Orphan Blade is the first original graphic novel illustrated by Jake Myler, who alongside his writer Nick Almand created the Kaiju blighted world and the heroes and villains who inhabit it. The project is epic in scope, and the visuals that relay that scope use a unique art style that draws upon Jake’s background working on Disney, and Jim Henson comics properties and meshes them with the anime and tokusatsu inspired setting. The story is violent and has elements of horror and gore that punctuate the near breakneck pace of the action.
Also finding a space in the fast paced story are flashes of a teenage romance. What makes Orphan Blade‘s romantic element refreshing is that it uses the art to tell the story alongside sparse dialogue, letting a few awkward glances and blushing do the heavy lifting for the bulk of the book. This was even more refreshing considering the infatuated parties were two gay teens. This then, is precisely the kind of storytelling that was absent from writer Nick Almand’s own teenage years and the personal element, of lived experiences as a gay teen lends an extra dose of verisimilitude to the story. A very personal story that sadly had come to fruition in the year since Nick passed away from cancer. The book is dedicated to Almand and as such the fact that the end product is of high quality, makes the tribute all the more stirring.
Jake and I spoke via email after the release of Orphan Blade earlier this month. We talk about the importance of diverse representation in comics, Nick’s collaboration on the book and his passing, and Jake teases a secret project in the works.
You’ve spoken in the past about the importance your writer placed on not having had a book like Orphan Blade as a teen. Often gay characters in fiction skew older or exist in the explicit realm in depictions of sexuality. How important is it for teenage readers to have a character whom they can identify with. Hand holding, crushes, perhaps some kissing or fighting hordes of blighted creatures — you know the stuff any teenager is preoccupied with?
Both my writer Nick and I agreed that if you’re a kid growing up who is gay-or a minority or female or someone who has a disability – you mostly only get to see and read stories about straight white boys being the heroes. On some level you internalize those stories and feel a little like being a straight white boy is the only normal way to be and that perhaps, by not being that, you’re not normal. That you’re not welcome to be the star in a heroic story. Being able to see yourself in stuff is really important. Teenage years are difficult for everyone. If media only shows you stereotypes – or like you mentioned more sexualized adult orientated stories – it makes it really hard to find guidance or relatability. But I think there’s a lot of room for a story where a character just happens to be gay, but like his or her hetero counterparts, things perhaps never go beyond a second glance or a blush, or holding hands. It doesn’t need to be a big deal that the character is gay, but it can be part of that character’s makeup just the same. Things like that can help kids out there feel normal, feel human, and most importantly, envision themselves as the hero.
I think there’s a lot of room for a story where a character just happens to be gay, but like his or her hetero counterparts, things perhaps never go beyond a second glance or a blush, or holding hands. It doesn’t need to be a big deal that the character is gay, but it can be part of that character’s makeup just the same. Things like that can help kids out there feel normal, feel human, and most importantly, envision themselves as the hero.
What role if any does race play in the world of Orphan Blade, and why do you feel people of color are not often depicted as a part of fantasy worlds/comics or the protagonists within them?
Orphan Blade is a world that was ravaged by gigantic monsters in the not-too-distant past of the story. In order to survive people from across the globe came together to defeat the Kaiju. As a result it’s a version of history where the world is less isolated so it’s very easy to have a cast of different people of different backgrounds. I can’t really speak for why no one else thinks to have diverse casts for fantasy stuff, but if I had to guess I’d say people automatically picture most fantasy worlds as some form of medieval Europe which people mistakenly think was all white. I’m guessing it doesn’t cross their minds that it wasn’t all white, and that even if it somehow was (it wasn’t), they’re making a fantasy so really there’s no reason they shouldn’t have diversity.
Is there any difference from an artistic perspective drawing gay characters, or a public display of affection between them?
If you mean difference between drawing gay characters displaying affection and straight characters doing the same, there’s absolutely no difference besides that in one case two characters are a man and woman and in Orphan Blade (minor spoilers) it’s affection between two guys. Characters holding hands or kissing are drawn exactly the same. A kiss is a kiss.
Characters holding hands or kissing are drawn exactly the same. A kiss is a kiss.
What challenges did you face creating your own world as an artist for the first time as opposed to working on licensed properties?
I have a lot of fun creating new worlds, and the more off-the-wall the better. I think the big challenge becomes managing my time, because I can kind of get caught up in designing monsters, alien plant-life and weapons. Meanwhile deadlines are looming! At some point you have to whittle down those various designs and figure out what’ll make it into the book. When I’m working on a licensed property on the other hand, mostly all the designs have been made and decided on beforehand! My biggest challenge is when the story asks for something specific that I’ve never heard of or seen, but the internet solves that problem pretty quickly these days! Thank you Google image search!
In general how is your relationship with the writers you are partnered with? What did the loss of your writer on Orphan Blade mean to you and how much of the end result is in dedication to him?
I think that pairing up with a writer can be a pretty intimate thing, especially when it’s for something like a graphic novel that can take years to complete! On original stuff you really end up spending a lot of time talking with the other creator. Like when I worked on Undertown with Jim Pascoe quite a few years back now. It was an awesome experience and my first big epic comic adventure and I was so glad I had Jim along for the ride. We’re great friends to this day. Even licensed properties, like my latest run on Fraggle Rock with the wonderful Kate Leth involved a lot of back and forths and chatting, and it’s just a really great work flow when you get to work with someone whose talent you admire and who’s excited for the project. I’ve had great luck with that in regards to writers.
In the case of Orphan Blade it was mostly just Nick, our editor Jill Beaton and myself pouring ourselves into this comic project, making all the decisions, hashing things out over emails and over the phone for three years! So when we lost Nick to cancer, the most shocking thing was realizing how much I had depended on him for feedback and encouragement. I had previously sent off every page to him to get feedback, and then it was suddenly silence. It was difficult. It’s still difficult.
On a happier note one of your other collaborators is Kate Leth. What is she like to work with?
As mentioned above, Kate is really great! Out of all the writers I’ve collaborated with, she’s probably the busiest, but her writing always seems really spot-on, character driven, and hits all right notes. She also thinks the same way about diversity in media and so I think she’s going to do some really great things in the comics world! I’m always excited when I see what she’s up to.
Where can people find Orphan Blade and your other work? Is there any further plans for future Orphan Blade content or any other new projects we should be looking forward to?
Orphan Blade can be found now in your local comic store! I’ve been to several and they’ve had it in stock! It’s very exciting! You can also order direct from OniPress or on other bookselling websites, Amazon, and quite soon on Comixology.
Fraggle Rock is currently coming out monthly to comic shops and will then will be released as a collected hardcover in June 2015 so keep an eye out for that!
As for future projects – I am planning on starting in on a new story I’ve been developing for a while now on my own, and I’ll probably be dropping hints about it on my Tumblr: http://jakemyler.tumblr.com/ Let’s just say it’s an intergalactic, monster, alien, horror, fairytale romance.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1620101203]