When aliens make amends: Nolan T Jones on 'Colonial Souls'

After lifetimes spent conquering alien species, what happens when a race of humanoid bugs finds itself about to die out, and is forced to work with others to survive? That's part of the premise of Colonial Souls by Nolan T Jones and Andrew MacLean, a four-issue science fiction series Jones is self-publishing digitally.

The first issue arrived earlier this month, and the second went live this morning on the comics' website (where you can also find previews of both issues). In addition to buying single issues, you can also get a price break by opting to purchase a subscription to the full series.

I spoke with Nolan about the comic, its distribution method and his other projects, including the role-playing website roll20.net.

JK Parkin: The first thing that jumped out at me about Colonial Souls was that the art was by one of my current favorites, Andrew MacLean. How did you guys come to work together on this?

Nolan T Jones: We both had separately applied to a terrible Stan Lee "find the next great creators" gig, and I had really liked his pages for being so far away from the superheroic norms. We stayed in touch as he went about founding "Brand New Nostalgia" with guys like Giannis Milonogiannis, Mateaus Santolouco, Ricardo Venacio and Tradd Moore-- and I knew Andrew was really part of the next wave of comics. We finally met in person at NYCC 2011, and he was starting to do more and more pitches with writers whose feet were further in the door than mine. I asked, "What could get me in the mix?" and like a wise mercenary he said, "page rate." So I bit the bullet on payment. After we had several near misses with traditional publishers on the pitch, Andrew reciprocated the bullet-biting by agreeing to do the full four-issue miniseries independently and patiently waiting until I had a space in my schedule to publish.

The story starts off with sort of a "Ghostbusters in space" feel, but then quickly becomes something much bigger and deeper -- hitting on themes of survival, metaphysics and a lot more. Where did your original idea come from for the comic?

I like inversions a lot -- things like James Stokoe's Orc Stain, where you're following the stereotypical fantasy baddies and seeing they have their own way of life that's just as complex as the "heroes." I started thinking about a science fiction version of that, and things like the Alien xenomorph ... how if they were given motivation, they'd be sort of a horrible, conquering imperialist. I then fast-forwarded that to members of such an oppressive race trying to make amends.

Can you talk about the two main characters and this unique relationship they have?

I think their culture is what makes their relationship unique; they come from a society with a bloody history, and yet they're pushing for peace ... they come from a species that doesn't require paired mating for procreation, and yet they have an attraction to each other. I also like that both of them as individuals can teach each each other in unexpected ways -- the Queen admires the warrior not for his strength, but for his compassion ... the warrior admires the Queen not as a superior, but as someone with a fresh perspective.

While there's certainly a lot of horror inherent in many science fiction stories (like in the previously mentioned Alien) you don't see a lot of traditional "ghost stories" set in space. While that isn't the thrust here, I thought it was an intereitng addition to the story, especially in how it plays into the survival of this race. How did that element find its way into the story?

It morphed from "familiar shorthand" into a really good thematic element. I wanted this to have a unique hook, and everybody has idea of the "rules" for ghosts and hauntings. which makes it easy to follow. To take it a step further, the most familiar trope in science fiction these days in the bounty hunter, so why not do the ghost hunter? But as the backstory for the race started forming in my mind, I realized that it made a really lovely metaphor for historical wrong-doings that "haunt" cultures, and how we as a society have to learn from the past to move down the right paths in the future.

In regards to the distribution method, you opted to go with a "buy direct" model via the web (as well as a subscription option). Are you planning any other methods of distribution, like comiXology or a print collection?

Doing digital that I could monitor without waiting around on sales numbers made for a really good first stab at getting this book out there. I'd love to see it in some other evolutions eventually ... but, just like the book, everything in phases. That's something I'm really proud of-- that we have a finished four-part story that we're taking the time to release periodically to let it build, and similarly this digital release is just the start of how the book will exist.

That being said, how has the first issue done so far? And how many people opt for the subscription option (which is a cool thing to offer)?

My ambition hasn't been met yet-- because my ambition is a little bloated. I really love the creative team on this book, and the reaction in few reviews and interviews we've gotten has been fantastic enough that I feel like more folks should know about the title -- and I'll spend the next six weeks of this initial issue release cycle working hard to try and accomplish that. That said, the success of the subscription model is STUNNING. The ratio of people signing up for the full four issue bundle as opposed to the single first issue is FIFTY to ONE, and that is so, so cool. The reason I went with this model -- which involved a long production cycle before we released, so that the book was completely done AND I had a clear schedule to do some promotion -- was that I as a reader LOVE serialized comic book storytelling but HATE delays. So I tried to figure out a method to give others what I wanted in a book ... and it's turning out that they overwhelmingly are willing to take the supportive risk on a book just for saying upfront "this story won't leave you waiting."

What is the schedule for the book?

The schedule is every three weeks, so Nov. 5 was "PHASE ONE: EGG," Nov. 26 "PHASE TWO: LARVA, " leaving "PHASE THREE: PUPA" to come out Dec. 17 and "PHASE FOUR: ADULT" to hit Jan. 7.

You ran a very successful Kickstarter for the awesome website Roll20.net. Have you considered using Kickstarter to bring Colonial Souls to print?

Yes! I'm absolutely considering Kickstarter as a publishing possibility. That said, I did NOT want to start there, in part because I wanted the waiting period from announcement to issue one through issue four to be standardized as possible without delays to the reader. And also I wanted Andrew to have really clear space over there crowdfunding because as we were jamming together on Colonial Souls, he was forging a solo trail with his fantastic Head Lopper books.

What else have you been working on lately?

Lots of work on Roll20 -- we're cooking up some really exciting features this winter. I'm slowly working on another independent comic book that's something of an operatic science fiction drama with Anissa Espinosa called "I'll Make You Remember" and plotting the next arc of my webcomic House of ORR, which recently wrapped up a long run by artist Victoria Grace Elliott.

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