INTERVIEW: Adam Warren on A Decade of 'Goofily Sexy' Series Empowerment

Time flies when you’re tied up and having fun. Adam Warren and Dark Horse Comics kick off the 10th anniversary of their popular "Empowered" series this month with a three-issue miniseries titled "Empowered and the Soldier of Love," with the first issue on sale this week. Promising the usual hijinks, damaged personalities and meta-commentary on the depiction of women in comics, the series pits Empowered against a Sailor Moon-inspired “soldier of love” who finds her abilities aren’t so endearing as an adult.

Series creator Warren is joined by illustrator Karla Diaz, author of the webcomics “Cute Sins” and “Coffee Shop,” for "Empowered and the Soldier of Love," making her the first person to drawn an extended Emp story besides Warren himself.

CBR asked Warren some questions about the aluminum anniversary for "Empowered," what keeps the series fresh, handing off artistic reins and what other 10th-year treats are on the way.

CBR: Adam, what’s the thrust of “Empowered and the Soldier of Love”?

Adam Warren: Well, this miniseries asks two key questions: 1) What happens to a “Sailor-Moon”-style “magical girl” who discovers, as a disillusioned grown-up, that having unearthly “love powers” isn’t quite as awesome as she thought it would be as a naive teenager? 2) And then what happens when this embittered magical girl sets her sights on an already chaotic and semi-deranged superhero universe like that of “Empowered”? Not surprisingly for the “Empverse,” what happens is everything goes to hell -- but a goofily sexy and romantically supercharged kind of hell, needless to say! (Or did I need to say that, after all? Yes, I did! Ignore that previous “needless to say,” please.)

Emp and Ninjette have certainly gotten into some tangled situations in the past. How does this new foe’s arrival push them into new territory?

As “Empowered” readers well know, our long-suffering heroine Emp has endured plenty of cluelessness and stupidity from her fellow superheroes -- or, less charitably, “douchecapes” -- during her time in the field. Ah, but until this miniseries, she’s never before had to cope with the overheated, hormone-addled goofiness of godlike beings unhinged by love and/or lust -- well, usually, both -- as a mercenary magical girl’s powers turn the entire “supracommunity” upside down! As uncontrolled mask-and-tights sexiness rampages unchecked through her passion-paralyzed city, can a beleaguered Emp puzzle out the Soldier of Love’s apocalyptic endgame and save the day -- or at least stop herself from slapping the crap outta her love-lobotomized, endlessly horny, perpetually "sexting" teammates?

Meanwhile, Emp’s BFF Ninjette is just along for the ride at first, katana and beer(s) in hand as she sardonically Shakes Her Damn Head at the unfolding spectacle. Ah, but by the story’s end, Ninjette will find out the hard way that she’s heartbreakingly vulnerable to the Soldier of Love’s misused magic, with shockingly dire consequences for everyone involved. Look out, Ninjette! (Also, look out, everyone involved!)

What other members of Emp's crew will be most affected by Soldier of Love's antics?

Well, the members of the "Superhomeys," Emp's already rather dysfunctional superteam, are hit hard by the Soldier-triggered surge of so-called "supraromantic churn." In fact, three of Emp's infatuation-incapacitated teammates spend much of their time onscreen—or "on-page" -- more accurately, drooling into their smartphones while incessantly sexting back and forth with newly met superlovers -- or "capes with benefits," if you will. While the blobby Protean tests the waters of polyamory, Major Havoc and Yummy Mummy each drown in their own one-on-one sea of love, with an oblivious Yummy creeping out Emp and Ninjette with her incessant, disturbingly sexualized "daddy" chatter. (As Emp and Ninjette both have distinct sets of daddy issues, they have no time for such supposed "sexy talk.") Meanwhile, hapless leader—and stainless-steel golem—Capitan Rivet struggles to hold the team together, making the Superhomeys HQ ring with the sound of one frustrated, Picard-style "facepalm" after another. Clang!

"Empowered and the Soldier of Love" #1 interior page
"Empowered and the Soldier of Love" #1 interior page by Adam Warren and Karla Diaz

You’ve worked with other artists on "Empowered" before, but this will be the longest "Empowered" story that you haven’t drawn yourself. Does that change your approach to writing?

To a degree, certainly. With a regular “Empowered” volume and its generous—if not excessive!—200+ pages, I’m allowed the luxury of planning out the book ahead of time, but then writing and drawing its pages essentially one at a time. This allows me a degree of spontaneity and flexibility that’s alien to my previous experiences in print comics, but not unlike how many webcomics are produced. Ah, but when writing for another artist, I need to take a more pragmatic and measured-out work approach, while still angling for as much playfulness and creative freedom as possible.

Gotta say that, while I’ve worked with “Guest Artists” -- note the important capitalization! -- on “Empowered” before, each previous occasion was a one-shot story. While I enjoyed each of these one-off collaborations, I found the abbreviated format a bit limiting, especially compared to the wide-open page count of regular “Empowered” volumes. Often, as a writer, I felt like I was just getting warmed up to both the story and the artist just as the single issue’s ending arrived. So, when Dark Horse and I were envisioning a new round of Guest Artist “Emp” projects for the series’ 10th anniversary in 2017, I was eager to try something more ambitious. Bolder, even! Daring-er! Also, importantly, longer—as in, hello, multiple-issue miniseries!

What does Karla Díaz bring to the page?

Well, from the moment I first stumbled across Karla’s work online, with her romantic comedy webcomic “NON-NON” as well as earlier online series “Cute Sins” and “Coffee Shop,” I was struck by both her hilariously expressive character work and her equally strong sense of high-energy visual humor. Of course, being a self-centered jerk as many if not most comics writers are, I immediately began obsessing over how these fine artistic qualities could be employed—nay, synergistically employed, to tell an “Empowered” story. The “Soldier of Love” character actually dated back to a separate, failed comic pitch years ago, but I’d long considered bringing her into the wacky ol’ “Empowered” universe -- and Karla’s comedic sensibilities made her the perfect artist to handle the task! (Alas, all the ribbons, bows, pleats, frills and flounces of the Soldier’s flowery workwear drove me crazy every time I tried to draw her myself.)

So, after tracking down Karla online -- bless you, sainted interweb! -- and commissioning some sample artwork, I was thrilled with the character designs she worked up for the Soldier of Love and her magical pangolin mascot—er, that is, the Soldier's magical mascot, not Karla's. (I don't think she has a talkative pet pangolin, but I could be wrong.) Her takes on existing characters Emp and Ninjette were just as much fun, with the wild “floofiness” of the latter’s ponytail being a particular flourish that cracks me up everytime I see it. Her pages for the actual issues have worked out even better, with all the energetic humor, visual flair and charming facial expression work I was hoping for -- with a key bonus being her beautiful color art, as the Soldier’s story was one that very much needed to be told in full color. (Well, full color with a noted emphasis on pink, that is.)

Plus, gotta admit that I’m pleased to be able to give an opportunity to another manga-influenced artist, as the North American (print) comics field isn't overwhelmingly open or welcoming to my sisters and brothers of that persuasion.

"Empowered and the Soldier of Love" #1 interior page
"Empowered and the Soldier of Love" #1 interior page by Adam Warren and Karla Diaz

As a follow-up to that thought, does manga’s large audience, but strangely small overlap with traditional comics market readership, ever affect your approach to “Empowered”?

Even though I'm all too aware of the divergence between audiences, I can't say that it particularly affects my approach to the series. I just try to tell the best stories I can—whether humorous or action-packed or emotionally charged or daringly structured—and hope that they can reach some kind of readership. And so far, despite the inherent difficulties of being a manga-influenced series in a genre and field sometimes indifferent or even hostile to such a storytelling preference, “Empowered” has indeed managed to find an appreciative audience. Yay!

I should add that, now that “Empowered” is being serialized online from the series' beginning, I've encountered yet another avenue of audience divergence—and that would be the often stark divide between readers of webcomics and print comics, two groups whose Venn diagrams seem to have surprisingly little overlap at times. Well, given the neither-fish-nor-fowl flexibility inherent to “Empowered,” I'm always happy to bl under the series headlong into areas of comics bifurcation!

Even after you started the first "Empowered" story, well after the first drawing that planted the kernel of an idea, could you ever have imagined it thriving 10 years later?

Ah, no, not in the slightest! In those bygone, dawn-era days of noodling aimlessly away at the one-off jokes that would gradually evolve into “Empowered,” I could not possibly have imagined that these modest, low-key, ambition-free strips would somehow transform themselves into the most epic, emotionally charged, surprisingly ambitious and longest-running project of my entire g-d career! Back in the beginning, I wasn’t thinking 10 days ahead, let alone 10 years. In fact, back then I assumed that I was just temporarily messing around with these goofy superhero strips before starting work for a major publisher on one of my other “Real Serious, All-Grown-Up, Brace Yourselves For My Career-Fulfilling Magnum Opus” comic proposals. Ah, but none of those big-deal pitches ever got off the ground, while “Empowered” still soars ever higher skyward! Fly, “Empowered,” fly!

"Empowered and the Soldier of Love" #1 interior page
"Empowered and the Soldier of Love" #1 interior page by Adam Warren and Karla Diaz

What else do you have in the works?

Well, as 2017 represents the 10th anniversary of Empowered's first publication, Dark Horse and I are aiming for a big push for the series during this upcoming year. Next up will be the summer release of “Empowered” vol. 10, the next 216-page, drawn-by-me installment in the regular graphic-novel series. Beyond that, we’ll have more exciting Emp-related announcements throughout the rest of 2017, including further—and bolder!—developments on the Guest Artist miniseries front!

Lemme also hasten to mention that “Empowered” is now being serialized as a webcomic, with extensive -- if not exhaustive -- creator commentary on every single g-d page, folks! Why, we even have the very first “Empowered” merchandise ever created now available on the site, as a series of 12” X 18” color prints over in the “Store” link! You can check out the webcomic here: http://www.empoweredcomic.com

Beyond “Empowered,” I can assure you that I’m also hustling and scheming and conniving to get a few other projects underway. No, really! “Irons in the fire” and all that, blah blah blah. As much as I enjoy working on “Empowered” -- and have no intention of stopping work on it any time soon -- I do have other stories I’d like to tell.

"Empowered & The Soldier of Love" #1 is on sale now from Dark Horse Comics.

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