It's been more than four years since Ron Marz and Jeff Johnson first conceived of the last living dragon that would become the star of "Dragon Prince." A modern fantasy story set in present-day San Francisco, the forthcoming Top Cow series follows 13-year-old Aaron Chang, a child of both Chinese and American parentage who's never found a place to fit in, with kids at school referring to him as "white rice." Aaron's world is turned upside down when he learns his father wasn't killed in a car accident as his mother had always told him, but was in fact a shapeshifting dragon, hunted down and slain by a secret society of wizards called the Magi. The last of his kind, Aaron discovers he also has the ability to transform from human to dragon. And while that sounds decidedly cool, this development puts Aaron under the radar of the Magi, who're tasked with ridding the world of dragons once and for all.
With "Dragon Prince" #1 on sale now, CBR News sat down with writer Ron Marz to discuss the unusual series.
The seeds of "Dragon Prince" were sewn while Marz and artist Jeff Johnson were sitting outside the former Crossgen offices in Florida watching a thunderstorm roll in. Marz and Johnson worked up a pitch for their idea -- including character designs by Johnson -- and that was enough to pique Dark Horse's interest in the project. "But shortly thereafter, Jeff got hired on at Warner Bros. Animation full time and never had a chance to actually draw the damn thing," Marz told CBR.
The four pages that Johnson did produce were published as a teaser in the back of the first issue of Marz's hugely acclaimed "Samurai: Heaven and Earth," but the project quickly fell apart when the artist's schedule made finishing it a virtual impossibility.
"Dragon Prince" languished in a drawer for a number of years until Marz brought the project to the attention of Top Cow, who jumped at the opportunity to resurrect the concept. "It actually went from sitting in a drawer for the last four years to being on the back cover of Previews in the space of about two months," Marz said.
With Johnson still working in animation, the artist was happy to hand off the penciling duties to comics veteran Lee Moder, known for his work on "Painkiller Jane," "Red Sonja" and numerous other comic books. "Lee and I have been buddies for more than ten years, and I thought, 'Maybe if I get this thing resurrected, Lee would be a good fit for it,' because I just thought his art style is kind of open, somewhat like Jeff's; he's good with people, with the acting and the facial expressions and all that you really need when you're doing a story that's got real people in it," Marz said.
Moder was quick to sign on, and Top Cow wasn't the only party who approved of the artist's involvement. "Jeff really gave his blessing to Lee," Marz said. Indeed, when the writer first told Johnson of his choice of Moder, his "Dragon Prince" co-creator said, "Cool, Lee's better than I am."
Back in the day, Johnson produced a cover for each of the miniseries' planned four issues. "They were designed as sort of half-covers with a lot of logo room and a lot of design room on them, so we thought it would be cool to get another set of covers from other guys that would be the more usual full-cover treatment," Marz explained. As such, "Dragon Prince" features alternate covers by Stjepan Sejic, David Finch, Brandon Peterson, David Petersen, Ryan Sook and Michael Avon Oeming. "Mostly, we just kicked around names of guys that either I was already friendly with like, Brandon Peterson or David Peterson, or guys whose work I really admire and have a bit of a relationship with like Ryan Sook. I think the suggestion for the Dave Finch alternate came from Filip Sablik, the publisher, who knew that Dave was going to be at the Baltimore con again this year, so we decided to get that cover together as an exclusive for Baltimore."
"Dragon Prince" is appropriate for all ages, though Marz was quick to add that does not make it a "kids' comic." "When we say 'all-ages,' it really means all-ages," Marz said, explaining that "Dragon Prince's" appeal should run the gamut from adults to kids as young as eight or ten-years-old. "Imagine that, kids actually reading comics, what a novel idea." That said, Marz took pains not to write the book down to a kid level. "I think when you write material down to kids, they know it, and they're not interested in it. So this is basically a story that I would write for any other project that I work on, it just doesn't have maybe some of the swearing or the graphic violence or the sex that something like 'Witchblade' does."
"Dragon Prince" is not set in the Top Cow Universe, but rather an independent continuity all its own. This initial "Dragon Prince" miniseries tells a complete story, but Marz definitely has more stories to tell in this world. "I know what kind of stories I'd like to do in the future if things go well enough," he said. "Obviously, when you're doing something that's not a Big Two superhero book, you just kind of have to cross your fingers and hope. The market is so attuned to supporting that kind of material almost exclusively, you really have to fight for readers and fight for eyes if you're doing something other than that, so hopefully we can get the book in front of enough people that we can get some kind of response.
"Overall I'm really happy with it, it's kind of cool to have something that I thought was going to be probably just a book that I had written that would never see the light of day actually rear its head again."
"Dragon Prince" #1 is on sale now in finer comics stores everywhere from Top Cow Productions and Image Comics.