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Interview: Justin Jordan and Tyasseta on the reaching a wide audience with ComiXology Original BREAKLANDS

The creators describe how they made a comic that feels like Star Wars without imitating it.

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breaklands comixology

It’s hard to honor another piece of fiction without imitating it, which makes Breaklands all the more remarkable for feeling like Star Wars while telling a completely different story. Breaklands is a perfect fit as a ComiXology Original. Great for anyone but especially appealing to fans of the YA genre, it gets to take advantage of the reach of the imprint that’s offered free to subscribers of Kindle Unlimited. To learn about the creativity and business considerations behind Breaklands, check out The Beat’s interview with writer Justin Jordan and illustrator Tyasseta about the present and future of the science-fantasy series.

Art used in this post by Tyasseta and Sarah Stern

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How did you two connect?

T: I remember Justin said he liked my linework from one of my posts on Tumblr and Ariela Kristantina (Deep State, Matahari) replied that I’m one of her friends and then Justin added me as a friend on Facebook. That’s the first connection. I was so amazed and told my wife a couple of times.JJ: And after we connected on FB, Tyasseta sent me a PDF of his art. So hey, that can work.

Was Breaklands in the works before ComiXology came around, or was it developed specifically for the platform?

JJ: Originally, we were going to pitch it to Image, but when comiXology announced their Originals program, I actually emailed Chip and asked if I could pitch him, and Breaklands is what I had in mind. Happily, they said yes because the book is really well suited to the format.

I think comiXology was around already. We created the pitch around early 2017 and I drew it on 11×17” paper size not using comiXology’s template size.

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Coupled with Kindle Unlimited, ComiXology Originals are available to a more diverse readership than you can find solely through the Direct Market. Did you create Breaklands with that audience in mind?

JJ: Not exactly. Actually, the answer is complicated. This is probably the third project, after The Family Trade and Backways, where I realized during the creation phase that probably a lot of our potential audience was going to be outside the traditional Direct Market.

So I didn’t create it for that, but it’s one of the reasons I pursued comiXology as a venue to release the book. Plus, honestly, I like doing new stuff?

Did either of you look at young adult fiction for inspiration?

JJ: I did. The young adult space in comics is interesting. There’s a lot of middle-grade stuff, and there’s a lot of young adult stuff, but there’s relatively little young adult genre stuff – in comics, the YA stuff tends to skew more slice of life. Whereas in prose, things like The Hunger Games, Maze Runner and the like tend to be big deals.

But beyond that, I tried to reverse engineer what I thought made the stuff work. And a lot of it is who the story is about, I think. Kasa, the protagonist, feels like she’s no one and nothing, and she’s been piled down with a life and responsibilities she did ask for, and I think that’s something most people can empathize with, and that particular theme comes from me reading YA stuff.

T: Extremity by DWJ..does that include young adult?

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Justin, you’re best known for mature-rated work. Were you excited to write something that breaks from that mold?

JJ: I was! It’s probably not great from a career standpoint, but I like doing new and different stuff. But I figure if James Patterson can write young adult stuff, so can I! Now to sell James Patterson numbers of books…

Star Wars is a clear influence on the series, Justin even notes it at the end of the issue. How do you pay homage to those films while making Breaklands something all its own?

JJ: I think the key here is figuring out what makes Star Wars work and doing that. There’s a difference, I think, between homage and pastiche. Pastiche is where you’re trying to do the thing again, whereas homage is trying to figure out what you liked about the original work and getting that feeling.

So, for instance, one thing I really liked about A New Hope is that it drops you into this universe with very little explanation and it feels like a real place. It’s not any one thing, it’s the way the spaceships look used, it’s the revelry at the bar, it’s the details. You get this sense, immediately, that this world exists beyond the movie.

That is one of the big things I wanted from Breaklands, this sense of a bigger world and a bigger story going on outside the story we’re actually telling. Which is tricky. There’s a lot of stuff not explained to the reader that I hope feels like it makes sense. That the Rumblers’ vehicles are, for instance, actually lobotomized telekinetics isn’t explicitly explained in the text, although you do see them and can hopefully work it out.

T: Oh yeah. Justin said Kasa is like Rey combined with Katniss but she doesn’t know her strength. I guess that’s one of them.

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What were some other influences on the series’ visuals and aesthetics?

T: French comics (Bilal, Moebius), manga (Fist of North Star, AKIRA, Seven Deadly sins & Trigun Maximum), Ashley Wood’s also some Indonesian’s relic design.

Several visual concepts, such as the 100-year king’s armor and how he creates his new weapon, are extremely clever. Do those originate from the script, the art, or a combination of the two?

JJ: The ax in particular is in the script, but generally I don’t go in for a lot of description in the scripts, more an idea of what I want it to feel like. So there’s a reference to existing stuff and art, and sometimes a “Let’s not do this”.

A lot of that, though, is just putting together the right team. I ask people to work with me because I think they’re the right people to get something cool without me micromanaging. Whether that’s down to artistic freedom or my inherent laziness is a debate for the ages.’

T: I guess that was on the script already, but I was trying to make the visuals look more appealing and clear. That ax is from bone. I changed some panels 2-3 times before we ended up with the final page.

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In just one issue you create a very big world. Will that be limited to one miniseries, or is there a plan (or hope) for more?

JJ: Hopefully more. There’s a plan for five arcs, so getting there would be awesome. Hard to do, but awesome.

T: Hope we can show more. Finger crossed.

How do you contain a potentially longer epic to one 5-issue miniseries that feels complete on its own?

JJ: With great difficulty! That actually was hard to do. It’s generally how I’ve done my creator-owned stuff since the start – Strode is structured as three minis, for instance – but here there’s a LOT of world and story here. Finding a way to tell the story in five issues was neck and neck with the worldbuilding in terms of challenge.

This is actually one of those areas where Star Wars was handy. It’s easy to forget that A New Hope is actually a mostly standalone story. SPOILERS, but Luke rescues the princess and blows up the Death Star. That’s the actual story for that movie. And while there are clearly threads that can be picked up on, it’s complete in that movie.

So here, we found a chunk of the narrative that works as its own thing, and is fun and entertaining (you know, hopefully) if it’s all we get to do. I always want the reader to feel like they get a satisfying story.

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Breaklands #1 is available now on ComiXology and the second issue releases tomorrow, September 28.