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On crafting heroes and creatures: Shannon Denton and Marcus To unpack 'Kingdom Riders'

Comic Books

On crafting heroes and creatures: Shannon Denton and Marcus To unpack ‘Kingdom Riders’

Get an inside look at ‘Kingdom Riders’ with its writer Shannon Denton and artist Marcus To.

Writer Shannon Denton (Komikwerks) and artist Marcus To (Excalibur) are set to take readers to a captivating fantasy world with their new graphic novel, Kingdom Riders. Coming to comic shops and bookstores on May 14 via IDW, the enchanting saga not only thrills its readers with epic battles and intriguing characters but it also showcases a richly crafted world that mirrors the complexity and depth of the finest fantasy realms.

This week, I got the chance to chat with both Denton and To about the intricacies of their creative process, the challenges of building such a detailed universe, and the influences and inspirations behind their vivid storytelling.

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And as its creators demonstrate, a lot of love and energy went into making Kingdom Riders a must-read for folks of all ages.

Kingdom Riders

Courtesy of IDW.

AIPT: World-building is vast and robust, including the awesome fantasy map. How did you go about fleshing out this world, is there a “Bible” of facts you reference?

Shannon Denton: Indeed there is. Had this world in my head for decades so that was my starting point. I used to be on the development team for Fox Kids and WB building out decks/bibles for internal animation projects so for me that’s always been the starting point of any new project. As an artist and a writer I pulled a ton of reference for what I had in my head and then turned Marcus loose to do with it what he wanted. I have been such a huge Marcus To fan for so long, so getting to see him bring everything to life was fantastic. Once we swapped out all the reference art with Marcus’s art we brought that to IDW and here we are.

Marcus To: Exactly what Shannon said. He had a very strong vision for this project and provided a lot of references when we first started on what would become Kingdom Riders.

AIPT: Shannon, can you tell us a little bit about Monster Forge Productions and where this project fits in it?

SD: Absolutely. I started my development company Monster Forge during the pandemic to do more of the things I’ve been fortunate to do for the world’s largest entertainment companies (but this time for myself); games, comics, toys, animation, film, etc. I look at Monster Forge as an extension of all the genre things I love as well as creating opportunity spaces to work with the people I love working with. It was a bit of a retrospective on my career as a creator both in terms of the projects I’d done and the ones I was burning to get out in the world. Kingdom Riders (and working with Marcus) is one of those projects. We have big plans for it.

AIPT: Back to the awesome map, how fun was it creating that. Was there anything unexpectedly hard about creating it?

SD: Convincing Marcus to draw a map! Once I convinced him no cartographers would be judging us though we were off to the races. Like everything Marcus does, it turned out fantastic! I can’t wait to explore all of those locations in Kingdom Riders and see what “off the map” locales we get to next.

MT: I totally get skittish when I am presented with a task to draw something that I have never done before. It was a lot of planning cause there are so many kingdoms and making the decisions of where they should be and where they should be next to each other took some time to plan out. Not to mention all the little details that make up this world we are creating.

'Kingdom Riders' Shannon Denton Marcos To

Courtesy of IDW.

AIPT: I love Grok! The design is so fun and deserves a plushy, from the color scheme to the tuft of hair. What went into designing this fun creature?

SD: Thank you; we love him as well! (Plushy-makers contact IDW, ASAP!) We hope it’s clear how much love he and Kayla have for each other the same way beloved pets are family members in the households they live in. I had an overall general idea for “Grok the mudtoad” and a childhood fascination with colorful poisonous frogs but the rest is all Marcus. He brought Grok to life.

MT: Grok was a lot of fun to draw, this project really pushed me to get better at drawing animals and their anatomy and Grok was the first large toad/frog that I have had to draw in my entire career.

'Kingdom Riders' Shannon Denton Marcos To

Courtesy of IDW.

AIPT: Marcus, this may be my favorite work of yours yet. What was the most fun to draw, be it a scene, character, or specific page?

MT: I am always a big fan of drawing the human elements that make you connect and understand the characters and their motives. I know a lot of people expect that artists love drawing the action scenes but boy are they hard to draw. Especially when there are many people and many beasts in the scene!

SD: Marcus and I have worked on projects for other publishers that always come out great but it was getting to collaborate with a friend you admire so much that makes Kingdom Riders so special. When Marcus turned in the last page it was both joyous and sad because it was such a thrill seeing this world finally get out of my head and now we were finished with this part of the journey. Luis added so much in the colors too and was a great partner along with Andworld Design on the lettering and Jake Williams and Dave Wielgosz editorially at IDW.

AIPT: What makes Kayla such a strong hero?

MT:  I think some folks might find it hokey, but she really is a ray of sunshine. She’s had a rough life but instead of the world getting her down she has a ripple effect brightening the world and those in it wherever she goes. I really wanted her to be this beacon like some of the folks I’ve been fortunate enough to have in my life. They aren’t perfect people but they are positive and inspire the people around them to be their best selves. Kayla is the kind of person I’d like to be.

MT: My definition of a hero is someone that puts others’ needs ahead of their own. Kayla is the type of person that would help anyone that needed it and with the confidence to know that her moral compass will always lead her in the right direction.

Kingdom Riders

Courtesy of IDW.

AIPT: If Kingdom Riders was a song, what would it be and why?

SD: Wow, what a great question. I listened to so much music making this from movie scores to Black Sabbath so I’m going to go with the first song that popped into my head as I read your question ….”Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin. Kayla, Cayde, Miki, Sohn, Mal and Grok still have a lot of rambling to do if they hope to be the best Kingdom Riders there are.

MT: “It’s My Life” [by’ Bon Jovi because, “I just wanna live while I’m alive” has got to be Kayla’s motto.

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