This is an interview that was conducted with a reporter from an Idaho business magazine. He didn’t think it would get published up there, but told me I could put it on our site.
An Interview about Starmada Comics, Deuterium Studios, and Space Yoyage Vanguard
After years and years of writing novel length, Daniel Hicken has branched out into an illustrated format with Cannon Hamaker. “There’s a statistic out there that says one doesn’t hit their stride in a chosen profession until some 10 years in, and I finally feel like I’m coming into my own. I’ve got plenty of room for growth, but I feel like my writing’s at a point that most people will enjoy it.”
Q: Why a comic book, why now?
Daniel: I’ve written three novel length stories at this point in my life, and started countless others. Each one has been an improvement over prior styles, but they weren’t up to snuff for me to feel ready to share them with the wider public. As for comics, I feel like Cannon and his art are able to express the ideas I have in my mind. Space Voyage: Vanguard has always been a visual story to me – I often find myself thinking of the story in terms of camera angles and the views that I would need to describe. Making the step from words on a page to the Graphic Novel format just struck me as logical.
Last summer I had been thinking that I wanted to write a comic book, and as luck would have it, I ran into Cannon at a party my wife organized. Cannon and I visited, and I said that I thought it would be fun to do a web comic. Cannon expressed interest in my idea. At the time I thought it was just polite party talk, but that nothing would come of it. I’ve been pleasantly proven wrong.
Cannon: After years wandering about looking for what I wanted to do in the arts, I rediscovered my love of graphic storytelling. I’ve been working with another writer on a comic strip, Animal Ward, and I’ve loved the medium and the growth that I’ve experienced there. While I’m continuing with it, I really wanted to branch out with a graphic novel. Before I met Daniel, I was working up a project of my own. But after reading the scripts, I saw just how great this world was going to be. After that, we’ve just been trying to create the world. What Daniel doesn’t know is that it was polite party talk, but I wasn’t about to let this chance go. The universe we are creating is very rich, full, and infinitely expandable.
Daniel: Well, I guess I know now … and I’m still glad that it’s coming to fruition!
Q: What makes the graphic novel format more fitting than a newspaper style strip comic? And why not a conventional print release?
Daniel: Newspaper comics are geared for one-off gags in each strip. While each strip will push forward a general storyline, they seem to focus on that third or fourth panel gag. This type does translate to the web, but it often mutates into a sort of “stretched out” Graphic Novel, where the strips are just portions of a page doled out daily or over the course of a week.
Graphic Novels are meant to portray the lion’s share of the story with the artwork – the closest equivalent I can find to this in film would be 2001 – although I hate to draw the comparison. Obviously, graphic novels are more visually grasping than that movie, and much more conversation. The best comparison I could draw for those not in the comic business would be that Graphic Novels are a comic book on steroids – the art work is better, the writing (hopefully) is better.
We do plan on printing a much richer graphic format of the comic after the end of each issue and at the end of each major story arc, but until the first issue is done, it’s going to be solely on the web.
Q: Where do you get your creativity from?
Daniel: My creativity? My brain, mostly. I’ve always had incredibly visual dreams, and I almost always dream in color, and remember the dreams I’ve had. I’ve also been interested in science, and have tried to make my writing be true to science fact aside the necessary excursion into science fiction. This is why I have actually planned out a language for Mistelsbog, why I’ve spent time figuring out a semi-plausible explanation for Transit and the Crenixian Drive. I also try to make sure things are based soundly on science fact, and then progress it a few steps (or more) down the road.
Cannon: I believe the act of creation is a fundamental part of humanity. Whatever it is that oppresses that in people is a sad thing. How much “creativity” a person has is merely a measure of how much they have nourished it. For me, it’s important to have that pencil in hand, and just start drawing. Things come out, you encourage the good things that come out. The more you encourage them, the more often they come.
Q: Why do you think an illustrated format’s better than just writing it?
Daniel: A picture truly is worth a thousand words. I mean, I can describe Captain Spitzer’s shoulder-length brown hair and honey-gold eyes, how her high-cheekbones speak of a distant slavic forebear, but how otherwise she looks much like a descendent of French folk. I can go on about her clothing, and so on, but you can see that all in one glance with a picture. I can’t tell you how many hours Cannon and I have spent talking about the different characters, their clothing, their appearances, the funny faces they make. For me, this is a story I felt needed that visual element, and I wasn’t going to get it by my art skills or descriptive skills at the keyboard.
Cannon: In our case, we are aiming for the Steampunk/Retrotech feel for this universe. It lends itself so well to the visual world. It’s one thing to describe the inside of an engine, and the cogs and machinery that go on inside, but unless someone has actual experience with it, it’s hard to imagine. In a drawing, you can hand people a piece of your thoughts, and your experiences with these things. The reference they need to understand it is right there in front of them.
Daniel: That was part of my reason for agreeing with this direction, too – the Victorian period reveled in the sciences, and science was much more artistic about their expression of science, something I feel is lacking in our preformed-plastic world.
Q: You’ve mentioned that you’ve written a number of novel-length stories – why move to a different genre?
Daniel: I don’t really feel it’s a change of genre, so much, as an expansion of my expression. A painter is still a painter, whether painting on canvas, paper, or walls, and still a painter if he sketches out his drawings before-hand. For me, moving into graphic novels allows me to be more vivid in my world building, with Cannon’s great help. As I’ve worked on Vanguard with him, I’ve felt ideas flowing and synthesizing, things that I’ve explored in some story ideas I’ve jotted down over the years all flowing into one cohesive, beautiful univese.
Q: How big will your audience be?
Daniel: That’s the million dollar question there. We don’t know for sure, but we know that we’re putting together a quality product that will be appreciated by those who read it – at least, that’s our hope. I would expect eventually to have a decent following. If you mean what portion of webcomic readers, I would hope that we would appeal to those who read science fiction, steam punk, and any sort of action/adventure fan.
Cannon: I hope that no matter what our audience size is, we will be able to have the communication with them in the future that we have now. The people looking at our comic even pre-launch have been so helpful and it’s been great to interact with them. They’ve dramatically affected the development of the comic thus far, so I want to thank them so much for their input, and invite them to continue this great relationship we have with them.
Daniel: Absolutely. The response from folks so far has been great, as in the volume and the quality of praise and critique. We love the input from them all-I’m already much happier with how the first 6 pages will appear because of their great input. I really hope they continue to offer their comments, positive or negative, because their input has really given us a great insight into how our efforts have come off.
Q: How did you join forces?
Daniel: I mentioned before that we met at a party my wife had organized – but really, I have my wife to thank for meeting Cannon – they both attended Utah State University together, and were good friends there. When she found out that he lived close to another shared friend, she organized the party that lead me to meet him and propose the idea.
Cannon: I had to join in to stop him from egging my house, it was this, or buy a pressure washer.
Q: Why look in Springville, UT, why not New York or Los Angeles? Can it be done anywhere?
Daniel: It’s not so much that I went looking, but that I found. And why not elsewhere? Because the opportunity presented itself here. The nice thing about the internet is the fact that it’s ubiquitous to American, and moreover, first world life. Because of the access we have to the internet, we’re able to appeal to a much wider audience, and easier than in the past.
Cannon and I often say to each other that we’re trying to do more than the average webcomic, with our additional content offerings – we’re hoping that our readership, wherever they are, can appreciate. And I think that’s the real draw for web comics. As long as you have a computer, internet and moderate writing and art capacity, you can do a webcomic. There’s no guarantee that you’ll have success, and in fact, it’s more likely that this would just be a nice hobby, but if you enjoy it, that should be all the reason to do it.
Cannon: The online comic is a beautiful thing, print and distribution are practically free. All you have to worry about is getting the word out. We already have hits from various places around the globe. No matter where our readers go, they can find us.
Q: Space Voyage – that’s an allusion to notable space operas of screen and print.
Daniel: More of a nod, really. Every space opera has captured a certain spirit – and Space Voyage: Vanguard is reaching for that same spirit, while exploring it in a new light and a new direction. We’ve made careful effort to show that this is a unique story. Thanks to our preview crowd, we’ll be better able to show that when the first page goes up on Feburary 23rd.
Q: What new things do you bring to space opera as a genre?
Daniel: We’re hopefully taking the genre in a new direction. The S.U.M. Vanguard and her crew have a decidedly Steampunk feel, or gas-lamp fantasy feel to quote another amazing comic. We’re hopefully exploring ideas and plots in a different way than they have ever been tackled before. Basically, we’re trying to tell a story with my words, and with Cannon’s art that is unique and interesting to our readership.
Cannon: Science fiction has progressed so far since those early television explorations. They had limited time to write and film, things had to go so fast. We have the luxury of time to explore the ‘What if’ questions that really drive good stories. The great position we have is that of ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’. Science fiction is about the exploration of the finite and the infinite that dwells within each of us. The two of us have a strange fusion of ideas and we both want to push this genre further than it’s ever been pushed. Adding the kind of visuals we are planning is really a departure for both Steampunk and SciFi.
Q: Where did you get your inspiration for the comic?
Daniel: It’s a bit of a story, but bear with. In 2002 I became involved with a group, called Ill Bethisad. The group focuses on the collaborative creation of a world that might have been, had things changed at key points in the past. By 2004 we had begun to run out of steam on the more war and historical parts of the world. A gentleman by the name of David McDowell Blue joined our group and began exploring what pop culture would’ve been like.
I was intrigued with the idea. Since I’ve been a big fan of some of the bigger space opera fans, and have enjoyed pretty much an show about voyaging in space. In Ill Bethisad we often take people we know and re-imagine them, based on the societal, political and cultural limitations of the new world. As such, I took the creator of one of these series, and re-imagined him, how he would behave, what he would do for a creative outlet since he didn’t have access to film and television. And thus was born Space Voyage – capturing the spirit, but taking it in a new direction.
Cannon: Since I’m the Pictures guy, I’ll talk about visual inspirations. My background and study is in the Fine arts, so I’ve been looking at the whole of Art History for inspiration. The last year has been an intense study in sequential art storytelling. Comics, online comics, print comics, graphic novels, fine arts, illustration, these all mix in and I’m trying to find my own way through what is a relatively new art form for me. This comic has pushed me from day one, I’m always at the edge of my abilities and they are growing quickly because of that.
I do need to send HUGE thanks out to Lar Desouza, who has a regular live broadcast that teaches me so much. (Thanks Unca Lar!!!) And to the brilliant artist, Der-shing Helmer, over at The Meek, she is so incredible and is pushing us all to be so much better.
Daniel: 100% agreed on the shout out to Lar and Der-shing. They’ve given Cannon a level of greatness to aspire to. Cannon’s history in Fine Art really shows through, too, with his design of the bridge. Pretty much every time he’s shown me a sketch for the series, the first words from my mouth have been, “Oooh…pretty.” His choice of design elements have been invaluable, and his focus on improvement, I think, is a true show of his devotion to his work.
Q: What’s Ill Bethisad?
Daniel: It’s a group of hobbyists, really, about 70 in total number. About 30 of these have been regular contributors over a period of more than a year, but the numbers wax and wane. We all generally oversee a nation or two and the political interactions, but we also look at the culture and society that each has evolved.
Cannon: It’s the secret society that controls the Illuminati. It’s headed by the brain of Colonel Sanders in a jar, and meets bi-weekly over the supernet (think internet for the uber-rich). Its aims are peace, love, and the eradication of vampires. Stephenie Meyer is the head of their campaign to embarrass vampires into submission. So far she has only managed to fuel the species tension between them and werewolves.
Q: If you’re referring to the comic as Space Voyage: Vanguard, why is the website Starmada Comics?
A: We’re hoping that down the road we’ll be able to have other storylines available. When Daniel wrote the (very) long list of synopses for Vanguard, he also thought that there could be spin off stories to explore. Out there, on the radar, but distant, are Space Voyage: Mariner and Space Voyage: Outpost Space Seed. We’ll see how things go with Vanguard, but there are stories that we would love to explore down the road.
Q: Why a female captain, rather than the typical male lead?
Daniel: That space opera you mentioned before was intended to have a female captain, and I think that this gives a different view on the future and human/alien interactions, having a woman be the leader, rather than the quintessential male lead.
Q: Where do you get character inspiration?
Daniel: I’ve always read a lot, and so I’ve seen a goodly number of characters. Some of the inspiration is from people I know, some from the books I’ve read and still other inspiration is just knowing what the situation I’ve designed calls for and the people I want there to help resolve it successfully.
Q: Your characters seem to be largely humanoid – why?
Daniel: I think it’s hard to write any other entity – you really have to dig to get yourself into the mindset of another species, with their different views, understandings. I think some of it is purely anthropocentrism, but it’s otherwise just hard to imagine life not seeing the spectrum we see, for example, or having multiple arms and the different feeling of locomotion.
There is one author that I’ve felt successfully describes the otherness, C. S. Friedman – but even then, she’s still describing the otherness of a human derivative species. I suppose science fiction writers at some level hope that humanity won’t encounter things that are so vastly different from us that we can’t find common ground. Don’t worry though, Vangaurd will encounter plenty of non-humanoid species later on in the series. I just hope Cannon doesn’t strangle me when I tell him what they’re supposed to look like.
Q: Just how far out do you have Vanguard planned?
Daniel: I figured you’d be asking that eventually. Let’s just say that there’s plenty of material for some time to come and how long it takes to show the content I’ve got planned will determine how long it lasts.
Q: So, you’re not telling.
Daniel: I’m not telling. (chuckles). I mean, right now, things are such that Cannon’s taking about a week to produce one page of the comic, but things are progressing, and he’s finding ways to do the art at the same level of quality in a shorter time frame. I know that with time, the art will progress in ease for Cannon to the point that we’re doing two pages of comic or even three a week.
Q: Will this ever be printed? Will it be episodic, or an expanded format?
Daniel: We’ll print each episode in a high quality print with all the extras that were on the website, as well as some other extras just for the print edition. We’ll also do a big compilation issue for all the books in an arc – but as I said, I’m not sure how frequently these compilations will publish. Cannon’s got a number of glory shots of the characters, and a great shot of one of the bridge crew that he’s been tantalizing me with for a month now, so we’ll see what else he’s able to produce.