Today on Cross Country ComX, Shane Syddall of ComX, Dustin Brunell of The Listener, and Leigh Chalker of Battle for Bustle talks about comics, jokes, and cool shenanigans. With the stream on short notice, they find creator of the story “This Land”, Mark Abnett.
Mark Abnett is an interesting case for comic creators. He’s from New Zealand and the story of This Land is about New Zealand. He is, however, in Scotland right now and operates around the UK, giving the story a very international flair.
With that said, the boys had a quick discussion first about each other’s work. Dustin and Leigh discussed some technical details about Battle for Bustle and The Listener.
The First Discussion: Listener and Battle for Bustle
Dustin detailed why he loved Battle for Bustle, talking about the amount of line work that Leigh put in it.
“Leigh’s got Battle for Bustle and it’s beautiful,” said Dustin. “His line work guys, no BS, is the most fantastic line work I’ve seen in a really long time.” Dustin notes that he’s seen more linework in Battle for Bustle “in anything outside of traditional Japanese mangas.”
Leigh happily returned the favour, talking about how much he loved The Listener and the level of “ear bashing” Shane got from his reactions. Dustin revealed a few tidbits, including the fact that one of his crowd favourite characters wasn’t coming back to Volume two.
“[The] writing’s excellent, [the] story’s excellent [and] that made the artwork,” noted Leigh, comparing The Listener’s art to the work of Leonardo Manco. Manco was a comic book artist in the 90s, known for his gritty artstyle in Hellblazer.
Dustin further discussed his team’s current progress on The Listener, revealing further that they’re “elbows deep into three beginnings.” He further notes what else he plans on showing for his titles.
“The Listener is something like a Michael Crichton novel versus Greed which is like a Ninja Turtles comic,” Dustin said. “You can pick up Greed and be like ‘oh that’s really cool.’ You can put it down and enjoy. If you missed the next issue, you could still enjoy the issue after that and it would still be a lot of fun.”
The comic book discussion between Shane, Dustin, and Leigh continues, with a technical conversation about the value of mainline comics compared to indie comics. Dustin details that there’s a mirror curve for both, where mainstream comic sales start high and drop, whilst indie comics start low and go up consistently.
Along the way, Dustin also discussed the details of The Listener and why the level of ultra-violence in it is real. He notes that all these happened during the war, inspired by his uncle’s war stories.
Once the discussions are over, Leigh ducks out and Mark comes on, talking about life, family, and eventually moves towards his creation, This Land.
Dustin to Mark: Before We Move Into Anything Else, This Name For “This Land”, Where Did It Come From?
“Originally, this was percolating for a while now back to about 2016. Essentially, what I was trying to do – the original idea was to do an anthology book made of four or five stories with four or five artists,” said Mark.
“This Land was an idea that percolated around a future world and there were five stories that spun out of this event where the moon is destroyed and the polarity of the world has changed.”
Mark also detailed that everything was “like kismet”, where current events like New Zealand’s low continental shelf and the NZ earthquake made him ask “what if this whole thing came up”. The events triggered something in his head, creating a story that eventually became a full story in itself.
“What I had created was a five-page trial story,” added Mark. “I paid the artist and colourist upfront and from there I was, like, you know we might push this a little bit further.”
Mark hunted down NZ artists to do the full story, using their design work as a basis. Much of the story is based on Maori culture, so with the aid of those with Maori and Polynesian descent, they created the world of “This Land.”
A long-term relationship with PR Dedelis and Stephen Kok (Wordsmith) resulted into 140 pages of artwork as basis for five issues of This Land. He notes that the elevator pitch for “This Land” is literally “Moana meets X-Men”.
Dustin: Let’s Hear About What You’ve Got Going On With These Characters. Who’s Our Main Character? Who Are We Reading About in This Land?
The main character here is Hell’na,” answered Mark. “She’s got a mysterious background, which is always fun to write.” Mark further detailed that she hails from Axeland, a land made from dormant volcanoes that exploded and decimated New Zealand’s population from a million to a hundred thousand.
Those who survived the catastrophe gained superpowers, with many of them able to manipulate heat. Hell’na can manipulate special metals too, able to use them as weapons she can shape to her will.
Mark details his work further, noting how he is “pretty descriptive” with his script without hampering the creativity of his artists.
“If there’s a better way of doing it, totally do it,” added Mark. He added some rhythms and beats that he’s pinched because they work, including keeping the first few pages and the last page as a splash page.
Around the same time, his team also created an adult colouring book using This Land characters. He notes that this helps show off future events and get readers excited about the story.
“Issue one was basically Tane arrived, this god, [came] in a fireball crashing to the earth. He trapped the children and family of Hell’na. [She] flew into a fit of rage, took him out, and they were both locked up – her for using her powers illegally and him because they didn’t understand who this guy was.”
“[This] leads to issue 2 which is pretty much a breakout, exploring some new protagonists and starting on the journey,” adds Mark. He notes that the comic book took a lot of time to figure out what age group it belonged. They dialed down the violence a bit, making it something that kids can read but a lot of meat for adults.
The Value of Adding Foreign Language In This Land
The CCCX team further discussed the idea of making foreign language easier to take in within This Land. Mark notes that his team went out of the way to use Maori words to create a level of immersion into the story. He said that the incorporation of these words were “not banging people over the head with it.”
“At the start we have a little description for people: ‘if you want to learn how to pronounce these words correctly, you can go to maoridictionary.co.nz and type that word in and you can hear the word spoken.’”
He notes how he noticed many people who live in the UK don’t actually know their own history and how he doesn’t know New Zealand history even if he hailed from there. From there, he decided he wanted to leave readers with some knowledge and keep the language alive.
Mark notes how he sought out the right people for a lot of the design work and translation, knowing he’s not an expert in the matter. At the end, authenticity became a primary objective for the comic book.
“We created this world that’s respectful of the past and what’s happened and created something that could be a really unique tool for the future,” added Mark.
Dustin and Mark on First Time Publishing and Campaigns
As they went on, Dustin and Mark discussed the merits of first time publishing. Mark clarified that there’s almost no way to make money out of a first release. Rather, he notes how creators should do it to create something of value for themselves.
Dustin also brought up how cons are helping artists like him reach out to different audiences. He notes how one unexpected local fan found his work at the recently concluded IC Collector’s Convention in Nashville, TN.
Mark Abnett was on the affirmative too, with a demographic of kids and young women in the UK discovering his work. He also underscores the value of Kickstarter to creatives and how it puts together fans from all over coming together.
“Campaigns are funny things. There’s a lot of ebbs and flows in them but reducing it from a four week campaign to a three week campaign helps me get to that end point where all five books are out as quickly as possible as well,” noted Mark, detailing why he opted for a shorter campaign period for his Kickstarter campaign.
The gang, now with Leigh back, also discussed their experiences in conventions as both participants and creatives. Mark reminisced about his first convention and how he drank with big name creators from the night before, only to be ripped the next day and lose his voice.
“Every time we go to a con, especially a large con, someone’s got alcohol somewhere and it’s literally sliding under tables from one booth to another and back and forth,” recalled Dustin of his own convention experiences.
Mark eventually ducks out due to time constraints, but imparted much of his knowledge and the details of his campaign for This Land 1 and 2.
Dustin Shows Off Greed’s Art and Thoughts On Workflow
Once Mark moved away, the discussion continued between the Beard Squad, talking about their fanbase. Leigh, in particular, receives friends and even visitors from the community every now and then, coming over to buy a copy of Battle for Bustle straight from the source.
Dustin also showed off some special covers and art for his Greed comics, including some art homages for Rick and Morty. He also showed covers from Manny Soto, his artist team Guile and Gwen, and even pre-lettered pages for Greed.
Both Leigh and Dustin detailed their workflow, contrasting as a solo creator and a creator team respectively. Leigh noted that he finishes all his line art first, completing the book before anything. Dustin, on the other hand, has a different approach.
“I am classically trained, so when I come in to layout page, it’s all done in storyboarding,” said Dustin. “We all have a different workflow – it’s just you’re breaking it down to another degree to give to someone else. What you’re trying to show is that you’re giving guys enough but at the same time not micromanage their creativity.”
Dustin notes how he asked his team for Greed to balance the dark and fun aspects of the comic book. He used Marc Silvestri as a guiding point, detailing how much he influenced Dustin as a young child.
Upcoming: Babes, Gore, and a Dinosaur*
Dustin also announced that he has a book on its way, tentatively called “babes, Gore, and a Dinosaur.” He notes how it will be so much different than what he wrote so far, with no connection in any of his current projects.
He said that the title will likely be out around end of the year or early 2022, with the first issue written. Dustin intends to release a story that is old enough for older readers, but are not beyond their own age range.
The plot stands as a futuristic story where humans and humanoid dinosaurs coexist. In it, female humanoid dinosaurs are kidnapped due to their rarity. One of them comes into the bar of the main protagonist, looking for a job and trouble running after her.
Dustin related it as “everybody’s Ninja Turtle story that wanted it when they got older”, which is likely TMNT: The Last Ronin. Leigh calls it “Blade Runner/Dark City thrown in with lovely Citizen Kane sort of feel,” which adds a noir flair to it.
The former notes the stylised feel that he added to his story, trying to show people what he enjoyed as a kid. The adult overtones of the story, together with the underbelly of the world he’s making.
They extensively discuss the adult undertones of the story too, detailing how much comics lets authors get away with things that will look seedy when revealed. This emphasises on the level of detail needed to create a world that is believable to a reader.
To end the conversation, Dustin and the gang talked more about upcoming details for The Listener and what fans should expect in the upcoming issues, together with his process. Leigh also showed off his art on Battle for Bustle and how far he’s come with the story, quoting four binders’ worth of finished art.