Exclusive: Gabriel Rodriguez unsheathes his Arthurian sci-fi comic, Sword of Ages

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Aug 24, 2017

Gabriel Rodriguez has been churning out fantastic comics for a while now. While the Chilean artist is best known for illustrating the landmark horror series Locke & Key, he has also garnered acclaim for his work on Onyx, Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland and Tales From the Darkside, just to name a few. But we have yet to see a comic book series that is entirely his vision ... until now.

Sword of Ages is a new creator-owned sci-fi fantasy epic both written and drawn by Rodriguez with colors by Lovern Kindzierski. The series is an imaginative new take on the myths of Arthur and Excalibur, but set on a beautiful and dangerous new planet on which a young girl named Avalon wields a sacred sword. It's a fantastic blend of genre that pulls artistic influence from across the comic medium, making sure it looks like nothing else on the stands.

The first issue of Sword of Ages will arrive on November 22 and we have an exclusive look inside the first issue, courtesy of IDW Publishing. Here’s the synopsis for the first issue:

A mythic origin story you never expected to see! This winter, the Sword will be drawn for the first time ever, courtesy of writer/artist/Locke & Key co-creator Gabriel Rodriguez in a five-issue miniseries adventure of epic proportions! A young woman will become the first wielder of the most famous sacred weapon of all time to champion for her world’s survival, inspiring a legion of heroes to join her struggle against a merciless alien force. The line between science fiction and magic might get fuzzy, but the line between heroes and villains will be drawn in blood.

You can find the full preview in the gallery at the bottom of the page, but before you do, we also have an interview with Gabriel Rodriguez in which he goes in-depth on his creative process, influences and the characters of Sword of Ages. So read on to get inside the mind of one of comics' most talented artists and take a peek at one of the must-read comics of the year.

Gabriel, you've been working on this series and teasing it to your followers online for quite a while now. How long of a process has Sword of Ages been, and how do you feel now that’s it’s going to be in readers' hands soon?

Gabriel Rodriguez: I started thinking about this specific story since 2014-15, I think, and have been working on plot and designs for it since December of 2016. For several years now, I've been asked to try a fully written/drawn book of my own by Chris Ryall (Creative Chief Officer) and Ted Adams (Founder, Publisher and CEO) of IDW Publishing, but it took me a while to feel ready for the challenge. I had to be confident not only that my narrative and artistic skills were up to the task, but also able to handle English properly to write a story of my own. So it has been a slower process than other projects, but tremendously exciting also. It's as intimidating as it is thrilling to realize that in a very short span of time it will finally get into the hands of readers and to hear what you all think of it. If making comics was a childhood dream, this new project is a pinnacle of that dream made real. I have nothing but excitement about the imminent release as gratitude to all the people (publishers, friends and family) that has supported this book in order to make it possible.

There’s a lot of awesome stuff going on in Sword of Ages, even just right on the cover. There are hints of sword-and-sorcery adventures, spacefaring epics and even a sabretooth tiger. How do you describe this book to people when you're introducing it to them for the first time?

Sword of Ages is first of all, an adventure, which we want to make as entertaining and appealing as possible. It takes the form of a re-telling of the Excalibur myth as a space fantasy epic about the origin of the sacred sword and the first one chosen to wield it. In this story, we follow the thrilling adventures of Avalon, a hero dealing with struggles of duty and leadership, and her friends and comrades. It will be a battle of good versus evil — a conflict between ideals of justice opposed to a culture of empowerment by brute force, in which the point is not to figure out which side wins, but how you choose which side you take to fight for. It will also be about the need to build bonds of friendship and loyalty to overcome both those challenges and your own flaws. Therefore, we hope to be able to make it an action driven adventure rooted in an intimate human drama about friendship, deception, leadership, violence, betrayal, and triumph, set in a colorful, imaginative, visually rich and engaging world of magic.

You've talked previously about how this has both a heavy helping of Arthurian myth and Jodorowsky's unmade take on Dune in the creative mix. What made those two styles of story seem like good fits for one another?

Basically because I think they both get at the core regarding the same issues: men driven by their passions, ideals and ambitions, set in conflict to achieve higher ideals that ultimately test them against their flaws and human limits. They are stories of transcendence in which ultimately you don't triumph by getting a magic item or defeating an opponent, but because of making a worthy journey throughout that challenges. Also, as they give room for imaginative and creative world building that turn the world around them as part of the development of the story itself: the worlds around both the classic myths and the sci-fi and fantasy epics are characters in their own right, telling something about the ideas and dramas they drive through the stories. In a visual medium, they should be a delight to explore on their own merit.

This new world you've created, has both magic and science in the mix, but do they co-exist nicely, or is that more of a source of tension for its inhabitants?

Love that magic-science tension as it can be explored from different points of view: might be seen as opposites in tension or conflict, or as the same phenomenon seen from different points of view, or some might consider them like forces that complement and interact with each other. Aside from their unarguable potential to create fascinating visuals, I hope also to be able to develop throughout the larger plan for the story all these different approaches to that subject.

What can you tell us about the cast of the book? In the SDCC preview we were introduced to Avalon and Merlin and his sweet motorcycle, as well as a few familiarly-named warriors. How closely will they all resemble their traditional Round Table counterparts?

I'm starting from the concept that these characters are incarnations of archetypes, so many of them are certainly going to be recognized from their classic counterparts. But the challenge and the fun part, is to try to flesh out these archetypes as appealing human beings, and through them get to develop qualities that make them appealing and unique. Even funnier is the fact that after establishing the main cast and developing the world and the story around them, several new characters emerged that have become incredibly inspiring to write and draw, and I hope they'll be as equally appealing and interesting to follow. In this first miniseries the cast of characters became twice as big as I originally intended, but in a very organic development, setting already very interesting seeds to harvest in future chapters of the saga if the readers are willing to continue with the saga.

What’s been the hardest character or creature design to figure out so far?

The lead character, Avalon, was a very tough challenge, as to get the right expression and attitude in a young female lead is very hard as you have to be very subtle, especially in her facial features. You have very few lines to express a lot, and it's hard if you want her to be appealing and deep, tough but not hard. Designing creatures has been a lot of work, but also a lot of fun, so that makes it smoother than I should have guessed. But for me the toughest part has been to get the "ensemble cast" vibe. Working in a fantasy environment, you don't want them to feel like people in disguise, but to be imaginative while making them feel they're all wearing their daily clothes, and for them all to interact in harmony. Especially if this arc is going to end in a massive action scene in the entire last two issues, and that by far is going to be the hardest thing to pull off visually in this first arc.

You’re known for innovative storytelling in your panel layouts, but this is a fairly new genre for you. I already see a few cool visual tricks I recognize from Little Nemo in the preview pages, but has there been any shift in your approach to how you put a page together for this series? Is it a bit more "widescreen" perhaps?

Absolutely. My starting point was a few things I tried in Nemo, although this book will have a more adult appeal and a different story tone, so I'm going for something different. And yes, the "widescreen" approach is a fundamental part of it, as I'm trying to get not only the maximum potential for the world building around the characters in every shot, but also as I want to capture the horizon itself as a vivid character for the story, both in its visual potential for depth ads for its evocative quality as a gateway to adventure and the unknown. Despite the obvious parallels and reference to visual work from artists like Moebius, McCay, Steranko, Quitely or Otomo for design inspirations, the ones that I've studied deeply and intensely during the process, especially for storytelling and mood purposes, are the works of Hal Foster in Prince Valiant, Jean (Moebius) Giraud in Blueberry and The Gardens of Edena, Francoise Boucq in Bouncer or Hermann Huppen in Bernard Prince and Jeremiah.

You've certainly done a lot of visual world-building before, especially in Locke & Key, but now that you're writing as well, how has your approach changed? Do you find yourself sketching images and then writing stories about them or do you write first and develop the look later?

As this is my first full writing attempt in a comic book project (I partly co-plotted the adaptation of Tales From the Darkside and co-written Onyx) I'm being very traditional in my work process as I need to be disciplined and focused in the proper use of words, especially as I'm writing in one that's not my native language. Probably in the future I could work more in the so-called "Marvel-style," drawing pages and drawing final text over them, but right now this works better for me to do a general breakdown of the pages first, then writing the captions and dialogue and then, many times, re-considering some visual choices according to what I'm able to get from the text. It has been a very intense learning process, and has made the work in this first arc slower than I thought. I originally intended to write the entire five issues before starting the drawing phase, but unfortunately couldn't made it and now I'm working in parallel. But it has been very useful in terms to give me time to polish the plot and action as much as possible, and to get into the heads and hearts of the characters to shape them out from within. I have reached the point in which I started hearing their voices talking to me in my head, and that has been magical.

I know I'm sold on this book, but for someone who might not be, what’s the number one reason that readers should pick up the first issue of Sword of Ages in November?

Because it's great to dive into a beautiful and horrible world of adventures, through the eyes of flawed and fun characters that will lead us to discover the path each of us may choose to face in our own quests and battles. You'll find familiar and everlasting themes and characters presented in a new and hopefully engaging approach of unbounded visual ambition (special mention to the extraordinary magical color work Lovern Kindzierski is bringing to the pages of Sword of Ages ... he has made this world his own breathing into it a colorful and absolutely unique look). We need to dream big, have fun, and recover a sense of adventure, purpose, and wonder that has somewhat been lost amongst cynical voices in recent, grimmer times.

Sword of Ages #1 is on sale Nov. 22 from IDW Publishing. All art by Gabriel Rodriguez with colors by Lovern Kindzierski.