By Daniel Swensen August 15, 2014
Today I interview Tristan Tarwater. Tarwater, along with illustrator Adrian Ricker, is the creative mind behind the Valley of Ten Crescents series and the upcoming Shamsee: A Fistful of Lunars, a graphic novel about unlucky rogues, conniving gangsters, and an underworld full of big plans, bigger risks and bloody consequences. The graphic novel’s Kickstarter recently hit its initial goal, and Tristan was kind enough to answer some questions about the project. So here we go!
First off, please tell us a little about Shamsee: a Fistful of Lunars.
Shamsee: A Fistful of Lunars is a graphic novel about a bit player getting into a lot of trouble. Shamsee shows up in two of my novels, Thieves at Heart and Self-Made Scoundrel and his role in those books is as kind of a cautionary tale. Kind of, if you can’t be a good example, you’ll just have to be a dire warning? The other characters knows he’s small time and not super trustworthy but he can be useful on occasion so people don’t get on him too hard. In this graphic novel he takes center stage, making bad decisions and connecting with other players in the criminal underworld and there’s an implication that these small actions lead to bigger events. It’s the story of a wild card trying to live their life in a much bigger world.
Where did you get the idea for this project?
Well, I’ve always wanted to do a comic, truth be told. I got the idea kind of from my Spouse, who swears The Valley of Ten Crescents is about Shamsee, which it isn’t, though he will come back, ha! I wanted to do something a bit more light hearted and I thought Shamsee would be a great character for a comic and of course, he’d wind up owing someone money. It kind of spiraled out from there.
What do you think sets Fistful of Lunars apart?
On the story side, it’s the tale of a normal person trying to go about their business while stuff falls apart around them. A lot of fiction is centered around the major players, the people in charge, trying to change the world or the system and meanwhile, there are a lot of people in the background, trying to get to work, buying things for dinner, needing to unwind with friends and trying to find time, paying their bills.
There’s a very natural kind of feedback, where the actions of both groups of people actually do affect others, but its not always recognized. Shamsee is a normal person, albeit with no profession to speak of, and like a lot of people strapped for cash, he’s thinking about today only. A lot of people are looking towards the horizon and the long game and he’s flailing along at the edge of their sight, ruining their view of the sunset but he doesn’t realize it. Shamsee’s main concern is, aaah, I need to get this money! Small time players in a world where big things happen is a theme of Ten Crescents, really. A Fistful of Lunars is a lot funnier than the books though. He’s not even an anti-hero, he’s that guy you know who just can’t get his life together in spades that you keep around for a laugh.
On the more technical side, Fistful of Lunars is a graphic novel tied to a set of novels, written by the author, which isn’t super common. In addition, everything is released under Creative Commons, which basically means feel free to remix and reuse, as long as you attribute and don’t sell it. Because, why not?
As I’ve said, I’ve always wanted to do a comic and I think Shamsee lends itself a bit more to the visual humor you can get with a graphic novel. Not being able to draw is probably the main reason I held off so long. I had a few ideas for other comics but Shamsee’s just very funny and the dialogue came very naturally, for him and the other characters. Thieves at Heart and Self Made Scoundrel are about thieves who know what they’re doing and use their skills to do all sorts of things and Shamsee is just the dregs, as Derk would put it. But even the dregs have to get stuff done. Shamsee’s a hoot. I wouldn’t trust him with a bag of air but he’s fun to write. I wrote almost entire first draft of the script in one sitting while living in California and when I met Adrian and saw his portfolio I thought, this is the guy, he’s so good at world building visually and his figures are excellent. I asked him and luckily for me, he said yes.
How did you and Adrian Ricker begin working together?
Ha, so this is kind of a funny story. Back in the day, my spouse and I used to do property management and Adrian and his partner, Michelle Nguyen, who is also a super talented illustrator, lived in one of the apartments. My spouse was more aware of them than I was, because I’d just had our kid and worked part time and didn’t interact with the residents as much as he did. Anyway, fastforward a bunch of years later, we were at Stumptown Comics Festival after moving back to Portland in 2013 and we ran into Adrian. We wound up talking and buying some of his art (he has a rad illustration of Daenerys from GoT that I had to get) and I had the script already and was like, maybe I’ll ask Adrian if he wants to do this? Maybe he’d dig it? And luckily he said yes.
The Fistful of Lunars Kickstarter funded very fast! What’s it been like to get that kind of support?
I have gifs that would be appropriate to answer this, ha! But the short version: very exciting and also nerve wracking! Always, with any kind of project, that’s basically my feeling. It’s exciting to know at this point, 66 people think Shamsee is a good idea, want to read this, want to be IN this, since we offered being drawn into a comic as our reward, shared it because they thought it sounded cool. Knowing Adrian and I had that much reach was kind of affirming too. It’s kind of a weird, industry thing to say but it’s true, I’ve been working on stuff in Ten Crescents since 2009, I’ve got a group of fans who love Ten Crescents and I love them for reading, for imagining with me, and for their support. It means a lot, and those people are always the first backers, and they’re lovely. If they didn’t care, I wouldn’t make stuff for them, I’d have to move on from something I love and that’d be super sad.
It’s also nerve wracking because I mean, it’s a Kickstarter! And it’s not over, there’s still a lot to do just to keep it on people’s minds and get it seen and all the while worrying something will get messed up, waiting for the proof to arrive, hoping to make the stretch goals. So there’s a security in funding so quickly but the clock’s still ticking, I have to make sure those numbers keep going up! I owe it to myself and everyone who has already backed and supported us!
Did you face any challenges due to the success of the Kickstarter?
I know after we funded SO quickly, we were kind of staring at each other, thinking, did we mess up somewhere, should we have set the goal higher? We’ve crunched the numbers more than a few times, so I think we’re okay. Our big challenge will be getting all the rewards out before GeekGirlCon but that shouldn’t be an issue. We’re pretty sure we timed it all right.
For me, writing a graphic novel is different because I generally start a comic just writing all the dialog. It’s dialog driven, I write what I think everyone would say, then I go back, fill in who is talking to who, what’s in the scene, what the scene is, the shots. As it gets the art put in, I pare down the dialog because with the visual medium, a lot more can be unsaid so the final wordcount of the draft versus the finished comic is different. When I write a novel, I think about what’s going to be said but I have to paint the scene and the situation myself.
Also, obviously, since I can’t draw for crap, I’m writing for Adrian. Working with someone is super interesting. You have to worry about someone else getting sick of the project, hahaha!
Would you say it’s easier or more difficult?
I’d say easier, at least on my end; just in terms of scope of work, my job is to break out GoogleDocs and go, he said, she said, they said, make sure this person is wearing a scarf, etc. For Adrian though, it’s a lot of work. The volume of work is just greater, illustrating, coloring and lettering a comic. It takes hours, each page, regardless of ten words being said or a hundred. So even though it took me a few days to get the first draft of the script done, edited and all that, it’s taken a year to get it all on paper. Drawing takes a LOT of time and it’s 105 pages.
What is your process with the artist Adrian Ricker like?
I get the script ready and it’s usually in Drive so I can just shoot him the link. He looks it over and does thumbnails so we can get the flow and the composition of the comic down. Then he inks it, which is just the lines, just to make sure it all still works out, the way the story is acted out, what is shown and what isn’t. After those all are squared away, he colors it and letters it and I look it over for inconsistencies, typos, more superfluous language. It’s a lot of back and forth. This is my first comic and there’s probably a better way to do it but that’s how we did this one!
At the beginning of the project I give him the script but I also give him character write ups with images to go over what everyone looks like, what they’re wearing, why. If the character is influenced by an actor/character in media, I’ll send a video of them so he can get feel for their mannerisms. I also send photos of buildings, religious iconography, landscapes, anything that might come up, or something that sets the mood. I feel kind of bad, dumping a pile of images in his lap, but it helps in the end. Communication is a big deal when you’re collaborating with someone, to say the least.
What’s next after Fistful of Lunars? Are you and Adrian planning any projects for the future?
Oh jeez, so much more. I’ve planned Shamsee to be a series of five graphic novels. Adrian said he’s down, luckily. I haven’t scared him off yet! That makes me happy. The next comic should be done in about a year as well. It’s tentatively titled, ‘Lone Idiot and Cub,’ to give you an idea as to what may be happening.
Do you plan to write any more novels in the Valley of Ten Crescents world?
Yep! I’ve got the extremely rough first draft of the manuscript for the next book sitting in my file manager, waiting for me to get to it. I’ve got so many projects I want to do, books, short stories, graphic novels, webcomics, rpg stuff. I feel really lucky that I get to work on so many things with so many great people. Seriously. I am in the company of so many exceedingly talented people. It blows me away.