[Interview] Steve Horton Talks ‘Amala’s Blade’

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A young master assassin who can’t escape the literal ghosts of her murderous past, is caught between the personal politics of two warring cyberpunk subcultures in Steve Horton and Michael Dialynas’ hit limited series, “Amala’s Blade: Spirits of Naamaron”.

Horton, who is a two-time Harvey nominated writer, and contributor to the award-winning anthology ‘Dark Horse Presents’, has kindly taken the time to answer our questions regarding the dystopian world he’s created, subverting character tropes, and the potential for future Amala storylines. The trade hits shelves on Wednesday January 22nd, so be sure check it out.

Bloody-disgusting: So many titles have fallen victim to the clichéd “Chosen One” trope that litters the sci-fi/fantasy genres, yet ‘Amala’s Blade’ manages to present a refreshingly unique spin on the concept. What was the reasoning behind creating such a fantastically envisioned, and intensely flawed, protagonist who unconventionally shirks her spiritual “calling”?

Steve Horton: I like subverting expectations! In fact, that’s how this whole idea came about in the first place. I had been looking at the Dalai Lama Wikipedia page, and found that he’s chosen as a child. What if someone was picked to be a spiritual leader, but didn’t want it, and by escaping this fate, touched off a war? What would she do next?

BD: World-building is such an integral, and often times grueling, part of storytelling, especially when writing speculative fiction. Were there times that you had found the creative process overwhelming when establishing the clashing of steampunk cultures and history between the Purifiers and Modifiers in ‘Amala’s Blade’?

SH: Not at all! Worldbuilding is one of the most fun parts about writing something entirely new. The trick is not to let it overwhelm the storytelling. Even if you have a giant story bible, the actual story that you let your readers see must be smaller than that. It has to be something that people can digest, and that way you can reveal your world, bits and pieces at a time.

BD: Biological modification and genetic engineering play a massive role in Naamaron’s social conflict. Did you intend for it to propose such interesting theories about society’s growing reliance on technology and what it could possibly mean for our future?

SH: Sure. I myself am hooked on phones and tablets and computers. I often wonder what it would be like to chuck all of that and live technology-free. I also wonder what it would be like to actually put the technology inside of you, so that you can’t get away from it. Google Glass is easily a step in that direction. In the end, neither side is correct, but they’re still equally disgusted at each other.

BD: While the series is almost matchless in terms of its synopsis, you must have drawn inspiration from somewhere. Where did you look to for insight or influence to feed your creativity? Did Michael Dialynas’ art ever influence you to take your writing in a different direction than you had originally intended?

SH: I had the whole “steampunk versus cyberpunk, Miyazaki world versus Moebius world” in my head from the start, and that’s actually what convinced Michael to go on this journey with me, as he’s an even bigger fan of those creators than I am. That said, the initial sketches as we went absolutely informed the direction the story went. A throwaway monster on a background poster that’s not even visible in the scene became Stormscale, the Skolynx, the giant worm-dog creature that Amala rides to victory.

BD: Michael’s artwork is incredibly explosive on paper. The environment he’s illustrated and the characters he’s designed are perfect visual representations of your steampunk/biopunk universe. How involved were you in his artistic process when establishing the final look of the series?

SH: As with most any artist, I give them a ton of creative freedom. Amala was supposed to have simple armor, black hair and olive skin. Beyond that, the rest came out of Michael’s pencil (or tablet) and it all turned out pretty amazing. This project wouldn’t be anything without him.

BD: Besides Amala, which of Michael’s character designs had the strongest impact on you?

SH: I really like how he drew the robotic pirate monkey in the initial Dark Horse Presents story. He drew it so well — and the fan reaction was so strong — that he became a ghost robotic pirate monkey and followed Amala around everywhere after that! That monkey is a big part of the story now. I suppose I should get around to calling him something other than “Monkey,” though.


BD: There is a lot of untouched history regarding Amala’s life after she had unwittingly sparked the 20 year civil war between Purifiers and Modifiers. Do you plan on revisiting past timelines for future story projects? I would love to read more about her time with the Sword Orphans!

SH: Michael did a commission of Amala as a teenager, roughly halfway between the prequel and the #0 story. I’d love to explore that history sometime. We allude to the fact that she was forced to kill her love, Tyrone, and all the other Sword Orphans, but we don’t really know why or how. That tale is absolutely worth depicting at some future point.

BD: Considering the serious subject matter and Amala’s murderous lifestyle, the series is still not as dark as it could potentially be. Is the light tone of the book a conscious effort on your part, or might you go a more somber route down the line?

SH: If and when we get to do more Amala, it’s definitely going to get pretty dark for her — but at its heart, this story will always be lighthearted and Princess Bride-esque in tone, but with more blood. If you want somber, you want to read my other Dark Horse project, Monstrous. Now that one is grim!

BD: What core message do you hope readers will take away from your narrative?

SH: You can’t change your past, but you can change the kind of person you want to be. And there isn’t anyone or anything that can stop you from doing that.

BD: “Amala’s Blade: Spirits of Naamaron” drops on the 22nd, and it is full of worthwhile extras. My personal favourite is the never-before-published eight-page origin story that is both unnerving, and bizarrely adorable. What other goodies will readers be able to find in the TPB?

SH: That eight-page story is interesting, because we did the whole thing to get the gig, then tossed it, but it’s an important story nonetheless. Even if her mother doesn’t look like that anymore.

Other than that, there’s a ton of sketches and essays and a map and all kinds of other miscellaneous stuff … but a lot of story too.

BD: You have done a commendable job establishing and developing the voice of such a powerfully complex female character. Are there any pre-existing heroines you would love to take a stab at, provided you were ever given the opportunity?

SH: I like creating my own! But you know how there were tons of “Bad Girl” and “Good Girl” comics in the 1990s and how most of them weren’t very good? Those characters are still out there. The Glory revamp at Image proves that you can take these characters and make them into something worthwhile. So I’d like a stab at a character like that, sure.

BD: Would you like to say anything regarding the level of support your fantastic series has deservingly garnered from fellow creators, and fans alike?

SH: Michael and I couldn’t do Amala’s Blade without the overwhelming positive feedback from peers fans and reviewers. You are all the greatest! And keep watching the news sites…!

BD: I know you have a number of different comic book projects currently in the works. Care to tease them to our readers?

SH: I just wrapped up MONSTROUS, a three-part series in Dark Horse Presents #30-32 with Ryan Cody, and we’d love to do more there. It’s much darker and more satirical than Amala with some of the same themes of redemption and violence. I have some other stuff coming up with Dark Horse also, and I’m always pitching other publishers!

BD: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these long-winded questions, Steve!

SH: You’re welcome! Thank you for interviewing, and for reading Amala’s Blade!

Interview by – ShadowJayd