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Exclusive preview: Si Spurrier and Matias Bergara on Boom!'s new fantasy saga, Coda

Contributed by
May 1, 2018

High fantasy is hot these days in every imaginable corner of the geek universe, from HBO's Game of Thrones and SYFY's The Magicians on the small screen to Kingdom Hearts III and World of Warcraft in the video game realm.

While the comic book universe has often been fertile territory for fantastical titles such as Elric, Fables, Elfquest, and Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian, it's nigh time for a fresh perspective. Boom! Studios is poised to establish itself as the new home for experimental literature with Coda #1, a splendid trek into colorful high fantasy — complete with a grumpy bard named Hum and an ill-tempered mutant unicorn.

Boom!'s new 12-issue series from writer Simon Spurrier (Angelic, The Spire) and artist Matías Bergara (Cannibal, Supergirl) manifests itself on Wednesday, May 2, with a game-changing 40-page double issue priced at $3.99. It showcases a breathtaking main cover by Bergara plus variants from Jae Lee and Spurrier's former collaborator Jeff Stokely.

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Here's the official solicitation synopsis:

"In the aftermath of an apocalypse which wiped out nearly all magic from a once-wondrous fantasy world, an antisocial former bard named Hum seeks a way to save the soul of his wife with nothing but a foul-tempered mutant unicorn and his wits to protect him… but is unwillingly drawn into a brutal power struggle which will decide forever who rules the weird wasteland."

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Coda is a stunning accomplishment with the look, sense, and feel of something revolutionary. It's a breakout saga of a shattered Tolkienesque world filled with dazzling magic, conflicting morals, and profound mystery. This brilliant deconstruction of the tropes and symbolism of high fantasy offers a European flair accented by some of the most striking artwork of the year and sensational lettering work by Colin Bell.

Its beautiful fusion of words and art heralds an important step in the advancement of the genre, and I predict the series will be a breakout hit. Spurrier, an Eisner Award-nominated writer, is best known for his work on Marvel's X-Men Legacy, as well as Boom!'s Godshaper and Six-Gun Gorilla. Additionally, he recently penned two series for Boom!'s Jim Henson properties, Power of the Dark Crystal and Labyrinth: Coronation.

SYFY WIRE spoke with Spurrier and Bergara on the eve of Coda’s release to hear the super-powered creative team's approach to severing ties with traditional high fantasy, crafting a revisionist saga with a superbly orchestrated narrative and accompanying illustrations, and killing the genre to create anew.

After the chat, strike out into the wastelands with our exclusive 14-page Coda #1 preview in the full gallery below.

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When you sit back and gaze at the premiere issue of Coda, does it represent everything you'd hoped for when you first dreamed it?

Si Spurrier: No, it's actually a thousand times better! I have a sort of homespun metric for how well an artist is responding to my script. If I can remember how I envisaged something in script form having seen the final art, then there's something wrong. But if the art appears on my screen or in a package on my desk and it completely eclipses the mental image I had when I was writing the thing, then the artist is doing something right. With Matias, oh my god! I have no idea what I was thinking when I wrote it because now all I can see, all I can imagine, is this world that he has created. I honestly couldn't tell you where my idea stops and his idea begins.

Having had the privilege of being able to see a lot of his sketches and development while I've been writing means I can fold it all in, and a number of times the plot has responded to stuff that Matias has just causally knocked off. It's a genuine pleasure. I knew when the high concept hit me that it had the potential to be something quite exciting and something quite eye-opening.

Because we're all so familiar with high fantasy as a genre, but it's unusual for something to come along that makes you say, Oh, s***, that's a genuinely new approach to high fantasy. And I think we've done that. Matias is extraordinary, and it's the sort of story that's really all about the art. My script is hopefully beautiful and heartfelt and full of action and all the things I want it to be. But without him, it's just a neat story that nobody will care about. [Laughs]

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What was the genesis of this fantasy saga, and what were some of the challenges in creating something that would transcend the genre?

Spurrier: I never really have ideas in the kind of romantic sense, that we as creators have these bolts that strike us out of the blue. By far more common is this process of accretion, like a pearl being formed inside an oyster, with a little bit of interest in this, or a little snippet of news, or a half-remembered recollection from my youth. With Coda it was more a case of the fact that I've spent my whole writing career expecting to one day do a high fantasy sword-and-sorcery-style story. It's one of those bucket list things, it's an itch that I thought needs to be scratched.

I kind of recoiled from it simply because the vast majority of fantasy texts which exist out there, be they books, comics, TV shows, movies, video games, are appallingly derivative. The new thoughts and new approaches to them are invariably buried beneath this cavalcade of cliches and hackneyed old story tropes. They just make me roll my eyes, and I could feel myself falling for that. When it came to Coda, there was all this stuff sloshing around in my mind, and I felt like the kindest approach would be to drag it outside and shoot it in the head. And that's sort of the starting point.

How is Coda different than other high fantasy comics or graphic novels, and what were some of your inspirations while immersed in the art?

Matias Bergara: Coda is an extremely witty, complex, sarcastic and also bright new take on high fantasy -- you could tell just by reading the first two pages of Si's script, filled with brilliant and sharp dialogue and a stream of peculiar and abundant descriptions and possibilities into each situation. This really is a new world unfolding in front of your eyes, and every character, place, and situation feels unique right from Si's writing. I can't help but rush into the creation of as many images as I can, and I hope readers will follow.

I've been influenced by too many sources to list in a single sitting, but surely I could name a strong European comic vibe to Coda's art, especially on the colors and rendering of spaces and textures. Cristophe Blain, Corben, Moebius, and Hergé come to mind. I've been consuming extra amounts of fantasy art as well from other media.

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What can readers anticipate as Coda continues?

Spurrier: We have this very familiar Tolkienesque high fantasy world that's been completely ruined, and our story starts a couple of years later. And it's not the sort of quintessential post-apocalyptic story either, full of desert wildernesses and starving cannibalistic scavengers. It's more about what happens when you do away with something tired, something that wasn't working in the first place, you quickly find that there's new life waiting to pop up underneath it and around it. And that's Coda.

The trick was to use magic as the whole operation. I have issues with stories that use magic as a get-out clause. It's spooky action at a distance with no cost to the one who's using it. So I got to thinking, what if there was a world that was so lazy in its use of magic that it couldn't function without it. There was some unpronounceable dark lord that came along and set his legions on the forces of good and the outcome is that there's no new magic being created. And when the dust has settled, there's all these people used to being knights and wizards and bards and jesters, who suddenly, in the cold light of day, are stupid and pointless and unnecessary. All that really matters is surviving, being around other people, and figuring out what you love.

Bergara: I think they'll find how strong the heart of the story beats below all the noise and spells that are coming! I myself am discovering the story as it unfolds, pretty much as a reader myself, and I can't wait to see the future for these beloved and twisted characters you'll find right from the first pages.

Spurrier: Coda is the story of a man who once was a bard who's now stuck in this world "where everybody feels like they have a hangover." All Hum can cling to is that somewhere out there is the woman he loves. The setup is that he is a curmudgeonly, misanthropic, one-legged man with no company except for a foul-tempered unicorn on an eternal mission to find and save and redeem his wife. And the things he encounters while crossing through this strange world are going to draw him in, turn him upside down, and slowly shake out all of his real concerns and preoccupations from his pocket. There is a sort of arching of the eyebrows at some of the lazier conventions of the fantasy genre, but it really is affectionate. It's really a case of clearing of the decks.

I always think of Alan Moore and his epic Swamp Thing run. The first thing he does is kill Swamp Thing and from there create a new mythology, and that's some of the best comics work I've ever read. You do find, as a creator, if you start with something you love that feels a little bit exhausted, if you put a bullet in its brain and see what happens next, it's usually something good.

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How has your work on Power of the Dark Crystal and Labyrinth: Coronation influenced or prepared you for the storytelling and worldbuilding in Coda?

Spurrier: I think in the case of Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, they're both intellectual properties that mean so much to me, both in terms of simple nostalgia and because I believe they're amazingly imaginative. Both, in their own funny way, are deconstructions of the fantasy genre in their own right. I wouldn't package them up in the same box as the sort of fantasy stories that Coda is deconstructing. They are utterly different. I came to those licensed works with a knowledge that they meant a lot to me. As a creator, you set yourself some healthy creative constraints.

What were your goals in achieving the distinctive feel and memorable art style?

Bergara: Well, first of all, I've been wanting to manage the whole art creation process myself from scratch to final colors and effects on every page I make, so — being a longtime fan of fantasy — I decided this would be the right time to do it. I'm convinced that color plays a significant role in building atmosphere, pacing, emotion, and clarity if employed well in comics -- but you can't put color where black linework is already established, so I've been keeping large black areas to a minimum in Coda's pages. It's a long and arduous process for a single person working in monthly comic book schedules (Issue #1 is 40 pages long!), and the amazing colorist Michael Doig from Ireland is assisting me to bring all that color into life.

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How does Matias' alluring art capture the tone of your story?

Spurrier: The choice was made by my editors at Boom!, Eric Harburn and Gavin Gronenthal. They have a really good track record of finding these mind-blowing talents for my projects. One of the things I really loved when they showed me some of his portfolio work is that he can clearly hop between styles at will. He was given the option to draw it however he would want to. And you've seen the results. I struggle to find the right words to describe it, especially to readers of western comics. The best I can get is that he draws like Moebius and inks like Frank Miller. There's definitely a European vibe, but with its very particular western flavor.

Can you tell us what the collaboration process was like with Simon and what some of the challenges were in bringing his epic story to life?

Bergara: Si has made everything super stimulant and easy to go at by first taking the time and effort to establish a rich and detailed written groundwork that moves you to create instantly. He's put a lot of imagination and wonder into each page, and my main challenge is, of course, to be up to it and create images that potentiate and make this story jump in front of your eyes and capture your imagination as well. So far I think it's working marvelously.