An undying empress consolidates rule over every nation under the three sacred suns. Far from the warmth of those suns and bent under the lash of wicked wardens, a young serf tends the fields. “Snow hair” knows only suffering and the cold, but visions of a distant land force her to question her place in the world. This is the “Eternal Empire.”
We spoke with writer Sarah Vaughn and writer/artist Jonathan Luna about their followup to the critically acclaimed AI romance “Alex + Ada.”
CBR: Do you see “Eternal Empire” as a thematic companion to “Alex + Ada,” or is it an attempt at something completely different?
Jonathan Luna: Personally, I kind of see “Eternal Empire” as a companion piece. It’s another series with Sarah, and it’s about two characters. But this time, we actually focus on the “two-ness” of the Duo in the story. That’s one of the ways that it’s different.
It’s also fantasy — set in a completely different world, not on Earth — and there are supernatural elements.
Sarah Vaughn: “Eternal Empire” is going to feel very different from “Alex + Ada” in a lot of ways, but when Jon pitched me his idea for “EE,” I was drawn to it in the same way I knew I wanted to work on “A+A.” I’ll always want to explore relationship dynamics, whether romantic or not, and the heart of this story really is about the individual characters and how they grow together.
I always hope that people who enjoyed books I’ve worked on will like the next thing we do, though I try not to speculate on audience. I guess I think very small. I start with, “Do I like this?” I’m always really happy when individuals are drawn to a book. Everyone is so different, no matter what demographics they do or don’t fit into.
Luna: I agree. Ultimately, I like to enter a project because of my strong passion for it.
To follow up on the “two-ness” Jonathan mentioned, can you tell us a little bit about the duo at the center of the story, and their goals/ambitions?
Luna: In trying not to spoil things, synergy is a big theme of “Eternal Empire.” We’re also attempting to tell a story with two truly equal protagonists, in terms of screen time, importance to the plot, and world value. It might sound like this is done all the time, but it’s not. I can see why — it can make storytelling redundant — but our story pretty much requires it. We also tried to keep things balanced for “Alex + Ada,” but they weren’t seen as equals by the world. In “Eternal Empire,” our two protagonists will be.
What role does magic play in this world?
Luna: There is a supernatural power in this world, but we’re going to leave it up to the reader as to what it is — what the source is. It plays a big part in the story. But it’s not common amongst the people.
What factors were most important when building the world of the “Eternal Empire?” Did you look at any particular cultures or time periods?
Vaughn: We looked at quite a number of empires and groups throughout time like Rome, Greece, Egypt the Vikings. Lately, it’s been going over gorgeous pictures of nature and ecosystems around the world. But much of it was gaining inspiration, and really distilling the tone we wanted to set, rather than basing our story on any specific group or country in our own world.
Why fantasy? What are some of your favorite fantasy worlds?
Vaughn: All of them. Agh — yes — agh. It really depends on the mood. If it’s a rainy Sunday and I want to feel like a twelve year old again, I wrap up in a faux fur throw and put on Sword and Sorcery movies like “Red Sonja,” “Conan the Barbarian,” “Krull,” “The Beastmaster,” “Willow.”
I always enjoy fantasy like “Lord of the Rings,” “The Chronicles of Prydain,” “Dragonriders of Pern.” I’m passionate about folktales and fairytales across cultures. A lot of wuxia films have that gorgeous mix of martial arts and magic like “Painted Skin: The Resurrection.” Old-school anime like “Record of Lodoss War,” “Magic Knights of Rayearth,” “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” and obscure games like “Popful Mail.” I’m a sucker for dragons and huge armor. “Flight of Dragons,” always. If it’s fantasy, and James Earl Jones is in it… just, yes.
Luna: Ha, pretty much all of them. Some are “Star Wars,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Avatar” (James Cameron), “Final Fantasy,” “Escaflowne,” “Zelda,” Miyazaki, Fumito Ueda’s work, and playing D&D briefly as a teen. As long as it’s grounded. I tend not to like fantasy if it’s too out there–if it’s too illogical or the design is mostly meaningless. All said, I don’t just look to fiction for inspiration. In keeping things grounded, I like to put a twist on real-world history and culture. Also, I’m trying very hard to avoid replicating what I’ve already seen in established works. It’s a challenge to stay classic, and create something new.
And, uhh… I grew up watching “Red Sonja,” “Conan,” “Beastmaster” and “Willow” as a child. The eye-ring in “Beastmaster” scarred me for life. How have we not talked about these movies?! Now I want to watch them all again.
Vaughn: It’s blowing my mind that we never discussed those, given how much we actually talk.
Luna: In a nutshell, we’re nerds, and we’re excited to finally tell a fantasy story.
“Eternal Empire” #1 debuts this May from Image Comics.
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