The Argonauts: Interview with Keith Dallas by Jerry Whitworth
Across the span of time and space, The Argonauts by Keith Dallas (Omega Chase, Ghostbusters: Con-volution) and Robert Saunders (ARComics: The Frontiers) features a team of heroes assembled to protect Earth from the evil D’Ent, an alien avian species of intergalactic conquerors. From the mystical past come the sorcerer Karina, warrior Davin, and Mountain Giant Utnir, from the far future the rebel Shard, scientist Pol, and hot-headed 098-473, and in the present, the husband and wife team of inventor Jennifer Finn and technologically-enhanced police officer D.A.R.T. Jason Finn band together to form the Argonauts. The ongoing series is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter to publish its first trade paperback collecting the initial six issues. However, the first issue and a short story have been posted online for free to give readers the opportunity to observe the product for themselves before making an investment in the book. Comic Art Community had the opportunity to speak with author Keith Dallas about his series.
Comic Art Community: Before we discuss The Argonauts, your comic book series from TJ Comics currently being crowdfunded on Kickstarter, could you speak a bit on the background in comics that yourself and co-creator Robert Saunders have had up to this point?
Keith Dallas: Sure thing! Robert hails from Vancouver, Canada and previously contributed to ARComics: Red, White and Blue. I live all the way on the other side of the continent, in Long Island, New York. Among other things, I’ve written a Ghostbusters comic book for IDW and a Stan Lee book for Dynamite Entertainment, but most of my output has been released by TwoMorrows Publishing where I wrote and edited such comic book history books as The Flash Companion and American Comic Book Chronicles.
KD: The Argonauts is the story of eight super-powered characters from different time periods (The post-Viking Age, The 27th century, and the present) who are joined together to stop an alien invasion of Earth. That’s the concept in a nutshell, and it’s something that had been brewing in my head since I was a teenager. I must confess that the cast was originally much bigger than eight characters. I also had like half a dozen other characters from World War II, but soon after I recruited Robert to the project, I realized that I had to cut down the cast. Fourteen characters is just too unwieldy. Too hard to juggle them all and let the readers know who they are as characters. So I chucked the World War II characters and confined the cast to three characters from the far future, three characters from 12th century Norway, and two characters from the present day.
The story’s trigger is a man named Shard, the super-powered leader of a resistance movement that opposes the D’Ent, an alien race that has conquered the Milky Way galaxy by the 27th century. Shard’s advisors convince him that it is impossible to defeat the D’Ent in the 27th century. They’re just too powerful, and their resources are essentially unlimited. The only way to overcome the D’Ent is to go back in time to a point when their military force is small enough to be defeated. So Shard travels back in time to the early 21st century, but in doing so, he inadvertently causes others to also travel in time. They’re all brought to Argon City, a fictitious metropolis somewhere on the American mid-Atlantic coast, and they all have to join together to oppose the D’Ent who are on their way to conquer Earth.
Now at this point in my description I have to mention Egg Embry, the editor of my other creator-owned series, Omega Chase. One day I was on the phone with Egg to describe The Argonauts concept to him. I got to the point where all the characters have arrived in Argon City and when Egg asked what happened next, I told him the eight characters would be introducing themselves to each other and making plans, etc. Egg cut me off, though. He said, “That’s completely unrealistic.” I didn’t understand what he meant, so he clarified, “It’s completely unrealistic for eight characters from different time periods to be able to understand each other.” I told him that one of the characters from the future could have a translator device, and that idea sent Egg into a tirade about how a device like that is a complete cop-out. He said one of the reasons why he hates Star Trek is that every episode the crew would encounter a new alien race and everyone could understand everyone else with no problem, and for Egg, that was completely unbelievable. Egg’s tirade actually made something click in my head. Thanks to Egg, I found my theme for The Argonauts: miscommunication (or if you want to get Biblical, the theme is the Tower of Babel). What makes The Argonauts unique is that the main characters don’t understand each other and never will understand each other. How are they going to come together to stop an alien invasion of Earth if everything they say and do is constantly being misunderstood (or misinterpreted) by the other characters? There’s the conflict.
If I remember correctly, the Tower of Babel theme convinced Kevin Powers [TJ Comics’ publisher] to accept The Argonauts for publication. He recognized this wasn’t some run-of-the-mill super-hero adventure. The story has some thematic nuances as well.
CAC: Along the theme of “not being run-of-the-mill,” I’ve seen the book referred as Fantasy meets Sci-Fi meets Superheroes. A rather bold approach as, outside the big two, it’s not something you see every day (and even then, the big two nowadays generally save that for crossovers). You mention miscommunication, but a lot of elements are at play in the books as many of the main characters are adversaries at this point and have their own agendas. From a writing standpoint, what opportunities does this give you to play around with having so many competing attitudes?
KD: Countless opportunities. And I think as a writer, it’s my job to set up competing attitudes among my characters or else I risk creating a really boring story. Conflict moves the story forward, whether it be physical conflict between enemies, psychological conflict within oneself or interpersonal conflict among allies.
My hope, as people read through The Argonauts trade paperback, is that their opinions of the characters change dramatically. Remember during the TV show Lost how you’d learn some new personal details about one of the characters and that would completely alter your perception of that character? That’s one of my aims with The Argonauts: you’ll read the first chapter and think, “Okay, this guy is the true hero of the story, and this guy is the true villain,” but by chapter six, you’ll already have major doubts about your initial assumptions. The character who went on a rampage actually has a gentle soul, and the character who seemed really cool is actually a megalomaniac.
CAC: Something I greatly appreciate about the story thus far is Robert Saunders’ brilliant use of expression on the characters. In a way, it shows more than tells when you look at the face of Karina as she’s exposed to this modern world and its marvels or the moment shared between Shard and Utnir when the former was critically wounded and asked for help. There is also the ominous image of the Earth and its moon at the end of the second issue as the D’Ent invasion of Earth is discussed. Would you speak on the creative process between yourself and Robert?
KD: I hope I’m speaking for both myself and Robert when I say that the creative process on The Argonauts has been a lot of fun. There’s always a “learning curve” when a writer and artist begin working together, and I think with each issue we’ve become more comfortable with each other. I would argue that it’s translated to better work as the series progresses.
Before I began collaborating with Robert, I was used to artists “pushing back” on the art directions I was giving them, so instead of drawing a scene the way I directed it, they made some changes. That’s not a complaint, by the way. That’s something that every comic book writer should expect, and maybe even want, from his or her artist. The artists usually know their own strengths and weaknesses best, and more often than not, they can identify the best way to tell a story visually (not “always,” but “more often than not”). Robert was different, however. At the start of our collaboration, he drew whatever I asked him to draw without deviating from the script whatsoever. As a result, I soon realized that I was leaving him “high and dry” in some spots. The way I was directing the art was flawed, but I couldn’t see that until Robert sent me his artwork, and then I would tell Robert to redraw a panel… or sometimes an entire page! For instance, that shot of the Earth and moon at the end of the second issue, Robert redrew that page at least three times. I felt bad because Robert was being too much of a slave to my art directions, so starting with issue #3, my scripts became less and less descriptive. I wanted Robert to decide, on his own, the best way to draw the page. And I think he’s done great! If you look back at issue #6, you’ll see there’s very little dialogue. With that issue, I basically let Robert take matters into his own hands because I knew he could pull it off. And he did!
CAC: Talking about the sixth issue, which has not been published yet, I understand the trade paperback being crowdfunded on Kickstarter will feature the collection of the first six issues. Would you give some hints about the sixth issue and, perhaps if you’re so inclined, something about the series moving forward?
KD: Without giving away too much, Argonauts #6 provides the backstory of the mountain giant that was introduced in issue #1, and I’m hoping it’s a big surprise for readers to learn what’s really going on with him. It’s like I said earlier about having readers’ opinions of the characters change as the series goes on. As far as future issues go, all the other characters will have their backstories revealed as well and hmmmnnnn… the D’Ent have to invade Earth sooner or later, don’t they? (For you gambling types, bet the “sooner” rather than the “later”.)
KD: For publishers who can’t secure Diamond distribution to the comic book stores… and folks, don’t kid yourselves, there are a lot of quality publishers that Diamond refuses to distribute… crowdfunding is really the only feasible way to both subsidize printing costs and gauge consumer interest. Without crowdfunding, you’re potentially risking a lot of money on a print run without any guarantee that you’ll be able to sell a single copy.
It was definitely a huge relief when we hit our funding goal so early, but all that really guarantees is a print run of the trade paperback. Now we’re trying to secure funding for future Argonauts issues, so I’m still making the rounds and asking for pledges. Every dollar we earn is going right back into the project, not into our pockets.
CAC: Would you speak on some of the pledge levels of the Kickstarter campaign? I understand one level includes a print copy of The Argonauts short story “Shard’s Lesson,” a previously web-produced tale that can only be obtained in print exclusively through the campaign?
KD: Our pledge structure is rather simple: if you want a hard copy of the Argonauts trade paperback, you just have to pledge $20 ($25 if you want the book autographed). After that, for $35, you get a hard copy of the TPB along with a hard copy of a 10 page Argonauts short story that won’t be included in the book. Like you said, it’s exclusive to the Kickstarter campaign. For $55, you get a hard copy of the TPB and a hard copy of TJ Comics’ previously released Patriot-1 graphic novel. For $60, you get a hard copy of the Argonauts TPB and any volume of American Comic Book Chronicles that you want. And finally, for $80, you get a hard copy of the Argonauts TPB, any volume of American Comic Book Chronicles AND a hard copy of The Flash Companion, which is a must-have resource book for any self-respecting fan of DC Comics’ The Flash (or even any self-respecting fan of DC Comics).
KD: ALWAYS more American Comic Book Chronicles. The 1930s and 1940s volumes are underway, but next up is the 1990s volume which I’m working on with Jason Sacks. That will be in stores sometime next year and yes, because it’s the 1990s volume it will polybagged with a die cut cover (bad joke). Other than that, former Detective Comics/JSA artist Don Kramer and I are collaborating on a creator-owned comic book that I’m really excited about. Can’t really say anything about it at this point, but just stay tuned.
The Kickstarter for The Argonauts: Book One ends the morning of October 2, 2015. You can follow Keith Dallas on Twitter to learn about his upcoming projects. You can also follow TJ Comics on Twitter for the latest on The Argonauts, Patriot-1, and more.