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DF Interview: Kurt Busiek continues his epic adventure in Autumnlands’ second arc
By Byron Brewer
New York Times bestselling writer Kurt Busiek and rising-star artist Benjamin Dewey will launch the second story arc of the high-fantasy epic The Autumnlands in November.
Previously, a secret enclave of wizards reached into their forgotten past to bring back a legendary hero to save their dying lands. But instead of the savior they’d hoped for, they got a completely unexpected kind of hero. Our lost and wounded heroes are seeking safety, but instead find something bizarre indeed.
To get the 411, Dynamic Forces sat down with scribe Kurt Busiek.
Dynamic Forces: First, Kurt, for the uninitiated, tell us the concept behind the book Autumnlands.
Kurt Busiek: It's a big sweeping epic fantasy series in a world of animal people. But they’re facing a growing crisis — magic is fading away, and if it does, there goes their whole civilization. So a small group of wizards makes a desperate, dangerous gambit, casting a hugely powerful spell to reach back in time to before magic existed, latch on to the “great champion” that their legends say let magic loose in the world in the first place, and bring him to the present so he can do it again.
The spell is both a success and a disaster, though — they get the champion, but he’s not at all what they expected, and they crash one of their airborne cities in the process, putting themselves in deadly danger. How the champion and the wizards react to that, and what they do, all that kicks of the series with the arc in volume one.
It also leaves Learoyd (our champion) and Dusty (a young, orphaned bull terrier) alone in the wilderness, setting up the second arc. And in the long run, someone’s going to have to find out the truth of why the world is like this, how magic came to be, and what secrets are behind everything. They want to set things right, but saving the world may require a much bigger change than anyone’s imagining.
DF: It originally started out Tooth & Claw, I believe. Want to explain that behind-the-scenes story?
Kurt Busiek: It was a trademark thing — when we started out, the trademark search I did indicated that the title was available, but after we got going, we discovered that there was some entanglement. There had been a previous Image mini-series called Tooth & Claw, 15 or so years ago, and while that trademark had long lapsed, the creator of it was making his book available online and had plans to do new material. So the polite thing to do, it seemed to me, was to retitle our series, and we did that.
The idea of the Autumnlands was one we weren’t going to get to quite that fast, but it’s a good name and a good title, so we started using it, and hinting at the reasons why this world is called that. We’ll explore it more as we go on.
DF: The feel of Autumnlands to us as readers is, well, kind of Conan meets Kamandi with a dash of Game of Thorns. What was YOUR inspiration for this wondrous world?
Kurt Busiek: I had a bunch of inspirations, most strongly Jack Kirby’s Kamandi, which has for years made me want to do some kind of animal-people adventure series. But I wanted to make it strongly and clearly different from Kamandi, so when I wound up reading Tales of the Dying Earth by Jack Vance, which is full of delightfully complicated magic and fantasy and a very rococo, textured fantasy world, I realized that’s the kind of thing I wanted to do, kind of a cross between Kirby and Vance, the two Jacks.
After that, we picked up a bunch of other influences along the way, from Milt Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates to Gerry Conway’s Hercules Unbound to Robert E. Howard’s Conan and lots more, including plans for future stories that are influenced by a range of things from Steve Englehart’s Hulk to the movie Heathers and more. We kinda absorb all kinds of stuff and turn it into story fodder.
DF: Tell us just a bit about your key characters.
Kurt Busiek: I mentioned a couple of them already — Learoyd, the champion, who I don’t want to say too much about in case people haven’t read the first arc. I will mention that he’s a human, and a soldier, and still not entirely convinced this animal world is real or if he’s hallucinating it all. And he’s going to have some experiences in this new arc that make him wonder even more.
And then there’s Dusty, the young bull terrier who has lived a sheltered life in the Floating Cities, but who’s now got to deal with life on the ground. He’s a native of this world and can explain a lot about it to Learoyd, but an awful lot of it is new to him, so he’s discovering new things and questioning his childhood assumptions. They’ve both got a lot to learn, from different angles.
In the first arc, we met others, from Gharta, the warthog wizard who started the whole spell and who passionately wants to heal the world, to Sandorst, the officious owl-wizard who’s more concerned with social position and politics, to Goodfoot, the crafty coyote trader who can be trusted to look out for her own profits and not much else. And there was Seven-Scars, leader of the bison tribes that were besieging the fallen city…
We’ll see them all again, in time, but at the moment, Learoyd and Dusty are off to new lands to find new things and meet new allies and adversaries…
DF: Issue #7, coming out in November, starts the second arc of the book. Where do we find our players at this point?
Kurt Busiek: At the end of #6, most of the fallen city’s survivors were being rescued, but Learoyd, Dusty and Seven-Scars had been swept away in a torrential river. That’s pretty much where we find them at the start of #7. Injured, bruised, cut off from civilization with no
real idea of where they are, and danger all around them.
DF: Will we be discovering any new realms or characters/creatures in this arc?
Kurt Busiek: We certainly will. We’ll be finding out stuff about the Autumnlands that Dusty never knew, because he’s always lived in the powerful Cities Above the Plain, and now he’s on the ground and in the mountains, encountering the kind of animal-people that live there. And Learoyd gets to meet a — well, he’s not sure what she is, but it’s possible she’s a goddess, and on the other hand maybe not. But she’s memorable and important. And that leads to a discovery of another set of characters who are a danger to themselves and others, and provide at least something of a link to Learoyd’s era, but not one anyone would really expect.
I’m not saying much about them because I like surprises, but you can see at least some of the new characters on the covers. Suffice it to say that the ideas readers got about the world of the Autumnlands from the first arc are going to get tested and shaken up in this arc, as they get a look at a few more facets of it…
DF: How big a part of Autumnlands is artist Benjamin Dewey?
Kurt Busiek: Imagine me doing a Donald Trump voice here: He’s yuuuuuge! Yuuuugely important!
Seriously, finding Ben for this book was magic in action. I’d figured out a lot of the world over the years I’ve been messing with the ideas, and never really had a particular artist in mind. I just knew it had to be someone who could draw animal people and fantasy action and cool-looking flying wicker cities, and stuff like that. And little did I know that right in my area was this amazing young artist who was born to draw animals and build a huge and complex world, and he was itching to do a series something like this but had no idea I was developing anything.
Ben is utterly fantastic at drawing these characters, making them look credibly and solidly like animal-people, not like humans in masks, and yet taking these often-mostly-immobile animal faces and imbuing them with character and emotion. And he’s a science nerd who gets passionate about the worldbuilding, so he takes my sketchy ideas and fleshes them out in ways that just look like this world is fully and solidly there and believable. And he’s eager to make the art serve the story in the best possible way, to make the book strong and engaging.
The result is that the art stands out as the big draw of the book, because it’s so different and well-realized, and I have to scramble to make sure the stories are worthy of the art telling them. Even moreso once Ben’s work is combined with the color work of the amazing Jordie Bellaire, who enhances mood and emotion and makes everything look rich and stunning.
And since I’ve mentioned Ben and Jordie, I can’t leave out John Roshell, who handles the lettering and design with the help of his Comicraft brethren. Everyone working on this book is enhancing it, finding ways to tell the stories better, to make the book that one step (or more!) more effective. It’s a delight to work with them all.
Yuuuuge, I tell you!
DF: Kurt, are there any projects current or near future you would also like to discuss?
Kurt Busiek: Well, I’m still doing Astro City with Brent Anderson and Alex Ross (and Alex Sinclair and John Roshell again, and friends) over at Vertigo, and we’re trucking along on that, slowly building up another uberstory-behind-the-story, even while we’re mostly telling short, tightly-focused stories.
Beyond that, I have other things in the works, but nothing’s ready to announce, so for the moment it’s Autumnlands and Astro City, and I’m pretty happy doing both!
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Kurt Busiek for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Autumnlands #7 from Image Comics hits stores Nov. 11th!
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