Spera is one of the most innovative comic projects out right now. This combined effort of multi-artist storytelling continually, in the best possible way, astounds both comic readers and the media as well. Last year, Publishers Weekly had this to say about Volume One of Spera: “With beauty as its tool and mischief in mind, this book is a winner all the way.”
It’s truly no surprise critics and readers are flipping their proverbial lids of this series as it’s unique blend of vignette-style storytelling is like nothing you’ve ever read. Instead of telling a straightforward narrative, writer Josh Tierney with the help of dozens of artists, has crafted three volumes of Spera like a photo album full of snapshots detailing his characters’ journey.
This series isn’t always on track (the key storyline involves two rogue princesses searching for adventure), however, Spera shines for its flights of fancy with brilliant writing and an extremely rich sense of the world it inhabits. I can’t praise this series enough.
Luckily, Tierney and a key Spera artist Kyla Vanderklugt took some time out of their naturally busy schedule to catch up and chat with Panel Bound about Spera, webcomics and everything inbetween.
Spera is one of the more innovative comics to come out in the past few years. How did this project get started?
Josh Tierney: I had written a novella of the original story in 2009 and wondered what it might look like as a comic. Before Spera I worked on various online projects that combined prose and illustration, where different artists would illustrate different chapters of novellas that I wrote. Comics seemed like the most natural extension of this format, and so I brought in many of the collaborators from the previous projects to help adapt the novella into comic form. Since then I’ve focused my writing efforts almost entirely on comic scripts.
Each volume of Spera features a wide range of artists. How has this changed the way this comic is written, if at all?
Josh: If the artists are set beforehand, I’ll write each chapter to what I believe are the artists’ strengths, or at least what I like most about the artists’ works. If the scripts are written beforehand, I try to give each chapter a different feel, so that I can then seek out the most suitable artist for them from there.
Kyla, as an artist on Spera how do you maintain the continuity and tone of this story while working with several other artists.
Kyla Vanderklugt: A lot of the credit for this has to go to Afu Chan. His distinctive character designs are easy to recognise throughout all the shifts in technique and style, and that really helps to tie the chapters together. As for the environments, the designs are often established by the first artist to tackle a particular section. When I drew my pages for the second chapter of Vol. II, I used Giannis’s interpretation of Kotequog as reference, since he’d already finished the first chapter.
The lore and world of Spera is so expansive and detailed, it almost reminds me of a fantasy-driven Prophet, where is inspiration coming from for this book on both the written and art departments?
Josh: Old school console RPGs on the writing side. Spera is a chance for me to indulge in everything I like about RPGs, such as town exploration, treasure hunting and random monster battles. The characters are basically leveling up with each book. I’m also a fan of Studio Ghibli films, and their sense of magic and mystery, along with their amazing female protagonists, have been an inspiration for sure.
Kyla: One of the great things about this project is that all the artists come from completely different backgrounds, so what inspires and informs Spera’s art style changes with every chapter. A common thread, though, is that we all love fantasy in some form or other.
It’s also getting to the point where I can refer back to Spera’s lore itself for inspiration. Some background characters in my Vol. III comic are decorating a cake with bugs – Pira and Lono ate enough bugs in earlier chapters that I figure bugs-as-food counts as Spera canon, now.
Josh, why work so many different artists on this book? Wouldn’t it in some ways be easier to work with just one artist?
Josh: Having multiple artists means less pages for each artist, which means each artist can put the maximum amount of effort into their chapters. There are also a great many artists I’d like to work with, but it would be impossible to work with them all on individual projects. On Spera, I can work with everyone all at once, and do it on a project I’m very passionate about.
I also personally find it fascinating to see the same characters rendered by different artists within the same story. Everyone sees the world differently, and I feel like Spera’s structure is a kind of visual approximation of this.
Volume three of Spera is now being collected on comiXology, how has the process of putting together this comic evolved since Volume one?
Josh: The more I work with artists, the more I learn what to put into scripts, including what not to put into them. The Vol. 3 scripts are probably the most detailed so far, leading to comic pages that are more in line with what I was thinking when I wrote them.
As both a writer (Josh) and an artist (Kyla), do you recommend aspiring creators start on the Web? What benefits does web publishing offer?
Josh: Publishing on the web is the best way to get your work to as many people as possible. Most of the published artists I know today were first discovered on the web. Webcomics are being treated as seriously as print projects by every editor I’ve spoken to, and are often the first place independent comics publishers will look to for new projects to pick up or creators to hire.
Kyla: There are probably as many different ways to start a career in comics as there are comic creators, but sharing your work on the web definitely does give you a big advantage. Aside from the exposure, it puts you on common ground with other comic artists, art directors, and editors. Everyone browses the web, after all.
Any advice for aspiring comic creators?
Josh: Don’t give up. It could take years before you have a successful project, but during those years you’ll constantly be improving. Post your works on whatever social networks are available to you — this is the best way to gain support for what you’re doing.
Kyla: Take inspiration from everywhere. I mean, from other comic artists, obviously, but don’t stop there. Don’t be insular.
If people haven’t checked out Spera yet, why do you think they should, and where can they pick up a copy?
Josh: If you like the sound of princesses going on dangerous adventures with a giant flaming dog and super tough warrior cat, all of it illustrated by some of the coolest artists on the planet, then Spera is the series for you. It can be found wherever comics and books are sold, including online retailers such as Amazon and the Archaia store.
Kyla: There really isn’t anything else quite like Spera on the market. And aside from the novelty aspect… there’s a fussy middle-aged man who turns into, yeah, a giant flaming dog. Something for everyone!