If there’s one publisher that knows great sword-and-sorcery stories, it’s Dark Horse Comics. (See Berserker Unbound, Crone, King Conan, etc.) On July 14, the publisher will unveil its latest such grand adventure with Savage Hearts, written by Aubrey Sitterson and with art from Jed Dougherty.
The title, yet another forthcoming Dark Horse property from Sitterson, follows a kind of odd couple: a “brawny barbarian bruiser with a broken heart” and a “lonely beastman who talks to dinosaurs.” Together, they have to battle an evil sorcerer, with action, comedy, and romance galore. This so-called “jungle fantasy romcom” is as charming as it is a teensy bit odd and silly.
For more perspective on the book, Dougherty and Sitterson were kind enough to answer a few questions via email. We dug into their backgrounds as far as fantasy storytelling, their approach to the characters in this book, and whether or not leather clothing sticks to your nipples (seriously), among other topics and tidbits.
AIPT: First, could you tell us what sorts of fantasy you’re into and, for that matter, do you play Dungeons & Dragons?
Jed Dougherty: During deep lockdown, I was playing DnD three times a week. Since then I have scaled back to a slightly less unreasonable 1.5 times a week schedule. I love barbarian fantasy, primarily the visuals of Frazetta, Brom, Bisley and those inspired by them. My favorite fantasy book has to be Gene Wolfe’s Shadow of the Torturer and its sequels. Though Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison is a wonderful, overwrought pleasure, too. Lord Tretch owes quite a bit to my visual idea of King Gorice.
Aubrey Sitterson: I used to think of myself as primary a sword & sorcery guy (especially Robert E. Howard and Michael Moorcock) but in recent years I’ve fallen hard for Jack Vance. I adore his Dying Earth stories, which inspired Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun series, but I think his Lyonesse trilogy, to which Game of Thrones is heavily indebted, is even better. It’s willfully bizarre Arthurian-style fantasy that Benjamin Marra recommended to me and I cannot recommend it to you enough. Speaking of Vance’s wide-ranging influence, Dungeons & Dragons lifted almost its entire magic system from him! And yes, of course, right now I’m dungeon mastering a Storm King’s Thunder game and playing in an Undermountain one with arcane trickster, the self-styled Halfling Prince of Waterdeep, Young Lonnie Clovefoot.
AIPT: Jed, I flipping love your work on Savage Hearts #1. The detail, the character design…is it fair to say your style is up there with Arthur Adams?
JD: Thank you, glad you like the artwork! I’ve loved Art Adam’s work since picking up Longshot, so I am very flattered! And if he needs someone to draw some Monkeyman and O’Brien stories, I am currently between projects and love drawing strongwomen. And apes!
AS: One of the most amazing things about Jed is his ability to simultaneously pull from so many all-time great cartoonists. Of course, there’s some Adams anatomy in there, but he combines it with Corben’s sense of motion, Hergé’s comedic pacing, Chaykin’s page design, and more. It makes for a truly stunning approach to comics, unlike anything else on the racks right now.
AIPT: Jed, what goes into the character design, when do you know the character is ready for the big screen (aka Dark Horse Comics)?
JD: Actually, the character design for Savage Hearts bounced back and forth between Aubrey and me quite a few times. Both protagonists had multiple iterations before Aubrey and I settled on a look for them. Then I went ahead and altered them one last time — I think it was just an outfit change for Bronwyn, and asymmetric horns for Graow — just to make them a bit more fun to draw, and steal a march on Aubrey. We also tried to build some thematic things into their appearances that will change over the course of the series, just to allow the visuals of the characters to reflect their internal states. Additionally, the distinct looks of the characters are helped tremendously by the beautiful colors of Lovern Kindzierski.
AIPT: Aubrey, I love your high energy and sense of humor in all your works, but also your presence on Twitter. Can you talk a little bit about this title’s approach to humor?
AS: Thank you so much! I’ve been telling people how funny I am for decades now, so it’s really gratifying that people are finally listening! From jump, we knew this was going to be a funny book – it’s a romantic comedy after all – so Jed and I started talking this through in the early goings almost three years ago. We both agree that comics are great at humor (it’s right there in the name: comics are comedic!) but felt strongly that the humor should come primarily from the visuals, not dialogue alone; that was our guiding principle. For inspiration, I went back and read a lot of Tintin comics, and pulled from one of my biggest comics influences, the comics strip work of Berkeley Breathed. I think his three-panel pacing is utterly unmatched. Bloom County and Outland fans might even spot a few nods to some of Breathed’s classic gags in Savage Hearts!
AIPT: I’m referencing a scene here, but, have you ever had a leather shirt stick to your tits?
JD: Alas, no. Time to get a leather shirt.
AS: This is one of the truly great things about being a storyteller: Getting to place yourself in someone else’s shoes (or plate mail boots) and exploring feelings and sensations that you yourself have never experienced.
AIPT: A lot of the beasties in this series have a dinosaur look to them, was this a stylistic choice you made for a specific reason when blending fantasy elements in the series?
JD: Dino DNA was baked into the pitch for the series- maybe you can address that, Aubrey? But I was happy to draw some off-the-fossil-record dinosaurs! When I was a kid, the dinosaurs in books had scales and waded in swamps, so I snuck some of those in there, alongside more modern feathered interpretations. Any resemblance to actual dinosaurs, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
AS: Fantasy, especially of the sword and sorcery variety, especially-especially of the barbarian variety, is enjoying some well-deserved time in the sun right now. But Jed and I didn’t want to just do another barbarian book, as rad as our version of a more straight-forward take on the genre would be. That’s why our barbarian, instead of slaughtering her way through faceless hordes, finds herself, instead, contending with an amorous beastman. Adding in the jungle setting and the dinosaurs are more examples of the depth we wanted to bring to this world! Plus, why bother becoming a comics writer at all if you aren’t going to put dinosaurs in everything you write?
AIPT: Of the characters in this series, which do you relate to the most and why?
JD: Pheaux is my guy — scrambling for a big score in a notoriously difficult career, a dreamer who has found the affection of a partner clearly more competent and levelheaded than himself- what’s not to love?
AS: This is really tough for me! Even though Savage Hearts is a comedy, there’s a lot of very real emotion running through it, for which I pulled a lot from personal experiences. I think there’s a lot of me in both of our leads but I won’t say what so you can assume it’s all the good stuff.
AIPT: Final question, without spoilers what is one scene fans can’t miss in the first issue described with onomatopoeia?
JD: I leave this to the wordsmith — dazzle ’em, Aubrey!
AS: Oh, this one’s easy…KWWWWUUAAAAARK!
Snag a copy of Savage Hearts #1 in comic book shops on July 14.
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