Stjepan Šejić was an acclaimed artist who spent years drawing comics like Witchblade, Artifacts and Aphrodite IX before he wrote and drew Sunstone, which has become a smash hit. The series has been acclaimed for his skill at telling a romance story, and the realistic and thoughtful details with which he portrays BDSM.
In recent years Šejić has been busier than ever. DC’s Black Label imprint released Harleen, but Šejić has made clear that his focus is on creator-owned projects, which include Sunstone, Death Vigil and The Queen and The Woodborn.
Top Cow will release the first book of a new series from Šejić, Fine Print on Nov. 24. The story bears some resemblance to some of his other books (and is part of a shared universe of other books by Šejić and his wife Linda Šejić’s book Punderworld) but Šejić’s art continues to be masterful in his ability to convey so much through body language and facial expressions. The book manages to be a story about mythology and a tale of a self-destructive antihero, but has the same wry sense of humor that Šejić’s work is known for. Startling and laugh-out-loud funny, the first volume of Fine Print is some of Šejić’s best work, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about it.
What was the initial idea behind Fine Print? Did it begin with the character of Lauren? The mythology? Or just wanting to write about heartbreak?
Fine Print started as two silly ideas at first. Most of these stories start with something downright nonsensical and with fine print it was the concept of an asexual girl summoning an incubus and a woman summoning the most powerful incarnate of desire but it turns out this is a contested title.
The story itself, as with the lore, happened once the writing actually started, and with my stories it always starts with asking the important question. Who are these people?
People best know you for Sunstone – even those of us who have been reading you since Witchblade and Artifacts and other projects – but this one is a little different because it’s as much about this mythology and these creatures as it about people.
Fine Print does have a lore aspect to it but below the glamour of it it deals with simple concepts. Obsessive desire and obsessive love. Both these drives, these emotions, have a way of completely unbalancing one’s life and this is a story in which characters both human and divine learn that lesson the hard way.
How easy was it constructing this mythology and a supernatural world with its own rules? And making supernatural creatures who have their own struggles for love and lust and power alongside the humans?
Quite simple, really. I take long coffee breaks with my wife, Linda. Together we brainstorm this strange shared universe that is most relevant to three of our stories. Fine Print, The Queen and The Woodborn, and Linda’s own Punderworld exist in the same universe and in full continuity. All of them share the same lore and rules. Figuring that stuff out is a blast.
Lauren is a great character. Or maybe I just relate to self-destructive characters. But I wonder if you could talk about making her a model and what that means and exploring that.
Lauren may be a model, but she’s not a role model. This is a self deprecating line she uses in Volume Two to hand-wave away her own deeply ingrained flaws. But those don’t really go away that easily.
She made many of her decisions for the wrong reasons and becoming a professional model was no different. There are people who go into that line of work because they genuinely love it or want it. Lauren’s reasons are somewhat more heartbreaking but will remain a secret for now.
Truth is, she is the result of bad influences and emotional scars in life that skewed her ability to choose wisely in life. She is no hero, but is merely the protagonist and a deeply flawed one at that. But that’s the beauty of it all. I get to show you why she is like that. Elaborate and explain without excusing her decisions. She gets to grow as a person and maybe even become genuinely likable – before the severely foreshadowed end.
Fine Print is a fun, sexy book about models and supernatural forces, but it’s also a book about heartbreak and sadness. And over the past year and a half when we’ve all been dealing with loneliness in different ways, what did it mean to explore that in a comic during this time?
Even to a happy person who enjoys their peace and quiet, excessive loneliness will get to you. I can say this from personal experience.
However, for someone like Lauren whose life is a seemingly endless series of regrets, it is the silence of solitude that makes the voices from her past all the louder. And they are not kind voices.
For her, solitude is dangerous. Silence is abusive.
You also make a point of undercutting what a lot of romance and erotica stories do, which is to have a depressed protagonist turn to BDSM so they can feel pain. Because here people say, no, we don’t do that, you need a therapist.
I know a lot of veteran people in the kink community. To be a dom/domme is a position of power. A submissive’s physical safety is put in their hands and with that comes a lot of responsibility. Make no mistake, there are people who come to these kinds of places trying to resolve their own issues. There are doms who will ignore all the red flags for the thrill of a session. Well respected veterans however earn they respect by paying close attention to things like these. They know when to pass.
For a project like this – or for any of your projects, really – do you like to plan things out? For example do you know how many books this will be and where the story is going in great detail, or how do you like to work?
There is a general outline. A summary of sorts. But there is also a tendency of characters to outgrow the writer’s plans that I have to be aware of. Such things have happened before and I had to change large details in the story as the characters changed the narrative. As for fine print there is a defined end and major story beats each with their own emotional relevance. I call these the anchor points to my story. A character can take different routes between these points but in the end this much of their path is set in stone.
There’s an old saying that the sex scenes in erotica function the same way as fight scenes in a superhero comic or musical numbers do in a musical. And as someone who had made erotica and superhero comics, I’m curious what you think of this.
There’s truth in that, except it’s not just erotica, but the mature romance genre in general. I do, however like these scenes of sex paired with strong emotional character development. Be it an exploration of ironic trust in Sunstone where they trust each other physically but not so much emotionally, of the crazy stuff where Lauren fucks a goddess and nearly dies in the process all to numb the ever bleeding cracks in her broken heart.
Sex works best in these stories when it stands for something more than just an equivalent of two guys punching each other through buildings.
I do keep coming back to the pact that Lauren makes, which is to surrender love for the sake of desire. And I think a lot of us would say that we have sacrificed love or ignored it for our desires in so many different ways. I’m sure a lot of artists would say they’ve focused on desires.
That’s just human nature. Over time even when we love someone or something we will to some extent take it for granted and drown them away in the buzz of our desires and interests. This isn’t a necessarily bad thing as the loved ones will more often than not understand that, but still, there are limits to which your own enthusiasm for your wants can excuse the neglect of those you love.
Both love and desire require engagement and effort. Wonderful concepts when balanced in life, destructive when not.
It does feel like after Harleen and now this, you’re in a phase of making beautiful looking books about people making bad decisions. But just to close, how do you describe the book to people? What’s your sales pitch for Fine Print?
Fine Print is a story of the tunnel-visioned and the stubborn. Of people trying to live up to the expectations of others to their own detriment. It is an enchanting tale of the dumbass and the divine.
Those that read Sunstone, already know how this will play out. You’ll come in thinking this is a fun sexy romp in which this Lauren chick has crazy threesomes with a succubus and an incubus, and it’s gonna be hot and sometimes funny…
And then it gets unexpectedly deep. Impossibly layered, and then come the tears.
So you know! Just that good, sexy, fun stuff! Come on in! I wouldn’t trick you… again!