National Sibling Day may have already past, but you can still celebrate those familial bonds with a brand new comic from artist-writer Wes Craig.
KAYA follows the titular character, who also happens to have a magical arm, as she helps deliver her younger brother to a “faraway safe haven” with the help of a “fighting spirit.” Part fantasy saga, part family drama, and part dystopian epic, it’s a rollicking and poignant tale of family, how we manage grief, and the power of growth and maturity.
Before KAYA issue #1 debuts on October 5 (via Image Comics), Craig was kind enough to answer some questions vial email. That included the importance of character development, drawing from other sci-fi properties, and exploring family and community, among other tidbits.
AIPT: What’s the elevator pitch for KAYA?
Wes Craig: I have an elevator pitch handy for just such purposes!
“After the destruction of their village a young girl with a magic arm and a fighting spirit is tasked with delivering her little brother to a faraway safe haven. There he’s destined to discover the secret to overthrowing the all-powerful empire that destroyed their home.”
AIPT” The young female hero is nothing new in the grand scheme of fiction, but why is this kind of protagonist so compelling to you?
WC: The character of — I guess the “Tom Boy” archetype for lack of a better term — is always interesting to me, for sure. The girls and women I’ve met who would fit in that category are some of my favorite people. Always complex and multi-layered, and just plain cool, honestly.
AIPT: How did you balance the work as both artist and writer?
WC: I’d say it’s easier in terms of visualizing it since I know exactly what I’m going for. There’s no second guessing the writer’s aims in the script. I’m the writer so I know exactly what my aims are. But on the other hand, a huge part of the work of writing is in the dialogue. It takes a lot of time and focus to get the right words in the right order to bring the characters to life. But at the end of the day I’ve always felt most comfortable, most in my element I guess, when I’m doing writing and art. Most of my favorite comics are from writer / artists, and I grew up writing and drawing my own stories. So it feels natural.
I love the whole look and feel of the world. Were there any specific references here? And how much world-building did you do — is there a bible for the land of KAYA?
There’s a loose bible I use, yeah. It gets firmed up as I go and Kaya and her brother Jin encounter new people and places. There’s a lot of inspiration that goes into it. But I’d say it’s a “Conan” kind of world, Hyborian, with some Sci-Fi elements in the mix. Ageless temples, dark gods, but also robots and aliens.
The setting is earth. But it’s Earth so far in the future that it looks more like the ancient past.
AIPT: I love the dynamic between the story’s two siblings, Kaya and Jin. Why is that perhaps so vital to a story like this?
WC: I think the “odd couple” team is always a lot of fun. There’s a bit of that, mainly from how much I enjoyed the series “Rome” many years ago, they got on each other’s nerves but they’d also die for each other. That always struck a chord with me. Another inspiration was one of the first comics I got into as a kid, Lone Wolf andCub. I really enjoy that kind of story, the tough character matched with a helpless character. I’ve got a few big twists along the way that take those dynamics in some interesting directions, but that’s where we start out.
AIPT: The book involves a giant wall and a ruined kingdom. How much are you commenting or exploring maybe some more “real-world” issues here?
WC: Some of that is on purpose, hopefully not too on the nose or preachy. But other things are just these themes that recur through history. You can relate it to Trump’s wall now if you want, or you could relate it to the Great Wall of China, built 2,000 years ago.
AIPT: The first issue starts sort of in the middle of the action. Why’d you opt for that specific approach?
WC: I think that’s the best way to do it. Drop the reader in, explain along the way if needed. I think we all have a tendency to over explain. You don’t want the reader to be confused, unless it’s on purpose. But at the same time, they don’t need to know every little detail. I just finished reading Akira recently (I’d read lots of pieces of it before but never all together and in order) and I was amazed at how little Otomo gives us on the background of the characters. We don’t know almost anything about Tetsuo, Keneda, or Kei. But we know everything we need to through their actions.
AIPT: If I had to guess, this book is about family and the power of community. Are there any ideas or notions that you were trying to work through specifically?
WC: Since it’s an ongoing series I think that will change over time, but yes, family is a big one. And in the first arc “identity” is something I’m exploring. How strong is an identity if it’s forced on you? Can you become someone new? Can you really change? Stuff like that. These things are guides I use at the beginning, but usually they kind of fade into the background as the story becomes more real. The tale kind of grows over the themes and lofty ideas I think about at the beginning and become their own thing so that the themes can only be seen faintly underneath. That’s what I’m hoping for. If the themes are too obvious I think it shows the hand of the writer and takes us out of the story and that’s definitely not what I’m going for.
AIPT: What other tidbits and high points can we expect from the rest of the story (without too many spoilers, of course)?
WC: Well, we have a tense relationship with the lizard-riders at the same time as a deep bond between one of their members and Kaya, we also see Kaya forced to hunt the deadliest beast on the open plains, just as Jin’s attempts to contact the Gods takes an unexpected turn.
Then in the second arc we take a detour through the Poison Lands, home of the Mutants. Kaya gets abducted by a giant bat, among many other mishaps, Jin makes a deal he may live to regret, and we finally get a better look at the big enemy of the series, the Robot Empire.
Why should anyone pick up issue #1?
WC: If they’re fans of fantasy like Lord of the Rings, Bone, Conan, or sci-fi / fantasy mashups like Kamandi and Adventure Time, or if they liked my work on Deadly Class, I think there’s definitely something in there to enjoy. Aside from that, I’m just giving this story every bit of emotion I can. I’m putting everything I have into it, having a lot of fun and I think, I hope, that shows on the page. It’s thirty-one pages of story plus extra content at the back for $3.99.
There’s a 16-page KAYA #0 up on Webtoon here. So if you like what you see, let your comic shop know you want it on your pull-list. Or pre-order it through ComiXology if you prefer digital.
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