Kai talks Radical's Sci-Fi Epic "Shrapnel"

On sale in January is the first installment of "Sharpnel," an new science fiction epic from Radical Comics and created by Zombie Studios President Mark Long and writer Nick Sagan, son of legendary scientist and author Carl Sagan, with scripts by M. Zachary Sherman ("Star Wars: Visionaries") and illustrations by Bagus Hutomo. Beginning with the specially priced "Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising" (48 pages for $1.99), the first of three six-issue miniseries planned for the project, the story depicts a reality in which the world's biggest conflicts aren't between neighboring countries but neighboring worlds. Humans have traveled beyond Earth to colonize just about every planet in our solar system, all governed by the same omnipotent empire.

But Venus stands as the last free world, beyond the grasp of the empire's rule, and that's how the inhabitants of Venus like it. As the empire closes in, and war breaks out, one particular woman - Sam -- steps up and leads her fellow Venusians against the Empire for which she once fought.

Developing the look and feel of the world of "Shrapnel" is Production Designer Kai, who co-illustrated and colored Radical's "Freedom Formula: Ghost of the Wasteland." Kai spoke about his work on the ambitious project.

What attracted you most to "Shrapnel?"

It had to be the lure of designing powered armor, waging war on distant worlds, and, most importantly, visualizing the key settings in the space opera that Mark Long first pitched to me.

How did you determine what style to use when first beginning work on "Shrapnel?"

We had originally gone for tight-line pencils, which made it very tedious with all the detail-plus it kind of slowed down the storytelling. A lot of the panels consist of long shots with plenty going on, so it can easily detract from the focus and dull down the pacing.

Personally, I'm no fine-line artist, so when Bagus Hutomo, the main artist for "Sharpnel," told me how challenging it would be, we sat down for a discussion and decided on this pseudo-production-painting feel. It not only helped us dial-in on the most important elements from scene to scene-story, color and pacing-but it also gave us a lot more room to explore various treatments of tone, brushwork and other creative aspects to help present SHRAPNEL in its best light. Bagus's speed and background in production work and comics makes him an absolute blast to work with.

What influenced you visually when considering those elements-"Shrapnel's" color, composition and tone?

The tone had to reflect the reality of the situation, and all the high-concept war films of recent times helped inspire the look. It also wasn't hard to develop, because the setting was mainly Venus, and that kind of took a lot of color out of the picture! The only "rest points" were when the characters were at the colonies or indoors, where we could balance out the hues to a cooler tone.

Why do you think a painted-art style is more effective for "Shrapnel's" narrative, when a lot of comics are still done in traditional pencils, inks and colors?

While it's not as finely detailed as Radical's other titles, I think the charm lies in feeling a lot of movement, and being able to communicate depth of field and visual effects that lend it a cinematic touch.

"Shrapnel" is heavy on technology and characterization. What are the different challenges of each?

I would say the combined challenge is to make each work for the story and the scenes they appear in. Although the approach taken was to develop a deep world with all these interesting places and things, the actual script only focuses on key elements, and I think that's the biggest challenge-to balance what the creators want to say and what the audience needs to see in order to put everything in perspective. I think that's a big challenge with sci-fi; it gets either too "hard sci-fi" (and dry as a result) or too soft, losing its "techie" appeal.

When creating a new character like Sam, how did you settle on her final design?

That was Zombie's decision-Mark wanted a strong, female lead, like Indian model and actress Aishwarya Rai, so it wasn't hard to get her to look the part.

How has your experience been working with Zombie Studios?

Fantastic, particularly working with art director Jim Demonakos, who was especially respectful, patient and helpful throughout the process. It was a real pleasure working with him.

What other comics are you reading right now?

"Eye Shield 21," "Sky Doll," "Rogue Trooper" and the "Alien Vs. Predator Omnibus" (which I bought really just to re-collect "Eterna"l by Ian Edginton and Alex Maleev).

When did you first know you wanted to work as a professional artist?

I've always been interested in the arts, leaning more towards model craft and animation, in fact. It only occurred to me when I had to make a choice what I wanted to study in college that my real passion was in games, and to me being an artist is one of the best ways to develop the skill of sharing your ideas with others.

For other artists reading this interview, looking for guidance about getting into professional illustration, what is the most important piece of advice you can offer?

Having a good artistic foundation and an open mind are the best companions to deal with the tough road ahead-because we never stop learning!

"Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising" #1 goes on sale in January from Radical Comics.

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