|MATTHEW STURGES & DAVE JUSTUS
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DF Interview: Sturges, Justus go to Muirwood for Lost Abbey
By Byron Brewer
In author Jeff Wheeler’s Muirwood Universe, Maia, daughter of the king of Comoros, has been banished. Her rank and station have been taken away. Magic is forbidden of women in this world, yet Maia has secretly learned the dark craft. Now her desperate father has sent her on a dangerous quest to save their kingdom.
It is with such excitement that writers Matthew Sturges and Dave Justus along with artist Alex Sheikman enter Wheeler’s novella universe to introduce us to The Lost Abbey!
Dynamic Forces recently sat down with both answers to hear about the fanciful tale coming from Jet City Comics in August.
Dynamic Forces: Tell us about how this project came about. Will Lost Abbey be a graphic novel or a series of comic books from Jet City Comics?
Matthew Sturges: It was kind of weird -- I heard from editor Paul Morrissey completely out of the blue on Facebook, of all places. I guess my personal website is pretty decrepit, and it doesn't allow people to contact me directly. Which is funny, because in my other life, I'm a web developer; you'd think I would have a better website. I never think to check Facebook messages, so it was lucky that I even saw his message. As I'm saying this, I'm thinking I really need to have more ways for people to get in contact with me.
Anyway, I knew Paul from his work at TokyoPop and BOOM! Studios, so I was very excited when he asked me to come work with him. Jet City was looking for a writer to take on The Lost Abbey, and I kind of leapt at the chance to work with him even though I didn't really know much about the project. But once he started describing it to me, it sounded pretty great, and when I read the books I knew it was something I could pull off. The only problem was that I really didn't have time to do it on my own, so I asked if I could bring in my frequent co-writer Dave Justus to help out. Bill Willingham is fond of saying that co-writing is twice the work for half the money, but I never found that to be true either with him on Jack of Fables or with Dave on The Wolf Among Us or the other projects we've done together. Dave and I are like a well-oiled writing machine, and I knew we could do a great job together.
The current story is a five-issue miniseries that's meant to be collected as a graphic novel. If there are any more stories beyond this one... who knows?
DF: For the uninitiated, tell us about the fantasy world of creator Jeff Wheeler's Muirwood novels.
Dave Justus: With the Muirwood books, Jeff has built up a rich fantasy mythos that spans generations and continents. He's created a hierarchy of magic and -- more importantly for our purposes -- a number of ways, both moral and amoral, that his characters can call upon that magic and bend it to their will. The Lost Abbey bridges the gap between two trilogies of novels; we begin by showing the reader a world in ruins in the aftermath of the devastating conflict and ravaging plague from that first trilogy. Our heroine, Maia, is on a quest -- as any good fantasy heroine must be, obviously -- but she doesn't have a lot of the advantages that the protagonists of that early series of books had. Their lives were more regimented, their enemies more understandable. Maia is having to pick through the wreckage, to learn in secret, to survive by her wits, and to fight even when she isn't always sure who opposes her, or how she can defeat them. So between Jeff's novels and this comic book interlude, readers are going to see the world of Muirwood from a great many different angles ... and get a sense of just how vast that world can be!
DF: Is Jeff working with you on Lost Abbey, or is this your work based on his concepts?
MS: What we're doing is an adaptation of Jeff's novella, The Lost Abbey, which was written a number of years ago, prior to his first Muirwood trilogy, but never published. The story acts as a bridge between the first trilogy and the new one that's coming out. Dave and I took a lot of liberties with the story, but we kept the basic idea, and we also worked closely with Jeff to make sure that what we were doing tied in seamlessly with the events of the first trilogy and the new one. Jeff reads each script so we always know that the end product is in keeping with what he's trying to do, and he is able to help us with any questions we have about his world and his characters. It's pretty darn handy when you're writing in someone else's world to have the person who created that world at the other end of your email. I bet Peter Jackson wishes he had Tolkien's email. Except he can't ever have Tolkien's email. Because Tolkien doesn't give it out. He's a very private person.
DF: Matt, you have of course famously worked with Dave on Fables. How does it feel to be working with him in this new fantasy realm?
MS: It's funny because Dave and I have tastes that are just different enough to make things interesting. I've always been a lot more interested in fantasy in general than Dave has; my two novels are both fantasy novels, after all. Dave, on the other hand, knows way more about superheroes than I do--when I was writing superhero books for DC, I would often call Dave to help fill in the gaps in my knowledge. But the great thing about a partnership is that if one of us is deeply familiar with a particular genre and one of us is less so, then that less-familiar person can add a lot of freshness and insight to a genre tale, while the more-familiar one is able to keep it on the rails and avoid repeating work that others have done. So it's really a perfect combination. And we always have a great time working on stories together. [Recently] we were at Comicpalooza in Houston, and while we were sitting at our table at the con we came up with an idea for a complete original miniseries; we can't help ourselves.
DF: Dave, Matt and you are co-writers on Lost Abbey. Can you tell me your creative process, how you guys write together?
DJ: Luckily enough, we both live in the Austin area (Matt's actually in a suburb because his doctor has warned him against Keeping It Weird), so we're able to meet up in person fairly frequently. This is hugely beneficial to our collaborative process; we're able to generate ideas together that we never would've come up with separately. And there's something about being in the same space -- and generally freebasing caffeine the whole time -- that beats Skype or email chains or other kinds of back-and-forth dialogues, as well.
We've been writing together since 2008, and in that time we've learned how to play to one another's strengths. Sometimes we'll break up our script-writing duties by scenes, and you'd be surprised how little we have to play tug-of-war over who gets to write which scene. Other times, one of us will do all the work for a particular character (or characters), simply because they speak loudly in one of our heads. Every project is a little different in terms of the creative process. For The Lost Abbey, we've worked more side-by-side than we sometimes do, keeping a consistent voice and tone for Maia's narration throughout.
DF: So tell us about the book, its star Maia and what she is up against here.
MS: Like Dave was saying, our heroine Maia is on a quest, but it's an unusual quest and she's an unusual heroine. She's a smart, assertive young woman in a world that wants her to be neither of those things; when the story begins, women in her world aren't even allowed to learn to read, let alone perform magic--upon pain of death. So every time she demonstrates her most valuable abilities, she risks her life in the process, which makes for pretty high stakes. Maia's also got the voice of the Medium--the sentient force of all magic in the world--talking in her head, although what it's telling her is pretty scary and unnerving. Even the very land itself that she's traveling through--the cursed wastes of Dahomey--seem to be trying to kill her. The only one who might be on her side is the kishion, a hired killer that her father has sent to protect her--or maybe to kill her; she's not sure. All Maia knows is that a horrible blight is tearing apart her homeland of Comoros--driving people insane, getting them to commit terrible acts--and that she may well be the only one who can stop it from happening. But the price she has to pay in order to succeed turns out to be a lot more than even the most dedicated fantasy heroine is typically willing to part with.
DF: What is artist Alex Sheikman right for this book? Are you fans of his work on Dark Crystal?
DJ: Alex is bringing a great visual flavor to The Lost Abbey. It takes a talented artist to render a fantasy world in such a way that it feels grounded and believable for the characters populating it, yet still awes and amazes at the moments when spells are cast or when mythical beasts appear from the fog. Alex is able to make Maia's struggle look real, to make every scar on the kishion's face look painfully earned... and yet still take your breath away with bursts of otherworldly energy and grace. The Dark Crystal was clearly a perfect stepping stone to the world of Muirwood!
DF: What is next from Sturges and Justus?
DJ: Almost immediately after Matt and I met, back in 2008, we started working together on a comic called Public Relations, which we pitched as “Arrested Development meets The Princess Bride.” It’s a dark workplace comedy where the workplace has a moat, and -- after a great many ups, downs, and question marks -- it appears to finally be on its way out this fall from Devil’s Due/1First Comics. So gird your loins for that. Gird them all the way.
MS: In addition to Public Relations, Dave and I are also still working on Fables: The Wolf Among Us, which comes out weekly on readdcentertainment.com and comixology.com, and now has five or six print issues (each collecting three digital chapters) in stores for those of you who prefer their comics on paper. That one goes for 48 chapters, and we've just had chapter 27 come out, so we've got a ways to go yet there. Dave and I are also pitching a couple of new things, including the one we came up with at the convention last week. And I've got The Four Norsemen of the Apocalypse coming out in a little while from Devil's Due/1First Comics. All in all, a pretty good year for Dave and Matt!
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Matthew Sturges and Dave Justus for taking time out of their busy schedules to answer our questions. Muirwood: The Lost Abbey hits stores in August!
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