Imagine you’re a kid, say around 10 years old. Your parents have disappeared, and you’re left in a house with a relative and her boyfriend. You’re neglected, abused, and generally unwanted by your new guardians. Then one day, while hiding from them in the attic, you discover a machine. A portal. Before you know it, you’re traveling through it, and you wind up in another universe. A universe where everything is covered in pipes and gears, where your father may be waiting for you, and where you may also be the key to success for a growing resistance against the corporations that’s pillaging the land’s resources. Beats whatever was going on back at home, right?
That’s the setup for Steam, the new all-ages graphic novel from writer Drew Ford, artist Duane Leslie, and colorist Eva De La Cruz. We chatted with Ford & Leslie about the genesis of Steam, drawing from personal experience in telling the story, and the lasting appeal of the steampunk aesthetic.
Joe Grunenwald: How did Steam come to be? Did one of you recruit the other, or was it something you came up with together?
Drew Ford: Several years ago, after discovering Duane’s incredible artwork, I asked him what he would most like to draw a story about. He said Steampunk! That’s how it all began.
Duane Leslie: As I remember it, I needed to bulk up my portfolio and after reaching out for a writer to collaborate with through Digital Webbing or similar, Drew got in touch. I was thinking more along the lines of illustrating a short story and so I never imagined a whole graphic novel would result from that advertisement. Of course, I’m very glad it did!
Grunenwald: What’s the appeal of steampunk for both of you?
Ford: For me, Steampunk has a wide-ranging appeal. Some are drawn to a love of the Victorian period. Some appreciate its approach to technology: reclaiming old and making it new again. Some love the fashion. Most importantly, steampunk is highly diverse, and in my opinion celebrates the individual. Also, it’s both global and local, which is awesome.
Leslie: In my case Steampunk is a salve for my disgruntlement with the lackluster aesthetics of our present-day world. Contrary to today’s increasingly homogenized and depressing urban environments, Steampunk imagines a world where form and function hold equal value in all areas and wherever you go your senses are charmed with mechanical wonderment and noble materials.
Grunenwald: What made Steam a story that you both wanted to tell?
Ford: Steam is a coming-of-age story, but it is also a tale about underdogs who show us that brains always win versus brawn. Who wouldn’t wanna write something like that?
Leslie: I originally requested that Drew include two things in his story that would motivate me to perform optimally while having some fun. The first was that he set his story in the splendiferous Steampunk genre and the second was that he included certain themes that most people would dismissingly classify as ‘conspiracy theory’. After working through a few ideas and settling on a premise, Drew wrote a great story that I thoroughly enjoyed illustrating.
Grunenwald: Drew, talk a little bit about how you developed the characters in Steam, particularly the lead character, Arlo. To what extent are you drawing from personal experience with him?
Ford: Many of us have experienced neglect, or even abuse, at one point or another during our lives. And I definitely was thinking about such things when developing Arlo’s character. But I didn’t try to create a character to be pitied. Instead, I tried to create a character that would inspire people. No matter how rough his life has been, he glows with hope and positivity. Not an easy thing to do for any of us. But an excellent personality trait to which we can all aspire!
Grunenwald: Eva de la Cruz provides the colors for Steam. What, in each of your opinions, does her work bring to the story?
Ford: I have heard it said that color is not so much an aesthetic choice to the artist as much as a literary tool. For me, everyone working on a comic book is a storyteller. So we are lucky that Eva is both an excellent colorist and brilliant storyteller, as her colors definitely push the story forward in every panel or every page.
Leslie: Eva is superb at adapting to the projects that cross her graphics tablet. Steam was no different and she managed to perfectly compliment my semi-cartoony style while also capturing the necessary hues and tones of brass, bronze, wood and leather, etc that make Steampunk visually attractive.
Grunenwald: What’s something you’re each excited for readers to see when they read Steam?
Ford: Zona! Puck! Piper’s Pups! Deadlings! That’s a lot of great characters to discover in Steam!
Leslie: I wanted to illustrate a book that I imagined I would enjoy reading myself, full of colorful interesting characters in stimulating fantasy environments, fighting the good fight. I hope the readers agree that we achieved that end and I’m excited to think they might enjoy traversing interdimensional portals with Arlo to share his action-packed adventure.
Published by Dark Horse Comics, Steam is available in stores and digitally now.