Kickstart the Week(end) with Thistle #1

Kickstart the Week(end) with Thistle #1

By: Nicole D’Andria

Thistle begins with a devastating loss and prides itself on being a story that takes place after your typical epic fantasy. In a rare interview opportunity, the creative team of this dystopian fantasy—from the writer to the artist to the colorist and the letterer/editor—are joining me today to take us on an adventure before their adventure!

This “Kickstart the Week” showcases the Kickstarter for the very first issue of the comic book Thistle, a dystopian fantasy following the titular Thistle (full name Tistlelandalon). He is an elf ranger on a quest for revenge against the Necromancer who commanded the undead horde that annihilated the kingdoms of the humans and the elves.

Created and written by J.L. Collins, he, like the series, wears many different hats, having worked not only as a comic book writer but also as a tabletop roleplaying game designer, an actual play streamer, and a fantasy fiction author. According to him in the official press release, “Thistle takes inspiration from survivor apocalypse stories and the sword and sorcery genre, where a band of intrepid heroes form a desperate alliance to defeat the villain and save the world. That’s where so many of our most treasured and favorite stories end. That is not the story I want to tell. Where do the heroes go after losing the war? Who do they return to if all their families or friends have died? With Thistle, I wanted to explore the story AFTER the story, and the unexplored journey that begins after everything has been lost.”

The rest of the award-winning creative team for Thistle includes artist J. Schiek (Hush Ronin, Tales From the Pandemic), whose artwork has been featured in The New Times; colorist Warnia K. Sahadewa (Doctor Who, Wolvenhart), who has worked for various comic companies, including Mad Cave Studios and Valiant Entertainment; and letterer/editor Leland Bjerg (Capsules, Berserker Monk), a three-time Platform Comics Finalist and a Sequential Magazine Award Winner for Favorite Writer of 2022.

The Thistle Kickstarter is seeking to raise CA $5,000 (approximately $3,708) by March 28, 2024, at 10:30 PM EDT. Rewards offered are digital and physical copies of the first issue (which you can get an early bird discount on if you back by March 2nd!) as well as a variant cover by Heather Vaughan, who’s done artwork for the Unmatched: Buffy the Vampire Slayer board game as well as the Beneath Nexus card game.

But before embarking on the adventures of elf ranger Thistle, let’s trade blows with the creative team! Find out what fantasy and dystopian tropes you can enjoy in Thistle as well as the D&D identities of each interviewee!

J.L. Collins
J.L. Collins

Nicole D’Andria (ND): Thistle begins with the finale. Why did you approach the series in this way?

J.L. Collins (JLC): Thank you for asking, Nicole. The shorter answer was to be different.

The longer answer is that when I approached Thistle as a story, despite my enthusiasm for the fantasy genre, even I was tired of the farm boy/chosen one who is destined to save the world trope. It’s a great trope, it forms the basis of so many of our favorite stories, but it wasn’t something I was interested in writing. So I think it originated with the idea, what if the war was already lost? What if the homelands were already overrun with hordes of undead and instead of a futile last stand defending your home, you take the fight to the enemy in one last ditch effort to seek your revenge?

ND: Why did you decide to combine sword and sorcery fantasy epics with zombie apocalypse stories via Thistle?

JLC: So a fun answer, and credit where credit is due. In 2020, I was fortunate to be working from home at my day job, and because of this, I caught Gail Simone’s Comic School challenge that she launched on the site formerly known as Twitter.

As part of the challenge to encourage amateur and aspiring comic creators, she made you roll an eight-sided die and choose a genre to write a comic script for. I rolled and landed on Horror. Hmm… not my favorite genre, but I was keen to write something new, and Gail had generously offered to read as many of the (eight-page) scripts as she could.

Then she added the twist that you could roll the die a second time and combine genres. My second die roll showed fantasy, and the story came to me almost immediately when the die roll did.

ND: What fantasy elements and tropes can readers expect? And on the other side, what dystopian elements and tropes can readers expect?

JLC: I am purposefully sticking to high fantasy, sometimes called four-colour fantasy. Traditional (Western) fantasy races and imagery, magic, and the classic dystopian elements of a war-torn wasteland and a horde of undead zombies and skeletons. Unnamed, unstoppable enemies that don’t fall to reason, desire, or fear.

For tropes, you could say that means Ancient World, Medievalism, and even the Quest trope, but there is no MacGuffin to save the world waiting for our hero. On the horror side, Thistle #1 is certainly an action horror that includes the Dark Fantasy trope.

Thistle #1 variant cover by Heather Vaughan Variant Cover

ND: You tell us a bit about Tistlelandalon (Thistle) on the Kickstarter page, but what’s his personality like? 

JLC: Thistle is a brave but troubled Elf, younger relative to his people, but committed to fighting to the end. His personality evolved as I worked on the story. He was originally more cynical, more resigned to his fate. However, as I thought about the story beyond the first issue, I realized Thistle is also the reader’s lens to this world, so I started to write him with more optimism, even if we call it grim optimism. He doesn’t focus on dying, but he knows his chances of survival are slim.

ND: Since you are a Tabletop Roleplaying Game Designer, how would you say that work experience has shaped Thistle? 

JLC: I always say the gray in my beard is authentic. Which means I am old as dirt and a full Gen-X kid. Comic books, Dungeons and Dragons (and other tabletop roleplaying games), and Saturday morning cartoons of the ’80s.

My love for roleplaying games and the storytelling that comes with playing them absolutely influenced me as a writer and while writing Thistle. I incorporated all the elements of a classic fantasy game I might enjoy; however, I was very deliberate to not write this as a D&D story with the serial numbers filed off. It is a high fantasy with elves and zombies as I mentioned, but it is also a story about the will to survive while lost and alone, not just about an adventurer heading off to try and save the world.

ND: How did each member of your award-winning creative team become part of this project?

JLC: I met Leland Bjerg here in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia several years back now at one of our local comic conventions, maybe a year or so before the Comic School event? He was running a table with several other comic creators selling their first few books and getting out there. I was desperate to write again after a too-long hiatus and discovering a community of comic creators (who met weekly!) was exactly what I needed.

Leland and I started collaborating on a few early anthology stories I wrote and submitted, and he’s been my letterer (and now editor) ever since.

After the Comic School exercise, I decided I wanted to see if I could transform Thistle from an eight-page script to a full comic. I needed an artist. Once again, the site formerly known as Twitter had a robust indie comics creator community bustling at that time, and I started my search. I came across J. Schiek in a thread where artists were invited to post their portfolios. I reached out, made my pitch, and he said yes.

Since then, we’ve collaborated on a few anthology submissions, one accepted anthology story, and Thistle. I couldn’t be luckier to have someone as talented, humble, and dedicated to his craft as J.

My road to collaborating with W.K. Sahadewa was longer. I worked with a couple of previous colorists for short stints, and then for Thistle, I found colorists whose work I liked and offered a paid tryout page or two. One ended up passing on the project and another was unavailable, but they did refer me to another colorist they were keen to recommend, and that was W.K. Sahadewa.

The compliments we have gotten on the colors and look of the book from our preview pages are entirely due to J. Schiek’s line art and W.K. Sahadewa’s colors. Leland and I talk often about how J’s line art is challenging for some colorists to handle. Not to mention how to properly set lighting on a page. W.K. Sahadewa’s colours elevated J’s work and he’d be the first to confirm that.

I know the search for my team was purposeful and hard work, but sometimes it just feels like it all came together.

ND: Thistle is an Elf Ranger. What is your preferred race/class to play as in Dungeons & Dragons and why?

JLC: Elf… Ranger?

At my home table’s longest-running campaign, I play an Elf Ranger, so I guess that is the answer. I’m also drawn to Half-Orc or Half-Ogre bruisers with a heart of gold.

ND: What is the number one reason why backers should pledge money to your Kickstarter?

JLC: The pedigree of this team speaks for itself. In terms of indie comic creators, we have published award-winning comic book stories and have proven our ability to meet deadlines and produce exceptional work.

However, those are our accomplishments. The Kickstarter is for one thing: this story. Fans of classic high fantasy comics who appreciate an issue filled—literally—with page-to-page fantasy action illustrated in an amazing style. It’s a stunning comic book, from the colors to the letters and back again.

This isn’t a fantasy origin story. This is a story that asks when is the End the Beginning.

ND: What inspirational words do you have for aspiring comic book writers?

JLC: Create, don’t replicate… and remember, thinking is not doing.

ND: Promote yourself! Do you have any upcoming projects that you can tell people about?

JLC: Thistle #1 is live now on Kickstarter!

I may also be a collaborator on some upcoming Third-Party TTRPG products later this year. Also, back in October 2023, I was Gamemaster for my first TTRPG Actual Play hosted on the Dungeon Scrawlers channel. It’s a contained four-episode story with some exceptional players set in Star Wars! It is a Dark Times-era story about family, friendship, and the fight against growing fascism in the galaxy.

Follow my players and me on the site formerly known as Twitter as well as the Dungeon Scrawlers channel, and if you are a fan of Actual Plays and Star Wars, just maybe we’ll have some exciting news about what comes next soon…

J. Schiek
J. Schiek

ND: How would you describe your art style and in what ways does Thistle differ from the many other comic book projects you’ve been working on?

J. Schiek (JS): My style tends toward more realistic figures and settings. Not to compare myself to this legend, but looking around at artists like Neal Adams, perhaps Sean Phillips or David Mazzuchelli (all influences), their moody shading and largely unexaggerated figures are what I tend to shoot for. Thistle proved a challenge in this regard purely because it is fantasy. While the figures are all anthropomorphic, their weapons, intricate armor and clothing, not to mention the polarity of exotic landscapes, made this book very challenging, indeed. Nonetheless, I think it also contains some of my very best work to date. 

ND: What would you say was your favorite single panel or page from the first issue (without any major spoilers) and why is this the case? 

JS: I am inordinately pleased with page seven. So much so that I had it printed and framed for a recent faculty art exhibition at the school where I currently teach (North Idaho College). The details, camera angles, and panel-to-panel flow of what is a very chaotic battle sequence came out better than I would have hoped. For the same reason, I’m also partial to a few of the final pages of the story. 

ND: Thistle is an Elf Ranger. What is your preferred race/class to play as in Dungeons & Dragons and why?

JS: Tough call. I think I have a soft spot for the Half-Elves. That state of being neither one thing nor the other, often shunned by both halves of their makeup. For similar reasons, I gravitate toward Wizards and Rangers to create chaotic neutral rogues who have either sworn revenge by sorcery or just said “fuggit” to life and society and have taken up company with the trees. 

ND: What is the number one reason why backers should pledge money to this Kickstarter?

JS: Because this is the product of (counts on fingers) four people, a veritable D&D party ourselves, working at peak ability to produce something singular and special. It’s an action-packed, visual spectacle that has been three years in the making and it is finally here. 

ND: What inspirational words do you have for aspiring comic book artists?

JS: Keep going. Stay hungry. If the dust of boredom or dissatisfaction starts to settle on you, brush it off and look for the work (someone else’s) that moves you, reminds you why you started doing this in the first place. 

ND: Promote yourself! Do you have any upcoming projects that you can tell people about?

JS: (Long, sharp inhale)

I’m currently at work on Christopher, Kubrick, Nebraska & Mathilda Save The World From F*ckin’ Nazis with Chuck Satterlee & Jason Michalski (we have a spectacular editor on that one, you should meet her!) slated for publication through Band of Bards later this year. I’m also working on Hush Ronin #3 my own solo project with Leland Bjerg lettering, also through Band of Bards. I’m drawing a one-shot horror book with J. Michael Donahue, a full book expansion of our 2019 short comic, Together Forever (hyperepics.com), and another horror book with Matthew Wilding, and—more horror—I’m finishing the first issue of Feareater by Steve Wands and published by Dead Sky Press. You know. Just a couple o’ things. 

Warnia K. Sahadewa
Warnia K. Sahadewa

ND: What kind of color palette did you choose to approach this series with, and how has it differed from your previous projects?

Warnia K. Sahadewa (WKS): Usually I use more bright and vivid colors, but for this title, I combined more muted colors and textures to add a gloomy and rough impression to the story.

ND: What would you say is the tone of this series that you tried to convey with your colors?

WKS: Dark but still has some warmth in it, LOL. 

ND: Thistle is an Elf Ranger. What is your preferred race/class to play as in Dungeons & Dragons and why?

WKS: Ranger all the way!

ND: What is the number one reason why backers should pledge money to this Kickstarter?

WKS: You should support this project if you like fantasy and good stories!

ND: What inspirational words do you have for aspiring comic book colorists?

WKS: When you do your job on autopilot mode, then you have to explore and learn something new again!

ND: Promote yourself! Do you have any upcoming projects that you can tell people about?

WKS: I just finished working with Oni Press, Marvel/Magic, and I’m currently working with Vault and other creative teams. You can visit my Instagram @wksahadewa or my website wksahadewa.myportfolio.com/work.

Leland Bjerg
Leland Bjerg

ND: What would you say is the biggest edit you implemented into this series?

Leland Bjerg (LB): The edits weren’t very big. J.L.’s scripting is quite polished. When we work together, my biggest role is helping to massage his fantasy-writer verbosity into the panels, finding ways that we can trim words and rhythm while still maintaining meaning and impact.

ND: You work as both the letterer and editor on this project. Do you usually take on both roles on the same project? How do you balance these positions?

LB: I like to, but lots of teams already have a particular role filled when they reach out, so I end up doing just one. I think I can provide a lot of value in the double role. The two positions balance nicely, as lettering comes last in modern comics production, so having an editor’s eyes on that phase is very useful, but it is important for me and the writer to communicate more when I’m lettering and editing. Otherwise, I may become drunk with power and make too large of changes to the script.

ND: Thistle is an Elf Ranger. What is your preferred race/class to play as in Dungeons & Dragons and why?

LB: Dwarf/Dwarf. Dwarves are the best!

ND: What is the number one reason why backers should pledge money to this Kickstarter?

LB: Because this book is great, and we have a bunch of cool bonuses planned for the stretch goals that will get you even more value for your money!

ND: What inspirational words do you have for aspiring comic book letterers?

LB: Let your anal-retentativeness FLOW!

ND: As an editor, what would you say are the three biggest mistakes creators often make?

LB: 1) Mystery is not inherently intriguing—I will read a script where there’s a mysterious character or event, but there’s no danger/fear or treasure/attraction. The thing is just “mysterious,” and that’s supposed to make the reader care. Mystery should shroud something that drives the hero. That’s intriguing.

2) Defying expectations is not the highest good—Zigging when the reader expects you to zag is a great instinct to have, but you have to zag somewhere sensical that drives the plot forward. If you zag into a detour or a dead-end and then have to contrive a way back to the main narrative that you’ve promised to the reader, it almost certainly wasn’t worth the surprise.

3) Diminishing the challenge diminishes the hero—it’s tempting to weaken your antagonist in order to make your hero look better by comparison. Don’t do it! It has the opposite effect. A hero is measured by the formidableness of their foes. When in doubt, make the villain better in all ways. Smarter, stronger, kinder even! Your hero will rise to the challenge, and your readers will perceive them more favorably because of it.

ND: Promote yourself! Do you have any upcoming projects that you can tell people about?

LB: Issue two of Capsules, my sci-fi relationship thriller, will be on Kickstarter later this year.

ND: Thank you all for taking the time to explore the swords, the sorcery, and the dystopian nature of Thistle with me! Readers should make sure to check out this project on Kickstarter now.

 

Do you have a crowdfunding project? Want to be interviewed about it and have the project featured on “Kickstart/IndieGogo/GoFundMe/etc. the Week?” Then message me on my website. Also, consider checking out the official Kickstart the Week: Interviews with Comic Book Kickstarter Creators Volume 1 on Kindle.

Other “Kickstart the Week” features:

Everyday Fears: A Slice-of-life Horror Comic Anthology

Amelia Sky #1-4: A Sci-fi Horror Comic

ONE-SHOT: A Chaotic Fantasy Adventure

Voyage: An authentic Sci-fi comic following the beginning tale of Sonderon, an intergalactic space explorer!

Ichabod Jones: The complete Lovecraftian dark-fantasy comic

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