Sunday, July 31, 2011

FYC Replay: Age of Bronze with Eric Shanower

Another one from the archives and another opportunity I was afforded to interview one of the masters of the form. Eric Shanower's art is incredible and some of the most beautiful work you will have the chance to enjoy. Age of Bronze is his magnum opus. Read on to see why you need to check this book out.


For Your Consideration: Age of Bronze: Betrayal Part One

By Chris Beckett

FRONT PAGE: Eric Shanower has taken on the daunting task of fully researching the many tales that have sprouted up around the Trojan War and blending them into one single comic narrative. Almost halfway through, this important piece of comic literature, Age of Bronze, is a book well worth checking out.

The 411:

Age of Bronze vol. 3A: Betrayal Part One

Story and Art Eric Shanower

176 pp. b/w


Image Comics

What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):

At this point, it has been years since Helen was taken from the city of Sparta by Paris, one of the princes of Troy. Paris was sent by his father, King Priam, to retrieve the king’s sister Hesione, captured in an Achaean raid many years prior, but forsook all of his duties when his eyes fell upon the unmatched beauty of Helen. Seducing her and bringing her infant son Pleisthenes with them, Paris escaped Sparta and made for home while Helen’s husband Menelaus swore to get her back and exact revenge upon the Trojans. Presenting Helen as a substitute for Hesione, Paris and his new wife are at first rebuked by King Priam, but when it is revealed that Helen now carries Paris’s unborn son, there is nothing to be done. Despite the enmity that will come from this act, Priam welcomes his family into the city.

Finally, after an initial aborted attempt, the Achaean army is able to set sail for Troy. Trying to conceal their approach by moving from island to island rather than skirting the coast, the Achaean fleet comes to rest off the island of Tenedos less than half a day’s sail from the city of Troy. Anchored in the bay on the far side of this island, the inhabitants of Tenedos – people that do not tolerate strangers – greet the Achaean army by slinging stones at their ships, spurring Achilles to swim ashore in order to answer this unprovoked incident. Achaean soldiers follow in Achilles’s wake and the battle is soon joined. During the melee, Achilles comes face to face with Tennes, the King of Tenedos, and kills him, putting the first nail into his own coffin. For Tennes was the sun god’s son, and the prophecy states that the sun god will kill Achilles in retaliation for Achilles killing one of his sons. But Achilles has already chosen a life of glory over a long life, and tells Mnemon, who was charged by the boy’s mother Thetis to watch Achilles, not to worry. All he must think about now is the glory.

After routing the warriors of Tenedos, the Achaeans take care of their dead and prepare to celebrate their victory with feasting and blood sacrifices to the gods for continued success. During their celebration that night they discover a small reconnaissance party led by Paris. Chasing them off, the Achaeans return to their feast where they decide to send an Embassy to Troy in an attempt to forestall any more casualties on their end. And even if the Trojans do not accept their offer of a peaceful conclusion, they will fall before the great might of the Achaean army.

Meanwhile, with the Achaeans on their doorstep, the Trojans accept the offer of an Embassy. King Priam is still working to gather more kings to his cause and feels he can use the time given over to the Embassy for calling these armies to Troy. Each side is taking a great risk in accepting this truce, and there are factions within the Trojan city that do not care if Priam has given the Achaeans his protection. Tensions boil just under the surface as the inevitable battle looms on the horizon. But who will come out the victor in what will be little more than a bloody mess?

Eric Shanower has taken on the overwhelming task of researching the legend of the Trojan war and assimilating the many disparate tales that have grown up over the centuries in order to create one single narrative comprising all the essential aspects of the those myths from long ago. It is an incredibly daunting task, and one that Shanower has executed thus far with great skill. The degree to which he has researched the peoples, architecture, and realities of that age so long ago is impressive and can be seen in the extensive bibliographic listings in the backs of the three trade paperbacks comprising his series to this point.

Even more impressive might be the fact that he not only has been able to incorporate all of these varied articles and accounts into one narrative, but that he’s also created an exciting tale that keeps his audience anticipating what comes next. Age of Bronze is one of the most engaging tales currently being told in this or any other medium. When I opened the first page of the initial collection, I didn’t want to put it down until I’d reached the end, and when I closed the covers I wanted that next book in my hands as soon as possible. Shanower’s storytelling is seamless and poignant, and yet, for all of the strange names and ancient history included within this book, he is able to make it accessible to a contemporary readership. This is a task not easily done, and one that Eric Shanower achieves with seeming ease.

Shanower’s precise renderings are a natural vehicle for the recounting of a tale such as this, with his sharp black and white lines keeping his audience grounded within the tale. The beauty of Shanower’s artwork as showcased through his work on such diverse fare as Badger and his own OZ series of graphic novels draws readers in, allowing them to become enamored with the story once the lush art entices them. Although an economic decision, Age of Bronze is a book that looks amazing in black and white. I cannot conceive of this book in color and think it might lose some of its luster were it not presented in black and white, yet another testament to Shanower’s talent.

Age of Bronze is the book that Eric Shanower seems to have been born to create, and lovers of great comics or history or myth are all the better for it. This is a book that anyone with a passion for these subjects should seek out, you will not be disappointed.

An Interview with Eric Shanower:

Chris Beckett: Why comics? What was it that attracted you to this storytelling medium?

Eric Shanower: Ever since I was very young I’ve written stories and drawn illustrations. When I was a child I knew I wanted to publish my stories and illustrations, but at first I assumed this meant illustrated prose. I’ve read and loved comics ever since I was young as well. I started drawing comics when I was about ten years old. It was when I was about 14 years old that I decided I wanted to be a professional cartoonist. I’m not sure what attracted me to the medium of comics since I can’t remember my first exposure to them. But telling stories through a synthesis of text and drawings seems completely natural to me. I still love illustrated prose and have done plenty of that professionally, but I consider myself first a cartoonist.

Beckett: Age of Bronze is obviously a tremendous undertaking. What inspired you to begin this project, and what is it about the book that keeps you motivated?

Eric Shanower: In February 1991 I listened to a book on audio tape called The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara Tuchman. The chapter on Troy made me realize that there are many different versions of the Troy story. I thought that combining all those stories into one, while reconciling the differences and setting it in the correct period, would make a wonderful comic book. I certainly realized at the time that it would be a major undertaking, although I underestimated then how major it would actually be.

I’m kept motivated because I’m not finished telling the story yet. There are still so many wonderful episodes to go and I look forward to telling them. It’s very exciting. And I love all the characters. Age of Bronze is a large project, and sometimes I feel overwhelmed by how much of the story is left for me to work on. So I try not to think of that. I just work on the piece that’s in front of me.

Beckett: A huge amount of research is going into Age of Bronze. How different is this project for you compared to other works such as the series of Oz graphic novels?

Eric Shanower: Age of Bronze isn’t as different from Oz in that aspect as you might think. They both require a huge amount of research and an absorption of that research that provides an authentic knowledge of and feel for the source material. When I began seriously working on Age of Bronze back in the early 1990s I specifically determined that I’d have to school myself in the knowledge of every aspect of the Trojan War to the same extent that I’d schooled myself in the knowledge of every aspect of Oz. The main difference was that I’d been reading Oz books since I was six years old. When I started Age of Bronze, I’d never read the Iliad, the Odyssey, or the Aeneid, or any of the Troy-related Greek tragedies, much less more obscure sources.

Beckett: Your art style is very precise and lends itself nicely to the black and white format of Age of Bronze. Was there ever any consideration to do it as a color book, and what do you gain as an artist and storyteller with this black and white aesthetic?

Eric Shanower: I’d have colored Age of Bronze if that had seemed feasible. But the pace of publication would double if I were coloring it, and that pace is slow enough already. Color is more expensive to print than black and white and when I began Age of Bronze, I figured that it wouldn’t sell enough—at least initially—to support the expense of color. The expense isn’t such a big deal now that Age of Bronze is established and sales are fine, but the time factor is still a problem. Also, I’m not that fond of painting. It’s certainly not out of the question that Age of Bronze may one day appear in a colored version too.

Beckett: If I’m not mistaken, you have been able to market Age of Bronze to libraries and schools, and I am curious what this has meant to the project itself and to you personally?

Eric Shanower: When I began Age of Bronze, I was confident that the traditional comic store market wouldn’t provide a lot of support for such a project. I was pretty confident that if Age of Bronze could find a mainstream audience, then it would then be possible for me to spend most of my working time on the project itself rather than trying to figure out how to keep publishing it. Fortunately the market for comics has changed and Age of Bronze has found the mainstream audience that I envisioned for it. So that means the project is published relatively regularly and people can recognize it and find it. If I’d had to publish it myself, say, each issue coming out only after I could scrape together enough money to print it and then spending most of my time trying to build distribution channels and find and keep an audience, this whole thing would have been much more difficult. I’m very glad the market for comics has changed along the ways that have meant good fortune for Age of Bronze. Of course, nothing ever stays the same, the market will continue to change. I just need to stay aware of things so that Age of Bronze can stay afloat. I hope the day never comes when I have to relegate it to a back burner.

I’ve spoken to several library conventions, and it’s really gratifying how interested the attendees are in learning about graphic novels and comics. Of course, some librarians have known about them for years, but to others comics and graphic novels are new on the radar. I try to be as useful an ambassador as I can be.

Beckett: Do you have any other projects you are working on, or is Age of Bronze taking the bulk of your creative time?

Eric Shanower: Age of Bronze takes the bulk of my creative time, but of course I work on a lot of other things, too. Presently I’m finishing a short comics story for a gay/lesbian Young Adult anthology edited by Michael Cart to be published by the Joanna Cotler imprint of HarperCollins. It’s a story about two teenage boys who release a genie from a bottle and each gain a wish as the result.

I’ve got a three-page Uncle Scrooge story to be published by Gemstone. I’m still waiting for approval of the pencils before I letter and ink it. Disney has to approve everything and, boy, do they take their time. But I’ve loved Uncle Scrooge since I was a kid, so it’s really nice to finally be writing and drawing one of his stories myself.

I’m writing a comics adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum for Marvel’s relatively new Marvel Illustrated imprint. I love this project. Skottie Young is going to be drawing it and I really look forward to seeing his artwork. There have been many comics adaptations of this story throughout the years, but we’re committed to making this one definitive.

No comments: