|ROBERT RODI, JACKIE LEWIS & MARISSA LOUISE
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DF Interview: Robert Rodi, Jackie Lewis & Marissa Louise give a twist to the Robin Hood legend in Merry Men
By Byron Brewer
Robin Hood is a man of many hats: he’s been a centuries-old folklore legend, the subject of some Mel Brooks satirical comedy, and a Disney animated fox.
Starting this June, Merry Men from Oni Press will present the iconic archer in a different light: as a 13th century gay outlaw and former lover to King Richard. Writer Robert Rodi (Astonishing Thor, Codename: Knockout), interior artist Jackie Lewis (Lion of Rora), and colorist Marissa Louise (Semiautomagic) have banded together to create Merry Men. DF sat down with them all to see what creative arrows these talents might have in their collective quiver.
Dynamic Forces: Robert, there have certainly been many variations of the Robin Hood legend. In this age of diversity in all areas of entertainment, including comics, how do you go about writing the archer and his friends as gay without going overboard into what might seem harmful stereotype? Was that a tough line to walk?
Robert Rodi: I'm not writing them as gay—I'm writing them as individuals. Sure, they're individuals who happen to be gay, and at this point in their lives that's the particular aspect of their identities that's driving their destiny (literally so, in the sense that it's driven them to take refuge in Sherwood Forest). But their sexuality isn't all there is of these guys. I'm trying to make them as fully-fleshed as possible; there are no stereotypes here. I want this series to reflect the tone and attitudes of the marriage-equality and Occupy movements, both of which were inspirational to me when I was first piecing it together.
DF: Tell us about the storyline of Merry Men, if you would.
Robert Rodi: The Sheriff of Nottingham—with royal approval—is persecuting all the "merry men" (i.e. sexual nonconformists) in Nottinghamshire. Robin and his band are persuaded by an unusual new arrival in their camp, to help out a nearby village that's fallen under the sheriff's boot. In the process we learn that the reason for the Sheriff's campaign is directly connected to Robin himself—of his time on Crusade in the Holy Land. Robin has to accept and own his responsibility for what's happening; and triumph over some really pretty hideous bad guys. And in the process become a hero.
DF: Jackie, I would image this is a very fun book to do designs for. Did you do designs for most or all of the characters? If so, which were the hardest or presented special challenges?
Jackie Lewis: I did the designs for all of the characters with Robert's descriptions from the script in mind. He's great at giving you an idea of the character, how they look, how they walk and talk, what their occupation is, all of that. His writing is nice and clear, but he also left room for me to interpret the characters, so I didn't feel limited. Something that I focused on was keeping the clothing and hair as historically accurate as possible, but I also wanted to make sure that the characters were discernible from each other. There're a lot of beards and a lot of hairy chests, but there're also a bunch of ways to make that interesting and specific to each character. As I get further into the series, I'm letting myself tweak details here and there, depending on the character. There're some characters who haven't shown up yet, and I'm chomping at the bit to draw them. I'm really having too much fun with this book.
DF: Have you done any research on the fictional time period? How much historical data do you look at when doing period pieces, and how important is that to a book’s “atmosphere”?
Jackie Lewis: I start every project doing a ridiculous amount of research. I like getting my hands on physical books. Anything from how to recreate the clothing, to information on contemporary dishware. I'll watch videos on people crafting and using weapons from the time period. I've watched videos of people shooting arrows and getting shot with arrows (which I don't recommend). I look at art created at the time, to get a handle on the aesthetics that we associate with the early medieval era. I definitely want the time period to come across in the design, and if I get that and everything "feels" right, then I've probably gotten the atmosphere right as well.
DF: Marissa, I have always wanted to ask this of a colorist, but how do you determine the palette you are going to use? Do you do it issue by issue, or do you find one and try to use it to give the book uniformity? Does the writer or artist help at all with notes on mood suggestions, etc.?
Marissa Louise: This is a great question! I put quite a bit of thought into my palettes. Along the lines of most art I start from the general and work towards the specific. What kinds of events are likely to happen? In Merry Men, there will be love scenes and fight scenes. They need to be specific and separate unless there is a reason for them not to be. I'm not sure how many people will notice but I have my romance reds and my fight reds. I also needed a palette that would work well in a forest and in a village. To make the Merry Men stand out a little more, I went with grays and browns for the backgrounds. Then I established a palette for each character. With colors overlapping to indicate relationships.
I read the script carefully and make some notes about what the mood is and what the foreshadowing is. Then when the line art comes in, I think about how to best bolster Jackie's wonderful art and Robert's script.
DF: What has been your favorite aspect about working with artist Jackie Lewis thus far?
Marissa Louise: Jackie is a dream! We chat about colors and send each other pictures. Working with an artist really is one of my favorite things about coloring. Jackie really puts a lot of care and attention into each character and the historical context. She also leaves plenty of room for me to do my thing. I feel we are very simpatico. Also she's a great hugger.
DF: Robert, tell us who Robin Hood is in your eyes, in this story, as the writer. Who is the most important member of Robin’s band in this book?
Robert Rodi: Well, I don't want to give too much away, because the first arc sees Robin go through a transformation; he ends up in a very different place from where he starts out. But every version of Robin Hood is always going to be someone who stands up for the little guy against the oppression and abuse of the powerful. Robin will also go through some changes romantically too. When the series starts, he and Little John are "boon companions," as we put it. But whether they stay that way depends on what happens with that unusual new arrival I mentioned earlier... who's someone else with a past tie to Robin. (And rest assured, whatever you're thinking, it's not that.)
DF: In the art, Jackie, was there a weight, a nervousness about this since you are portraying homosexuality in an age when diversity is such a part of the norm?
Jackie Lewis: If you're asking about drawing this book during today's political and social climate, I would say that, yes, there's a certain responsibility I feel. I want to appropriately portray each character in a way that people can relate to, so that they can see themselves looking back up at them from the page. I wouldn't call it nervousness, though. I would say I'm just really excited about it. As a queer creator with a bunch of friends who represent many facets of what it means to be queer and/or trans, it's incredibly exciting for me to work on a book like this that they, and many others, can relate to. The recent increase in queer entertainment media is such a positive thing. The push for even more content helps normalize a severely marginalized group of people who just want to live their lives happily without fear of persecution and violence. It's heavy stuff to deal with, but it needs to be addressed. I can do my small part for now by drawing this book.
DF: Who is your favorite character and why?
Jackie Lewis: Oh, man, don't make me choose! I will say, there's a character who shows up briefly in the second episode that I'm really excited about drawing more in the future. Right now, though, I love King Richard. I like drawing his eyebrows. That's a good enough reason for him to be my favorite, right?
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Robert Rodi, Jackie Lewis and Marissa Louise for taking time out of their busy schedules to answer our questions. Merry Men #1 from Oni Press hits stores June 1st!
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THOR FOR ASGARD #1 - SIGNED BY ROBERT RODI
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