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FEAR THE REAPER: AN INTERVIEW WITH SEBASTIAN GIRNER

Comic Book Yeti contributor Alex Breen recently corresponded with Sebastian Girner, writer of The Devil's Red Bride and The Dead and the Damned, to discuss the origins of his Kickstarter comic, The Dead and the Damned, his approach to choosing rewards for the campaign, and writing compelling narration in a fantasy setting. The Dead and the Damned issue #1 is available on Kickstarter HERE.

 

COMIC BOOK YETI: Sebastian, thank you for joining us for another interview. (I promise to keep the number of questions down this time.) What is the premise of The Dead and the Damned?



SEBASTIAN GIRNER: The Dead and the Damned is a dark fantasy apocalypse set in a world where for centuries all things that die rise again to wage war on the living. Issue #1 opens on the final battle between an ocean of dead things, all bound to a Necromancer known only as The Gravehand, and a ragtag army of survivors of this world’s once vibrant and diverse nations and peoples. In an upset victory, the living manage to magically paralyze the Gravehand but in doing so, they unwittingly ‘free’ the Pallbearers, the Gravehand’s personal guard, comprised of four legendary champions he plucked from the grave, awakening them from centuries of blissful oblivion and returning their memories and consciousness to their long-dead bodies. Now these four must face the ruin they helped bring to the world and the consequences of their mortal ambitions, all the while being hunted by the living and dead alike, and tormented in their nightmares by the Gravehand, who is still pulling their strings even as they try to shake off the eternal chains he damned them to, and attempt to save a world perhaps already beyond saving.


As you can see, this is not a fast elevator pitch. I literally had to establish a comic book publisher myself in order to tell this story the way I wanted to.



CBY: What were the initial inspirations behind The Dead and the Damned?



SG: During the pandemic, my outlook on the future kind of reached a fulcrum. I’ve never been the most optimistic person, and friends and family know that I have a kind of dark streak that I’ve been fortunate enough to express and work out in my writing. With this book I wanted to try and out-bleak myself, go to the darkest possible place, where no light exists, where no hope can flourish, and then find my way back.


Because during this time of global chaos, unimaginable tragedy and loss, and a general sense of the world drifting into a future worse than anything we could imagine, I was also faced with the reality that I was to become a father! That I would soon be responsible to raise and nourish a little baby, protect it, and help it understand the world, and the people in it. And these two diametrically opposed concepts helped me birth what would become The Dead and the Damned, which, and I realize this is not readily apparent from the preview materials, is also a father/son story about our place in the world, personal ambitions, and how we prepare ourselves to leave it all behind for our children, who may rightly judge us harshly for decisions we made with nothing but love in our hearts.


And just to round it all out it’s also very much inspired by the fantasy board game Warhammer, and the pinnacle of all dark fantasy comics, the manga BERSERK, because nothing I create won’t have a bit of Miura sensei’s (RIP) blood-ashen pixie dust sprinkled on it.


"...I’m still just too new to the process, but I will say that setting up a campaign is both somehow less AND more work than you would consider, and that I’ve learned and understood more in the two weeks since we launched than in the 5-7 months we spent working our way up to it. "


CBY: Within the credits page, artist Kelly Williams’ name is listed at the very top. Is that reflective of your style of collaboration? Were the stories written closer to Marvel style?



SG: We’ve also taken the credits off the cover to let the artwork and logo breathe free from the eternal struggle of credential hierarchy! That’s just a personal preference on how I want to do it at Goats Flying Press, at least on titles I’ll be writing, and doesn’t really have any bearing on the creative process or responsibilities shared.


I reached out to Kelly when I had a one-page pitch for the tone and theme of the book, and after he expressed interest in coming aboard, I developed the story, world, and characters. So, Kelly is working from full scripts. But for me, the artist should get top billing on a comic. I know what I contribute to a project, and so do my collaborators, and that’s what’s important.



CBY: Just like The Devil's Red Bride, the narration you utilized in The Dead and the Damned’s preview pages immediately had me hooked. Do you have any tips for aspiring writers on writing compelling narration?



SG: I actually try to use narration as sparsely as possible because it can very quickly be used as a crutch for lore and world-building (something writers especially are so proud of), when what you want to do is get to the characters as quickly as possible and start seeing them act and interact, as any good story that readers care about will result from those dynamics. But with a fantasy world as big as this, I felt like I needed to give myself a few captions worth of establishing text to set the table and ease readers in. I think I rewrote them all several times and ended up cutting over half completely, so what you’ve read is the leanest and meanest, and I’m glad to hear it struck a chord with you.



CBY: Is this the first Kickstarter you've ever been a part of? If so, are there any useful do's and don't's you've learned from past campaigns? If not, can you share your observations from examining other campaigns or conversations you’ve had with other creators on the subject?



SG: Back in 2012, my very first writing gig was for a kickstarted sci-fi anthology called Fearless Future by editor Chris Robinson, who was an intern at Marvel and reached out to me to contribute after I left. I owe him more than he knows because the mere act of being asked to write a comic ignited in me a desire to do so. I may not be here if it hadn’t been for that 8-page comic, of which I’m still quite proud.


Since then, I have not participated in any crowdfunding projects and the entire scene has, of course, massively changed since then. At the time of writing, we’re just past the halfway mark and that’s generally when you’re told things slow down, right up to the final week when a lot of campaigns get their big final push, which I do hope is the case for us as well! I don’t think I’m quite ready to dole out good advice yet, as I’m still just too new to the process, but I will say that setting up a campaign is both somehow less AND more work than you would consider, and that I’ve learned and understood more in the two weeks since we launched than in the 5-7 months we spent working our way up to it.



CBY: Can you take us through your thought process in coming up with rewards for the campaign?



SG: I wanted to start slow, and really focus on the comic itself, and the experiences that go into making them. I didn’t want to offer anything that I myself would not care to see on a Rewards Tier list myself.


I want to allow myself, and the publisher, to grow slowly, and specifically out of the quality of the comics, story, art, production values, etc. As Goats Flying Press grows and our quality for stories, art, and production value is established, we’ll surely branch out and explore some fun ideas for series-specific merch and special pledge rewards. But the comics will always be the main attraction.



CBY: How many pages will be in the first issue? At this moment, how many issues are you planning to run? And is there a rough release schedule for future issues?


SG: The Dead and the Damned #1 will be 48 pages total, of which 40 pages are story and art, in an oversized (7.25” x 11.25”) single issue. That’s the format I want to establish for Goats Flying Press as it allows us to reach a decent-sized trade paperback page count of 120-160 pages within three to four issues. Currently, The Dead and the Damned is slated for four issues to complete the story we set out to tell.


Whether or not that issue count changes, or I make the final issue an extra giant-sized 80 pager, is all on the table and depends a lot on reader reception and our continued success with crowdfunding. But I’m dedicated to finishing this story in 1-2 years.



CBY: Is there anything you can tease for us with future issues? What concept or character can you share without giving away the upcoming story arc?



SG: By the end of issue #1, readers will have met a large and diverse cast of characters, both living and dead, and seen first glimpses of the ties that bind them together, and the motivations that put them at odds. The chase that ensues will take us across a world blasted to ruin by centuries of the Gravehand’s war on all life.


The Pallbearers may be long-dead, but with their memories of life returned they once again know the fear of death, the fear of not knowing what comes after. And it’s that fear that the Gravehand seeks to exploit, as his four servants drag his throne with his catatonic body through the wasteland, compelled by their former master in dreams, to return him to his fortress, the Womb of Night, at the end of the world. But to what end?


The living, meanwhile, are in a constant state of “extinction panic”, as any infected wound, broken limb, or spoonful of gruel down the wrong pipe could spell their doom and make them an immediate danger to their comrades as any death, no matter how mundane or accidental, creates a new enemy who will never stop trying to add to their numbers. What it does to a company of fighting men and women, who must trust each other with their lives but cannot support each other upon their deaths is another thing we’ll be exploring. And of course, just because the world is quivering in its death rattle that doesn’t mean human bickering, politicking, and jostling for position and privilege has stopped. If you think the dead are bad, wait until you get a load of the living!



CBY: After readers back The Dead & the Damned, are there any other currently running crowdfunding campaigns (not necessarily just Kickstarter) that you recommend they check out?



SG: Simon Roy is always putting out excellent Kickstarters for his comics, and there is an ongoing Gofundme by Alex Norris, the creator of the infamous “Oh No” comics, who is in a protracted rights battle against a company that pretty flagrantly stole his I.P. of the book and is trying to squeeze him dry with legal fees, so I try to chip in a few bucks to that every couple of months.



CBY: Where can people find you and Goats Flying Press on Social Media?



SG: We are on @goatsflyingpress on Instagram and Bluesky and on Twitter as @goatsflyinpress. We also have a monthly newsletter readers can subscribe to at goatsflyingpress.com where they’ll receive an original piece of goat art by some of our favorite artists every month.



CBY: Sebastian, thank you so much for your time!



SG: Thank you so much for having me.







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