Smash Pages Q&A: Simon Roy, Daniel M. Bensen + Artyom Trakhanov

The creators of ‘Protector’ discuss the miniseries, how they collaborate and more.

Simon Roy first came to a lot of people’s attention with Prophet, or perhaps people know him for his projects like Habitat or Jan’s Atomic Heart and Other Stories. His new project, which has been coming out from Image Comics this year, is the miniseries Protector.

A collaboration with novelist Daniel M. Bensen (Junction) and artist Artyom Trakhanov (The 7 Deadly Sins), the book is a science fantasy adventure set in 3241 AD in the remote regions of North America (or what’s left of it) as Iron Age humans are dealing with demons and aliens and slavers and warring tribes. Issue #3 is out this week from Image, and I had a chance to speak with the team about the project.

I always start by asking people, how did you come to comics?

Artyom:  Hey, I have not one, but 3 versions of my “come to Jesus” moment! As a kid in the early 90s Russia, I barely saw any comics. But the few issues of the Tom & Jerry comic I had were everything to me! I was crazy about this cartoon duo, so naturally, I spent many, many days redrawing comic pages of their antics (viciously swiping the art of Oscar Martin, if I remember correctly).

Then, closer to the end of my high school, I simultaneously got introduced to anime and manga. For a while, the ol’ Hellsing manga became the new Tom & Jerry for 16 year old me. I was drawing my pastiches of things I liked in the manga in dozens of pages, and it all was extremely bad.

And finally – my favorite version of this answer. During my first year at my art institute I managed to find a Russian black and white edition of Hellboy: Seed of Destruction (and then, shortly – Wake the Devil). And THIS time, my life was changed for sure!

Simon:  I grew up reading Tintin, Asterix, Calvin and Hobbes, and weirdly enough, heaps of Archies, so comics were in my little grubby paws right off the bat. But I didn’t live anywhere near a comic store for a big chunk of my childhood, so I never quite caught the superhero bug – it was all comics I could get from the library, or church sales. 

Though somehow my parents were able to track down a lot of Asterixes for my brothers and I to read, a feat I still appreciate. So for me, though I didn’t really consider it a career path until I was already a few years into university, I had been reading and doodling comics for ages already. 

How did the three of you end up connecting?

Simon:  The internet, of course! Daniel and I connected back in 2010ish (or earlier) on Deviantart, and began swapping editing duties for art duties and vice versa back then. Daniel helped me a lot when it came to constructing solid story structures, and even helped me out hugely in writing Habitat (along with Jess Pollard, another friend and collaborator). Artyom and I met online when he was working on the Image book Undertow, and he asked me to do a variant cover for the series. We stayed in touch ever since! 

Where did the idea behind Protector start?

Simon:  The Idea for Protector started back in art school – 2010 or so – for a class assignment for a museum. I had a lot of free reign, so I made the museum a sort of propaganda piece – a race of alien machines has come to earth and taken over, and they are busy re-interpreting the archaeology of our present age as proof of mankind’s long-term history of oppression by machines. A museum, basically, reinforcing some strange new evil intergalactic status quo through revisionist history. This was also very much inspired by the book Motel of the Mysteries by David Macaualy.  

But the world that painted – tribal humans entering a new strange covenant with extraterrestrial entities – was one that demanded a bit more exploration, and managed to agglomerate a few more concepts on the way. And Daniel was involved, right from the start, as i showed him snippets of scenes and ideas for the story. 

Simon, you’ve co-written comics before, how do you and Daniel work together? 

Simon:  Early on, when Protector first started cooking back in 2013ish, it was very much a call and response sort of thing. I would show things to him – plot points, layouts, etc. – and he would question me about them, and make all sorts of story suggestions. But more recently, when we finally started just hitting the scripts, we’ve figured out a nice simple way to do it. We have a sort of long-distance game of telephone between us – passing google documents back and forth, editing each other’s scripts, etc., until we settle into a nice spot that matches both of our tastes and goals for what we wanted out of the story. 

How does it compare to the ways that you’ve collaborated with people in the past?

Simon:  Well, every collaboration is different. Usually, when I have collaborated with people, I’m the one drawing, so there is a very definite amount of control that I get over the end result. In stuff like Prophet, it was almost like a modern storyboard-driven show – I would work off of a sort of set of story beats, and fill up the pages I had space for accordingly. But with this, where both Daniel and I have to settle scripting before handing it off, all the rassling takes place during the writing itself.  Plus there’s a certain amount of trust and faith I have to have, since I’m not drawing, that I can let the script go and let Artyom reprocess it into the comic itself. The combination of co-writing AND writing for someone else to draw is a big change from my usual methods, but a very welcome one. 

Daniel, you’re a prose writer, and I’m curious if there was a learning curve in terms of figuring out in the intricacies of writing a comic.

Daniel:  The biggest surprise for me was how you can’t have long stretches of silent action. In a book, even if nobody is talking, there are still lots of words all over the place. In a comic, you don’t know what a character is feeling or thinking unless they say it. I actually like that about comics. Books, especially your standard 1st-person or close-3rd-person books, force you to see the world through the eyes of the narrator. In a comic, readers see the world through their own eyes. But you have to make sure readers see what the characters and doing and why.

Simon, reading Protector and rereading Habitat, I couldn’t help but see some similar ideas in both projects

Simon:  A lot of the stories I like, and try to make, end up tying into my own interests in history, anthropology, archeology, and the like. Musings about the depth of time, the relationships between human cultures and their surrounding ecologies, and a sort of grumpy skepticism about human progress (and the fate of man generally). But, in both stories, I want to communicate glimmers of hope for humanity, despite the inescapable crushing pressures of history, self-interested destructive human parties, and ecological limits/challenges. 

Who do you think the title “Protector” refers to? Because there are multiple characters who could be described as such – and multiple things they’re protecting.

Daniel:  I think “Protector” originally referred to the cyborg, who protects the Mari from the slavers. But we quickly realized that Mari is protecting her people, the slaves. And the Hudsoni slavers are protecting their own interests, while the Devas they worship are protecting the Earth. Everyone thinks what they’re doing is important, and interesting sparks fly when those goals come into contact. 

Artyom Trakhanov is drawing the book and he’s coming off drawing The 7 Deadly Sins and other books. How do you write for an artist? 

Daniel:  I just trust him. There were a few times when I thought he was misinterpreting what I wrote, but the result was better than what I’d originally intended.   

Artyom, when you came onboard the project, how much of the background details and the world building had they established and what did you 

Artyom:  There was a lot of layouts, character sketches and atmospheric watercolors made by Simon himself by the time when he approached me. So I had a very solid footing in the beginning of this book, and then we just naturally developed everything together, as it went. As a viewer/reader, I already greatly enjoy Simon’s vision for basically everything he does. To not compromise this vision and develop it into a full-blown book was my main mission in our first few issues. Also, I gave First Knife his big nose! This is the most “Artyom” thing you could ever get, really.

As a final question, the second issue is out, and I think it’s better than the first, but for people curious, what does the rest of the series hold?

Daniel:  I like the second issue better than the first too! We get to see some deeper world-building and learn what’s driving these characters into conflict. That’s what readers have to look forward to later in the series! Boom! Bash!! That and further exploration of this gorgeous scenery that Artyom and Jason have created. Lots more blood, too. 

Artyom:  Our book begins in the heated desert, but later the crew travels to a gorgeous, lush land with the flora and fauna meticulously selected and developed by our Daniel. So there’s something for all you National Geographic heads out there! Also, later in the book we have something that I called “Astral plane”, which of course barely has anything to do with Astral, but looks trippy as hell! Lastly, we all here just think that geese are cool! So there will be more geese, don’t you worry about that.

Simon:  What more could I possibly add?

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