COMMANDER RAO: A Twitter Spaces Conversation With Fell Hound

Creator: Fell Hound Letterer: LetterSquids

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.

Commander Rao from Fell Hound

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.

Rose of Versailles

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?

Do You Believe in an Afterlife

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?

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.