Writer: Ryan Bis
Artist: Giulia Lalli
Editor: Nicole D'Andria
COMIC BOOK YETI: This is Byron O'Neal for Comic Book Yeti, sitting down with Ryan Bis and Giulia Lalli to talk about their recently launched, and already funded, Kickstarter campaign for the next installment of the epic fantasy series Ruination. I just checked, you guys have 170 backers already. That has to feel pretty good.
RYAN BIS: We're thrilled. My goal with each of these has always been to do better than we did last time, and we're definitely trending in that direction. So we're pretty thrilled, and we were glad to see so many recurring names that came back from one to two and two to three. That means some people seem to be liking what we're doing, so that's awesome.
CBY: It's always good to get that kind of immediate feedback and then you have that worry gone, right? Okay, we're funded. Great!
CBY: This current campaign is mainly funding issues three and four, but people can still pick up the first two installments with the Kickstarter as well. For the folks out there listening who haven't been exposed to the first two issues, could you give them a little background and fill that in?
RB: Sure, Ruination is a fantasy adventure series that takes place in a world that's been destroyed by a 200-year war between the nation of Saldyria and this rebel group called the Fallen. The story picks up after a 40-year truce between the two where there's been peace and a new generation has been born. When all of a sudden, the Fallen again reappear and attack this small little fishing village. We see this young woman, Elene, runaway and escape when we realize that the Fallen are attacking because they're looking for this crystal that Elene is wearing, what she thinks is just a piece of jewelry. She runs off into the woods and comes across a giant magic portal that seems to be reacting to her crystal. Then, we pick up the following day with her brother out looking for her. He's a Saldyrian soldier trying to solve the mystery of where she went. He joins up with another Saldyrian soldier named Jalen, and a Fallen soldier named Kayla, who is playing tricks on the Fallen. The three of them collectively go off to protect and save their loved ones as the war starts, and hopefully stop the war from ever beginning as they start pursuing Silas, who is our primary antagonist.
CBY: On the surface, it's a fantasy story. You've got magic users and druids running around. On a more fundamental level though, it's a story about this cross-generational conflict between these two groups of people. Where did that idea come from? Is that what you want it to be focused about?
RB: "When I had my daughter a few years ago, I had let this story languish for a long time, just tweaking and tweaking it, but never actually doing anything with it. After having her and and thinking, well, what if something suddenly happens to me someday, and I'm not around. As a teenager, she's trying to work these things out for herself. I'd like to have something written down for her to experience or read on her own so there's something permanent there that came out of me that she can experience and at least get my take on these things."
RB: Yeah, absolutely. It's purposely that the three primary characters Dante, Jalen, and Keila are all roughly the same age. They are that first generation born during peacetime. They've inherited this world that has gotten blown up and is very bare bones, but even what they have now is about to get threatened. They've got to deal with the immediate issue of saving these kids that they're with and finding Dante's sister, but then they also have to decide what to do as a younger person in this world. Do I try to get involved and stop this guy, or do I let them fight it out and possibly restart another 20 years of this? It starts asking the question, if you're a part of the younger generation, what do you do? How do you fit into this world? How much can you affect it? Do you just say, screw it, and try to blow it up yourself, or do you try to work within the system and try to be with the "good guys." So we see how these three different people, who come from pretty different backgrounds, react to that.
CBY: I was reading that you've had this idea in your head since you were a teenager. Where did that seed originate from, and how has it evolved over time?
RB: It's definitely changed quite a bit as I've gotten older. The original story was very, very different and involved angels and things like that which is where the names Devoted and the Fallen came from. As I've gotten older and my own personal needs and the things that I want to work out have changed, the focus has changed. The whole idea of how the younger generation deals with things is very much in tune with our current time. I think we can all relate a bit to that. When I had my daughter a few years ago, I had let this story languish for a long time, just tweaking and tweaking it, but never actually doing anything with it. After having her and thinking, well, what if something suddenly happens to me someday, and I'm not around. As a teenager, she's trying to work these things out for herself. I'd like to have something written down for her to experience or read on her own so there's something permanent there that came out of me that she can experience and at least get my take on these things.
CBY: So a legacy sort of thing in a way?
RB: Yeah, exactly.
CBY: You've got this really diverse creative team. How did you seek them out and put this together?
RB: Matías, our letter, and Kaytee, our colorist, I actually worked with on my first book, Curiosities From Another World. I found them on Reddit back then and knew that I wanted to work with them again. Kaytee had colored a story that involved magic and crystals and did an amazing job on it, so she was a shoo-in. Giulia and Nicole, our editor, I think I found on one of the Facebook collaboration groups, and we just went through portfolios. Giulia has her own fantasy story that she's been working on for quite a while called Puck that had a brighter, fantastical look to it that I thought would probably be a good match for what we're doing. I wanted to be careful because the content of Ruination could potentially get very dark at times, and I didn't want this to be another super dark, super gritty fantasy story. I feel like that's been overdone quite a bit lately. I wanted this to be a little bit more on the adventure side. Giulia has this really awesome, semi-realistic style with expressive faces and good emotional bases so I thought she was perfect.
CBY: Let's throw a couple of questions her way. Hi, Giulia.
GIULIA LALLI: Hello, nice to meet you.
CBY: Pleasure to meet you too. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What's your background and approach to drawing in the comics medium?
GL: I always loved drawing, even when I was a child. My role and my path was always wanting to be an artist. My family all supported me with this dream so I kept going. I started the basics at an artistic high school, certainly not comics. After I graduated high school, I went to the International School of Comics in Reggio Emilia where I trained to be a comics artist for three years. Then, I studied inking styles for another three years before starting my first job as a comic artist. I don't know if you know of a company called Medikindz?
CBY: I am not familiar, no.
GL: It used to be called the Medikindz Company but now it's Jumo Health which is based in England. I made a few issues for them, then I started creating my own series called Puck about the Shakespearean elf. I published that in Italy and then I started with Ruination, which is very cool and more mature. I really enjoy it.
CBY: Tell me a little bit about your process. Do you work with traditional pen and paper or use digital tools?
GL: I've always worked with traditional tools, with paper and brushes. I've been drawing digitally for about a year now to save money over paper and brush tools. At home in Italy, I've seen my other colleagues transitioning from traditional art to digital to deliver pages faster. Sometimes I'm very slow because I really focus on details and maybe I lost projects too often so I thought, okay, give it a try with digital. I have to get more training, but I kind of enjoy it.
CBY: Is there a particular character in Ruination that you really like to draw?
GL: I really love to draw Nairi. My second places would be, Keila and Apollo, for sure.
CBY: I'm curious about Puck. Could you tell us a little bit more about that? Is it available in English? I don't read Italian, I'm sorry.
RB: "Part of the reason that we succeeded with our first Kickstarter is that we weren't trying to fund the whole book. We were just trying to fund the first run. We still got 250 people, which is amazing. I wasn't sure that we were going to be able to do that. That's the reason why our goals have typically been relatively low and reasonable."
GL: Probably no, right now it's just Italian. I always wanted to translate it, hopefully we can someday. For other projects, I have this other story that I've created with Kenny Porter, which is a writer from DC Comics. The story's called, The Journey Into Madness. We are currently trying to find a home for it. We'll keep going.
CBY: I'm going to bounce back to Ryan for a bit. You had mentioned earlier that the crystals play a really important role in the material and spiritual culture of your world. Could you elaborate on how they're used and how they support the movement of the visual narration?
RB: Sure, we get into this a bit more in issues three and four. Essentially, the crystals were used for a very long time as a source of power in the world. It's a bit of a spoiler if you haven't read issue three yet, but the crystals were used to collect dead souls which is how they are powered. That's why you see in issue one ghosts start to appear because by this point in the story crystals have largely disappeared. That's why Silas is going after the crystals because they've been looking for them and trying to find this major source of power which could sway the war quite a bit. There's a long religious history that we're still diving into as the narration proceeds. I don't know if that actually answered your question. Does that answer your question?
CBY: It does, and I don't want you to give too much away. I have a background as an anthropologist, so I'm always fascinated when people put these really strong material culture elements into their work. You definitely covered it.
What are some of the challenges you've experienced with respect to just building the world? You've got really fleshed out backgrounds for the characters to play in. How does that get edited to what lands on the page?
RB: The big challenge with the story is that it's not even just built in one world, we're building multiple worlds as we go through this. You see in issue one a snapshot of it with this tiny little area of Saldyria, this fishing village, where the characters immediately go through this portal to another world. We built up very detailed stories as to what happened in that world and those worlds. They also look post-apocalyptic and that we'll probably get into when it makes sense. At this point in the story, at the beginning, we're trying to keep the narration moving as much as possible and doing enough world-building just to give you a scope of things. Then, issues three and four is where we start to slow down a little bit and give you a little bit more of the background of the story. Even before the scripts were edited, I spent quite a bit of time with our concept artist, Emma Southey-Ray, just designing the look of the characters. We put a lot of thought into how they would look, what kind of armor they would wear. They're all supposed to be soldiers so you would think they'd be decked out almost like knights, but this is a world that is very post-apocalyptic where they're not going to have unlimited resources. Maybe they're just picking up metal that has been left from other things wherever they can find it and rationing it. That's why you see only one or two pieces of armor on most characters, so we put in as many of those types of nuances as we can. You'll see a lot more of Saldyria when we get to the second arc. The characters will end up in the main city, New Saldyria, and we'll see a lot more of what that basic world looks like.
CBY: Now that you've essentially got through issue four funded and you just touched on it already a little bit, what can we anticipate next? You teased us with a second arc there.
RB: Issues three and four is where they're entering into a second world through a second portal. I just call it the Fairy World. You can see on the cover why I call it that. We've seen in issue two that the Fallen are catching up with them. They, at least, know that they're there so you can expect in issues three and four for that to start to play out. The end of this arc will be issues five and six, that's where we'll have the climax where these characters fully encounter Silas and resolve this initial conflict. At some point, these characters are going to have to decide what they're going to do now with all the things that they know. The goal for Jalen was always to get these two kids to New Saldyria so that they can be safe and surrounded by the city. We'll get to see if he's able to do that and if the other characters go along with them, or if they just continue to go off and hopefully try to stave off this conflict between the factions.
CBY: We've covered a lot of Ruination thus far here. I want to get a little bit into your experience with running Kickstarter campaigns because there are lots of people who would love to know how to put together one that's successful. You have a couple under your belt now. Without giving away your secret sauce, could you touch on the process a little bit? What have you found that works or something you definitely wouldn't do again?
RB: None of us on the team had big social media followings. None of us had done a Kickstarter before. I shouldn't say that. Nicole, our editor, had done a Kickstarter before. We didn't have a whole lot of experience under our belt so a lot of this was just keeping things simple, doing a lot of research, and being realistic. Part of the reason that we succeeded with our first Kickstarter is that we weren't trying to fund the whole book. We were just trying to fund the first run. We still got 250 people, which is amazing. I wasn't sure that we were going to be able to do that. That's the reason why our goals have typically been relatively low and reasonable. I'm standing up, taking the risk, and funding the team doing their thing to get the book largely done ahead of time. I don't want people to sit there and question, well, I don't want to fund that. I don't want to put my money down for this because I don't know if they can deliver it. I can at least then go forth and say, look, the book is done. By the end of the campaign you're gonna get it, don't worry about it. I think that is a very, very good thing if you can do it.
When you're starting out, I think that helps a lot. I think that I built a lot of credibility after the first Kickstarter because within weeks of it ending, everyone got their books and a lot of people were pretty thrilled with that. That was a lot of the positive feedback that I got, that people were surprised how fast they got their books. People were pretty quick to jump onto issue two after that. That's something I definitely recommend, and then I just I can't underscore enough the importance of trying lots of different things when it comes to promotion. It's very easy to get frustrated with Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and Instagram, all that stuff. You just have to keep putting yourself out there. I'm terrible at all the social media stuff. I'm too old for it. At this point, I feel like we're slowly building up followers and people have noticed us. So, you got to keep at it. I think people expect, oh, I'll post this and my post will go viral and if it doesn't that's a failure. You really have to set the expectation that you're going to post, and post, and post. Do that a ton of times a day and you'll get one extra backer. That's a success and you have to accept that that's a success. That 250 people that I got on that first campaign, I had to work hard 250 times to get those people. None of those were given. There was not one thing that suddenly got 50 people. I had to do a lot of stuff over the course of that campaign to get all those people.
CBY: If you could go back then to the beginning and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
RB: I think the main thing would be just to do more pre-promotion. I think we had gotten 50 followers on our campaign before we started. I think we could have done more if we had spent a little more time on it, but honestly, the first campaign went very well for me so I don't think there's a lot that I would have changed. One of the things that I would just comment on is the shipping. If you're organized with it and you prepare for it, it hasn't been that bad for me. That seems to be the part that people worry about the most but there's a lot of good information out there about how to handle shipping. I don't think it needs to be the stress that it is for a lot of people.
CBY: Tell me a little bit about Curious Perspective Comics, the company that you launched. Do you have future plans to expand beyond your own work or are you just going to focus on your stuff for now?
RB: The plan is just to focus on on on my stuff at the moment. The other big complicating factor for me, and doing all this, was having my second baby this year. Doing anything more than what I'm already doing is probably going to be too much for the next few years.
CBY: I asked Giulia what her favorite character was with Ruination. We often use the characters in our lives as a mirror in storytelling. You had the character Lights, which I really enjoyed, in Curiosities From Another World which was based on your golden retriever. Are there any Ruination characters that are based on a family member or maybe an evil one that was your awful elementary school teacher or something?
RB: The main characters in Ruination are all different aspects of me to some extent. Jalen struggling with trying to manage kids is very much a piece of the story that reflects my own struggles, you know, suddenly being a father and trying to cope with that. All of them have that aspect to them. You always want to write what you know, so all of their arcs to some extent are things that I have personal experience with. I try not to go the route of necessarily demonizing people I know, but there's probably a few archetypes that are sprinkled in at different places.
CBY: Is there anything that either of you would like to add about this project or about other projects you have going on?
RB: Our team did just such an amazing job with these stories. Even if the story doesn't totally resonate with you, which I hope it does, at least check out these books and check out the art. Our guest artists that are doing the side-by-side illustrations and the covers, some of them just blew my mind as we get them in. So if you haven't yet, please do check them out.
CBY: Well, I want to thank you, Ryan and Giulia, for joining me today. It was nice to chat a little bit about Ruination. I think it's a fantastic project that looks lik