It’s not very often a comic comes along that reminds a person why they fell in love with comics so many years ago, but Voracious, the comic about a time travelling, dinosaur hunting chef did exactly that for many readers. The four issue series released earlier this year is probably the best thing to come from publisher Action Lab Danger Zone in quite some time. Quite a feat for the co-creator’s first comic book, but hardly surprising given the character driven story behind the concept.
With the trade paper back being released on the 10th of August, Alex got a chance to have a chat with Voracious’ co-creators writer Markisan Naso and artist Jason Muhr ahead of their upcoming convention appearances beginning with Wizard World Ohio from the 29th-31st of July.
GP: Okay, I have to ask; just where did the inspiration for the comic come from?
Markisan: The idea for Voracious first came to me when I was at a party and a friend asked me that popular geek question, “If I could have any superpower what would it be?” Most people choose something like invisibility, flight or super strength. But I told her I’d choose the power to manipulate time and space. In my mind having that one power would allow me to acquire all the cool abilities and toys I want.
So, for example, one of the first things I’d do first is go back in time and get an authentic Viking long ship, then hop back to the far future to have it retrofitted for space travel. And while I’m hanging out in the year 3057 I’d pick up a super-strength suit and maybe some genetically-altered rhinoceros minions. Choosing time/space manipulation is a lot like asking a genie for infinite wishes, Alex. The possibilities are almost limitless.
When I told my friend this I also happened to mention that I’d love to go back in time with my new powers and gadgets to hunt and eat a dinosaur. We had a good laugh about that but I ended up jotting down the idea in a notebook. Years later I was flipping through that notebook and found “DINOSAUR SANDWICH” in there. That’s when I started thinking about doing a comic book based on the concept.
GP: How did you come up with the design of the characters?
Jason: Markisan laid out the book and the characters, and we kind of collaborated at the beginning in terms of the story and adding different characters. Markisan already had general design concepts for most things, such as he wanted Nate and his grandmother to be Native American… things like that. But I really had free reign in designing the characters. Markisan is really open to what I come up with. Starlee wasn’t in the book originally, for example, and that was a character that I thought would be good for the book – a little love triangle between Nate, his girlfriend and this new girl.
Markisan: Yeah, we’re very collaborative, Alex. Our working process is probably a little bit different than it is for most creative teams because Jason and I are friends and we live in the same area. I brought him the initial idea, the overall scope of the story and some detailed design thoughts, but I wanted Jason to be really involved in shaping the book’s overall look and the story from the start. Jason had the idea for a rival love interest, as he mentioned, so we created Starlee and now she is one of my favourite characters. A lot of the upcoming issues for Voracious: Feeding Time will focus on her and how she handles her relationships with the other characters in the book.
We’re also very collaborative throughout the issue creation process. I’ll write a script and then Jason looks it over and makes any suggestions he might have. Then he does thumbnails and I’ll look at those and make my own suggestions on the art or layout. Throughout the entire process we’re working together to try and make the best book we can – we’re totally invested in the series as co-creators.
Jason: The next miniseries has a ton of new character designs. Almost an overwhelming amount in terms of designing worlds, gadgets and all new characters. Every couple pages has a new design. A lot of the time Markisan sends me the script and he does doodles in the margins which really helps a lot because when you’re designing something you can spend all day just coming up with ideas. It helps to be a little focused and to hone those ideas.
Markisan: Yeah, I’m a terrible artist. Jason says I’m not, but I am. I like to draw because sometimes it’s just easier for me to explain something with a sketch. I often find photo references and put those in the scripts, too. Like the cleaver wing apron… I came up with a design for that. I actually created it in Photoshop and it came out pretty well. But then Jason made it better.
GP: The environments of the Cretaceous period are really luscious and green. Was that direction something you had given [colourist] Andrei Tabacaru? Or was that simply the result of his colouring?
Jason: I think we gave him that direction in the beginning. One of the things we wanted to do with the book was to make the dinosaurs really colourful. There’s a lot of evidence these days that indicate dinosaurs weren’t just the greys and the greens we’ve seen; that they might’ve had really bright colours like birds. So we knew we wanted the dinosaurs to look like that. One of the things we discussed at the beginning was that Nate’s current life in the present should be more muted, but when he gets to the past it should really explode with colour. One, because it just looks great, and two because it’s metaphorical for his journey – he’s coming alive in the past.
So we definitely told Andrei to go nuts with it, but every time he sends us something he always impresses us. Especially the patterns. He always comes up with very dynamic, interesting, bold patterns. I love them.
Markisan: Yeah, we intentionally made everything brighter in the Cretaceous period because that’s when Nate feels happiest. He’s been down and depressed because of everything that’s happened in his life. When he gets to the Cretaceous and then ends up eating a dinosaur his world becomes alive again, so we really wanted to capture that.
I remember working on the first issue… we were looking at images, and we said to Andrei, “Listen, we want the dinosaurs to look like birds.” We gave him some examples. He took those and came up with some amazing color patterns.
GP: It sounds like you two have a very organic creation process when it comes to the creating the comic.
Markisan: Yeah, it really is.
Jason: We really don’t have an editor on the book so when a drawing looks funny Markisan will tell me, and when a line of dialogue looks funny I’ll tell him. We kind of have to watch each other, but we’re friends so we’re cool about it. It’s really all about making sure the book as good as it can be, so that helps too. We don’t have the kind of relationship where we don’t know each other that well. A lot of times creators aren’t friends, so they don’t know where to…
Markisan: Draw the line?
Jason: Yeah, draw the line.
Markisan: Yeah, again it’s so collaborative. I want Jason to make all the comments and suggestions he can for anything I do. I know he feels the same way. We don’t always make the suggested edits, but we always listen to each other and try to do what works best for our book. I think we’re kind of spoiled now. We’re probably not going to collaborate as closely with other creators on future projects, so that will take some getting used to.
GP: Attracting people with the time travelling dinosaur sandwich hook is pretty easy, but once you can get people reading, they notice that there’s a lot more to Voracious. Such as the Sheriff who doesn’t quite trust Nate…
Markisan: (laughs) No he doesn’t. And you’re going see more of the sheriff because you know from reading the first few issues that he has a past with Nate and Starlee. You’re going to see why he’s doing what he’s doing. It’s not just because he’s a dick. There’s a reason why he goes after Nate in particular, and that will play out as we go along.
Jason: I’m drawing that page as we’re talking, actually.
Markisan: As far as there being a lot more to Voracious than the high concept, that’s something readers seem to be pleasantly surprised by. Our book is very layered. It has a lot of depth.
GP: Aside from the Sheriff being somewhat of a dick, he’s also a very… I don’t want to use the word sympathetic, but you know there’s a lot more to him than there seems at first; he’s not being a dick for no reason, and that really comes through.
Markisan: Yeah, there’s more to it. I don’t want to give anything away, but something happened to him in the past that influences the way he goes about doing things. But for right now he’s just this slowly building nemesis for Nate.
GP: The story is also very much about loss, both personal and professional. Did that come naturally to the comic, or did you know that would be a part of the story before you started writing?
Markisan: Loss, and how people handle it in unique ways, is purposely one of the main themes of Voracious, Alex.
I think our series has a really good hook that we’ve pitched to prospective readers 1000 times – the series is about a chef who travels back in time, kills dinosaurs and serves them at a restaurant in the present. But when people actually crack open that first issue and read it, they quickly realize that the hook is secondary to the characters – who they are and what they’re going through. We want them to feel real and relatable, even though their lives are set against the backdrop of a crazy high concept like eating prehistoric creatures. Dealing with a terrible loss and having to come back from that is something many people experience in their lives. They just don’t cope by making Tyrannosaurus nuggets.
For Nate, the entire series is about learning to deal with tragedy and how to become a stronger person despite the hurt he’s endured. When we first meet him he’s the kind of guy who always runs away from pain. He doesn’t want to confront what’s happened in his past, so he continually tries to escape. That’s why he left Blackfossil for New York to become a chef. That why he jokes and uses pop culture references. It’s all about escapism for Nate; it’s about constantly looking forward without acknowledging the bad things that have shaped his life.
But after Nate’s sister dies, he is suddenly forced to confront all the losses he’s experienced. By design, he’s also see pushed further and further back in the past with little control over it. He is forced to return to his hometown and live with the people he left behind. He’s forced to work the same job he had when he was in High School. Then he is suddenly forced into his Great Uncle Tony’s crazy sci-fi world that was crafted before he was even born. And finally he’s thrown back 70 million years to the time of the dinosaurs. His whole past catches up with him and it’s one that just overflows with heartbreak. As the series progresses we see how Nate starts to accept what he’s been through instead of shoving it all in a box in his head. His healing starts with cooking dinosaurs, but ultimately it’s his relationships with other characters that will make the difference for him.
All our characters in Voracious are also dealing with their own degrees of loss. Nate’s Grandma Maribel has lost the same family members he has, and Tony’s death has a big effect on her because of a secret relationship she had with him in the past. That’s something that’s unfolding as the book goes along. Nate’s friend Starlee has loved Nate forever and her feelings have had a huge impact on her life, especially on her opportunities to leave Blackfossil. She comes to recognize that and has to try and figure out how to make better choices for herself. Nate’s NYC girlfriend, Jenna, lost the Nate she knew after his sister died and he became a shell of himself. She is trying to give him the time and space to heal in Blackfossil and still keep the embers of their relationship going from afar. That isn’t easy. Captain Jim is no longer an Army Ranger, which has really defined who he is for much of his life, so he’s dealing with that loss and trying to fit in somehow as a civilian. And, without spoiling anything in the next series, we will meet some new characters who are also dealing with tremendous loss because of what Nate has done. So, the theme will not only continue, it will intensify.
GP: Changing gears slightly, did you ever consider the possibility of people having allergies to dinosaur sandwiches?
Markisan: (laughs) I didn’t. Have you, Jason?
Jason: I dunno, (laughs) but our colourist Andrei is a vegetarian. And we had him colour some pretty graphic carcasses being slaughtered, and the insides of dinosaurs and hunks of meat. And he’s never once complained about it.
Markisan: And John McCrea, who did the variant cover for #4 is also vegetarian. He probably did the most graphic cover of all. It kinda makes me want to hurl and laugh at the same time!
It’s funny because sometimes when I write the diner scenes, I’ll give Jason an idea of people that are in there, but then he’s got to add more elements. He always surprises me with what he puts in there. So it’s possible he could add a dude with allergies or someone just choking on a sandwich.
Jason: I do feel like, without spoiling too much, there is going to be an issue raised about eating certain types of meat in the next series, so it does get addressed.
Markisan: Yeah, you’re going to see a lot more consequences in the next series.
Check out the second page for more of our chat with the Voracious creators.
GP: How much can you tell us about the next series, Voracious: Feeding Time, without spoiling anything?
Markisan: Well, SPOILER warning for the end of the first series, but the last page of the fourth issue has a pretty huge twist. The first issue of Feeding Time will pick up right where we left off, so the whole issue will be set in a future alternate dimension. Readers will get a lot more about what’s happening from a different perspective. That’s going to mean trouble for Nate and company.
Jason: Yeah, you’re gonna kind of get the inverse of what Nate was doing all along. We’re gonna back track and see the effect that his actions have had on this other place.
Markisan: Right. And we’re still gonna be dealing with the themes of loss throughout the book. The end of issue #4 shows that there have been some great losses suffered this alternate universe. The folks that live there have to deal with that. Just as Nate has to figure out how to handle the losses in his life, some of the new characters that come into the book will also have to figure that out as well. And eventually those worlds will collide, of course.
GP: How far into that series are you, at this point?
Jason: I’m on the fourth issue already.
GP: Do you have a release date for the first issue of the new series, yet?
Markisan: It’s either going to be December or January. We have to have four issues done before Action Lab will solicit it, so that’s what we’re trying to finish up now.
GP: Are you going to continue doing it in four issue arcs, or are you going to do a five issue arc…?
Markisan: The next series is five issues, although the first one was really five issues because of the double-sized first issue. Originally it was broken up into two parts – A 36-page first issue and a 24 page second issue. When we sent the original #1 to Action Lab they told us they’d have to raise the price by a $1 dollar for a 36-pager. And we didn’t really want to do that, because we’re new creators, this was an indie book with a weird concept and we felt like the price shafts readers. But then Action Lab suggested we could put the second issue in with the first issue and it would still only be a dollar more for 60 pages (plus covers), because that’s the way printing works – as long as we capped it at 64 total pages the price stayed fixed at $1 dollar more. We immediately decided to do that to give people more bang for their buck. So the first series is really five issues and change, but the second series will just be five straight issues of 22-24 pages each.
Jason: I think it worked out better that we combined the first two issues too, because you got such a huge chunk of the concept right away. When we were first developing the book to pitch it, there was an issue of how long it should be and how soon we got to the hook of the book, because you’ve got to set up Nate and his journey and how he gets to the past… you’ve really gotta set up that moment when he decides he’s gonna open a restaurant. The first arc of the book hinges on that. So there’s always that debate of when do you insert certain story elements, and how fast do you get to certain things. I think that as the book goes along we’re siding on the side of getting to big moments quicker because we’re excited about them. There’s a lot of stuff happening very fast.
GP: The pace of the first issue is fantastic. When I picked up the book, I honestly expected the diner to open up on the third or fourth issue. I never expected it to be that quick. That’s one of the stronger aspects of the book – that you get to those moments that much faster and that there’s no time wasted in getting to the dinosaur sandwiches.
Markisan: Yeah, I feel like a lot of comics take way too long to get to the point, or fail to make you give a shit about the characters right away. I think there are some really long series out there that don’t need to be as drawn out as they are, so when I’m writing there are certain things that I just skip. You don’t need to know everything Nate has to do to open the diner, for example. If it was a television show, maybe you would have those episodes where you’d show the challenges of actually opening a diner, but I just wanted to jump over that part and focus more on the characters and the story. I want readers to be invested in the people we’ve created.
When we did the original issue one, it was actually 48 pages instead of 36. We printed up an ashcan version that we used to pitch to different companies. I wrote way too many words, Jason wasn’t happy with all the art and we needed to get it coloured because more companies will look at your stuff if you have a full team on the book.
So we ended up chopping it down to 36 pages, which I think was a great idea – I think it works a lot better than it used too. But the ashcans are still floating out there; we printed 100 of them. We sold a bunch and we still have some… it’s interesting to go back and compare it to the final product.
Jason: It’s tricky too, because this is our first book and our first book is being published so everything we’re doing… we’re learning as we go. We’re learning in front of people, too. IT was good to do that ashcan and then to see how that turned out. Then we got the opportunity to revise it too, which was beneficial.
A sneak peak into Voracious: Feeding Time
GP: Would you ever consider releasing the ashcan as a “director’s cut” so to speak, or a digital copy?
Markisan: We never have, no. We sold a bunch at C2E2 this year, but we don’t really like it, to be honest. We think it’s awful (laughs), but we recognize people like those kind of collector’s items. It’s crazy rare, you know? Self-printed, self-published… only 100 ever made. We may do a Kickstarter for the next book and we’ll put some of those up as rewards. But I don’t think we’d ever do it digitally… we’ve never talked about that, have we, Jason?
Jason: No… we have this great debate about the ashcan between us! As an artist, every page you do you find some fault with it minutes later, so that ashcan is just a reminder of old art to me.
Markisan: Yeah, Jason revised that issue a lot, because we had more time, so his art in issue one looks way different than the ashcan. And Jason just keeps better with every issue with the art.
The original ashcan has so much dialogue in it. When you open it you automatically flip to the center of the book where the staples are. What you’ll find is a double-page laboratory scene that is almost all dialogue. One of the things we didn’t know is that the center of the comic should be art focused for this very reason; it should be a really cool splash page or something because that will hook people more than seeing 45 word bubbles. Not realizing these kinds of production misfires probably hurt us when we first pitched the book, I think. But we also learned a lot by just creating the comic and having pros point out some of the rough edges. So, even though I don’t particularly like the ashcan either, it has sentimental value.
GP: Anything else you guys want to promote, talk about?
Jason: The trade comes out August 10th, and that collects the first arc of the book. We’ll be doing a bunch of signings around the Chicago area. We’ll be doing a couple of conventions this summer – we’ll be at Wizard World Columbus at the end of July. Then we’ll be at Mighty Con in Madison, WI on September 18th, I believe.
Markisan: Yeah, so the Wizard World con is from the 29th to the 31st. There’s gonna be the big trade paperback launch in August and we’ll be doing some actual book store signings in Chicago, which is a bit of a different market for us. We’re excited about it. You can find all our signings and events at the Voracious Facebook page. Just search for VoraciousComic.
Jason: Yeah, and we’ll be selling our books at the cons and signing whatever you want. I also do commissions too, so if you’re in the area come out, we’d love to meet you!
Markisan: Oh, and Jason is also doing variant covers for Valiant Comics. His Faith #4 variant drops in October. And then at the end of the year Voracious: Feeding Time #1 will hit shops. We are dying for people to see what happens next.