Smash Pages Q&A: Spike Trotman and MK Reed

The duo discuss their comiXology Originals title ‘Delver,’ the fantasy genre and much more.

Spike Trotman is the woman behind Iron Circus Comics, one of North America’s best comics publishers. She is also the creator of the webcomic Templar AZ and the book Poorcraft, the writer of Yes, Roya and Iris and Angel, and cohost of the podcast Dirty Old Ladies. MK Reed is the writer of many comics including Americus, Palefire and Science Comics: Dinosaurs, and the co-writer of The Castoffs.

The two have teamed up with artist Clive Hawken on Delver, a new series coming out from comiXology Originals. It’s the story of Temerity, whose life and town is changed when a portal opens, and the town and the region becomes overrun with adventurers. It’s a story that takes a look at the fantasy genre in a different way and asks a few of the questions that sometimes bother those who like the genre. The second issue is out tomorrow, and they were kind enough to answer a few questions about the series.

Delver #1

I do like to ask people: How did you first come to comics?

Spike Trotman: I like to say I grew up during the last golden age of the newspaper comic. Newspaper strips were EXTREMELY GOOD when I was a little kid, checking out the Sunday supplementals of the Washington Post. They had such an enormous comics section that they broke it into two different parts. Maybe they still do; it’s been a long time since I’ve read the Washington Post. It was running Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, all kinds of great stuff. It’s almost cliché these days in comics to say you were inspired or influenced by Calvin and Hobbes, but it’s cliché for a good reason; it’s JUST THAT GOOD. While what I wanted to do never really fit the newspaper format, I remember gaping at Bill Watterson‘s “Tyrannosaurs in F-14s“ strip the day it originally ran in the newspaper. Like, my little kid brain just couldn’t work out how a person could learn to draw THAT WELL.

MK Reed: Same for newspaper strips, plus Archie, plus whatever licensed 80s comics were made for kids.

So what is Delver?

Spike: Delver is the result of too many video games, too many role-playing games, and an inability to accept the “adventurer economy“ at face value. I think I was playing Skyrim when the thought first came to me, “Wow, I’m probably ruining these people’s lives.”

I’d just recently learned about Musa I, the emperor of Mali? He was Muslim, and went on a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324. Obviously, it’s a long way between Mecca and Mali, and he and his entourage had to walk; it took a year. But it didn’t really bother him, because he was absurdly wealthy, and took a truly obscene amount of gold with him. Legend has it that he built a brand new mosque every Friday, no matter where he was; he paid for everything in gold dust. And wherever he went, he basically destroyed the economy. He gave every beggar he met gold, he paid for everything in gold, he was just dumping massive amounts of gold in every tiny town and a big city he came across, causing unbelievable runaway inflation. It would take some places a generation to recover.

Anyway, like I said, Skyrim. I was pretty far in the game, and I was at that point where I was pretty much bankrupting merchants, selling people who usually stocked cabbages and carrots full suits of armor, magical relics, ancient weaponry. And it was like, “Ha ha, I’m ruining your economy.” But of course, the game didn’t account for that. And I was just thinking about how unfortunate that was. That kind of started the seed of the idea.

Where did this idea come from? And how did the two of you end up working together?

Spike: Delver only exists thanks to MK, honestly! I talked to a mutual friend about wanting to do something with this idea, but just not having the time? I have a lot on my plate as a general rule, I overcommit a bunch. They related the story to MK, and she sent me an email, going “You have to do something with this idea and I want to help you do it.”

And while I’m usually an enormous control freak when it comes to my projects, I kind of sat there and thought to myself, “You can either find a collaborator and do this story NOW, or continue to demand unreasonable things of yourself and hope to get around to it in the next decade.” I went with the former, fortunately. It’s been a great decision, MK has been awesome to work with on the script and Clive is an amazing artist.

MK: Spike’s podcast cohost Kel McDonald told me the plot of a fantasy story that hit all my special secret loves like dumb teens and economics and badass middle-aged women with swords. I emailed Spike something to the effect of “You should do this now while fantasy is having a moment instead of waiting to when you’re free, btw I write for hire.” Then I didn’t hear from her for three months, but the next time we saw each other in person, we started talking about it.

Delver is coming out from comiXology Originals. Do you want to say a little about what it is and how the book came out this way?

Spike: I was approached by comiXology, they came to me! And they presented this incredible opportunity to ground floor ComiXology Originals. And I ground floor stuff, I’m cool with trying the untried thing. It’s basically defined my career.

This is a five-part miniseries. And you’ve both written plenty of comics over the years, and Spike, of course you made the webcomic Templar AZ for years, but have either of you written a serialized story like this before? Did that require you to work differently or think differently about how to construct a story?

Spike: Ha ha, this is literally the very first thing I’ve ever written, ever, in sort of the classic “comic book format.” It’s been a pretty wild experience! I have a new respect for people that do this every day. I’d still argue I’m no good at finding good spots to start and stop on, putting together a good cliffhanger, that sort of thing; MK does all of that. Being able to tell a story in incredibly free-form formats like graphic novels and webcomics have spoiled me.

MK: I’ve done one series that started coming out in issues and then switched to trades, The Castoffs, that I co-wrote with Brian Smith, so it’s not totally new to me. It just took a little learning curve figuring out what worked for the two of us. Originally, we were planning on doing a longer standalone GN, which we outlined with a slower pace in mind, but when the opportunity came up to serialize the story, we lost about 70 pages worth of setup to get to the action quicker. I think we’ll probably end up writing about the subjects we would have covered in there down the line, but it got us pushing our main characters into the dungeon to look around a little sooner than we’d have done in a GN.

How have the two of you collaborated together on writing the book?

Spike: Essentially, we passed the script back-and-forth, tweaking it, changing dialogue here in there, maybe running it past an editor once or twice. I think the best metaphor I can come up for with it is, MK sends me the bones, and I put the flesh and skin on them, and the editor makes sure it looks like a person instead of a Real Doll or a creepy manikin or something.

Wait, this is a terrible metaphor. Forget I said anything.

MK: Yeah, Frankensteining, basically. It started with Spike’s idea, which we discussed a lot, especially the look and feel she wanted. Spike threw a reference folder at me and I started researching. Once we had the world building elements together, we worked out the outline for the first arc of the story and breaking it into issues. Then for each issue, I’d write a draft, and Spike makes everyone sound like she wants them to. I edit it all together and remind Spike it’s YA we can’t swear so much and we can’t contradict what we’ve already written. And there’s a bunch of apologizing about how we’re both sorry it’s taking so long and it’ll be ready soon WE SWEAR.

I’m curious about your interest in fantasy as a genre. What do you love about it, and what were you very conscious about — either tropes you wanted to lean into or subvert in this story?

Spike: I love fantasy. But so much fantasy is… Well, it doesn’t answer the questions I want answered. It doesn’t consider the little things. It’s sort of like how we have a lot of stories out there about armies and wars, but not so many about camp followers, the folks digging all latrines and doing all the laundry. Behind the thousands of soldiers are the MILLIONS of people affected by their war, and I’ve always been more interested in the millions than the thousands. The stuff that’s not glamorous and glorious and memorialized in film and coffee table books. Delver is sort of like that. While it does talk about the adventurers in the dungeon, it doesn’t ignore the effect an actual, dungeon-crawling environment might have on a rural village. Which would be inarguably devastating.

MK: We had a Skype session at the start where we talked about what fantasy aspects we wanted to keep and what we were leaving out, which more or less boiled down to: no European countryside, no thatch cottages, no orcs, no elves.

Can you say a little about your collaborator, artist Clive Hawken?

Spike: I knew Clive was gonna be great to work with the second he started sending us developmental art unasked-for, because he was just so excited about the story. So, obviously, he’s been pretty much a dream. I love his style, I love how it’s not standard fantasy art; it makes the people and environments tangible.

MK: He’s amazing and I love him, and he basically got hired because I went to see The Meg. Clive was a student of my friend and artist on some of my other books, Jonathan Hill, who had been telling me for years about this student of his that constantly amazed him. I was talking with Jonathan before the movie about needing an artist for Delver, and he automatically responded with “Clive could handle it.” I went home and went through his portfolio & threw his hat in the ring, and it has worked out amazingly well. This is probably the best thing to have come out of The Meg.

Delver #2

What can people look to in the issues to come? Because we’ve only seen a little about what the dungeon holds. What do we have to look forward to?

Spike: My big hope for Delver is that people assume they think they know what’s going to happen, and they’re proven completely wrong. That’s all I’m going to say.

MK: So many monsters.

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