WARLORD OF MARS has reached its 100th issue milestone today. The oversized issue will feature three different stories by Arvid Nelson, Robert Place Napton and Mark Rahner. Even though the issue is on sale TODAY, we have some writer's commentary from Nelson and Napton on their stories.
When Molly Mahan at Dynamite approached me with the idea of a Woola-themed Warlord of Mars anthology, my first thought was “Why didn’t I think of that?”. The challenge was making Woola, John Carter’s loyal “hound”, the star of my story, and I think, with the help of the rest of the creative team, we were successful. But you be the judge.
There are so many good things to say about page 1. The rendering of the figure is beautiful – that’s not an easy pose to capture! The character’s maniac joy comes across brilliantly. And how about the colors? The modeling perfectly compliments the art, and the palette masterfully evokes the “Wild West” flavor of Mars. I also love how the background is slightly hazy. It subtly emphasizes the figure in the foreground.
I had fifteen pages for this story – not a lot of space! Each page is, at best, the equivalent of a paragraph of prose. That’s why I think writing comics is more like writing poetry than anything else – you need maximum economy. Every image, every line of dialog is precious. This page introduces our three main characters, establishes their relationships, and sets up the conflict for this story. That’s all! Notice how the colorist draws your eye to the cups with the sparkly lens flare effects on the rims. And I love the “Lonesome Trails” gradient of the sky.
Again – gotta move fast. There’s no reason for Carter and Dejah to dither on about how much they love each other. This page was inspired by a scene involving drugged coffee in an Alfred Hitchcock movie – Notorious, I think. There are like a dozen close-ups of the drugged coffee cup in that scene – you really need to hit the reader/viewer over the head with that kind of plot detail, because it’s so easy for it to get lost. To that end, note the close-ups of the drugged milk in panels 1 and 2.
Woola escapes! We wanted to create the impression that Woola is being cowardly in this page. “Woola would never run away like that!” – that’s what we want the reader to think at this point. It makes his reappearance later on all the more heroic and dramatic.
The design of the throne is absolutely beautiful, and all of the characters are rendered so exquisitely – I love this page. The crossed legs and upturned chin of the crazy old guy on the throne suggest arrogance and power. And check out Dejah and Carter in both panels – if you’ve ever taken a life drawing class, you know exactly how hard it is to draw figures in awkward poses like this. The downward-tilting “camera angle” of the second panel suggests helplessness on the part of Carter and Dejah. Everything on this page just clicks.
Virtually every story I write involves at least one panel-dense page in which characters talk. And talk. And talk. It’s a real challenge for the artist. But when it works, as I think it does here, it can make dialog as interesting and exciting as an action sequence. Every comic book artist knows (or should know) about Wally Wood’s famous 22 Panels That Always Work!! [Check it out HERE]
Again, pure mastery on the part of the artist and colorist. The angle of the first panel – extremely difficult to pull off. And check out the emotions on the characters’ faces. It’s all too easy to overdo facial expressions, to make characters look unintentionally goofy. But not here. The manic triumph of the crazy old guy, the fear and disbelief of Dejah Thoris and John Carter – the psychology comes across perfectly.
Woola to the rescue! Lui Antonio, one of the original artists for Warlord of Mars, designed the sword. We had our own ideas for what the sword should look like, but as soon as we saw his concept we all thought “wow, that’s much better”. I love the serrations on the blade near the grip. It gives the sword a vicious, evil, barbaric look.
Action sequence! It wouldn’t be a Warlord of Mars story without a little blood and thunder.
After a big, dramatic action sequence I think it’s important to have a little “cool off” time. For characters to take stock of the new equilibrium (or lack thereof). That’s the point of this page. Again – and I can’t say this enough – look at the beautiful poses of the characters, the expert rendering. Carter’s pose in panel 3 is masterfully accomplished. It’s so easy to make a glancing-over-the-shoulder pose like this wonky and sloppy looking! All you aspiring artists out there, this is what you should aspire to. And Dejah Thoris weeping into her hands in the bottom two panels. You can really feel her grief and loss.
This is it! The big confrontation for this issue, where Woola emerges as the hero. I love Woola’s pose in panel 2. Most of the time Woola is sort of a goofball, but he looks really mean and tough here. Not to be trifled with, and it’s absolutely perfect.
Just like that, Woola saves the day. The idea of using the environment to solve the “problem” of the sword came to me after a lot of thinking. When I’m struggling to find the right pivot point for a story, I usually go for a run. For some reason, being in physical misery helps unstick my brain. Sometimes I also come up with ideas when I’m drifting to sleep. It’s all about letting go with your conscious mind, letting your subconscious lead you to the answer. I think/hope/pray the magma fall comes off as a reasonable plot device. If it does, it’s because we introduced it much earlier, on page 4, and the artist and colorist were very diligent about punching it up on every single page. Thanks, guys, for making me look good.
Cue the denouement! I thought the sword needed a little explanation, but straight blah-blah-blah-here’s-what-happened is boring and lazy. I needed one final twist, one final mystery... and for that, I turned to the source material, the original novels. Mars is full of false gods, false religions and false idols, after all! Check out Woola’s expression in panel 3. It’s priceless.
I love love love Carter’s and Dejah’s comedic expressions in panel 2. Their faces are in the “Goldilocks Zone” – not too much expression, not too little. Just right. And again – Woola, panel 6. How could you not love him? Seven panels is a lot for one page, but the artist pulled it off brilliantly.
A nice, gentle farewell. All is well on Mars. Dejah’s expression in the final panel says it all.
Robert Place Napton
For this 100th issue, I feel really lucky that I got to work with artist Lui Antonio. I was a fan of his work on the Warlord book and for my story he’s doing some of the best work of his career. I wanted my story to be evocative of my run on Dejah. Arvid did a great job writing the first 10 issues of Dejah and after I took over, I brought my voice to it by really focusing on Dejah’s curiosity and thirst for adventure. I created the character of Professor Syl Mak – an archeologist and former teacher of Dejah’s. As this page unfolds we see we are at a Martian archeological dig and Syl Mak has discovered some cave paintings that tell take us back to the origin of life on Barsoom. Since this is our 100th issue, I wanted the story to pay homage to the rich history Edgar Rice Burroughs created and show the “Tree of Life” in the paintings from which all Martian life sprang.
It wouldn’t be Barsoom without some bloodshed! A skillfully rendered scene by Lui showing the Green Hordes attacking another dig site. Panel 4 shows the main focus of this story – a Sword that we invented that is the “Excalibur” of Barsoom. Arvid Nelson and I decided to link our stories up very directly for this 100th issue and the Sword is the device that enables that to happen. We had a lot of fun forging this blade out of our collective imaginations.
Lui draws the best Barsoomian cities, hands down. Korad is one he’s depicted before and I just love the feeling of panel 1 – for me that IS Barsoom. Throughout my run on the Dejah Thoris series, I got to play with the idea that its 400 years before the time of John Carter, so this is Dejah in her late teens/early 20s in my mind, so this is a different Dejah than the one from the Warlord series. Here she’s a bit more reckless and a bit more adventurous – quicker to dive in the deep end of a situation and worry about how to get herself out later. Here she’s at it again – taking matters into her own hands.
The only marching orders Dynamite gave the writers for this 100th issue is that Woola had to appear in all the stories! It was a fun request and presented a challenge for me because we have to assume Dejah didn’t meet Woola until John Carter was around, but I decided a workaround – she met a younger pup of a Woola never learning his name. Dejah shows him kindness here which is why he may be susceptible to John Carter’s displays of affection hundreds of years later. A great design for Young Woola by Lui.
The Sword brought back to camp, Dejah has to have some fun with her new friend. I love the expressions Lui gave Woola throughout this page.
A great depiction of Dejah as the Sword starts speaking to her, earning its reputation for being cursed. My first storyline for Dejah involved her being possessed by the Barsoomian version of a Witch and it was quite controversial for some readers, but I elected to bring it full circle in my final story and show her succumbing to the Sword’s negative influence.
Just as they are about to kill each other to possess the sword, Dejah and Syl Mak are saved by Woola who sees what’s going on and uses his great speed to whisk the Sword away bringing Dejah back to her right senses. Woola is the hero of the day – the best calot man or woman could have.
Long time readers know there can be no happy ending yet. Young Woola must leave Dejah and return to his Green masters so he can be rescued by John Carter hundreds of years later, but that isn’t the last Dejah will see of him, nor is this the last time they will see the Sword of Mars…
Warlord #100 was great fun to work on, especially finally getting to collaborate with Arvid Nelson, who led the way for us all, and it's a fitting tribute to Dynamite’s lengthy sojourn on Mars.