One of our co-writers at our brother site, Word of the Nerd, just launched a Kickstarter project you may be interested in supporting. Writer Marshall Edwards is working with artist Erick Adrian Marquez on a new comic book project called Prairie City Response Here is a very concise synopsis of the story: The Prairie City Response follows the adventures of Zeno, Dryad, and Cannonball, three burgeoning heroes trying to bring order to a city full of alien refugees, enemies from their past, and upstart villains.
Aliens, super powers and all out chaos. What is there NOT to be excited about? I had to ask Marshall a few questions to find out what is up with his latest project.
B: Erick Adrian Marquez is an up and coming comic book illustrator who most recently has worked with Bluewater on their Conan O’Brien and Taylor Swift bio comics. How did your partnership in this project get launched?
ME: Erick has been a professional artist as long as I’ve known him. He and his wife Mayling were both Kansas City Art Institute graduates, and I met them through a capoeira (Brazilian martial arts) group. After I graduated and came home to Kansas City for good, I found out he had been doing sequential art. I talked with him about my project (I was shy as hell), and the more he heard the more he liked it. He asked me if I was serious and wasn’t going to chicken out. That scared me, but I said yes!
B: I noticed randomly one evening on your Facebook page that we share the same alma mater, Truman State University in Kirksville, MO. You studied philosophy and religion and I was wondering if your major inspired your Prairie City Response storyline?
ME: Heh, a little. One of the main characters is nicknamed Zeno, and he’s named after the ancient Greek philosopher. I saw a relation between his powers of mind games and illusion and Zeno’s Paradoxes. There are also a lot of paradoxes in his personality and character, so the choice was very intuitive. Catchy, too. There are other themes and archetypes in the comic that I think come up a lot in old stories and myths, so there are connections there, too. Old stories and themes live on in so much of what we read and watch today.
B: As someone who likes to dabble in fiction, something I have always had trouble with is deciding character names. How did the inhabitants of Prairie City Response get their monikers?
ME: It was usually something instinctual. I’m terrible at deciding on proper names, but the codenames came from the gut or a theme that I wanted to run with. Woman with plant powers? Call her Dryad – it’s a little easy, but once you know her character better, you might see why she chose something so plain. Cannonball was named out of a sense of fun. Even though he has a dark history, I see him as the most level and likeable of the three. It was too easy to give him a brutal, fearsome name: I wanted something that reflected his playfulness. I tried to choose nicknames that meant something to the characters, something they would choose for themselves for one reason or another.
But yeah, proper names are a beast. I’ve gone a bit stylistic with some of them – there’s a marketing genius named Pinkett who wears a lot of pink business attire, for example – but I end up borrowing from the names of people in real life often enough.
B: Maybe there will be a Bex showing up on a story soon, then? But speaking of Dryad and plant powers, of everything possible, why did you choose the super powers of psychic abilities, plant control, and super strength?
ME: Those were the ones that came to me. I started with Dryad – she was actually my character in a role-playing game, and I yoinked her and some of the setting for my own story when the game petered out. She’s changed a lot since then. My friend recently asked if she was still a female Batman with plant control. I laughed and said no, she’s more of a female Wolverine with plant control powers now.
For story reasons, I always wanted Dryad to have a run-in with a psychic – she’s severed all ties from her past life and is extremely secretive about her past. Even the Superhero’s Union knows next to nothing about her. Having a psychic around will always be a threat to her. Originally the nameless psychic was a minor player, but over time I kept tweaking and building the story around the two of them and their conflicts until I said, “You know what? Teammates.” I made Zeno younger and rougher around the edges, and for me, that’s part of what makes him work. You don’t know how he’s going to perform.
Cannonball just sort of jumped out at me one day. He’s the steady anchor of the team, and I wanted his strength and savage appearance to be balanced by a steadfast, congenial nature. Strength and toughness made him a good “medium player”: Zeno’s good at subtle work, Cannonball’s very tactical and experienced, and Dryad has immense, unstoppable power that can level city blocks. The powers came first, and the fun has been making them work together as a team – both power-wise and personality-wise.
B: Now time for a reach for the stars type question. If you could model the career of any comic writer, who would it be and why?
ME: Ooh. Tough question. I don’t want to copy anyone. I have my favorites. I’d say Robert Kirkman because of his Invincible and Walking Dead series. His Invincible series started years ago and remains an independent superhero comic with an ongoing story. That’s what I want for my characters! I want to see them grow and change and get older and have spin-offs under my loving gaze.
B: In the description for the storyline, The Mayor seems to be someone who will throw a lot of wrenches in our heroes’ work if not a main antagonist. Out of sheer curiosity, why is the antagonist a female and do you find it difficult to write for a female voice?
ME: The Mayor isn’t strictly an antagonist, but she will throw roadblocks in our hero’s way from time to time. It’s not because she hates them, but because everything they do reflects on her. The story tries to deal with the media and celebrity I imagine would go with a superhero career these days, and the mayor will be looking out for herself and her city.
I sometimes find it difficult to write a female voice. Dryad, for example, is a gruff character, but I didn’t want her to be a gruff dude in a woman’s body. I did a lot of rewriting for everyone until I got a dynamic that worked. With the Mayor, there’s a different problem. We don’t treat women politicians well in this country and the media’s super-ready to pick them apart. My biggest fear was that she’d come off as just a dismissible nag. Making her formidable has been a big challenge, but showing her thriving when she’s in front of her constituents has been a big help.
B: This is definitely the heyday of the vampire, werewolf and zombie, but you went off the current path and chose aliens as the big bad. Would you explain why you chose extra terrestrials for villains?
ME: They’re not, really. I just wrote the pitch that way. They are a major part of the story, and their presence on earth opens up a lot of fun story-telling opportunities. Aliens pop up as good guys, bad guys, victims, unwitting pawns, opportunists, citizens – you name it. When I ran with the alien theme I thought about Earth refugees and the global migration crisis and the problems that pop up when you expose an isolated population like Earth to the outside world. Those ideas drive much of the plot, even when aliens aren’t the bad guys.
Each character has their own “big bad” to deal with. Dryad is still hiding from her past. Zeno still has ties with the cult-like psychic organization that trained him. And Cannonball’s big bad will be… aliens. All right, you caught me.
B: How did this story evolve between Erick and you? It already sounds like you’ve created a whole new world.
ME: The setting largely came out of a superhero role-playing game my friend was running. The campaign didn’t last too long, but the character I created, Dryad, stuck with me. I wrote up a complicated, mysterious past for her, and started building a story around her. I tweaked the setting a bit, but kept elements like the Scar and the National Superhero’s Union and twisted them for my own purposes. I modeled Prairie City after an alternate universe Kansas City, one I could change however I wanted to.
Of course, everything sounded great in my head. My early meetings with Erick were mostly him asking me two questions: “What?” and “Why?” I didn’t always have these fleshed out: he pushed me to make those connections and get him as excited about the project as I was. It wasn’t easy, but we came out of it with something really fun.
B: I am sure it is different with every artist and writer, but in your project, how much say does the writer/illustrator have in each other’s work?
ME: I think I get less say than I’d like. Learning compromise was a big step for me. I’d send something back half a dozen times at the beginning, but eventually learned to say, “You know what? That’s not what I saw in my head, but it’s great and we should run with it.” Working with your artist instead of against him/her is something I’m still learning. I do get quite a bit of say, but if you can’t accept the fact that the artist is going to give you essential input of his own, then you’re better off doing your own art.
It helps to be unambiguous. If you have something that must be a certain way, find references. If it comes back different, or the artist has concerns or a different approach, you have to decide whether this bit of the story is really worth losing days or weeks of work to get right, or if there’s a better way forward.
Don’t forget to check out the Kickstarter page here.
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