Comic book fans will have the opportunity to fly into a new world this September with "Sky Pirates of Neo Terra," a five-issue miniseries from Image Comics based on the upcoming Nintendo DS videogame. Written by Josh Wagner and illustrated by Camilla d'Errico, the book focuses on Billy Boom Boom, a reckless youth competing in a multi-cultural competitive racing event called the Great Race. Billy's greatest foe comes in the form of the nefarious Pirate King, a man whose victory in the race would spell certain disaster for the entirety of Neo Terra.
As "Sky Pirates of Neo Terra" creator/producer Sean Megaw told CBR, pursuing the world of Neo Terra as a comic book offered an opportunity to explore the world and the characters in a deeper way than the videogame allowed. Megaw - who is overseeing the production on the comic book - said that, comparatively low budget requirements aside, the comic version of "Sky Pirates" benefits from two secret ingredients: Wagner and d'Errico themselves.
"Her art is amazing," Megaw said of Camilla d'Errico, who designed the visuals for the videogame in addition to drawing the comic book. "I was at a local comic con in Vancouver in late 2005 and stumbled on Camilla's table. I was blown away by her characters and picked up a few prints. I had the name 'Billy Boom Boom' written in a sketchbook from years ago and asked her to take a run with it. She drew about 50 different versions of the character, some which can be seen in the sketch book she sells at conventions, and we narrowed it down from there. We've been working together for quite a while now."
Of Josh Wagner, Megaw said, "We were looking for a writer who just 'got' the characters and we had quite a few writing tests from others, but Josh's by far was the most creative and his structure showed promise. It was an easy decision. Any other comic company who works with him will be blown away with how talented he is, the speed at which he writes and his professionalism."
Wagner and d'Errico spoke with CBR News about their work on the comic book adaptation of "Sky Pirates of Neo Terra," touching on how the comic will differ from the videogame in terms of plot. They also supplied us with an exclusive preview of six pages from the upcoming miniseries.
CBR: Josh, how'd you get involved in "Sky Pirates of Neo Terra?"
JOSH WAGNER: Camilla actually pulled me into it. For some reason she wanted to experience the pain and torment of working with me, I guess.
CAMILLA D'ERRICO: I have suffered, oh yes.
JW: So, she introduced me to Sean. I tried out and eventually got the gig. Took several months before things started rolling, if I remember right.
CD: I've been working on the video game aspect of "Sky Pirates" for a few years. So once all the art for the game was completed, Sean Megaw - the creator/producer - approached me about doing a short comic series based on the characters. We had already done an issue #0 that was a lot of fun and proved to be something we could continue in a longer story.
Is the "Sky Pirates" comic a retelling of the game's story, or is this more of a "side quest" plot, to put it in gaming terms?
CD: Working with Sean, we knew that the story was going to be based on the characters and world, but we discussed the possible directions the story could take. Josh and Sean talked at length about that.
JW: We finally decided to take an actual scene out of the game play and dig deeper into it. I found what seemed to be the most fertile ground for drama and action and decided to expand it. Sean has been great about giving me creative freedom to dive into the characters and details.
Let's talk about this world a little bit. Can you describe the premise of "Sky Pirates," and maybe touch on how the comic diverges from the game?
JW: Just a quick aside before we continue... Cami, have you actually played the game yet?
CD: [laughs] You bet! I'm not a very good gamer, though, and I button mash...** a lot.** It's my fiery Italian nature.
JW: I've only read the game script. I'll tell you, that's a bizarre experience. It's written in an Excel spreadsheet. And of course there are optional dialogue lines depending on how the game is played. Fortunately, my multiple personalities were able to assimilate the diverging timelines.
CD: It's intense, that's for sure. I was there from the beginning, from the concept of the characters to the creation of the story bible, so I know a lot about the story and the idea behind it. Sean wanted to create a world that was full of magic and also steam punk, with the main character being a reckless youth, so that it would make for a very fun and almost innocent game. So the idea was to create a world that revolved around a "Great Race" in which the tribes of the world were connected and interacted with each other. This also gave our heroes a quest and gathered a lot of different personalities and interactions within the world.
The comic takes some of these aspects and dives in deeper than the game could, which I think is a really good reason to do a short miniseries based off of the game. You get to learn more about what drives the characters.
JW: We don't center on the Great Race so much in this series. It's like we've grabbed a sub-plot and taken a magnifying glass to it and blown-up various character conflicts that are only glossed over during game play. And the magic! It has been nice to take a concept like spell casting - in this case, the use of magic crystals, which in game play is a tool for progress - and show how living with this phenomenon impacts the characters' lives and personalities. It's been fun to conceive interesting action scenes with the Glidewings, as well, which are what the characters use to race.
What are some of the aspects of Neo Terra that excite and challenge you both as creators?
CD: Almost every part of this world is a stretch of the imagination, and as an artist it's really fun to be pushed to be imaginative and creative. I've never done a story that was outside the realm of the "real world," so it's been a lot of fun conceiving the creatures of the world, as well as the clothing the characters wear.
JW: The action side has been a big challenge. I'm very comfortable writing high adventure in a bizarre environment, but most of my previous stories would focus intently on characters and ideas, using action mainly for punctuation. Working on this series really pushed me into the pool where action writing is concerned, but it's been good. The process brought me to a place where I finally feel confident with that skill. Cami and Sean were both deeply involved in the editing process. We all had different directions we were trying to tug the rope, but I think it ended up mixing out brilliantly in the wash.
CD: I'd also like to add that creating a visual culture is really challenging. To create a society is one thing, and to create a believable visual representation of it is really something else. Every aspect of the tribes had to be thought out - the colors, the way they use the materials that surround them. It's not just simply giving them a "look," there's a lot more involved in it than simply putting pants on one character and shorts on the other. And for that, I've really enjoyed having the creative freedom, and I think this also effected the writing as well, maybe.
JW: I'd say it had an impact. It was both cool and challenging to step in and write a story about a world that was already so well established in back-story and art design.
Camilla, having worked on both the game and the comic book, what were some of the differences in how you approached "Sky Pirates" as a sequential story, as opposed to as a playable world?
CD: Hm, that's a good question. The game took years to develop, and even though a lot of thought was put into the visuals, it was all superficial so I couldn't really make the characters interact the way you can in a comic. In that sense, drawing the story as a comic was a lot richer and I enjoyed really making these characters and world come to life. Having drawn Billy for years, but only in one frame at a time, one emotion, I didn't really get to play out his personality. In the comic, we really get to know him. Josh helped a lot with that.
Let's talk about Billy. What's he like?
CD: I just got a big smile on my face. Must mean I like the character!
JW: Cami's crushing...
CD: Oh, stop! [laughs] He's a cutie, that's for sure! I like a really adventurous and bold character, a take-charge kind of guy - and Billy is just that. It makes you really cheer for him, you know?
JW: But on the other hand, he's reckless. He has a good heart, but he's young and maybe doesn't always make the wisest decisions. There's nothing more boring than a one-trick character. A character that always does the right thing gets old real fast, and doesn't give real people much to identify with. The cons of course are balancing out the flaws and the heroics without making it feel contradictory. This may be the single biggest challenge in character writing, because humans are walking contradictions. But the part of the brain we read with is like a Nazi sentinel always on the lookout for a contradiction to a smack down.
Does Billy have anyone to rein him in when he's getting too reckless?
CD: The two girls, Suma and Rena. Developing the right balance for Billy was hard, and we went through a lot of revisions on Suma, each of us having an idea of what that character could bring out in Billy. I'm really happy with what she's like now. Suma is really sweet and caring. She's been with Billy since they were babies, so she knows him really well. She's the one to patch him up when he gets hurt, and feels protective of him because of that. Balancing out just how she deals with that recklessness was the hard part.
JW: Rena's my favorite, a wildly independent tomboy, the kind of girl you'd imagine owning a motorbike -- although I always wanted to bring out a bit more of her girly side. So I finally got to write a scene where she gets pretty defensive of her gender, but does so in her classic tomboy style. Rena plus Suma is probably the perfect woman - one that probably only exists in comics. [laughs]
CD: I think if you put Billy and the Pirate King together, you'd have the perfect man!
You read my mind; I was going to ask about the Pirate King next.
CD: He's awesome. I've got a crush on him too. [laughs] He's mysterious and a little scary. Being the villain, he gets to be wild and intense. But there are several levels to him that you see throughout the story that reveal him to be more than just a tough pirate. Plus, he's wickedly hot!
JW: A one-dimensional villain is even worse than a one-dimensional hero. He's probably the most interesting villain I've had the pleasure of writing. The kind of villain you find yourself really liking and then have to chuckle, because he's the bad guy. Too often villains are so aloof. I really hate that. So I tried to make Pirate King interested in the world around him. But I don't wanna give away too much...
What's the creative process like between you two?
CD: I'm always whipping him into shape, that Wagner!
JW: I have the scars to prove it. Any time I made Suma too bitchy, Camilla got grumpy. It wasn't pretty.
CD: Totally! You made her into some awful control freak! Not like your Rena, so wayward, she was. But that's what made this work and I got my darling girl in the end!
JW: Girls get what they want. That's the big lesson of life.
CD: After this interview... tsk, tsk.
JW: Ahem. But, uh, seriously, the entire process of working with Camilla has been awesome. The combination of professionalism and skill is hard to beat. I'm a lucky writer. Think that'll get me out of trouble?
CD: You'll still pay, don't you worry! [laughs] But to be serious, this dynamic we've got going creatively is really inspiring. I've rarely had the chance to work with someone who is willing to go the extra step and try new things with his writing... and he takes the hits really well.
JW: From the outside, someone might be crazy enough to think I like it...
"Sky Pirates of Neo Terra" #1 comes out on September 30, 2009. For more information on "Sky Pirates," including when and where you can find the zero issue preceding the miniseries, head to www.billyboomboom.com. Wagner, d'Errico and Megaw will be on hand at the Image Comics booth at Comic-Con International showing off the "Sky Pirates of Neo Terra" videogame and comic book.