When two siblings work together on a comic, it creates a rare interview opportunity. The dynamics of a typical collaboration, with unrelated creators, when successful, means there's a strong rapport between storytellers. But the link between two brothers, as in the case with Shobo and Shof Coker, means a level of candor and communication that I really wanted to discuss with the creators of Outcasts of Jupiter. Their formative years as children in Lagos, Nigeria, and its impact on their storytelling approach, was another area of interest for me.
Despite the fact that the Outcasts of Jupiter Kickstarter (currently under way until May 18) has already reached its goal, Shobo (the writer) and Shof (the artist) are striving for stretch goals. In addition to exploring the dynamics of collaboration, we also examine the involvement in the project of their sister Funlola.
Tim O'Shea: In terms of touchstones for this series, it's a wide-ranging question for both of you: Would you not agree that it's a rare project that mentions both Tintin and Parker as touchstones? I would love to hear how both drastically different kinds of stories serve as touchstones to Outcasts of Jupiter?
Shof Coker: That does warrant clarification, as narratively, they are as different as it gets. Tintin's stories and tone influence Outcasts more in the traditional sense, but although I never read the Westlake Parker novels, the recent Darwyn Cooke graphic adaptations were in my mind when developing Outcasts from a technical perspective. I'm a big fan of Cooke's rendering ability, staging and storytelling. Cooke also does a great job of dressing up a pulpy bygone [era] in a fresh and alluring manner. Of course because there are heists in Outcasts referencing Parker played into my thinking too.
Shobo Coker: Yup, the Tintin influence is primarily narrative and spice. One thing those books (and the Asterix books) did wonderfully was provide an insight into different cultures around the world, we want to do that as well. Tintin met folks of different color, in different clothes, who had different customs and traditions. A massive part of Outcasts of Jupiter is getting immersed in the world, so we've spent a lot of time doing research on language, custom, architecture and clothing.
How long did it take for the two of you to arrive upon the definitive look for the Outcasts of Jupiter cast?
Shof: We've been developing it for a while. Since we had been working on a previous project in the same universe called Jupiter Jonah, our reference folder and history of ideation all fed naturally into Outcasts.
Shobo: When we started out, I'd try to physically describe a character by referencing a particular actor, actress or singer. Shof tried working with that at first, but then he'd revise the character and rework it such that it no longer bore any real resemblance to the original model. I learned to trust him pretty quickly because of this, and instead I'd just send over character and personality traits.
A writer and artist team rarely share a rapport that is as strong as siblings. Because you are related, did that mean the two of you were more comfortable disagreeing with each other on aspects of the project -- or did that familial connection lessen the level of disputes?
Shobo: Knowing each other as well as we do makes it easier to trust each other's decisions, and understand that criticism isn't a personal attack, but an effort to make the work better, or express a point of view.
I know a lot of Shof's influences, both artistic and literary, and better than that understand and appreciate why they influence him. Because of that, I can trust that when he has feedback on a story beat, it's intelligent criticism and means I've either missed something, or should strongly consider changing things. It feels more like a long distance jam session when we're brainstorming stuff, and ultimately the final decision on writing rests with me, while the final decision on art rests with Shof.
Your backstory is fascinating, as you mentioned when we first discussed doing this interview, you are originally from Lagos, Nigeria, and said, "It wasn't uncommon to go without power for days back then, so we entertained each other and our parents by reading books aloud, acting them out and putting on voices." Can both of you recall, back then, what were your favorite stories or characters to act out?
Shobo: The earliest stories I can remember acting out when there was no power were Famous Five books, I don't think those are too familiar with American audiences. Think a British Hardy Boys, except the group's made up of two girls, two boys and a dog. Thoroughly fun and adventuresome stuff. I also remember reading the first two books in His Dark Materials trilogy out to the family. We had tons of books in the house though, my mom was always bringing them home, Isacc Asimov, Stephen King, Bill Watterson. We played videogames together and watched cartoons together as well, we're a pretty tight-knit family and our childhood was incredibly creatively stimulating.
Both of your parents are artists. Would you say they influenced your interest in becoming storytellers?
Shobo: Without a doubt. When you grow up watching people draw every day, you don't perceive it as a talent or a skill, it's just another form of expression, like talking. We just did it, and kept doing it till we got better at it. We watched our dad draw and paint and learn things like perspective, volume, shading and it becomes part of your vocabulary. He was a lecturer at a technical College in Lagos, teaching painting and figure drawing. As wee little tots we'd go to work with him and sit in on classes, wander around the art department, and fool around. Art was the norm, and telling our stories in that medium just made sense.
Shof, in a recent blog post, you described the Kickstarter process as "both draining and highly exhilarating to run." Can you talk about some of the most draining and exhilarating aspects of the experience?
Shof: That sounds pretty dramatic. Well, it's hard for the Kickstarter not to consume you. I wake up every day and my first thought is to reach for my phone and check for new backers. I also have to keep working on the book as well as work on my day job, so physically it's a strain, but nothing we can't handle. Also, because the Kickstarter is a passion project, any triumphs are amplified tenfold. For instance, the day LeSean Thomas backed and shared our project, it spread like wildfire and it was immensely exciting to experience that. He also said some flattering things about the work, which coming from him made my year.
How early in the Kickstarter development did your sister Funlola express an interest in using her creative talents for Kickstarter rewards?
Shof: We actually approached her. She's got a successful personal business of her own called Gnomeore Crafts, so she doesn't need us! We had loosely formed Coker CoOp (the name under which we three operate collectively) earlier in the year and we talked about applying her skills to help expand the universe in some manner. However, it was right around finishing the layouts for the book, and researching our Kickstarter strategy we decided to seriously approach Funlola about producing some attractive rewards.
Given that you have already exceeded your goal, what kind of things will you able to do with the project with the extra money raised?
Shobo: We've added a stretch goal of $12,000 -- a 1 Sertius coin (the official currency of the City of Seven Faces!) that I'm personally super-excited about. I think it'd be awesome to get something heavy and weighty and lasts forever that's part of this world. Beyond that, we've thrown around some ideas, but I don't think we could realistically earn enough in the time that's left to make them a reality. One idea we had was expanding the augmented reality feature the comic has. Right now it's a figure of Denarii in action that folks can view on mobile devices, it's very cool, but we'd talked about the possibility of animating him.. that would require raising another thousand dollars or so.
Any extra money we raise will probably go towards making the stuff we make a little higher quality, better quality paper, T-shirts, prints, that sort of thing. We're both adults, I'm in my early 30s and Shof his late 20s, we've come to value and appreciate good-quality geeky stuff, things that don't fall apart, fade or crumble.
What's been the biggest creative challenge in developing Outcasts of Jupiter?
Shobo: Outcasts was originally a 10-page short story that Shof drew up in his spare time. It had the same setting and central character in focus (Denarii), but that was pretty much it. Figuring out how to expand that core organically was harder than I expected. Writing a satisfying ending was tough as well, because we wanted to tell a story that could stand on its own, but we also wanted to make it clear that the adventures continue.
Anything you'd like to discuss that I neglected to ask you about?
Shobo: We'd just like to say that if you've got an interest in exploring a new universe with some unique and interesting characters, give the comic a shot by picking up a copy. This project also doesn't end here, we're not sure how Outcasts will continue beyond Issue 1, but it will. It's been immensely gratifying to see so many people talk about the book and share it and get excited about it. There's more to come!