Comic Book Yeti Editor Al invites webcomic creator Sera Swati into the Yeti Cave to chat about her newest project, Running Fish, growing as an artist, and creating the Peacemaker Universe and romance stories that matter.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Welcome to the Yeti Cave! My name is Al, I'm the Webcomics and Manga Editor here at Comic Book Yeti, and today I am joined by one of my favorite comic creators of all time, Sera Swati!
SERA SWATI: Hello! I am Sera Swati. I'm an artist and writer of Swaha, Bone's Tarot, Hyo and more. I'm very happy to be here.
CBY: You've started out 2023 strong with the release of a brand new series called Running Fish, which is available now and releasing updates regularly! I've read the first two chapters of volume one and I'm hooked, tell me about what inspired this new series!
SS: I was thrilled to launch Running Fish this year. The seed of this story originated over five or six years ago when I was deciding what long-form comic I would make first. I had just finished two smaller one-shots to practice.
Initially, it was just meant to be a sweet, if melodramatic, high school love story between a moody track and field star who couldn't swim and the ace of the swim team who was more than happy to teach him.
However, at the time I didn't have the skill or maturity to pull off the story in the way I envisioned. The early versions got scrapped and what remained simmered on the back burner of my brain while I went on to make Swaha and then Bone's Tarot.
With the confidence that comes with finishing two large projects such as those, last year I felt ready to update Rory and Harlan's love story by adding a bit of magic and mystery. But for all the changes, one thing remained the same: Rory still can't swim, and Harlan is still more than happy to teach him.
CBY: Timing definitely matters with projects like this, especially ones that have spent so much time swimming around in your head like that - no pun intended! Being able to take a step back and look at something with fresh eyes after you've honed your skills and storytelling style, and knowing that you can finally put it out into the world the way you wanted must be an incredible feeling! One thing of note about Running Fish that is a big departure from your previous titles is the shift to black and white artwork. Was that how you originally envisioned it all those years ago? Or did something shift between Bone's Tarot and Running Fish that drew you into a more monochromatic lean?
SS: It's definitely an incredible feeling.
I did not envision making Running Fish in black and white originally. The main thing that shifted for me between Bone's Tarot and Running Fish was acknowledging that I wanted to put out stories faster than I was capable of drawing and coloring them. Other than Running Fish, I also have a sequel to Bone's Tarot being created and published concurrently. I also am an assistant to three other webcomics in varying capacities. And on top of all that, I still take commissions (sparingly) and am attempting a massive word count this year for my writing goals.
Simply put, the black and white style is not only faster, but I'm also very proud of my line work and want that to take center stage. As a bonus, my audience doesn't have to wait as long for me to tell the story and when I eventually print the volumes, they'll be cheaper to make and buy.
CBY: I can see how cutting out the color can speed up the process, and it does allow your line work to shine. The way Running Fish is illustrated, readers can definitely see how sharp the line work is and it helps draw your eye to the character design and architecture - something I think you've always excelled at.
Running Fish feels reminiscent of an old-school manga but retains the familiarity of your personal style. During our many chats, you and I have talked about how classic manga titles like FAKE by Sanami Matoh have inspired your own stories. You have also noted that Hindu mythology helped inspire your previous title Swaha. Are there any influences that helped develop this new world we see in Running Fish?
SS: Aw thank you! That is high praise to me as I have a soft spot for old-school manga and have wanted to make comics similar to them for years.
Running Fish has many influences: The base of it is my own teenage and young adult years, which weren't nearly as adventurous as Rory's is going to be, but it helps to be able to encapsulate what it was like to be an adolescent and try to put those feelings into this new story now that I've grown enough to reflect on those experiences.
And rather than stories, songs that I enjoy currently and back when I was a teenager have helped inspire a lot! For each chapter, I have a goal to try to use a song to help me get into the emotional headspace of it and use the lyrics to inspire the chapter titles.
Finally the last of the influences are from those supernatural and teenage series like The Chilling Tales of Sabrina, Riverdale, Legend of Korra, Avatar: the Last Airbender, as well as books that captured my whole attention as a child like Animorphs and Nancy Drew. My love of fantasy and mystery drives the secondary plots of Running Fish (the primary plot is, of course, a love story).
CBY: Since you have new settings and new characters to play with, are there any stylistic choices when it comes to the art, character development, or world-building aspects - other than the B&W style - that you're excited to try?
SS: Yes there are a few style differences from my previous works.
For the art, with the time I'm saving by not coloring, I plan to go hard on the backgrounds and hand draw more of them. I'll still be using 3D assets for the more complex settings, but I'm going to try to breathe more life into an environment that feels "lived in" by the characters rather than a set they walk through. That, and it's going to be a fun challenge as well to draw textures and effects crisply without relying on the motion blur techniques I used for the more cinematic-styled Bone's Tarot.
For the story and characters, Running Fish will focus on teenagers and their induction into an adult world. Creating a coming-of-age narrative will be new for me, but it will be nice to take my time building long character arcs for the main cast of four teenagers.
The cast size and design are going to be large. In previous works, I've limited the cast size to the smallest possible number to suit the more action-thriller-type stories I wrote. In Running Fish though, I'm going to have an ensemble cast to populate Rory's world. The plot deals with not just Rory navigating romance, friendship, school drama, and Mage training but also the adults around him doing their jobs as well as family and relationship drama of their own.
For the world-building, there is a vast sea I have yet to reveal. I'll get to share aspects of the Peacemaker Universe that I wasn't able to explore in Bone's Tarot because that comic dealt with adult professionals. In Running Fish, I'll have an opportunity to organically show people how the magic system works (because Rory and friends will be taking lessons to get better at it), how mages have to navigate their communities (Rory is not going to have a fun time in high school), and some of what's happening to the world at large without ever leaving the small town setting. The reality of their world runs deep and I look forward to taking my sweet time revealing it drop by drop.
It's an ambitious work that I think I'm ready to tackle for however long it takes to tell the whole story.
CBY: So that confirms that Running Fish takes place in the same world as Bone's Tarot? Are we currently seeing the development of a Sera Cinematic Universe?
SS: Yes! It does take place in the same universe as Bone's Tarot. I am inspired by Terry Pratchett's Discworld. He wrote many stories that all share a single fantastical world. Currently, I call my fictional universe the Peacemaker Universe after the Foundation that serves as a central pillar of the world's magical community. And yes, I want to create many comics and novels within this universe to explore every corner of it.
CBY: That is so exciting! As a long-time Bone's Tarot fan, I'm glad to see the universe continue to be fleshed out, and the extensive lore and world-building you've done shine through in this new title! Plus, Bone's Tarot was my first review here at CBY so it's exciting to see the story continue in a fresh new way.
Anything else you'd like for readers to know about Running Fish or your other titles?
SS: I'd like readers to know that, at their heart, Running Fish and my other titles are about love.
For all the magic and mystery and action, in the end, every story boils down to the love one has for others, their family, friends, and partners. And how that helps us to find a way to overcome even the most hopeless of situations.
In a world that feels more divisive than ever, I am trying to put out stories that show not only what I believe is pushing us all apart and that it's more important than ever to be tolerant and loving of yourself and others if we want to have a good future together.
CBY: I love it! Stories like that are something we desperately need, especially in a world where so many things - even in the world of comics - try to tell us otherwise. I'm excited to see the story develop here in the coming months!
Thank you for coming by the Cave and for sharing the upcoming cover for volume two of Running Fish which will drop later in March! Where can people find you?
CBY: I know you've also got physical copies of Bone's Tarot vol. 1 and 2 on Yaoi-Revolution, so I highly suggest our readers head over there to grab them because they are beautiful! Our readers will definitely want to go check out Sera's incredible library of stories and jump into the world of the Peacemaker Universe. I promise you'll be hooked from page one! And Sera, thanks again for dropping by and chatting with me today!