Publisher: Scout Comics
Comic Book Yeti's Byron O'Neal interviews writer/artist Fell Hound about her forthcoming Scout Comics one-shot, Commander Rao. Transcribed from the ongoing Saturday Twitter Spaces creator chatform.
COMIC BOOK YETI: This is Byron O'Neal for Comic Book Yeti sitting down with Fell Hound to talk about her upcoming Scout Comics one-shot, Commander Rao. Actually, when I was preparing for this interview, every time I said "Fell Hound" it took me back to playing World of Warcraft. Sorry about that.
FELL HOUND: Is there a character called "Fell Hound"?
CBY: No, there's a creature called a fell hound.
FH: That's so cool.
CBY: Yeah! Anyway, welcome to my little corner of the comic book Twitter universe.
FH: I am excited. I've never done Twitter Spaces before.
CBY: It's nice because you don't have to worry about the visual component so you can do it in shorts, and it's easy-peasy.
FH: I told people that they'll never know that I'm actually five lizards in a suit this way. (laughs)
CBY: Before Scout picked up Commander Rao, the project started as a successful Kickstarter, which you just completely smashed. For those that are not familiar with the concept of Commander Rao, what's it about?
FH: Commander Rao is a sci-fi action one-shot about a rogue commander on the warpath to confront a tyrannical baron. The whole shtick about it is that it's very much an action-focused comic but also with a lot of emotional beats and a lot of heart. My goal was to make a comic that was cinematic and seamless in its fight scenes, so when you look at the comic, I wanted it to read like something out of an action movie with almost continuous action and things that just broke panels.
CBY: Reading through the book, it's heavily action-weighted, for sure. The art style feels like an old-school Street Fighter game – there's lots of flying limbs, the central focus is a one-v-one battle royale. The Street Fighter reference dates me a bit, but clearly, you've got some manga influences in there. What are some of your artistic inspirations?
FH: Particularly for Commander Rao, I was actually inspired a lot from animated fight scenes. I love Legend of Korra, and I love Castlevania. So when I was actually drawing out those fight scenes or planning them in my head, I was looking back to both of those shows and just looking at how the animators did it. I also, surprisingly, took a lot of influence from Lady Maria from Bloodborne into Commander Rao's design, because I absolutely love her designs. I wanted to make something as cool as that. Otherwise, in terms of comic book influences, I am a massive fan of J. H. Williams. His work on Batwoman and Echolands just completely blew me away.
CBY: There are definitely some Batwoman influences in there. Rao's carrying around an arsenal of weapons, which honestly looks like enough to make Boba Fett envious. A whole lot of those though are cleverly concealed in her outfit, so there's a bit of fashion over function, not the Batman all-tactical kind of looking character. That choice feels important to me. Why soften her lines visually? Why make her look like a less tactical character? She has a fashionable presence to her which you wouldn't quite expect given the battle narrative of the story.
FH: With Commander Rao's design, overall, I was very inspired by the 18th-century style of clothing. At the time I was making Commander Rao, I was really into this anime story called Rose of Versailles. It's super old anime based on super old manga. I was really in love with the art style. I wanted to make something that was a mix of armored sci-fi and also mix it with old-school clothing. Again, I took a lot of influence from Lady Maria because I love her design. So, I was like, I'm gonna make my character look like that but sci-fi. In terms of all the gadgets, a lot of them weren't really planned in the original design. Most of them, like the rocket boots and the hidden blades, were added later on as I realized I needed them to either make the pages look better or to make a functional, flowing fight scene.
CBY: I checked out your other book, Do You Believe in an Afterlife. Many of those narrative elements are the same, focusing on war, sisterhood, and love. Why choose the crucible of battle to tell what are essentially love stories?
FH: That's a great question. I think in some ways, why I set everything in a war-torn wasteland is just what I like to draw to be completely honest. I like to draw armored, heavy mech designs. I was really into mech stuff and armored sci-fi stuff for a while. When I was making these designs, it was just based around what I like to draw. I felt like the only way I could have an excuse to draw these types of designs was in war stories or stories with some kind of conflict where I have a need for [a] character to be armored up and all that. At the same time, I'm a sucker for romance stories, so it was kind of a functional need that I wanted to have romance in this because that's what I really like to read about. I like to draw sci-fi, and I like to read about romance, so I just ended up mashing the two together to make Do You Believe in an Afterlife and Commander Rao.
CBY: Your resume tells me you have a proficiency with Clip Studio, so I'm guessing you work primarily with digital. Do you have formal training, or are you self-taught?
FH: I am mostly self-taught. I took a couple art classes when I was super little, and I used to love to doodle a lot. I think I really only started learning how to draw comics around 2013, and by then, I was already 20, so it was mostly just practicing a lot, reading a lot of books, watching a lot of YouTube, and just a lot of trial and error and figuring things out.
CBY: No judgment here. I'm a self-taught artist myself. I think that it can give you a very unique perspective and style. Stylistically, you're just not as influenced by a specific pathway. You can choose to be influenced by what you're into versus this sort of standard formulaic developmental path, if you will.
"The whole shtick about it is that it's very much an action-focused comic but also with a lot of emotional beats and a lot of heart. My goal was to make a comic that was cinematic and seamless in its fight scenes, so when you look at the comic, I wanted it to read like something out of an action movie with almost continuous action and things that just broke panels."
FH: To be completely honest, a big part of it was money. I couldn't afford to pay someone else to do my art because I was a broke college student at the time. I couldn't afford to do more schooling because again, I didn't have money, so the easiest way was just to try and learn this myself over time.
CBY: On your first project Do You Believe in an Afterlife, that was black and white. So then with Rao, did you just decide "I'm going to do the coloring too"?
FH: Parts of Do You Believe in an Afterlife were still in color.
CBY: I'm sorry. I just saw the black and white.
FH: Parts of it were in black and white, parts of it were in color. I kind of use the same tactic in Commander Rao as well. If I wanted to emphasize certain parts, I left it in black and white because I like the contrast better. I think all of my work prior to 2017 when I was still inking things by hand and doing things traditionally, most of my stuff was black and white. I got an iPad, and I got Clip Studio and I started learning how to color. It wasn't really until the last three or four years that I started working with color.
CBY: Do you have a preference, black and white over color?
FH: I think I prefer color. It's just more what I'm used to now, I guess. I like the fact that I can use color to play around with. Unfortunately, I haven't really drawn traditionally in a very long time, and I feel like a lot of my skills in that department have kind of waned.
CBY: You brought in LetterSquids to handle the lettering aspects of Commander Rao after doing everything yourself previously. Do you prefer that collaborative process of making comics, or do you like to do it all on your own?
FH: I usually like to work with letterers because that is something that I'm not very good at. I am not a graphic designer. I like lettering. In Do You Believe in an Afterlife, there wasn't that much to letter, so I just did it myself. For long stories, I definitely prefer to get a letterer and especially somebody like LetterSquids who is mega-talented and knows his stuff. He just elevates every page that I gave him with awesome sound effects and everything. It was so mind-blowing to get the pages back from him. I love that feeling. So, in the future, I'm probably just going to keep hiring letters because they know how to do that a lot more than I do.
CBY: You started this as a Kickstarter, and now this is coming out with Scout. How did that relationship with Scout come about?
FH: After I Kickstarted it and it seemed to do well, I guess it was just a natural evolution that I thought, okay, I've learned how to Kickstart a book. I've learned to kind of, how to market and sell this without a publisher, but I didn't have much experience actually pitching anything to anybody. So, I just thought maybe I could practice pitching this book to someone, so I literally wrote up a pitch. I think Scout was the only publisher I sent it to. Then within a week, I heard back, and they asked if the book was still available. I was like, yes. That was kind of just how that went.
CBY: That's fantastic. Talk about positive feedback, you send it to one publisher and you're good.
FH: Yeah, I wasn't really expecting anything, to be honest. I guess practicing pitching, maybe at the very least, they might give me some feedback.
CBY: What's the difference feel like, transitioning from that self-publishing world to working with one of the more established press companies?
FH: Obviously there's a lot more logistical stuff and a lot more of the business side of things like contracts, and the waiting, and Diamond. When I was self-publishing, you have more control over everything. You have a better grasp on timelines because everything is dependent on you. When there's more people involved, it's a bigger scale and a bigger scope. That's something I'm still trying to wrap my head around. Doing outreach to stores and everything, that's all new to me. So, I think that was just trying to connect with a different kind of audience, the direct market audience, instead of just the Twitter people or the Kickstarter people who are more directly in front of you. It is quite an eye-opener, the difference between Kickstarter and the difference between having something out in the direct market, but I am ecstatic that my book is going to be coming out in stores and having that kind of exposure to a wider audience. I'm super pumped about that.
"My advice to people would probably be don't be afraid to reach out to others when you need help. I think people get dejected really easily when they first started out in comics. They don't really know a lot of people in comics, but I can say that all that comes with time. I think it's one thing to focus on just improving your craft, but I think it's also important to build and find your communities and make some friends, make those connections."
CBY: If I'm understanding this correctly, you're an ambulance driver. Two of my best friends are EMTs. They used to be my old roommates actually. So, I know the life. I'm imagining you must be a bit of an adrenaline junkie. How does that play out in your storytelling?
FH: To be honest, I'm the kind of person who likes to keep my day job as a paramedic separate from my art life. When I get really stressed out doing paramedic stuff, drawing relaxes me and I get to focus on something else and get transported to a new world away from all the other problems. When I am doing my paramedic job, I'm mostly just focused on that. I think that's part of the reason why I decided to use a pen name as well to just kind of separate the two aspects of my life.
CBY: What else is down the road for you? Are we going to see more of Commander Rao?
FH: One of the things about making Commander Rao is that I don't think I ever really expected it to get as much attention as it did. When I made it, it was with the mindset that this was a practice comic to practice drawing fight scenes. With a Kickstarter and a publishing deal down the line, all that has changed, obviously. I am currently working on a story that takes place in the Raoverse, but it's not directly about the Commander herself. It's more of a prequel story that focuses on the character of Julie. We're going to explore her past and her past with Casey. Then after that, I do have a couple more stories that are focused on Commander Rao, they are in the pre-production phase right now. I'm still figuring out how to go about telling those stories, because I do want to make them good stories and not just having them out for the sake of having them out.
CBY: We have a few listener questions. Let's get Daimon in here first.
@DAIMONDREWTHIS: You were talking a little bit earlier about working a Kickstarter versus talking to stores and direct marketing stuff. I was wondering more about what it's like moving from being an independent artist into the logistical part of selling comics and working in comics spaces in that way.
FH: With respect to fulfillment and stuff?
DDT: For me, I'm just drawing books all the time. There isn't really much more I can do right now. How do you approach bringing in other people to help you with the rest of that stuff?
FH: When I first started out, I was kind of doing the same thing. I was just making comics and posting them online. I didn't really print anything. I didn't really get anything out there as an actual product. I think that slowly came about after I got to know some more folks in comics, other people who were getting their books out there. A lot of people were using Gumroad, they were using Kickstarter. I befriended them, and I started asking them for advice on how to get started. How does fulfillment work? How does having a storefront work? How does printing stuff work? From those connections, you start slowly building your own community, people who try to just help you out and try to help you get your comics started. It just slowly rose from there, to be honest. If you have specific questions about how any of that works, I'd be happy to help you in the chat or even just on my own time.
@DAIMONDREWTHIS: Thanks for answering my question. I was curious a little bit about that.
CBY: We've got LA, go ahead.
@LACHWRITER: I felt like I should jump in and ask some questions. I am her comic book dad. So greetings from very far away. I have two questions. One's a silly question which I'm sure she sees coming, but I'll also ask a real question because it's serious. I guess, the serious questions first. Now that Rao is getting this big promotion and getting out through Scout and getting to all these different people and you're making the follow-up prequel with AWLY, which I can't wait for, what's next for you, do you think? Do you want to continue the Raoverse? I hope that's the official name. Do you want to do something else that you've been cooking in your brain for a while, or do you just want to just see what happens? Maybe somebody offers? I don't know, I'm curious where you want to go next.
FH: My plan for the next year or two is just to continue the Raoverse. Unfortunately, I am not the fastest artist or writer out there so it might actually take me a while to get through all that. I also have plans for some illustrative prose, collabs with other people that I'm very excited about, and I do have some other comics down the line that are in pre-production. I want to get into fantasy graphic novels. So, there's stuff down the line outside of Raoverse. It's just all kind of vague for now.
@LACHWRITER: Thanks. I really want to see where you go next because I'm your number one fan right now, and I just want to see you do all the comics. My short follow-up silly question was, when are we getting more abs? (laughs)
FH: There's a comic Kickstarter going on right now called Prospects from Band of Bards that I did promise if that book gets funded, I will draw some mega-Rao abs.
@LACHWRITER: Every Kickstarter that comes along, you always promise to do abs of that thing if it gets funded. I think it helps.
FH: I like to have fun and help people out. I'm glad people are enjoying my antics, but I really do want these books to get funded.
@LACHWRITER: You're a treasure to the community. I'll be the one to say it. Alright, I'll let somebody else go. Thank you all the way from Spain.
CBY: In your anthology work, developing as an artist and refining your craft, do you have any advice for people aside from keep drawing?
FH: My advice to people would probably be don't be afraid to reach out to others when you need help. I think people get dejected really easily when they first started out in comics. They don't really know a lot of people in comics, but I can say that all that comes with time. I think it's one thing to focus on just improving your craft, but I think it's also important to build and find your communities and make some friends, make those connections. A lot of that is easier said than done, I know. I'm a super, super-duper, shy person. So, coming out of my shell and trying to connect with people has always been stepping out of my comfort zone for me. The more you do it, the more you get comfortable just talking to people and making friends and making connections, I feel like that's what's really helped me out aside from just drawing a lot or writing a lot. Just be nice to people and get to know people and slowly start your way up from there.
CBY: Nobody would guess you're a shy person. We got somebody else coming in here, Grant.
@GRANTANDSTUFF: Hello. Yes, I'm a very old man and I'm trying to work technology. Two-part question: number one, how's your arm?
FH: It's getting better. I can draw again. I was actually working on some AWLY pages. So, you know, definitely a lot slower than before but at least I can move without pain again. Thank you for asking.
@GRANTANDSTUFF: Absolutely. The second part is why do you hate happy endings so much? (laughs)
FH: I don't, I don't hate happy endings. If you read my first book, Do You Believe in an Afterlife, I consider that a happy ending. I also like to make people cry, so it's a balance. Some of my books are happy, some of them are soul-crushing, you know, like a balance.
@GRANTANDSTUFF: I will throw this in as a follow-up and stop bugging you. Is there any timeline in the Raoverse where everything just ends happily, like on a picnic?
FH: Absolutely, in fact for my upcoming Kickstarter in AWLY, one of the stretch goals if we reach $50,000, I will erase the ending that is super sad and will replace it with a beach episode where they all eat cupcakes on the beach.
@LACHWRITER: Okay, I have a follow up question. How much money have we left to raise and where can we do it?
FH: $50,000, if somebody has $50,000 to spare and they want to throw it on my Kickstarter, great.
@LACHWRITER: For a Rao beach episode, this has to happen.
FH: Yes, for the low, low price of $50,000.
CBY: If this an active project, I need to be able to put a link up so people can do that.
FH: It's still in production right now. I'm still drawing it. Unfortunately, production has been a little bit delayed because I was recovering from a repetitive strain injury for the last month. It's slowly getting together again. I'm planning to probably have it on Kickstarter, early 2022 hopefully, but it's still kind of under wraps for now. I will be sure to tell everybody when it is up, and revealed, and ready to be linked.
CBY: I'm sure you'll get tired of tweeting about it at the time. Jordan has a question.
@JORDANPFINN: I just wanted to ask about your experience with lettering or letterers. Since you don't do it yourself, you write your own books, you draw your own books. Can you talk about maybe why you brought in a letterer? How do you think that helps to elevate your comics and maybe just some experiences about working with the people you've worked with? I know LetterSquids and DC Hopkins are two great letters that you've had the pleasure of working with. Could just expand on that a little bit?
FH: Yeah, sure. I'm not great at letter or logo design so I prefer to have somebody with graphic and text expertise on my books because they always say bad lettering can kill an otherwise great comic. I fully believe that and so I wanted to get some really awesome people. I've been a big fan of LetterSquids' work for a long time. I found his work on, I think, the comic collabs subreddit years ago and his work just completely blew me away. I think he is super stylish. His style is so explosive. It's so out there, and it's so...I don't know, it's so LetterSquids. He just has his own style, and I love that.
So, when I was making Commander Rao, I knew that this was going to be a bombastic action comic. I looked at LetterSquids' work, and I knew that he did very bombastic, loud lettering. I just knew he was the guy I need for this book. Honestly, he really elevated a lot of those pages. Not only did he really put in most of those sound effects, I had written sound effects in the script, but he just did his own thing and put his own in. I honestly think a lot of his sound effects are way better than what I wrote in. He also added a lot of those crosshair effects that you see in the comic, those are all him, those weren't in the script at all. I just love that he took it and ran with it. I love seeing collaborators bring out their own style and still have it mesh with your work.
@JORDANPFINN: I think Squids was definitely an amazing pick. I think his lettering just fits the books so well. It feels like a part of your art. It's a very natural fit between the two of you.
That's all I got. Thanks for doing this chat, and I'll buy three copies of your book when it comes out.
"I think my greatest motivation is telling stories. I was writing long before I was drawing. I've been writing short stories since grade school, and I just want to get those stories out there. I always say that I'm a pretty shy person and a pretty private person, so it's sometimes hard for me to talk about things that I don't know how to talk about. I think telling stories is a great way to sometimes get those things that are difficult to talk about out there which is part of the reason why I like telling stories, and why I like creating art."
CBY: Grant's got another question.
@GRANTANDSTUFF: Aside from any bonus material for Rao, have you ever considered writing for another artist like a full story or anything like that?
FH: I have considered it. I consider it a lot actually. The reason I don't submit to most anthologies as a writer is because I am sadly not great with prompts and like to do my own thing. It's always been in the back of my mind. I feel like I could do so much more if I just wrote more instead of just drawing. I think part of the reason why I haven't gone ahead with it yet is just because hiring an artist is a lot of money, and artists deserve to get paid good money. Unfortunately, I just don't have that kind of money. That is my biggest deterrent right now.
@GRANTANDSTUFF: Yeah, that makes sense. You are a very good writer, and it's evident in Rao and Do You Believe in the Afterlife, so I hope you pursue it.
FH: Thank you. I would love to do more writing. I have a couple short stories written that I was hoping to hire people to draw, one day. Hopefully, I'll get funded so I can have the money.
CBY: With your universe opening up a little wider as we're talking about collaborations, anthologies, working with Scout, does it feel like the game has changed for you?
FH: In some ways. I think from my initial conception of Commander Rao as a comic to eventually getting picked up and all that, I think it did really change how I would go about future stuff in my comics career. It's a one-shot because I was fully prepared to not be able to continue this universe. I didn't know people would actually like it that much. Now that people have expressed interest in it, one of the things that I've jokingly talked about would be for something like Into the Raoverse where I can invite other writers to write stories in the Commander Rao universe and just have fun playing around in the world. That's something down the line once I have more of a world for them to build upon.
CBY: How much world-building have you done?
FH: I have been working on a world bible that I've been working on for some time. Most of it is figured out, it's just a matter of getting the main story that I want done down. One of the hardest parts for me is working backwards from a book that started at the end because most of the Commander Rao universe stuff is gonna be just prequels now. It's gonna be hard to continue the Commander Rao story after that. That was definitely the most challenging part, trying to work backwards and building a plot backwards and filling in all the gaps. It's also been fun, so we'll see how that goes.
CBY: Raymond, you've got a question?
@RLOLACHER: I'm just curious, you used to do traditional art. How did you find the transition from doing traditional work to digital?
FH: So initially, I think the hardest part is just learning how to use the programs because it's a lot more complicated than just "here's a piece of paper." There's so many tools and settings and stuff like that, it took a while before I really got comfortable with the programs that I was using. Now that I am super comfortable with the programs, it's hard to even jump to another program or even going back to traditional hand drawing. I'm trying to control-Z, and it's not doing anything! But initially yeah, I think there was a big learning curve, but over time it just kind of settled.
@RLOACHER: Is there any advantage that you find with digital besides not having to scan?
FH: Yeah, I like working with digital because I never really learned how to color when I was doing traditional artwork. I'd mostly just ink stuff and black and white. I like doing colors now and coloring digitally. It's just easier to do everything on digital. I guess other advantages would be all the tools you get, the warp tools, the crop tool, stuff like that. Those are very nice and not having to use whiteout and accidentally ruin your paper.
CBY: Thanks, Raymond. We have another question.
@M1GHTYSUNFLOWER: I'm actually tuning in from overseas. I just want to say I'm a big fan of your work, and you probably already know that. I was just wondering what part of comic creating are you enjoying most. Is it the writing? Is it the drawing? Is it the coloring? Is it finally publishing the book and holding it in your hands?
FH: Oh, that's a great question. What is my favorite part? Honestly, I think my favorite part is actually coloring. I don't know why I find it super-duper relaxing. I love being able to play with color and being able to provoke mood and stuff like that. Lately, I think one of my favorite parts of drawing is that I started sketching more and doing really loose sketches. That has been super fun because when I do my eyeliner and stuff, I'm really a stickler on details. It's something I'm trying to do less of even because it's killing my hand trying to do super-duper fine line art. Having a loose style and a loose, flowy, go-with-the-flow type of style is just way better for my hands and way better for my mental health because I don't have to be a stickler about the detail.
CBY: We've got Jelly. Go ahead with your question.
@JELLYBONESJONE1: So initially, I didn't really have a question. I just wanted to voice my appreciation for you Mister Yeti. Is it Yeti or Sexy Yeti? I don't know if you've changed your name yet. I just really appreciate you giving us the space to just let creators talk and us, the fans, as well. I just wanted to express that.
I thought of the question of motivation. What is your motivation to keep creating, or just motivation in general for life?
FH: Oh, wow. Right into the deep questions, I like that. I think my greatest motivation is telling stories. I was writing long before I was drawing. I've been writing short stories since grade school, and I just want to get those stories out there. I always say that I'm a pretty shy person and a pretty private person, so it's sometimes hard for me to talk about things that I don't know how to talk about. I think telling stories is a great way to sometimes get those things that are difficult to talk about out there which is part of the reason why I like telling stories, and why I like creating art. I guess art and stories are how I communicate with the world in a way. That would probably be my biggest motivation into why I enjoy storytelling, and art, and comics. As for life, all I want is to have a good time. I think that's my motivation for life, just having good vibes with people and kind of have a fun time while I can.
CBY: We have another question.
@CEMIROZ: My question was, what is your process when it comes to doing your artwork from script, to sketch, to actual pages?
FH: The first thing I do is that I start with thumbnails, those are probably the hardest part for me. I don't know, it's really hard for some reason. For Commander Rao, I actually did not have a script. I scripted right onto the thumbnails, then the script was actually done after I already did all the art. After I did the thumbnails for that, I started collecting references. I use a lot of 3D models to help with the referencing because when you have big action scenes and big fight scenes, it's hard to figure out how the body works. 3D models, references, action figures, I just collected all those references I could. Then it's on to pencils, then I line art the pencils, and then I colored the line art. For Commander Rao, in that case, after I did all the art, I went back and wrote out a script. I don't recommend that in the future. I don't want to admit that I didn't have a plan, but the plan was definitely done a little later in the game. Then after I got the script down, I sent it to LetterSquids and that's how the book came to be.
@CEMIROZ: Got it, thank you. It was nice to speak with you.
FH: Absolutely. Thank you for your fantastic cover art by the way. It is still my phone background. It is beautiful.
@CEMIROZ: My cover is just something that reflects what you are doing so no worries at all.
FH: Thank you so much. I still really appreciate it. Hopefully, we can collab again on something soon.
CBY: I appreciate you joining me so much today. Fell Hound's book, Commander Rao, comes out at the beginning of November so make sure to look for it on your comic book shop shelf. I appreciate everybody else for listening in. It's been fantastic. I'm sorry, I cannot remember who was talking about and being appreciative of Matt. I'm not Matt. I'm Byron. He just lets me do this. So, shout out to Matt for letting me do this. Fell, thank you so much for joining me today. I super appreciate it. Everybody else who joined in, thanks for listening. If there's anything else you want to add, now would be the time.
FH: Thanks for all the listener questions. Thank you, Byron, for having me. Thank you to all the folks at Yeti for having this chat. I love talking about my book. I love talking with people. I love talking and seeing all of you guys here. Thanks.
CBY: It was a pleasure, appreciate you so much. All right everybody, take care. Thanks so much for listening. We'll see you next week.
This is a transcript of the interview conducted on Twitter Spaces with Fell Hound on Saturday, October 23, 2021. Minor content changes have been made to assist with readability.
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