DF Interview: George Mann & Joe Eisma unveil a Zodiac-inspired science-fantasy series in ‘Engineward’
By Byron Brewer
Earth is an ancient myth, long forgotten. Now, the word of the god-like Celestials is absolute, and they rule with brutal efficiency. When Joss, an Engineward, discovers and reactivates the head of an ancient ghoulem, she finds all is not as intended. Her destiny – and that of her world – lies somewhere far beyond the borders of her shantytown.
From Vault Comics comes a 12-issue limited series, Engineward, by writer George Mann and artist Joe Eisma. DF sat down with both creators so we could bring you the full 411.
Dynamic Forces: George and Joe, this is a very intriguing new series. It will extend 12 issues and there are 12 signs of the Zodiac. Explain the genesis of your coming comic.
George Mann: For me, it’s been a story ten years in the making. Looking back at my original notes from 2010, I was thinking about a ‘frontier’ type colony story, with a shantytown just like you see in Engineward, and a more high-tech culture living in the carcass of a former colony ship. The people from that culture reigned over the shantytown with an iron fist. All of that has survived too and made it into the comic. But back then, I could never quite get the story to click. I was thinking about writing it as a novel, but it was lacking heart. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that it all came together, and the zodiac theme emerged. I’ve been interested in folklore and mythology for some time, and I realized that was what was missing – a sense of the culture that might have evolved on this alien world, years after Earth had become a myth. That’s when it all clicked, really, because out of that mythology the characters started to emerge, and it became clear to me that this wasn’t a novel at all, but a 12-issue comic series. That’s when I took the idea to Adrian [Wassel, CCO and Editor-in-Chief] at Vault.
With Joe coming on board, he’s brought everything fantastically to life with his own unique spin to the look and feel of the world and the characters. It’s better than I could ever have imagined, and I love seeing how he interprets the scripts. It challenges me as a writer, as I’m always trying to dream up new ways to push the team forward with each issue. Plus it sets a very high standard to live up to!
Joe Eisma: I first came on board after Adrian Wassel sent me George's pitch after NYCC last year. I was just floored by how engrossing a story he had created and how alive the world felt, even in pitch form! You read a lot of pitches as an artist, and it's a rare one that just leaps out the way this one did. That George had this world so fleshed out and the way he creatively tied this to the Zodiac really made me want to know more as a reader and to be involved as an artist.
DF: George, can you give me without spoilers the overall storyline for Engineward?
George Mann: It’s a quest story, at its heart. The story of Joss, a young woman with enough heart and gumption to change the world. She’s an iconoclast, and she’s all about breaking the status quo, that she knows isn’t right. A revolutionary, really. When she discovers that information has been suppressed, that the original mission of the colony ships has never been completed, she sets out to put it right. Of course, there are those who want to maintain the status quo, who are afraid of change and what it might mean for them, and those are the Celestials who put themselves in her way.
It’s also the story of how humans are humans, and that we need to look to ourselves to change things. That, ultimately, if we went to the stars now, all we’d do is take our problems with us. But also, hopefully, uplifting, because any one of us can help to make things better.
DF: Tell readers more about Joss. Tell us who she is as a character and what challenges face her as we meet her in issue #1 of Engineward? Also, who are Ichabod, Kreek and Thrycia?
George Mann: Joss is independent and smart, but like all of us, she’s scared, too. She’s got fire in her belly and she’s out to change the world, but that doesn’t mean she’s always right, or that she’s not frightened by the things she has to face – particularly the risk of losing her loved ones.
Ichabod is one such friend. Joss’s best friend, really – a scavenger who promised her father he’d look after Joss if anything ever happened to him (and it did, he’s missing). Ichabod will do anything to protect Joss, but he comes to realize that in doing so, he can’t hold her back. He’s carrying a secret around with him, too. Something that’ll come to the fore a bit later in the story.
Thrycia is one of Ichabod’s scavenger crew who comes to see Joss for what she is. Thrycia has her own reasons for helping Joss on her quest – a member of her own family has gone missing and she wants to know who or what is behind it.
Then there’s Kreek, who’s a ‘ghoulem’ – an automaton unit built from scavenger ship tech by Joss. There are other automata about the shantytown, but the thing that makes Kreek different is the fact he’s slowly gaining sentience – waking up and learning what it means to love, and fear, and hate. He thinks he’s malfunctioning, and it’s up to the others to help him through this strange awakening.
DF: Can you elaborate a little on the Celestials?
George Mann: The Celestials are the ruling elite of the colony, descendants of the original crew who have modeled themselves after the 12 zodiacal symbols, altering their bodies and minds (to the extent that Gemini has split themselves into two) and declaring themselves ‘gods’. They have their own ecosystem in their Celestial city, filled with guards, harems, and an upper class of citizens, and they demand fealty and worship from the people who live in the shantytown. They have a much higher level of technology than the rest of the colony, and they control everything from the water supply to the politics.
DF: Joe, you seem very excited to work on this comic. Tell us something about this world you and George are building from an artist’s perspective.
Joe Eisma: As soon as I read the initial pitch, it was like a bolt of lightning – I knew this was the project for me. I knew how the world and the characters would look. I've wanted to do something in sci-fi/fantasy for the longest time and I couldn't believe my luck on this. I'm a big JRPG nut, and I knew this would be my chance to let influences like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI out in my art.
DF: For Engineward, how did you utilize the tools in your artist’s tool box to establish an atmosphere, emotions and desires of characters … tell us how you interpret George’s ideas, add your own and bring them to life?
Joe Eisma: The concepting stage was a really enjoyable time of world building and setting the tone of the overall series. I'd never really done environmental concept paintings for a project before, and I really got to cut loose with that here. George has been great and really open to letting me really steer the art side of things, and he's been great in sending me reference for whatever I need to help guide me along.
DF: Did you design the characters? Talk about that, and is there a character who has become your favorite or was particularly difficult to do. Same with the comic’s set pieces. Any favorites or ones more difficult to do than most?
Joe Eisma: It's been really collaborative. I've done one creator owned book where a lot of the character designs were already established by the cover artist, and here I got to really build them from the ground up with George. He sent me some references for how he saw the characters, and I just tried to stylize and embellish upon them. Kreek was pretty challenging, as I wanted him to look visually interesting but not out of place in the world of Engineward. For the set pieces – the Sphere, where the Celestials reside, has been challenging, but in a good way! I'm grateful I get to experiment with designs on this book.
DF: Joe and George, what other projects might be coming in the foreseeable future for you both?
George Mann: I’ve got a few unannounced comic projects in the pipeline, as well as a new novel in my Newbury & Hobbes series. There’s another Star Wars book coming this year, too, called Dark Legends, plus some work I’ve been doing on a couple of animated shows.
Joe Eisma: I have The Death of Nancy Drew as well as another series I can't really say much about, other than it does tackle culinary themes.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank George Mann & Joe Eisma for taking time out of their busy schedules to answer our questions. Engineward #1 from Vault Comics is slated to hit stores on July 15th. Keep watching DF News and comics-related social media for more information.
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