Since debuting in September, Image Comics' latest miniseries "Sky Pirates of Neo Terra," written by Josh Wagner and illustrated by Camilla d'Errico, has remained a steady favorite amongst the Comic Book Resources review team. While Wagner and d'Errico undoubtedly have had much to do with the title's success, "Sky Pirates" isn't solely their brainchild. That distinction belongs to the franchise's mastermind, Sean Megaw.
Megaw is the creator of "Sky Pirates of Neo Terra," having first envisioned the story at least a decade ago. "Sky Pirates" tells the tale of Billy Boom Boom, a reckless Neo Terran youth that is happiest when racing his glidewing in massive worldwide races. But racing isn't the only important facet of his life, as he also has to work with his friends to put a stop to the Pirate King, a nasty foe that has dark designs in store for the world of Neo Terra.
While many readers are already familiar with the comic book, "Sky Pirates" was actually developed concurrently as a video game franchise. Indeed, there are many cooks in the "Neo Terra" kitchen, with Megaw himself acting as the executive chef. As such, CBR News sat down with the creator of "Sky Pirates" to discuss the comic book, the video game, the greater world of Neo Terra, the development of the project, the various creative minds involved in its production and, of course, the franchise's future.
Megaw was gracious enough to provide CBR with an EXCLUSIVE five-page preview of "Sky Pirates of Neo Terra" #5 - the final installment in the miniseries - as well as a plethora of concept art from the comic book and game's production process.
CBR News: Sean, for our readers that haven't had the chance to read Josh and Camilla's work yet, how would you describe the "Sky Pirates of Neo Terra" comic series?
Sean Megaw: The comic introduces us to the world of Neo Terra - flying machines, beasts, and magic. At its most stripped down level, it's about a group of teens taking on some very adult responsibilities and having to grow up because of it. It's a very fun and refreshing story to read and the art is just amazing.
To you, what are some of the most notable aspects about the world of Neo Terra?
I'd have to say the racing, the neo magic, and the mechanics, plus the diversity of the world itself. I think it's the racing that sucks you into the world at first -Â it's fast, it's dangerous and it's the one thing that Billy Boom Boom, the main character, lives for. The neo magic and the mechanics then add this element of mystery and raise a whole bunch of questions like most good sci-fi or fantasy worlds do. Where did the neo crystals come from? How did the mechanics figure out how to use and adapt the ancient technologies? Really, the magic and the mechanics make the reader wonder about where the world came from and where it's going.
Finally, the diversity of the world - all the different tribes and places in Neo Terra - that kind of breadth and variety is every kid's fantasy. That kid wants to go everywhere and see everything, and in Neo Terra, you can totally do that.
Let's go back a bit and talk about the origins of "Sky Pirates." How did the idea first come to you?
I've been a fan of comics and manga for as long as I can remember. I used to sneak downstairs at six in the morning on Sundays to watch "Star Blazers" [the American adaptation of "Space Battleship Yamato"]. From there as I got older, I discovered a lot of cool shows, comics, and anime and always wanted to create my own characters and worlds. We pay homage to "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind" with our design on the flyers. The original designs can be seen in our sketchbook and are much more like ships, and after playing around with them a bit for the comic, I realized what I liked about the flyer was the ability for the characters to get on and off of it quickly which made it kind of the perfect toy for Billy.
The other influence for the gliders was the pod race scene in ["Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace"]. I wanted to capture that sense of speed with our flyers. Then when we introduced the magic crystals and the back-story of the mechanics it made sense why these things would even exist. So really, a lot of themes I've read or seen over the years probably sparked that first gem.
So how did this go from a little project inside of your head to something that's now a comic book and, soon, a video game franchise?
I always wanted to create a series that gave people the same sense of wonderment I experienced watching those early morning cartoons as a kid, so I had maybe fifteen ideas bouncing around in the back of my head for a year, but I was always too busy with other projects to pursue them. In 2001, I created a few characters for an adventure game called "Billy and the Cosmic Cosmonaughts." It was a funny story about a kid and his sister battling evil aliens called the Nec'tar warriors. Maybe one day I'll show the original art for Billy - the stuff that I had created back then would make people laugh. That project got shelved for a variety of reasons, and it took me years to get back to Billy.
Then I met Camilla at the Vancouver Comicon in 2005 and thought her art would be perfect for the story. I scraped together some money and got her to do some sketches for Billy and my new bad guy, the Pirate King. After coming up with about 50 sketches, we finally agreed on the version that you see in the comic today. I took the images to my friend Torval Mork at Day 21 Studios and he agreed that we should make the comic and the video game. We started out by creating the world and the characters and developing the DS game, which we finished in May 2009. Then we started working on the Wii title and decided to hold off shipping the DS game until the Wii version was ready.
All during this time, Camilla was working hard designing new characters for the world and working on the first comic, issue #0. Camilla introduced me to Josh Wagner in early 2008 and we started working on the comic series that Image is now publishing. It took a long time for us to work out a script we were really happy with - in fact, some of the things that are in issue #4 of the comic were originally at the start of the comic. I bounced a lot of ideas back and forth with Josh and Camilla to complete the series and was happy to get the comic out this September, almost [two] years after we started. Signing on with Image was amazing, too. I have the utmost respect for those guys and we are proud to be on the label.
On the video game front, it's been amazing to see these characters flying around in the races and chatting with each other in the conversation scenes. Camilla drew out each emotion for over 30 characters, and it's awesome seeing all the characters come to life in the games.
Right now, most of our readers are probably more familiar with the comic book version than the game. Can you break down some of the game's details for us - how it's played and presented, for instance?
The game will be available as of the Spring of 2010, roughly March or April. In the video game, you travel around Neo Terra meeting the different inhabitants and helping them solve some of their problems. During this time, Billy must qualify for the Great Race by winning races all over Neo Terra, and it's during those events that he gets to meet all the other tribe racers. Eventually, you get to race the Pirate King. In addition to story mode, you can play multiplayer with your friends, with six players on the Nintendo DS or four players on the Nintendo Wii.
Like the comic, the game is aimed at an all-ages crowd. There are a few moments here and there that only the adults will get, but for the most part, it's just a really fun story. People who enjoy racing games like 'Mario Kart' will get a kick out of this, because it's like Mario Kart in the sky. But unlike 'Mario Kart,' you're able to do more jumps, dives, and rolls that add an extra depth to the racing.
What was the reasoning behind pursuing this world in both comic book and video game form? Did you feel that there was something that one medium could accomplish over the other?
I wanted to play to the strengths of the medium we were publishing in, so it was designed to be transmedia from the start. But I definitely wanted to create the comic first.
The comic can really expand on the character development more than the video game. In a game, if you spend too long just delivering dialogue, people become bored - they bought the game for the action. Also, the story is broken up in the game so that people can play a few hours here and there over several weeks, whereas the comic is a very sit down, immersive experience. If you like one part of the issue, you can read it again and again and get more from it each time, whereas in the game, too much repetition can take the fun out of it.
That said, I am extremely happy with the video game. The story is fun. There are over 30 characters you meet during the game, and I love all of them. Their voices are just so awesome. The councilor from the Far Finger tribe makes me laugh every time I encounter him.
Story-wise, how much does the comic book diverge from the game's plot?
The comic is roughly the same as the game, but we did introduce characters in a slightly different order. For example, in the game you meet Wurl before Rena, but in the comic it's the reverse. The Witch Queen comes across as much more sinister in the comic book, and I love it. In the game, we only had the six emotion poses to pull from, but in the comic, we have whatever we want. The Witch Queen is much more complex and evil in the comic book than in the game.
I wanted to ask you about the development of Billy Boom Boom and the rest of the "Neo Terra" cast. I know from speaking with Josh and Camilla that Billy's development at least had some strong roots in Camilla's sketchbook. Can you talk about that?
Camilla and I met at the Vancouver Comicon and I asked her to come up with some ideas for this character I had called Billy Boom Boom. She showed me a couple of heads she'd sketched over coffee, and I was blown away. It was really hard to choose the final version because they were all so great. The Pirate King came from my love of the ["Space Pirate Captain Harlock"] anime. I wanted someone that was a bad guy but had a good heart, and I loved how she drew him with his hair in his face. In working with [video game designer] Tyler Sigman on the story, we came up with a lot of the other characters that populated the world and then had Camilla come back and sketched all these characters. We'll dig up some of those characters and create the second sketchbook someday as well.
Aside from Billy, who are some of your favorite characters in the series?
I think my favorite is Rena. I love the way she's drawn as such a bad girl. The art for her character was actually an early sketch of Arra that I decided to color with pink hair. Then I added her to the story last as a love interest because even though we went a different direction with Arra, the art was just so great. Rena is amazing in the comic and is one of my favorite characters to play as in the games. She's an unapologetic bad girl with enough attitude to put Billy in his place.
Can you talk a bit about collaborating with not just Josh and Camilla on the project, but some of the other people that are equally important in the "Sky Pirates" production process that are less discussed?
I met Camilla about four or five years ago and fell in love with her art. We designed the main characters and the flyers, but it was a bit later when we really got to start on the comic that I hired Tyler Sigman, a talented video game designer and writer in Vancouver. Tyler helped flesh out the world throwing tons of ideas into the mix and brainstorming with us. The ideas were fast and furious and I'm thankful to have had a chance to work with him. He is credited with world co-creation in the comic book, but he also wrote the issue #0 comic that we will be releasing online just prior to the release of the game and will be available in the trade paperback. "Sky Pirates" would have been so different without him and I can't thank him enough. Currently, he is the lead designer on the video game at Big Sandwich Games.
Another artist that helped turn our ideas to life was Jeff Simpson, a concept artist from Vancouver. A lot of coloring on the character concepts and the backgrounds were done by Jeff. It was one of Jeff's sketches that actually created the Witch Queen. As soon as I saw the drawing, we created a huge back-story for the Forgotten and added a few pages to the issue #0 comic that showcase her. He is currently working at Big Sandwich as a concept artist and texture artist.
Camilla introduced Josh to me a few years ago and we hit it off right away. His biggest challenge was fitting this new story into the video game storyline. The thing that has always impressed me the most is how pleasant Josh is to work with and how fast of a writer he is. I'll make an edit or suggestions to the comic and often within the hour I'll get a new script with the ideas integrated.
Simon Bork has been doing an amazing job on colors. We really lucked out in finding him as well, thanks to Camilla. Amazing talent. Ed Brisson has been doing a great job on the letters and Tim Daniels has been doing our book design and layouts. Sarah Carbiener came onto the project late and has been helping with a lot of the rewrites and character voices. Being newer to the world and the characters, she's come up with some really fun moments and twists on certain storylines.
It's been amazing working with all of them. I couldn't ask for a better team.
With the comic book coming to an end and the video games on the cusp of release, what's the next step for the "Sky Pirates" franchise?
We have a series of flash games coming out that introduce each of the different tribes and their racers and councilors. Like the comic, these flash games take place between the different races that Billy must qualify for on his way to the Great Race. After that, we're finalizing a comic that takes place when the characters are a bit older, about 18 or so. We always wanted to create a world where we can take different points of time in the "Sky Pirates" universe and tell the story that happens then. That should be coming out around May or June of next year -Â hopefully before I go to Comic-Con [International in San Diego] this time!
We're in this for the long haul. Fans are going to be surprised by all of the things we have up our sleeve.
"Sky Pirates of Neo Terra" #4, written by Josh Wagner and illustrated by Camilla d'Errico is currently in stores. The current miniseries concludes with the fifth issue.
The "Sky Pirates" video games for the Nintendo DS and the Nintendo Wii are scheduled to ship in the spring of 2010.