Vault Comics’ fantasy comic series Barbaric has been on a hiatus since its utterly epic run last year. But after the release of the teaser one-shot Barbaric: Harvest Blades earlier this month, writer Michael Moreci and artist Nathan Gooden are now set to return with the long-awaited second arc, due out August 17.
Barbaric: Axe to Grind follows Owen and his talking magical companion, the aptly-named Axe, as they once more seek to punish those miscreants who deserve a good walloping. Rejoined by Soren, as well as some new “guests” down the road, these unlikely “heroes” are looking to settle an old score against Gladius. Expect a barbaric level of violence, attitude, and other hijinks.
To get a sense of what’s in store before issue #1 drops, I spoke to Moreci and Gooden about this next story arc, the artistic process of capturing truly painful gore, creating rich fantasy tales, and much, much more.
AIPT: To start, it will be about a year since the last issue of Barbaric when Axe to Grind #1 comes out, has the hiatus helped you approach this series differently or gain perspective on the first arc?
Michael Moreci: I think this time has definitely been a big help to us all. On one hand, the wait was painful. We know fans have been eager for new stories; Nate and I have been eager to tell new stories. But the reality is we needed to take this time, for a number of reasons. And I think during this span, we’ve gotten a better understanding of not only what Barbaric is, but how we can take the kernel of what’s most essential and grow it in really unique, fun, and interesting ways. Barbaric will never stop being Barbaric, and if you read the series, you know what I mean.
But, at the same time, Nate and I know there are only so many times we can go back to the same well–no matter how much we love that well, it will run dry eventually. And since we want to do this series for 100 issues or more, we had to think of ways to preserve the best of the series while also knowing how to evolve it, and I think that’s what we cracked over the past year or so.
Nathan Gooden: The hiatus helped me a lot. The last year was very difficult for me and my family. It meant the world to me, that Mike let me step aside for a bit. Barbaric is a true passion project for me, and frankly, the passion wasn’t there. Or better yet, I don’t think I was capable of delivering what fans deserved. So I thought it best to lay down my sword (pencil) for a time.
AIPT: The fantasy genre is so rich and storied, do you feel it’s necessary to be an expert on all things fantasy in order to tell new tales?
MM: No, not at all. As a matter of fact, I myself am by no means an expert. I certainly have read plenty of fantasy novels and watched my share of fantasy movies, but there’s a depth to this genre that I cannot claim mastery of. Not even close. But, at the same time, I think that arm’s length distance is what helps me write Barbaric. The fantasy genre isn’t sacred to me, which means I’m not afraid to mess with it or break it altogether. And if you know Barbaric, you know it’s a world where nothing is sacred. Nothing at all.
NG: Fantasy is such a vast landscape, that mastering it is nearly impossible. To treat a thing well, you don’t have to know everything about it, you just have to love it. And the love is very strong from the two of us.
AIPT: Nathan, you’re particularly great at unnerving with the gore. There are at least two in Axe to Grind that had me shivering, what goes into figuring out the best way to flay a person?
NG: With a title like Barbaric, there better be some gruesome moments! For me, the beauty in Barbaric is the tone, It never takes itself too seriously. I come at most of the violence like it’s a comedy gag. Comedy plays a big role in this world, and that allows me to approach it like a Tex Avery cartoon. I feel like I can get away with a little more, because of the animated nature of the world. But Barbaric and myself also know when to turn that off and tug at your heart strings.
AIPT: Barbaric is one of the only series where I can practically hear a heavy metal soundtrack, do you listen to music while you write/draw the series?
MM: I generally listen to film scores when I write, but I am an unashamed lover of 80s metal–the Crue, in particular, are one of my favorite bands. I love metal in general, so it’s something I’m always listening to. If I had my way, we’d put out an album of metal songs inspired by Barbaric–how awesome would that be? Who doesn’t want Metallica singing about Axe?
NG: Absolutely, I was blasting Metal a ton, especially during the action sequences. I leaned heavily on the Deftones for Issue 2 of Barbaric, Murderable Offenses. When designing Axe, I wanted to draw something that belonged on the cover of a classic Metal album.
AIPT: Something about Axe to Grind that hit me was how much you feel for a specific character who has gone through a lot (speaking of Steel). You get into his head so well, in part because of the story but also the facial expressions. Why was looking at Steel in this way so important to the first issue?
MM: Nate can speak volumes to the art, but there are two things that are especially important to me: First of all, I want depth of character. Yes, Barbaric is all about the skull-cracking, bar-fighting, wild and crazy good time–but it also has a heart, and that heart comes from the characters. Seeing Axe get drunk on blood and slaughter people gets readers in the door; the richness of the characters gets them to stay.
The second thing and this is a trick I learned from Joe Abercrombie, is that in order to have humor in these kinds of situations, you also have to show the dark depths of what all this violence and mayhem does to a character. It’s a trick he does so well: You have to see the soul-crushing shit of a life of violence in order to come around to laugh at it. Because that’s the point: The violence in Barbaric is so nuts and so over-the-top that you have to laugh; the characters have to laugh, too, because it’s the only way to stay sane. In writing, there’s always so much you can do with contrast.
NG: It was very important for me to nail Steel’s facial expressions and attitude. He is the first character in the world of Barbaric to be completely vulnerable and open. I had to nail that in the character acting. It is a big shift, from the stone-faced, none emoting Owen. Steel is a good look at morality from the perspective of these warriors. The first Arc set the table, now it’s time for things to start having real, heavy consequences.
AIPT: You have the one-shot Harvest Blades — what can you say about other planned one-shots? Will we find out new creative teams soon?
MM: We’ve got a lot in store, with some superstar talent lined up, and we’re going to learn more specifics soon. I can say one thing: I just finished co-writing a script with a superstar fantasy author, and it is so damn good. I can say that because it’s mainly the author at the wheel, and he absolutely knocked this story out of the park. I’m dying to get this one into the world.
AIPT: Do either of you have a favorite moment in this upcoming arc and if so, what can you say without giving anything away?
MM: I do, for sure. Steel tells a story that sheds light on his and Owen’s history, and there’s this spread where he’s standing in the middle of this blood-drenched battlefield and says “What f***ing glory?” And when you get the context, it hits you like a ton of bricks. Also, there are some very cool, new monsters (that dive into the deeper mythos) that Nate brought to life, as usual, in the most amazing way.
NG: Oh, easy for me, and Mike might hate me for this. The ending. Fans have no idea what’s about to happen because I can still barely believe it.
For even more, check out an extended preview in the slider below.
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