Newcomers to the comic scene Ryan Burton and John Bivens sat down with Bloody-Disgusting to talk about the inspiration for their new series from Image Comics They talk about what drives their character, their narrative, and their wish to eliminative the association between being and unstoppable force and being a man. Moreover they exchange excitement about monstrous beasts exploding and telling a massive story filled with mystery.
I’ve had a peek at what these dudes are up to, and it’s simply masterful. This is a book you don’t want to miss.
With ribsword in hand, with gore in her curling locks, Sym has been sent to the distant past to murder her creators’ enemies. But the twisted alchemists who made Sym do not know that the engine that powers her is sentient, that it is the seed of their destruction. By blood and by fury, Sym will carve out her destiny in this new ongoing series.
“DARK ENGINE” is about the evil things that lurk inside us all. Some drive us, some are alive and thinking. And Sym will learn just exactly what drives her, and why she was sent back in time to essentially murder anything standing.
Bloody-Disgusting: Right now only one teaser image exists for “Dark Engine.” How would you guys explain the series in your own words?
Ryan Burton: Essentially it is a woman who’s built to destroy her master’s enemies. She’s sent back in time powered with this alchemical engine that they don’t realize is sentient. They’ve unknowingly sent their own destruction to the past. It’s a book for those who like a lot of Lovecraft, Conan, or fans of that wonderful, weird, and beautiful thing from Brandon Graham and Image “Prophet.”
John Bivens: I’d call it a lovely romp through an alternate time line with tentacles and blood.
RB: It’s just John and I having a lot of fun with the comic and putting everything we can into this really intense storyline. This is a woman who goes back in time to kill everything. We see her in different time periods, which allows us to get a very interesting lens on her character.
BD: Would you say horror is one of the main genres of inspiration?
JB: In the monster sense and the brutal killings yes, but there’s no jump scares. It’s not that type of horror. Definitely it has the visceral feel of 80’s horror.
RB: John’s art is really quite fascinating for this kind of story. He’s got a really good hold on anatomy from the monstrous to the human. When we show what John can really do with monstrous actions by Sym and he gigantic ribsword against whatever beast she’s fighting.
JB: I work a day job as a butcher. I’m bringing it to the work in a way.
BD: You cited Lovecraft and Conan, which are strange bedfellows. Are you building on that mythos for yourselves?
RB: The truth of the matter is, there is nothing really comparable to our story. We’ve mentioned those influences, but really it’s just a savage individual facing off against these nightmarish beasts. I’m not a huge Lovecraft fan or of Robert E Howard’s work, but when you look at the source material of this unstoppable force that’s really how Sym is. Think of Kratos from God of War. Sym will get stabbed one hundred times over just to get closer to her kill. There’s a method to her madness.
BD: It seems you guys have a really big plan for the series as well. Was it pitched as a miniseries or as an ongoing?
RB: It was pitched as a miniseries, and heard back from Image. They basically said if you’re crazy enough to do an ongoing, why don’t we do that instead. It was pretty bananas. It was batshit insane for a couple of days. Really it just allows us to have a greater opportunity to tell a fuller story. I have no doubt that when people see John’s art they’re going to want a lot more.
JB: We did hear back from Image relatively quickly. I wasn’t even prepared for the incoming insanity. Suddenly it was an ongoing. The story was so large, so it was easy to see a whole ongoing thing.
RB: Since we’re new to the game we saw this as an opportunity to keep telling a story that we’d want to read. Something that was wicked metal and absolutely visceral, something you couldn’t wait to get to the store for. Something you had to read in your car and look like a weirdo.
BD: What did your original pitch look like? How much has the story expanded since the pitch?
JB: We had a five page pitch and the cover. Ryan handled all the rest.
RB: John’s being really kind. All I did was follow the Image submission guidelines. We gave them a succinct synopsis of the story. Tag along a couple sequential pages, which John knocked out of the park. Then just cross your fingers. We heard back relatively fast. We originally pitched as a four or five issue miniseries but the opportunity of doing an ongoing, changed things completely.
BD: The art is terribly intense. The color is fantastic. The amount of detail in the work is incredible. This must be quite the collaborative process, how do you two design all of the creatures and the world?
JB: The one thing that disappoints Ryan about my art, is I don’t do a lot of pre-sketching. I’ll do a quick doodle but I’ll expand it on the page. I don’t do involved character sketches. I’m sure Ryan wishes I would send him more little things.
RB: I think it’s legit the way you work. People are going to see John’s work coupled with the story and be totally into it. It’s almost sort of charming to be left in suspense. For example that purple beast on the first page, I gave a lot of detail about him. This was the first time John and I were working together. I wanted to get a feel for how things were going to pan out. How often were we going to talk? How often to we collaborate? As time has progressed we’ve worked out a nice shorthand. I love seeing what he comes up with.
JB: It’s fun sending somebody a fully realized thing. He get’s really excited. I love his reaction tweets and emails.
RB: There’s a dinosaur exploding on page four. It’s stuff like that. That’s just one of many animals that explodes. John sent me something that actually made me unable to sleep. I got this picture of one animal exploding and it was one of the sweetest little creatures on earth. I didn’t realize how horrible it was going to be on paper when I wrote it. Sym is a survivalist. She creates from those things she destroys. She’s a crazy savage. Those first five pages she is crafting from the dead bodies of her merciless force.
BD: The story gives me “Pretty Deadly” vibes. Is it a mystery as to what Sym’s doing and why she’s doing it?
JB: She’s trying to figure it out too. She’s kind of a tool with a personality. She’s self aware and trying to figure out her own purpose.
RB: She’s figuring it out as we’re figuring out. “Pretty Deadly” is an applicable comparison in certain spots of the story. She’s coming to terms with being a tool. Although we push certain scenes around, we’ll have entire issues devoted to finding an army of warriors who don’t really contribute to her quest. The story is constantly evolving like she is. How she looks now in this first issue is not how she’ll look in the second issue.
BD: What’s your favorite part of working on “Dark Engine?
JB: I’m given the ability to draw pretty much whatever I want within the panels so long as I don’t go off on a strange tangent.
RB: Making a comic is the funnest thing for me. I have no idea if this is going to be my first or my last. So the idea of being able to work day to day on a comicbook is just so fucking awesome. That’s the best part. The absolute cake is having an idea and seeing it realized by an artist like John. He supersedes my idea every single time.
JB: The story is so much fun. I do my dayjob, but the whole day I’m thinking about getting back home to draw. It’s extremely enjoyable.
BD: What’s the motivation for wanting to tell this story?
JB: Ryan put three stories in front of me. Of the pitches he sent me, this one would be the most fun to draw. I like things that are organic. This seemed like it would have the most funky and organic stuff going on within it.
RB: We wanted to be as metal as possible. There’s something very visceral about an unstoppable force sent to achieve a goal. The lead character is always male in these stories. I’m hard pressed to think of an unstoppable force as a woman. How rad would it have been if Beowulf was a women? The essence of the idea is exactly that. Have this awesome force of nature just not be a man.
Issue #1 of DARK ENGINE hits on July 16th.