. I did not know this would be the case until I read the script for the first time, surprised and somewhat relieved as I was fully expecting there to be a boatload considering all the action represented. Here I believe Bryan made the right call, as the art really speaks for itself and the introduction of such a multitude of potential sound FX would only have made the complex art unnecessarily busier then it already is.

Jim, I know you were looking for other precedents of this approach. What did you and everyone else find and how did those influence what you were doing?

Jim Glass: It is one thing when somebody tells you what they are going to do; it's another altogether when you finally see it right in front of you. After, "WOW," what immediately came to mind when Bryan presented the team with the completed art Victor created was Alfred Lord Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade," that epic poem which celebrates the heroic, yet suicidal charge of the British Light Cavalry at the Battle of Balaclava in the early 19th century.  As a passionate consumer of all things historic, this was not a stretch for me, and other historical narrative creations such as Emperor Trajan's massive triumphal column in Rome detailing his victory over the Dacian's in the early second century, and the 230 ft long hand-embroidered Bayeux Tapestry which chronicles the invasion of England and the Battle of Hastings in 1066 by William the Conqueror, naturally followed. In and of themselves these examples had no bearing upon my actual responsibilities lettering this issue, but as a history geek I found deeper satisfaction in my work realizing we might actually be creating something that "makes history" in the realm of comics lore.  

I cannot say that any single example from history, or comics for that matter, influenced Bryan's initial concept when he imagined this issue. I like to think it was largely an original idea born of his own fertile and boundless imagination, one that understands the power of epic narrative and the importance of rich, thoroughly thought-out histories in support of his own fantasy creations (Reference "A History of the Realm" in any of the already published trades, volumes 1, 2.1, 2.2 or 3). It's not surprising that Bryan actually commissioned Bayeux Tapestry style art to illuminate the History of the Realm section of the "Destiny, 2.2" trade edition, which chronicles the founding of the Templar.

I'm still a little overwhelmed reading these pages, but one thing that I know is that this is just the first of several climactic battles in "The Mice Templar." I'm not sure how much you want to say about what's to come -- or have I already said too much?

Bryan J.L. Glass: It's always darkest before the dawn, as the old expression goes -- but in the world of "The Mice Templar," our heroes fear the dawn as it brings ravenous hordes of flesh-eating gnats.

In typical "Mice Templar" fashion, Issue #12's "The Charge!" is just another flash of triumph soon to be doused by an even greater horror still to come -- but that's one of the things our fans have come to love about this series! And it brings us one step closer to the Issue #19 finale coming in 2015!

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