Creating epic works of fantasy can be an intimidating task that many creators find easier to avoid than dive headlong into. This is not the case for Sebastian A. Jones and Stranger Comics. Weaving tales of magic, might and the fantastical; set in worlds that are culled from the farthest reaches of the imagination, myth, and legend is a task that they relish. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that this creator and company are a one trick pony. Their talents and library showcase a wide range of storytelling ventures. Mr. Jones took time out of a very busy schedule to sit down and share a bit about his background in creating fantasy, Stranger Comics, DUSU, and the children’s book I Am Mixed.
MT: How did you get into comics? Were there any influences that made you want to pursue a career in writing comics? What made you decide to found Stranger Comics?
SJ: As a youngster growing up in England, I was always a huge fan of comics, while also being an avid dice roller, foam sword wielder, and small town B Boy. Stranger Comics is a bit of all of those things together, but it started way back. I think it was in my nerdy DNA to combine the geek groups. Then along the way, I developed a love for classic movies and especially music. So I had a broad base in the arts, with many sources of inspiration. All the tools I needed to create impactful visual stories. Sergio Leone, John Coltrane, Kirby, and Tolkien all roleplaying in my head.
I think had some of the tools, the savage ones, but no canvas. I left the UK for the sunny shores of Los Angeles at the tender age of 18, and indulged a variety of interests. I ran a record label for a number of years and I did a little acting (still do the latter). The actual writing came a bit later, spawned, I think, from a couple of places. I really enjoyed writing the liner notes for the albums I released, as well as directing the design and art of the packaging. And as a huge fantasy fan, I have been a dungeon/games master since I was very young. When you run a game, you are in essence creating a world and telling a story within it. So I suppose it only seemed natural at some point to start writing my stories down, specifically those in the fantasy world I'd created. And that's where Stranger came from.
I founded Stranger Comics to tell the stories I wanted to tell, and I put together an amazing team who were excited to do the same. Our first book, THE UNTAMED, was the first foray into introducing our vast and volatile world of Asunda, with a brutal vengeance vs. redemption tale. Our goal was to have fantasy tales be character driven and moving, something for people to relate to in a visceral way. We also wanted to showcase our comics for a global audience, whereas many of the fantasy tales we are used to reading have a predominately European influence, we enjoy and endeavor to tell stories for all.
MT: Comicvine bills you as an English comic book writer. What sensibilities do you feel this brings to your approach to story?
SJ: I was born and grew up in England and I am from mixed heritage, and while I've now spent the majority of my life here in Los Angeles, I have very strong roots to friends and family back home. I’m sure it must play a significant role in my storytelling. I think there is always a drama and myth that I enjoy incorporating into nearly all of my stories. Small stories with epic agendas. Is that an English thing? Too much masterpiece mystery perhaps ;) I know when I write comedy it is rooted in English humor. I was “reared” on Blackadder, The Young Ones and Only Fools and Horses. The Guy Ritchie gangster flicks are brilliant. But at the same time, I am also rooted in roots music, blues, classical, jazz, hip hop, rocksteady, Iggy Pop, and a whole lot of James Brown. So there are a number of elements at play in the creation of my comic books and screenplays. I find that it all blends into the final product.
MT: Do you have a preference in terms of genre when it comes to storytelling?
SJ: I think the fantasy genre is still my preference for storytelling, although I enjoy all forms of escapism. The opportunities for evil and redemption, cloaked in black robes, searching for the sun amidst the sinners and saints. Plus Elves and Dwarves. I mean, that is a win for me.
MT: What one key element makes you decide a story is worth telling?
SJ: The main element is the characters have to be three dimensional. They have to move me, or it is just another dude with a sword or six shooter. And I usually turn to the flawed and disenfranchised within to nurture heroism and hope. If not for the character, for myself.
MT: The story for Dusu unfolds in the world of Asunda. How did Asunda and Dusu come about? Can you tell us a little bit about the title? What made you and team decide to take this approach to telling a fantasy story? Where/How did you and your team on Dusu form?
SJ: Asunda is a world that I have been creating for more than two decades. It is the world that I created my games in with the help of a bunch of awesome dudes. Many gamers have done it, created their own world, but I wanted to create a world that was more organic, more real and natural than the typical faux European fantasy world, and Dusu speaks to that a lot.
Dusu was born at my co-author Christopher Garner’s home. He is a long term Stranger alum who had designed many aspects of our original company’s brand. I was working away on The Untamed when we started talking about a tale that could focus on the “man out of place” motif. We both loved The Jungle Book and Last of the Mohicans and were inspired to create a new hero who could relate to these aspects. I wanted to make sure it was rooted in the Ujoan culture of Asunda, which is a huge continent that draws its influences from different parts of medieval Africa. In the language of Asunda, Dusu means “prophet.” It was very important for the characters to be rich and vibrant, each with their own tale, and their own sense of language and living. I could not really find too many stories from any genre that celebrated people of color in a fantasy setting. Since then I have been turned on to the works of Milton Davis, Charles Saunders and others. Sword and Soul they have named it, and we are very honored to be a part of the fellowship.
We wanted the story to sing and the art to compliment the natural wonders of the jungle and desert landscapes. I did not want it to have a traditional pen and ink comic look, and certainly not the airbrushed style that I have seen in so many fantasy comics. So in addition to our core team of Darrell May, layouts and design, and Joshua Cozine, editorial and lettering, Christopher and I were delighted to have James C. Webster (I Am Mixed) lend his amazing brush to our tale. And he has not disappointed. We are thrilled with the final result and it appears the fans have really embraced and appreciated the effort put forth. Darrell and Joshua have been developing Asunda with me for quite a few years now so we have a serious passion for making our titles the best they can be. James was the final and simply masterful addition.
MT: Dusu is currently available as a digital comic. Any plans for the fantasy title to make its way to print?
SJ: Yes indeed. After we have released the four issues digitally, we plan on creating a beautiful hardback book. We are thinking of giving Kickstarter a whirl to engage the fans on a very one on one level with plenty of goodies to enjoy. We are also in the works on a live action trailer with VFX guru Ken Locsmandi at the directing helm.
MT: You also have a book that you have written with Garcelle Beauvais (art direction and storyboards by Darrell May, Art by James C. Webster, and Design by Adrienne Sangastiano) entitled “I Am Mixed” that will be hitting shelves soon, what made you decide to do this project?
SJ: It's actually already out and doing quite well. "I Am Mixed" is published under our children’s division Stranger Kids, and it is available digitally on all platforms and is in all good stores now. It can be ordered on Amazon and Barnes & Noble's websites and brick and mortars shops. We believed that there was a need for the ever growing demographic of mixed children who would benefit from a book that spoke to them. But the book is about connecting all children from all backgrounds to each other while celebrating individuality. People seem to be really embracing our little children’s book, and we're awaiting our second printing at the moment.
It all happened very organically. Garcelle and I met quite by accident (or by kismet) at the park when our kids were playing on the same ride. We got to talking about how there were no books we knew of for mixed kids like our own. She asked what I did for a living. I didn't have to ask her the same ;) When I told her I was actually a book publisher the painfully obvious light bulb smacked me upside the head. We naturally started brainstorming about creating a kid’s book, one where everyone can celebrate uniqueness and a sense of self while discovering what unites us all. One thing sort of led to another, and we decided to make a series about identity called the "I Am" series. So, "I Am Mixed" is the first in our series, but we're currently in production on "I Am Living in 2 Homes" for children and parents who are dealing with divorce.
And I know, of course, that there are plenty of books out there about divorce, but I have yet to find one that is actually an enjoyable read. They all seem to be talking points for parents, which is necessary, but there also needs to be a story that children enjoy, take comfort from, and learn from. That's what we tried to accomplish with "I Am Mixed", and I think we succeeded. The book speaks to children in an educational way, but they also love to read it, and so do adults. The most common comment we hear is, “Why wasn’t this around when I was young?” That's high praise, I think.
But a lot of the credit has to go to our team. We are very lucky to have the core team of Darrell, Joshua and master painter James C. Webster (Dusu) on this series in addition to a brilliant designer in Adrienne Sangastiano and dedicated educational director Megan Lewitin. The end product is stunning.
MT: Any titles that you are reading and really feeling right now?
SJ: I’m finally reading "Game of Thrones" – still on the first book and although I have seen all three seasons, I am really enjoying it. I would also recommend "Domovoi" by our Untamed artist, Peter Bergting. Dark Horse released the graphic novel and it is a beautiful ghost story told with an enchanting style that only Peter can bring. Peter also created "The Portent", which was originally released by Image, but is now flying under Stranger Comics' banner. And if you want a good laugh, check out Stranger alum Eddie DeAngelini’s "Collectors" every Sunday on Facebook!
MT: Any advice for aspiring writers who want to create a comic and don’t have the artistic ability to do it alone?
SJ: For writers, I know it is very difficult, and perhaps a lot more than people realize. There is so much time, effort, and money that goes into the creation of a quality comic book. I think reading other comic scripts from some of the masters is a good way to learn how to format your stories for artists and editors, but remember that it is an evolving art form that has a few rules, as my editor likes to remind me, but those rules can be bent if you are smart and innovative. So as for the tale itself, do not get stuck “borrowing” from other comics. Step into other areas of life and the arts to find inspiration, and then create something uniquely your own. Also, it is quite a long process to have a comic completed, so have patience, and if you cannot find an equally inspired artist to illustrate your tale… save up. Certainly get feedback on your scripts before you move to the art form and be prepared to rewrite constantly. A good title also helps ;)
MT: Where can fans learn more about you, your work and Stranger Comics?
MT: King Arthur or King Conan?
SJ: “Merlin, am I to be king?” No, I don't know. I mean I love the hedonism of Conan, crushing enemies and hearing the lamentation of the women, but Arthur had Excalibur… okay, this is a harder decision that I originally thought. Arthur by day, Conan by night? This is actually a seriously deep question… I would fantasize about the roaming adventures of King Conan, but I aspire to be the good man that King Arthur aspires to be. That is a long journey, and the grail is always beyond reach.