There's something to be said for a woman in a skin-tight leather flight suit - aside from "huba-huba…" and "Whoa, mama!" that is. For one, it's far from traditional garb for your standard comic book heroine. Then again, Athena Voltaire, star of Ape Entertainment's five-issue mini-series "Flight of the Falcon," is far from your standard comic book heroine. The character got her start back in September of 2002 as a weekly online comic strip from creator/artist Steve Bryant, writer Paul Daly and colorist Chad Fidler. Now, she's all grown up and starring in her very own mini series, but the journey to get there is filled with many peaks and valleys, including an Eisner Award nomination in 2005 for "Best Digital Comic" and its initial print publisher, Speakeasy Entertainment going out of business two weeks after releasing the first issue of "Flight of the Falcon" back in February of 2006. With the first issue of the mini-series out today from Ape Entertainment, CBR News caught up with Bryant to talk about the long and sometimes trouble road this series has traveled.
The series launched at a site called AdventureStrips.com (now defunct), which was part of the family of subscription sites called Modern Tales. The strip bounced around for a while main MT site and their sister site GraphicSmash.com, but when they transitioned from the online adventures to the current print story, they began a new story arc. "Print offers us the opportunity to create a smoother narrative. With a weekly adventure strip, it's important that every page is a cliffhanger and that every page keeps the narrative moving along. It's the ultimate in compressed storytelling," Bryant told CBR News. "But with print, we can devote more time to characterization and backstory, rather than just jump-starting the adventure and careening along at a breakneck pace. Plus, print allows us the chance to juggle a few subplots that may be too complex when you're updating one page a week (that's a lot of stuff to require the reader to remember!)."
Aside from hoping to reach a larger audience, one of the other reasons that Bryant & Co. were anxious to transition "Athena Voltaire" from its online roots to a full-fledged, monthly print comic is the freedom offered them by a full length comic page.
"As far as the nuts-and-bolts of doing a comic goes, moving to the vertical print format (instead of the horizontal strip) was a pleasure," Bryant said. "After doing strips for a couple of years, the flexibility that doing a comic page allows for is a blast! Actually, in terms of a learning curve, [I'd say it was probably more pronounced] when we first started doing the strip online. I'd been doing all of my comic samples in the traditional vertical format. But when we got picked up by Adventure Strips, the horizontal format was dictated to us, so we had to adopt to it quickly. I wanted to avoid just doing 5-6 panel two-tier layouts, so I really tried to incorporate inset panels and lead the eye around with my lettering, too. These considerations come through when I approach a vertical page now. Doing the webstrip certainly made me a better draughtsman and storyteller. Creating pages week-in and week-out is the best way to improve. It also helped us find the character and discover the kinds of stories that we wanted to tell."
Although, traditionally, books featuring a female lead have routinely been a tough sell in a mostly male dominated comics market, Bryant said that he barely even paused to consider that fact when initially creating the character. "Honestly, I never really gave it much thought. Initially, the book was centered around stuff that I wanted to draw. Obviously, I enjoy drawing women and high adventure stuff. As far as women that influenced Athena's development, just look at the entire James Cameron oeuvre. Strong, kickass female protagonists - there's your lineage right there! In comics, I like the way that creators like Mark Schultz (in both his writing and drawing) and Steve Rude (in his art) portray women: attractive without being exploitive. It's a very important distinction to me that we make Athena sexy without simply being a T&A book. I think that 'Athena Voltaire has more in common with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sydney Bristow from 'Alias' and Veronica Mars than she does with comic book bad girls."
In addition to sampling from a diverse array of strong female characters as templates for her development, Bryant also said he delved deeply into the many and varied worlds of pulp fiction when dreaming up exotic locales and exciting ideas for use in Athena's continuing exploits, "I grew up loving adventure stuff - from Edgar Rice Burroughs to Robert E. Howard to Doc Savage - so I'm sure there's a ton of that in there just by nature of it being imprinted on my brain. As a kid, I loved 'Star Wars' and 'Indiana Jones' (like everyone my age) and as I got older, I developed a love of older movies, as well. 'Casablanca,' 'Lawrence of Arabia,' the original 'King Kong' and 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre' are all a part of 'Athena Voltaire.' There's more too, I'm sure. Paul Daly brings a ton of similar influences, as well, [especially when it comes to the research, more historical
end of things.] Paul's a wealth of information on that kind of stuff, for sure. I sweat it out and, as is usually the case, finish up a sequence, then I stumble across the perfect reference! But at least I'm stockpiling references to make the series even better next time!"
Bryant also wants potential readers to know that fans of all-out, high-stakes action and globetrotting adventure tales will probably find "Athena Voltaire: Flight of the Falcon" right up there alley:
"What can fans expect from "Flight of the Falcon? How about - high adventure! Globetrotting action! Badass villains! Explosions! Occult horror! Exotic locales! ...sorry, was that too much? Seriously, though, we're just trying to spin a fun yarn," said Bryant. "The basic premise is that Athena Voltaire, globetrotting aviatrix, is hired to transport an artifact from Burma to the U.S. Along the way, she discovers that the artifact, a solid gold sculpture of a falcon, is purported to have mystical significance and is being sought by Hitler's occult experts. The series takes Athena from South America to the U.S. to Asia and finally to a lost city in the Middle East," Bryant said.
And, for those reading this who might still be on the fence regarding sampling Athena's high-octane escapades, there is, of course, more…
"Why should you buy the book?" Bryant asked rhetorically. "Well, how about because no one else is really doing high adventure comics at the moment? Because the Athena Voltaire webcomics were nominated for an Eisner Award? Because Warren Ellis likes it? Because the first issue is 44 pages of story for only $4.50? While I'm really proud of all of those things, none are reason enough to buy the book. The best reason I can give is that if you check out our 22-page preview and enjoy it, chances are you'll like the series."
You can read a free preview of the first 22-pages of "Athena Voltaire: Flight of the Falcon" right here on CBR. Simply click any of the images above to launch the preview. The full 48-page first is slated to hit comic shops today, August 30th.