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Review: Rise #1

Rise #1

As an avid reader, one of my favorite genres is high fantasy. When I came upon The Witcher novels, I was more than intrigued as it blended myths from several cultures. It also reminded me of Vampire Hunter D, the late 1980s anime where which followed a half-vampire, half-human vampire hunter. When I heard they were making it a TV show I was more than intrigued.

The show revolves a mutant monster hunter whose destiny lied with a child he had left with a sovereign for safety. As the show slowly reveals, there’s more to their connection than one would deduce. In the debut issue of Rise, we meet a young regent whose life is about to change as she becomes her kingdom’s new ruler.

We’re taken to the kingdom of Pasif’kah in far-flung future, in the 50th century, where its throne sits vacant, its guard, severely undermanned, their mages inexperienced, and a kingdom, directionless for the very least, an observation the historian has made. As we find out the Ternion, a trio of royal advisors who were charged with keeping the kingdom intact in case of foreign invasion usurping the royal family. We also meet the royal family, the king, and queen, Voltaire and Ember, and their daughter, Zakaiah, whose favor with their subjects, only grew their popularity, which only stoked the envy the Ternion had against the royal family. This lead to to the king and queen’s sudden and mysterious disappearance, one that many suspected the Ternion for.  As what remains of the royal council convenes on the future of the kingdom, as Balthazar, the chief Royal advisor, presses that princess Zakiah, to prove her worth to occupy the throne will undergo the trials of her house, the House of Jasser, as declared by royal decree. We also find out about the Soulthieves, a demonic horde, thought to live off the souls of humans while living endlessly, who attack nearby kingdoms, feasting on innocent masses, with the threat of them attacking Pasif’kah seeming very imminent. By the issue’s end, Zakaiah’s entourage is attacked by a den of Soulthieves , one of the Ternion hires an assassin and someone is lost at the moment.

Rise #1 is one of the best high fantasy comics I have read in a minute. The story by Don Aguillo is dense and well developed. The art by Aguillo is breathtaking. Altogether, a story that levels up the genre and adds another hero to root for.

Story: Don Ellis Aguillo Art: Don Ellis Aguillo
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Fanbase Press Reimagines ’80s Nostalgia with The Sequels

Fanbase Press has announced the newest addition to its publishing slate with The Sequels, a four-issue, creator-owned comic book series written by Norm Harper illustrated by Val Halvorson and Harvey Award-nominated Bobby Timony, colored/flatted by Deanna Poppe, lettered by Oceano Ransford, and featuring cover art by Don Aguillo.

In the height of 1980s nostalgia, The Sequels questions whether our grasp on the past is endangering our future:

Remember the ‘80s? Avery, Gwen, Russell, and Dakota will never forget.  As children, they each experienced unique adventures . . . saving the life of a sentient robot, partying with an intergalactic alien, battling the likes of vampires and werewolves, and defeating a nightmarish monster to protect imagination itself.  Now, 30 years later, they’re directionless adults, still obsessed with their pasts. When a mysterious figure brings the group together to cope with their experiences, will they be prepared to live out the “sequels” to their childhood adventures?

The series juxtaposes its modern-day characters with their ‘80s selves, as depicted by artists Halvorson and Timony, respectively.

Issues #1-4 of the comic book series will be released digitally through ComiXology starting in February 2019. In addition, the series will be collected into a printed trade paperback that will be released in July 2019The Sequels trade paperback is currently available for pre-order through the Fanbase Press website. Pre-orders made by May 1, 2019, will receive an exclusive set of prints (representing each of the four covers) illustrated by Don Aguillo and signed by the entire creative team.

Review: Rise #1

What the show Game Of Thrones get so well is how treacherous ruling a kingdom is. Many times, throughout literature, tv shows ad movies that take place during medieval times, rarely do they get into the turmoil of usurpers and bureaucrats nipping at the heels at the ruler, only to slit their throat the first chance they get. This even worse when rulers are of an age where they would normally not be in power, which makes life even more perilous as they are going against everything they had been thought up to that point and occupying stations which they only envision themselves years later.

This why in the latest season of Game of Thrones many fans became enamored with Liana Mormont, as she was as daunting a ruler, as any in the show, and this was despite her age. She is not an anomaly, not only in literature but also in history, as young rulers tend to become either pawns or masters of their own destiny. The first one I knew of, growing up is Pu-Yi, the child emperor of China and the subject of the film, The Last Emperor. In Don Aguillo’s brilliant Rise, we find one such sovereign, who has been charged to rule a kingdom, one she does not know, soon after her parents’ disappearance.

An assassin looking for the queen Zakaiah, enters the temple near her ancestral home and kingdom, Pacifica, where Duncan, a priest leading her band through site meets his fate. We meet her band of guides, as they find out what jus happened and what that they mean for her monarchy, as they strategize on what to do next, while the interim royal court looks to make their own play for the throne. As Zak, Lucas, Senka, and Frix , get closer to a temple for sanctuary, they run into a soul stealing monster along their path. By issue’s end, they reach the temple and where they soon find about the casualties that occurred due to the threat to the throne and, they may have found a new ally.

Overall, an engaging and sweeping first issue, that feels like a roller coaster with all the action happening across these few pages. The story by Aguillo is dense, engaging, and pulls no punches. The art by Aguillo looks like matte paintings and is very much soulful. Altogether, a powerhouse debut issue for a story that will revamp the medieval fantasy genre.

Story: Don Aguillo Art: Don Aguillo
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

InHiatus Studio’s Kim Moss and Don Aguillo Discuss Winter

A few months ago, I got  a chance to do a review of  the first collection, from the up and coming comics publisher, InHiatus Studios,  which has well of talent from the Bay Area in California, I got a chance to talk to each of the creators, this interview was with Kim Moss and Don Aguillo, who work  together on Winter.

A gritty, raw view of the world in the aftermath of Death’s decision to stop fulfilling her duties. Winter explores mankind’s spiral into an apocalyptic immortality; where the only thing that has died is humanity’s hope for survival.

Kim and Don talk about the book, their start in comics, and what drives them.

Graphic Policy: What was your inspiration behind Winter?

Kim Moss: Buffy the Vampire Slayer actually. I wanted to create a strong female lead that struggled against her responsibilities. I have also been intrigued by humans and their rejection of getting old. I have always found that my mortality keeps me grounded, and that death is all part of the experience.

Don Aguillo: For me the inspiration behind the aesthetics of Winter are drawn mostly from the weirder, more “out-there” artists currently in the field. A limited palette is where I’m playing around with influences from Sin City‘s classic visuals in particular, with big color fields and bolder line-work at the forefront of it’s art profile. A lot of what is showing through is my current obsession with work from Chris Bachalo and Mike DelMundo who are both at once celebrated and criticized for their unorthodox but dynamic and beautiful play on paneling and elements of figure drawing as well as treatment of color.

GP: What can you tell me about the world and characters of Winter?

KM: Winter is a world in chaos. Death has stopped taking souls, and as a result life has stopped creating. Humanity is slowly losing its sanity as it moves farther and farther from the natural order. This world is also beginning to see a string of demons ripping through the desperate souls that can no longer hold on in this world. Winter tries to escape the haunting presence of her last soul taken through booze and sex. Whereas the other 3 horsemen are stuck in limbo because their jobs just aren’t as much fun when their is no final pay off. Enoch is a devout Catholic exorcist. He traps the escaping demons with militaristic precision.

DA: In my perspective, there’s a chicken and the egg situation happening here: a pervasive darkness has emerged obviously from this huge problem where essentially the grim reaper has checked out, and so we begin to understand what’s at stake. But is the world’s dark crisis a result of Winter’s choices, or are her choices a result of a world that wasn’t worth her commitment to duty and responsibility? Perspectives on life and death, ethics and morals, our responsibility to the people in our lives and how we spend our time are all affected here, and explored by these characters and the situations they’re thrown in. Despite how dark and outlandish the themes, they are all still relevant, especially in this country, chock-full of people constantly distracted by our self-inflicted stress factors, an unstable government, and a profound lack of trust in our leaders and our neighbors. There are threads of gothic horror, science-fiction and historical fiction that run as undercurrents in this story, and you’re really going to feel those influences through how we deal with things like various underground organizations either trying to make sense of this world order or change it, religious inspirations on faith or lack thereof, cultural artifacts and supernatural forces at play.

GP: How have you found working together?

KM: Working with Don has been very interesting. It has been a learning experience in how to write for sequential art. What I love most is how he has taken my story and created this unique ethereal world.

DA: My freelance work has me deal with clients all the time, and back-and-forth between a commissioning authority’s and then my own take is a daily dynamic. On top of that, I’ve known Kim for many years, and it’s just a lot of fun to have an already developed world and cast of characters fall on my lap to then mold into my own interpretation. Kim’s really inquisitive and curious about the visual process of graphic novels (as her previous experience is in prose writing) and is so open about supporting the kinds of exploration I ask of her to draw out this world.

GP: Are there any current artists/writers out there you admire and would like to work with? What kind of reception have you had with Shards Volume 1?

KM: People have been really intrigued with Winter. They love the artistic style of the piece, and are excited to see how the world develops.

DA: I think upon first glance, it has really struck people visually with the limited palette and the boldness of color.  It has notes of its influences, but is really starting to come into its own in terms of a distinct style. I myself am both struggling and celebrating in the creation of the shorthand in styling the world and I think they can see the effect of that experimentation.

GP: What do you want our readers to know/or expect from “Winter”?

KM: I want them to expect a world in which people discover meaning, and humanity finds its way back to nature.

DA: I think people should expect an exploration of big questions. The human race is in this constant need to create ways to last longer, be better, have an eternal legacy and are always racing ahead to what’s next, but the book explores a world in which none of that matters anymore. What’s money going to do? Will we believe in a higher power?  If the gates are closed to what we originally thought to be some semblance of an afterlife, and there is no end to our time, then how are we going to spend it? The physical space of that is something the two of us have to invent, but the emotional space is something we all can surely explore and probably have to some extent when we question and face our own mortality and the summation of our actions and achievements in our lives.

GP: When can we expect “Winter”?

KM: The first issue of Winter will be here this winter. You like what we did there? Hahaha.

Chatting With Don Aguillo of InHiatus Studios

A few months ago, I got  a chance to do a review of  the first collection, from the up and coming Comics publisher, InHiatus Studios, which has well of talent from the Bay Area in California, I got a chance to talk to each of the creators,, the first one being Don Aguillo, who works on two of the books, one of them being Rise , below is a brief background on the book and my interview with Don, about the comic, his start, and what drives him:

Young Queen Zak, inheriting the responsibilities of the long-vacant throne of the kingdom of Pacifica, is guided by a reluctant band of individuals assembled to aid in her survival on the path to assume the mantle of queen, as a long-orchestrated struggle for power back home and a road ahead haunted by supernatural forces threaten her ascension to the throne.

Graphic Policy: What were your favorite comics growing up?

Don Aguillo: I grew up reading Uncanny X-Men and X-Men. Those were my go-to, only because they were the first ones that were ever gifted to me. It was only after I started reading that I began understanding just how relevant they were to my life experience and just how much my career and skill-development were going to be influenced by them.

GP: Is there a specific comics creator that influenced you?

DA: My original influences were Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio, Joe Madureira. These artists had really different styles but all influenced my take on figure-drawing and taught me how to bring the study of the comics medium and the conventions established in the industry to my work. Currently, I am absolutely in love with the work of Chris Bachalo, Simone Bianchi, Olivier Coipel, Greg Tocchini, Alex Ross and Mike Del Mundo. These guys are integrating the fundamentals and stylistic variety of traditional art media into the craft to establish this new-old modern aesthetic that helps galvanize comics’ relevance on the greater cultural scene.

GP: Are there any influences outside of comics which you draw upon in your art?

DA: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, by Francis Ford Coppola was a great film influence on my early painting work, as I was in love by its production design. The gothic beauty mixed with the romance of the period costume and the sickly-sweet color palettes splashed on these beautiful forms influenced by far eastern, medieval and modern aesthetic really moved me. I pull from ideas from my cultural background as a Filipino-American as well as my dance and martial arts experiences in terms of studying figure movement and action.

GP: What influence do your parents have on your work? What was their reaction, when you told what you wanted to do for a living?

DA: I threw a lot at them to keep them on their toes haha. Changing my major from pre-med to art, moving out of the house, leaving home so early, coming out, so many things. They got really used to being surprised by me, that acceptance was a big part of their lives by the point I had already galvanized my choice to follow this career path. But they’re so supportive and wished they knew more about what I’m doing, and it’s just so early in the development of comics as more of a culturaly-accepted medium in literature to be a vehicle for social change, political commentary, documentary, exploration of visual and literary expression that the greater masses don’t really have a good grasp of it yet, aside from what they get from, namely, the movies. My parents, though a part of that, are making great efforts to not only understand, but also enjoy what I do.

GP: How did you get started in comics?

DA: A lot of my early clients when I started out as a freelance artist, where aspiring writers who had comic ideas and needed to run Kickstarter Campaigns to boost production to bring them to life. These were early blessings, where I had people really interested in my work, wanted to pay for it, knew I could use it to practice my craft and use it in my portfolio! Project after project came and before I knew it, I started looking back on all my old comics not just as entertainment, but research material in a much-needed education on panelling, visual storytelling, understanding a shorthand, the essentials and foundations of visual storytelling and time management. And then came they day that I really needed to work on my own piece.

GP: When did you know working on comics would be your career?

DA: It’s actually a pretty recent development. It was only when the other company owners and I got together to say “let’s put a book out” that I thought maybe there was something there. But before we knew it, we had evolved into a company, and the rest is history.

GP: What lead you to form InHiatus Studios?

DA: As I said, the original idea was just to get these really creative people to put a book of collected short stories together. As we explored the idea, we realized the scope, a projected future and the profound potential of our concept couldn’t be contained in a single book. It was bigger than that, especially with so many of us working together on it.  We had organized and finalized the company soon after a really successful Kickstarter Campaign to fund the first anthology, realizing that what would result would need to be managed and produced professionally, because it was naturally going to spawn new, bigger projects, which it already has. We’re really busy right now, working on the independent series from the first anthology in individual comic issues (the first of each publishing over the course of the next couple months).

GP: What was your inspiration behind Rise?

DA: I work with a lot of kids, teaching martial arts and cartooning, locally in San Francisco.  In understanding the modern child and the world of responsibility on their shoulders (sometimes of their understanding, but usually not), their busy lives, growing up in such a distracting and noisy world, I can only imagine how fast growing up can be. Rise comes out of my trying to make sense of that, and throwing it into this laboratory of creating a world around that very idea.  I also think any creative work is wholly auto-biographical, and so I’ve rounded out this cast with a string of characters who all embody aspects of myself that I can visit, explore, venerate, punish, and acknowledge through writing them and placing them in situations that support the greater narrative and also help me maybe organize the din of noise in my own head.

GP: What can you tell me about the world and characters of Rise?

DA: Queen Zakaiah (at 9) is an orphaned monarch, and inherits the great responsibility of running the Kingdom of Pacifica and caring for its people, in a projected, distant future of northern California, after a string of wars and natural disasters, past the technology age and thrown into an era of magic and supernatural forces. Lucas Balthazar, her guardian, is charged with the duty of guiding her through a set of trials in preparation for the throne, joined by mysterious warrior Senka Priahm, and commoner Frix Atilio. This entourage is thrown into an adventure across the future post-apocalyptic American landscape, threatened by a horde of vampire-like creatures called Soul-Thieves scattered across the land and a mysterious political upheaval in development back at home, both with independent agendas at play. The world will have aspects of the landscape from its glorious past, hinting at artifacts we are familiar with, but mixed in with a jumble of cultural interplay with both how the world had evolved in a millennia, as well as playing with some cultural diversity in influencing the supernatural elements that inhabit this world.

GP: Do you have any favorite comics you are reading right now?

DA: Low for its beautiful art and story of hope, and Saga for its wit, charm, and characterization, as well as visual simplicity.  Both are from Image.

GP: What do you think is most important when capturing a moment in time to render in a panel for the reader to take in?

DA: Emotion. It can be captured in the pop of color, the quietness of a scene, sparseness in detail, or a contrast with all that surrounds it. I think controlling the emotional journey in the reader through their empathy of characters we write and draw is really powerful. Sounds really manipulative, but it’s the ride the reader has signed on for.  And that’s what makes the work really personal. It’s the biggest challenge, but also the biggest thrill to make that connection with them!

GP: When was the first time, you identified with a character on TV/in the movies/ or between the pages of a comic book?

DA: Buffy the Vampire Slayer really spoke to me, and  I think it’s the way Joss Whedon realized and spoke through each character that really resonated with me. It’s brilliant, heartbreaking, hopeful, honest, humorous and human, his writing.  As a gay man, the X-Men always resonated with me, but early on, the emotional journey of Jean Grey through the Phoenix Saga and eventually the Dark Phoenix Saga hit me hard and showed me how comics could really understand and be a vehicle for more profound storytelling. It explored a duality in people and to put that kind of power in a female character at the forefront of a huge story was groundbreaking in this medium. I wanted to a be a part of something like that.

GP: How important is representation in comics to you as a creator and to your target audience?

DA: Though being inclusive to everyone is the current hot-button issue these days, I think just being honest and genuine to your own experiences is more important. There is no way for a creator to write from every perspective, but to add something real from their own world is enough of a contribution. I’ve woven my experience with kids and parental figures and being a member of the lgbt into my writing, but it in no way should influence who my target audience is. I think that anyone who picks up this book should find a character to anchor onto, anyone at least, who wants to explore questions about the meaning of our life’s work, the importance of the people in our lives and how much power we all actually have in influencing and creating real change.

GP: Are there any current artists/writers out there you admire and would like to work with?

DA: Neil Gaiman, if you’re out there, my life’s wish is to draw for your work at least once, haha. Scott Lobdell was also an early influence in emotional comic book writing, and I would love to work with either of these gentlemen as they were part of my formative years and it would just be an honor.

GP: What kind of reception have you had with Shards Volume 1?

DA: Shards Volume One, was a really pleasant surprise, as we went in with no expectations. We knew people out there were really adamant and solid on the big houses and what they already like, and we offered entries that weren’t known and didn’t have a huge reach, but were from the heart. We sold locally through the Bay Area’s network of Comic-Con’s and are going into year two with a huge schedule including some of the bigger events, with our second anthology as well as a second run of our first one and have ridden on this high of new fans really loving and receiving the work.  We’re so happy to just get it out there.

GP: What do you want our readers to know/or expect from Rise?

DA: Expect a deep influence of horror, fantasy, sword-sorcery and post-apocalypse all at once. Expect an adventure with an ensemble cast that is really trying to understand each other while on this dark road, forming a kind of family we’re all familiar with. Readers are going to be hit with a complex world with a lot of moving parts, indicative of the busy mind it’s coming from (this comic is sort of my therapy, a way of trying to organize and understand my own world) and are going to see that the characters we meet are going to be put through their paces and experience real change by the end of this journey. For better or worse? Time will tell. Not everyone gets to stay, and we’re not all good guys.

GP: When can we expect Rise?

DA: Rise Issue 1 comes out this December! Issue 2 is under production and should be out by March, projected as of right now. But go out and get Shards Volume One Trade to get Issue 0 which shows how they set out on this adventure! Thanks so much!