The journey to get “Dragon Prince” from the heads of creators Ron Marz and Jeff Johnson to the stands of your local comic book store was quite a long one, encompassing two publishers, one replacement artist, and five years. Finally, a little over a month ago, the first issue of the four-issue “Dragon Prince” miniseries was released by Top Cow. Lee Moder has taken over the art duties from Johnson, who is still providing the covers, but the concept has changed little since it was originally formed all those years ago.
“Dragon Prince” centers on Aaron, a boy of thirteen, who is raised by his mother and is an outsider at school. He realizes something is amiss when he begins to cough up fire and becomes covered in green blotches. In trying to figure out what on Earth is happening to him, Aaron uncovers the secret his family has shielded him from for years, that his father was a dragon and he is the last of his kind -- a revelation that sets a dangerous dragon hunter on Aaron's trail. “Dragon Prince” series is kid-friendly, and has already amassed good reviews and a following among Marz fans. The first issue is available to read for free at Top Cow’s website.
With issue #2 on sale this week, Marz talks to CBR about everything “Dragon Prince,” as well as the recent announcement that he is now Top Cow-exclusive, and how that affects his popular Dark Horse series “Samurai: Heaven and Earth.” The writer also shares his thoughts on his recent Top Cow crossover, “Broken Trinity.”
CBR: Ron, you’ve been working closely with the Top Cow universe for years and have written two major crossovers prior to signing your exclusive contract. Why sign now?
Ron Marz: It seemed to make sense. They were interested in doing it, and I had already agreed that I was going to be on “Witchblade” for at least the next two years, as well as doing a Magdalena project. The agreement expanded to include doing more creator-owned stuff at Top Cow, and that was really the last penny to drop. Now I have a venue that allows he to do a pretty regular flow of creator-owned material.
Truthfully, I couldn’t think of any reason not to do it. It just made too much sense.
What are you going to miss most about writing for the Big Two?
Those are the toys you grow up with. Obviously, there’s always an allure to that stuff, because it’s Batman, Superman, Spider-Man. I’ve been fortunate to play with that stuff in the past, and while it’s a lot of fun, there’s only so much you can do. Superhero stories are almost by necessity cyclical. So what I’m doing now is a new and different challenge, and I have more latitude to have the characters grow and change. Catwoman had a baby and now it’s like it never happened. Witchblade’s Sara Pezzini had a baby, she still has it, and that will continue to be a part of the series.
How many creator-owned projects do you have in the works?
At the moment, five at Top Cow, not including “Dragon Prince.”
What’s the status with the third volume of “Samurai: Heaven and Earth” now that you are now exclusive with Top Cow and series artist Luke Ross is now exclusive with Marvel?
We are still going to do it for Dark Horse. Everybody is okay with it. Luke is working on the first issue of the next batch between his issues of “Captain America.” All the covers are already done. So it’s going to be 2009 before it comes out, but it’s still coming out. And I’m still working on “Pantheon City,” which is at Dark Horse.
Because you both are exclusive to different companies now, will you make the third volume of “Samurai” the final one, or are there still plans to continue with more volumes?
At this point, we have more stories that we want to tell. If everything goes as we’d like it to, there will be more volumes. We’ll do it as long as there’s an audience.
Back to “Dragon Prince.” This has been in development many years.
It’s been a long time coming and it was very cool to hold the first issue in my hands. It’s great to see something that [co-creator] Jeff Johnson and I had thought was going be a non-starter finally come to fruition.
How long have you had the book scripted?
The first issue was written four years ago for Jeff. He got four pages into it and then got hired at Warner Bros. Animation in Los Angeles. He’s still working a full-time animation job, so it’s pretty hard to draw a book at the same time. Dark Horse decided to pull the plug on the series because Jeff wasn’t available to do it, and it just sat there for years.
I eventually mentioned it to Rob Levin at Top Cow, figuring maybe they could toss issue #1 into the next season of Pilot Season. Since the first issue was scripted, I just wanted it to see this light of day . Rob called me back a couple days later and said they wanted to do the whole series.
Did Top Cow giggle when you said “Dragon Prince” was meant to be kid-friendly and ask you to put in boobs and violence?
[laughs] It never even came up, in fact. The one thing that was said was that they were glad to have something that was for a wider audience, and something in a subject matter that was outside what they’ve done in the past.
How much has your original script for “Dragon Prince” #1 changed since you came back to it four years later?
I went back to issue one and tweaked it a little bit, mostly the dialogue. My own scripting style has gotten a little more dense, so the panel count per page in ensuing issues might be a little higher, so I doubt readers will even notice. I want to get as much information as possible into an issue, because comics are three or four dollars apiece, gas is four bucks a gallon. I want these to be as much of a full issue as possible, instead of people drinking coffee for fifteen pages.
Is “Dragon Prince” self-contained or do you plan on doing more?
At the end of the four-issue series there will be a sense of conclusion, but there are certainly more stories to tell. I know what I’d like those stories to be, but we need to make sure there’s an audience for them.
How were sales on “Dragon Prince” #1?
Issue #1 was decent. With issue #2, you always take a 30 percent hit. That’s just the nature of the process. You always scramble for sales if you’re not doing a Big Two superhero book. I think a lot of the audience is more inclined to keep reading the same old superhero title that they might not even enjoy anymore, rather than try something new. So that’s what store owners order.
I do know that reorder activity for issue #1 was really good. Last time I heard, we were almost cleaned out in the warehouse, and there had a decent overprint on it. I know it’s sometimes hard for a book like this, something completely new and non-superhero. So I’m really thankful to everyone who gave it a try.
Where did you get your inspiration for the dragon mythology of “Dragon Prince?”
Mostly it’s more of an Eastern flavor of dragons. One of the things Phil Hester and I have talked about is that his “Firebreather” book, which has a similar concept to “Dragon Prince,” has more of a giant-monster/superhero take, with a European dragon sensibility, where “Dragon Prince” is more fantasy and Asian mythology.
The initial concept that Jeff and I worked up had an Eastern flavor to it, especially in terms of the dragon and the Dragon Hunter warrior. Some of that comes from Jeff being a black belt martial artist. If there’s a throwdown, he’s the guy you pick to be on your side. He’s a really gentle, Zen sort of guy, but he could break you in half if he wanted to. A lot of Jeff’s interests are reflected in the book.
Did you find yourself having to dial back anything for this kid-friendly series?
It wasn’t like we sat down and decided to do a family-friendly book. That’s just how the story turned out; it ended up being appropriate for all ages, and pretty kid-friendly. We didn’t censor ourselves. If the story had evolved in a different way, with tons of sex, violence and naughty words, we would have done it that way.
I certainly didn’t sit down to say, “This is going to be for kids.” I have three kids, and they can smell that sort of thing a mile away. Kids know when you are writing down to them.
How did series artist Lee Moder get involved with the book?
I’ve known Lee for 10 or 12 years. Obviously, Lee did a whole bunch of DC work, and I first worked with him probably 10 years ago on a “Green Lantern Secret Files.” Then he dropped off the planet for a few years to take care of his father, who was having pretty serious health issues. A few years ago, that situation got resolved, Lee’s father is doing a lot better, so he was looking to get back in the business.
I ran across Lee in San Diego and we’ve been in touch ever since. I threw jobs his way when I could. He did an issue of “Scion” with me at CrossGen, we’ve done a “Red Sonja” issue. I introduced Lee to the guys at Dynamite, where he did a number of things, including “Painkiller Jane.”
Jeff had already done all the character designs and covers [for “Dragon Prince”], and I felt like Lee and Jeff were in the same ballpark in terms of style. They both have an open style that isn’t overly rendered. They’re both really adept with acting and facial expressions, so it was a good match. I got in touch with Jeff to ask if he was cool with Lee drawing it, and Jeff said “That would be great, Lee draws better than I do!” I think that’s humble on Jeff’s part, but it’s definitely a good match all the way around. Lee is raising his game throughout the series.
Tell us what’s coming up in future issues of “Dragon Prince.”
Obviously, the end of the first issue hints that someone is coming for Aaron and his mom. So issue #2 is about whether they can get away from the Dragon Hunter who is coming after them. Issue #3 takes a pretty abrupt turn in terms of setting.
Looking back after four years of development, how do you feel about the project after finally holding “Dragon Prince” in your hands?
Really happy. Look, writing comics is a great job, an awesome job. But when you get to do something you helped create from scratch, it’s even better than that. Everyone involved has pulled their weight, and then some. Top Cow was cool enough to okay a second set of covers, so in addition to Jeff’s original covers, we have covers by Brandon Peterson, Mike Avon Oeming, Stjepan Stejic, Ryan Sook and David Petersen. It’s been really cool to see those guys do their interpretations of the characters.
Moving on quickly to “Broken Trinity,” how would you gauge the success of the first two issues of the crossover?
Hard to know, because all you really have is anecdotal evidence in reviews and message boards and at conventions. Judging from that, it’s been pretty good. One thing that people have reacted to is that “Broken Trinity” is a crossover series, but you can just pick it up and read it, unlike some other current crossovers that shall remain nameless. You don’t need to bring years of pre-knowledge to the table with you. If you haven’t been reading “Witchblade” and “The Darkness,” well, shame on you, but it’s a not requirement to understand what’s going on in “Broken Trinity.” You get the whole story within the pages of the book you just bought, you don’t have to look anything up on Wikipedia. That’s what these crossovers should be like.