COMIC BOOK YETI: I’m with Jonny Jimison, creator of The Dragon Lord Saga. Volumes 1 and 2 are currently available at dragonlordsaga.com. The books are published by Rabbit Room Press.
I started reading Volume 1 last night and binge-read both volumes in one sit-down. It is an excellent, fun read, start to finish.
JONNY JIMISON: Thanks so much! I’m glad you could join the adventure.
CBY: Tell us about The Dragon Lord Saga.
JJ: Set in a fantasy world of knights and monsters, The Dragon Lord Saga is a five-volume graphic novel series that combines all the epic worldbuilding and action that I love from adventure fantasy with all the expressive, playful cartoony fun of classic comic strips and comic books.
Marco is an eleven-year-old stableboy who doesn’t want anything to do with adventure and danger, but his older brother Martin is a knight who is all too eager to make a name for himself as a great adventurer! Martin, who is a bit of a class clown among the knights, seeks to prove himself as the kingdom embarks on the Dragon Crusade. Between dragons, bandits, and his own inexperience, he gets more than he bargained for!
Meanwhile, young Marco travels to the edge of the kingdom to see his brother off on his adventure, and, despite his reluctance, winds up on an adventure of his own. Encountering monsters in the shadows and forced into the southern desert, Marco shows a pluckiness and compassion that makes him quite an adept adventurer despite himself.
Martin and Marco are at the center of the story, but we also follow the stories of their friends: Scout (a grumpy but good-hearted talking horse), Robin (a battle-ready princess with a dark secret), and many, many more.
CBY: Who is the target audience?
JJ: Both the publisher and I maintain that “It’s for all ages!” Preteens are the core audience, but adult audiences enjoy the classic comic humor and nerdy references, and younger children seem to delight in the animals and exploration. I hope it’s the kind of book that will be pulled off the shelf by many different hands!
CBY: I agree with you. There is something for everyone in this story. How long have you been working on this project?
JJ: Brace yourself – as with most passion projects, the story behind it is a bit of a wild ride!
The Dragon Lord Saga began in 2002 as a partly-finished, overly-serious prose novel. By around 2010 or so, I had come to realize that comics are my native language for storytelling, and my heart speaks humor more readily than drama… so I revised the story as a comic. I broke down the story arc into five sections, and began developing the first one as a graphic novel.
Generous Kickstarter backers helped crowdfund early, black-and-white versions of the first two volumes, but the process helped me grow so much as an artist that I felt the need to revise those volumes and add color. Thanks to the support of my Patreon backers, I’ve been able to start over and give the series the attention it deserves - and in color this time!
Rabbit Room Press has been incredibly supportive of the series, and we’ve published new, full-color versions of both volumes, which are the versions that you have had the opportunity to read.
Now that volumes one and two are updated in color, I can finally move on to volume three: Dragons and Desperados. As of this writing, I am sixty-four pages into volume three… and counting!
CBY: I love the title “Dragons and Desperadoes!” I was very impressed with the artwork and writing of these books. The illustrations where charming while the pacing of the story never felt too slow or too fast. Each joke and gag landed with precision. What really stood out to me was that it was much more than just a show of talent. It was a show of experience. It went from “This guy is good… to this guy knows what he’s doing.” Could you tell me more about your background and works prior to The Dragon Lord Saga? What led you to this?
JJ: Thank you! I’ve been preparing for this all my life, often without realizing it. My love for classic humor comics led me to doodle comics of my own growing up, and around 2008, I began dreaming up my own comic strip. Getting Ethan was a daily webcomic for about five years, and though I’ve brought it back occasionally for a few strips here and there, since around 2012 I’ve mostly set Ethan aside to focus on The Dragon Lord Saga.
I feel like I learned the most from simply reading - I’ve loved comics since I was a kid, and joyfully immersing myself in their storytelling gave me an instinct for the syntax and rhythm and pacing of a really good comic. To put that into practice, though, required a lot of drawing - I consider those first five years of Getting Ethan and the two Kickstarter-backed early versions of The Dragon Lord Saga to be the training that prepared me for the stories I’m telling today!
CBY: As illustrator and writer, how do you balance those two jobs? Do you consider yourself to be more of an illustrator or more of a writer?
JJ: If pressed, I’d probably have to say illustrator, because I love taking on illustration jobs on the side (I’m a little out of my depth writing prose). But with The Dragon Lord Saga, it’s difficult to untangle those two sides - when I’m coming up with the story in my head, I see it in pictures, and although I might make a story treatment or synopsis to get my thoughts on paper, I never script my comics with words. Roughly-sketched thumbnails are my scripting process, because no written script can capture the images I see when the story arrives in my imagination - and those images are what really tell the story.
CBY: On your webpage it says, “He is inspired by the playful humor of classic comics and the wide-eyed exploration of classic adventure stories.” Could you recommend one classic comic and one classic adventure story that, to you, would be considered “must reads.”?
JJ: Picking only one is agony, for there are so many that I love… but we all love Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, right? As my cartooning has grown and incorporated new influences and styles, my work has grown beyond the comic masterpiece of Calvin and Hobbes, but its influence is always there - funny, engaging, imaginative and unapologetically idealistic. It’s easily my number-one pick for a must-read!
As for adventure stories… while it may not have the greatest influence on The Dragon Lord Saga (other than that joyous, childlike spirit of adventure), it’s hard not to pick R. L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island. With a wild, seafaring journey that spools out with just the right pace and tone, it’s a must-read for sure.
CBY: Were there any specific inspirations for The Dragon Lord Saga? I absolutely see the Calvin and Hobbes influence now that you mention it.
JJ: The overly-serious prose novel that I originally wrote (that eventually evolved into The Dragon Lord Saga) was a Lord of the Rings pastiche - I’m a huge fan of Tolkien’s work, and his style of fantasy has influenced almost every storyteller in the past half-century. Add some old-time classic Hollywood adventure to the mix - The Adventures of Robin Hood, Gunga Din, and Zorro come to mind - and you have the adventure side of The Dragon Lord Saga!
As for the comic inspirations - oh, there are so many. Calvin and Hobbes was a big influence early on, and Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl was my initial template for what an epic cartoon adventure could be.. but Walt Kelly’s Pogo and the duck comics by Carl Barks and Don Rosa have clearly had the largest influence on the way The Dragon Lord Saga is told visually.
CBY: In Volume 2 did you make a sly Legend of Zelda animated series reference?
JJ: I mean, there was nothing sly about it. If you know, you know.
CBY: There are some rich characters in this story. Do you have a favorite character, or a favorite character to write?
JJ: All the characters draw from different parts of who I am, so I need all of them from time to time… but Martin is my favorite character to write for. I’ve come to think of him as Indiana Jones by way of Daffy Duck - a freewheeling adventurer who is unprepared for his adventures in the most comedic ways possible!
CBY: An Indiana Jones Daffy Duck is a spot-on description! What is the process for setting up jokes for you? Do you start with the punchline and work backwards to fit it in the story, or do you tell the story and look for a place to have a good laugh?
JJ: The story comes first, but all those years of learning the grammar of humor comics have given me a style where the story is told through moments of humor. I don’t go hunting for punchlines, I just try to plan a scene in the most amusing way possible… but if a punchline reveals itself, I’ll restructure the scene (or sometimes redraw a page earlier in the book) to help set it up.
My rule for the first draft of each book is that NO idea is off-limits, and many of my favorite jokes in the series come from following my own whims and the whims of my proofreaders saying “it would be funny if…” For example, near the beginning of volume two, one of the characters tries to sell a copy of The Dragon Lord Saga volume one. That’s a joke suggested by my brother in jest, and I included it as a fun placeholder, always planning to replace it later with something less meta. But it made me laugh too much to ever take out, and The Dragon Lord Saga is the kind of cartoony story where I can get away with such nonsense!
CBY: Currently Volume 3 of The Dragon Lord Saga is in progress and being shared via Patreon. Do you plan on having any other methods of support soon?
JJ: The plan is to continue as we have for the last few years: my generous Patreon supporters (https://www.patreon.com/jonnyjimison) will see new pages every week, and we’ll continue to release the finished books through the good folks at Rabbit Room Press. As far as other methods of support... I just recently opened an Etsy store (https://www.etsy.com/shop/JonnyJimisonArt), and someday soon when I have the time, I’m hopeful to get more Dragon Lord Saga-themed products into it!
CBY: That’s fair! You show a Dragon Lord card game on your webpage. What inspired that, and how does that work?
JJ: My publisher suggested a set of cards to promote the series, and I’m such a game nerd that I couldn’t imagine creating cards without adding a play mechanic. I haven’t seen a game quite like this one before, so admittedly it’s a bit difficult to describe… but the gameplay involves creating a trail of cards, laying them side-by-side. Adding cards to the trail allows you to use their abilities, which often involve shifting other cards to the left or right. At the end of the round, you end up with the cards on one side of the path, while your opponent gets the cards on the other side, and the stats on those cards determine which cards you get to keep. I also built a set-collecting mechanic into the cards… but I haven’t figured out how that works yet!
CBY: What comics/media are you into right now?
JJ: I’ve been gravitating recently to the excellent comic albums from Eastern Europe. I love Luke Pearson’s Hilda and Lorena Alvarez’ Nightlights, and there are some really stunning European Disney comics illustrated by Silvio Camboni and Nicolas Keramidas.
Most of all, I’ve been reading the classics - Asterix and Tintin. I think if you combine the cartoony character comedy of Asterix with the globe-trotting adventure of Tintin, you have something pretty close to what I’m trying to do in The Dragon Lord Saga, so I’ve been immersing myself in both of those comic worlds!
CBY: Could you tell us about some of your other projects? I noticed there were several other things you had going on at your website. I personally got a big kick out of Rabbit Trails.
JJ: Thanks! Rabbit Trails is an ongoing webcomic that I draw for the Rabbit Room (rabbitroom.com), which pokes fun at those of us in the Rabbit Room community. Meanwhile, my Getting Ethan webcomic continues occasionally, and has spun off into another webcomic called Lili and Leon. Life is particularly busy right now, so it’s been a while since I’ve drawn any of those webcomics, but I’m eager to draw more as soon as I can! In the meantime, there are plenty of them available to read on my website and on Instagram (@jonnyjimison).
Beyond comics, there’s an upcoming picture book that I’m especially excited about! When Going on a Dragon Hunt was written by Mark T. Collins, and I provided the illustrations. It’s coming out later this year from Bandersnatch Books, and it’s a ton of fun… check it out at bandersnatchbooks.com!
CBY: Thank you very much for talking with us, best of luck with everything!