I read the first volume of Spera earlier this year; Archaia put out some truly beautiful books and this one was up there with the best of them. Written by Josh Tierney, it started life as a web-comic, with various artists around the world bringing to life his story of two princesses on a quest to find the magical land of Spera after their kingdoms come under attack. It’s page after page of gorgeous glorious art and it’s not your average story of crowns and magic either, with Josh taking an unconventional approach to storytelling (but I’ll let him tell you more about that). I was genuinely delighted to learn of the release of volume 2- currently available from Comixology as part of Archaia’s digital-first initiative, with print copies hitting shops in October. Josh was kind enough to write a director’s commentary for us and I think you’ll agree it’s pretty fascinating stuff, as he talks about the technicalities of writing, bringing people together, and matching styles to certain parts of the story.
The original online Spera collaboration ended in May, 2010, and from there I imagined I’d be working on other large projects while writing Spera shorts on the side. However, in late July of that year I was contacted by a representative of a start-up comics publisher asking if I’d like to publish a comic through them. I decided to make that comic a four-issue continuation of the original Spera story, and then the start-up comics publisher ended up disappearing into thin air.
The complete disappearance was after several months of the representative promising contracts and saying that everything was guaranteed — but, of course, nothing is ever fully guaranteed, especially not in the world of independent comics, where publishers can fold in the blink of an eye. During this time I had picked out my team, which included: Afu Chan, returning from his character designs and promotional art for the webcomic; Giannis Milonogiannis, who decided to get into comics around the same time I did, making him a tremendous fellow comics creator to grow alongside; Kyla Vanderklugt, who was excited about the opportunity to draw some action scenes; and Timothy Weaver, who has been involved with all of my large-scale collaborations since 2007.
I had written a short prose script of Spera’s protagonists — Pira, Lono and Yonder — entering the city of Kotequog and renting a room at an inn, and decided to turn this into the opening of Volume II. Volume I is basically a sort of dark fairy tale, and I wanted Volume II to be lighter and more charming, with even more focus on character interaction. Originally I was going to leave out the pretext of plot altogether, and just depict Pira and Lono leading their lives in Kotequog as a form of ambient narrative, but I can’t help but write in monsters. And then I think about who owns the monsters, and from there a plot takes shape on its own.
Part 1, illustrated by Giannis, is mainly character interaction and following the characters as they walk around Kotequog. I was watching a lot of Taiwanese New Wave films at the time — from directors like Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Tsai Ming-liang and Edward Yang — and I wanted to convert that style of ambient filmmaking into a fairy tale/fantasy/JRPG-styled comic. These are films in which characters are viewed almost exclusively in relation to their surroundings, and their true thoughts and feelings are largely internalised. I won’t know how well this worked out until people actually read the comic, but it’s what I attempted with the script for Part 1. Part 1 of Volume II is also the first full comic script I’ve written — I scripted Volume I for Archaia after finishing the Volume II scripts.
Kyla had asked to draw a lot of action for her part, which we decided would be Part 2. From there I decided to mix character interaction with fight scenes for Parts 2-4 — something closer in tone and structure to The Untitled Saga of Hana, an online novella I wrote several years ago. Altogether I feel the main story of Volume II has a good balance to it, and will hopefully appeal to those who picked up Volume I.
Giannis finished Part 1 before we realised our publisher didn’t exist, and Kyla worked on Part 2 while I tried to find one that did. Archaia’s focus on fantasy and high-quality products made them seem like a perfect fit, and they had just picked up Giannis’s Old City Blues, so I sent them the proposal package for Volume II. After a stressful wait, Archaia sent over a contract, and from there we worked on a definitive version of the Volume I story for its physical release. Afu and Timo finished illustrating Parts 3 and 4 of Volume II fairly recently, so in a way we’ve been working on Volume II for about two years.
The second half of Volume II is a collection of shorts, with the comics by Michael Dialynas, Mikkel Sommer, Paul Maybury, Kris Mukai, Zac Gorman, Louis Roskosch and Rachel S. (Baru) acting as a continuation of the main story, the comics by Julia Scott, Anna Wieszczyk (lettered by Ed Brisson) and Roman Muradov serving as prequels to the series, and the comic by Polly Guo being the lead-in to Volume III. There are also some awesome pin-ups byAfu Chan, Roxie Vizcarra, Nick Edwards, Jake Wyatt and Joanna Krótka.
I’m mainly drawn to entertainment products that are well-designed and packed with content, such as Criterion movies and Nobrow books, so I’m very glad and grateful I get to help put something like the Spera books together through Archaia. Scott Newman’s designs for the books are immaculate, and each book is and will be loaded with art from some of the finest illustrators I know.
I’m also a trivia junkie, so here are a few things I’d like to mention as a way of closing out:
• The Spera logo is designed by Joel Hentges, who designed the 2009-2011 Spera site along with my home page.
• Many of the store signs in Kotequog are references to my previous collaborations, as well as the works of friends.
• There’s a Wanted poster that appears in Kyla’s part. Look carefully in the other parts (as well as one of the online comics) and you’ll see this ‘killer of six’ lurking throughout.
• Kyla illustrated Volume II before Vol. I, so before going to print she went back and fluffed up Yonder’s beard in every panel he appears in in order to make him look closer to the newer art. This is actually just one of many changes that Kyla made in order to update and perfect her artwork.
• Paul Maybury’s short is lettered by Roman Muradov.
• The endpaper art is by Giannis, with the ribbon by Kyla.
• The short that Baru illustrated — The Heart of the Matter — is the first Spera short that I wrote, and was originally going to be drawn by Afu. If the main Spera story had continued from there instead of the inn short, the entire Kotequog story would’ve been skipped over.
• Adel’s Hammer — the short illustrated by Polly Guo — was originally a black & white comic that we printed for TCAF 2011. For the Volume II version Polly has added colour, new backgrounds and other updated details.
• Afu Chan’s pin-up was originally going to be the cover art.
• The pixel art in the back of the book is by Afu, and is the first piece of pixel art he’s ever done. We were originally going to have a piece of pixel art for each issue before we switched to the OGN format.
Spera is being serialised digitally on Comixology in 4 parts, the first of which is available now.
You can also pre-order the complete volume 2 in a lovely hardcover at the store here.
Many thanks to Josh for taking the time to share his thoughts with us.