Belgium writer Sylvain Runberg and Spanish artist Miki Montlló launched Warship Jolly Roger, a sci-fi action series, back in 2014 in Europe to great critical acclaim. Described as an “envelope-pushing sci-fi tale of space pirates and political intrigue,” Warship Jolly Roger is reminiscent of the recent Battlestar Galactica revival as told through an elaborate and innovative visual style. Runberg is an interesting writer, having written books and graphic novels in different genre including horror, psychological thriller, crimes and political intrigue. His recent collaboration with Miki Montlló is a wonderful pairing, Montlló’s sense of the fantastic and his ability to capture human emotions makes a great choice for this grandiose tale of pirates, politics and spaceships. Magnetic press began translating the series in English with the second volume released this week.
In advance of the release, Magnetic Press, the publisher, conducted this interview with Sylvain Runberg and Miki Montllló to discuss the morality, science-fiction and creating the series.
Q: When we last left the quartet of anti-heroes at the end of Book One, fugitive commander Jon T. Munro just found out that his son is dead, poisoned by the man who sent him to prison in the first place, Confederation President Vexton. Book One ended with his vow of Revenge. How does that set the stage for Book Two?
Sylvain Runberg: When it comes to Munro, the death of his son is a point of no turning back. He won’t find peace until he has avenged him. The problem is that he needs his three other ex-con companions to achieve this vengeance, and they don’t all have the same goals and interests here. President Vexton and his forces are still after them, and following Munro on his mission of vengeance could mean that Trace, Kowalski and Alisa, who has been severely injured, are killed for a cause that is not their own. That’s when the notion of friendship, courage, sacrifice — and even cowardice and betrayal — will interfere. Which of these notions will be the strongest, we will let the readers find out by themselves!
Q: Book One shed just enough light on each character to understand why they might be doing the things they do but leaving enough mystery to wonder if they won’t suddenly change directions for equally understandable reasons. Does this unpredictability continue in Book Two?
Runberg: Yes, and not only by their own will. The political environment will also strongly interfere in what Munro and the others will face during the second part of this space opera. President Vexton is looking to be re-elected as the head of the Confederation, and he will face an unexpected opponent that will make him even more ferocious. At the same time, the rebellion will strike back in a way nobody could have expected, including Munro in the first place.
Q: Sylvain, it is hard to categorize characters in this tale as “good guy” or “bad guy” — everyone seems to populate a shadowy region somewhere in between. You have a lot of experience writing such characters, including the further adventures of Lisbeth Salander in the MILLENNIUM series. Is it challenging to write such conflicting characters in a way that readers still want to care about?
Runberg: It is challenging, but that’s what makes it exciting as a writer. What I say now might sound obvious, but no one is born good or bad, we are all the result of our own experiences, of our own lives. And people considered “evil” are still human, there’s no such thing as “monsters” among us, even if some individuals can commit monstrous acts. Munro is a war criminal but also a loving father. So I try to show what has made this character what he is now. In this case, I would associate Munro so much with Lisbeth Salander, but more with a character like Tony Soprano portrayed by James Gandolfini in the HBO show. This guy is awful, he is a brutal murderer, a mafioso, the leader of a brutal criminal organization, and still you want to follow him and sometimes you even have empathy for him. That’s what it is about with J.T. Munro in “Warship Jolly Roger.”
Q: Miki, you worked on this tale for nearly 5 years (?) from conception to conclusion. Did the story and characters develop the way you imagined they would at the beginning, or were you surprised by some of the changes and decisions you and Sylvain made along the way?
Miki Montllo: It was really interesting to see these characters evolve during the series. The way I imagined the characters when I created them was very archetypal, I tried to design them in a way that could start as familiar with the audience, and then give them a little twist. So, we have Munro as the quintessential figure of a tormented hero, Kowalski is the cynical secondary with a very ambiguous moral but plenty of charisma, Alisa is a woman who is constantly challenging herself in search for the truth, and Treize is the personification of mystery. I provided Sylvain with these “sketchy” characters, you could almost say the skeleton of their personalities, and he completed them by making them more complex, and their decisions more human. When the comic was finished, and I read it, it felt like the characters were alive, independent of my work. I have to thank Sylvain for that!
Q: Miki, this is to date one of just a few comic projects you have worked on (including an earlier volume of Sylvain’s ORBITAL series and two short stories in OVERWATCH ORIGINS); your primary professional focus is in the field of animation. Do you feel that one experience has had an influence on the other? Does your animation experience affect your comic storytelling, or vice versa?
Montllo: I really don’t know what my primary professional focus is. I’d say comics are at the same time the toughest but the most satisfying, from which I can get more control over what I do. In animation, I love the teamwork experience and the fact that I can be part of something bigger than myself. The truth is that what really interests me, even if this might sound a bit pretentious, is to create new fictional universes independent from the media I use, in order to express ideas and feelings which sometimes I’m not even aware were there. It makes me feel good to know myself better. And it sometimes even pays the bills!
More than influencing each other in terms of narrative, I would say there’s an influence in terms of methods and technique. I translate some techniques from animation to comics to be more efficient, and accidentally, to give my comics a distinct look.
Q: What can readers look forward to from each of you next? Are there any upcoming projects that you are particularly excited for, or any project ideas you hope to someday write?
Runberg: Miki and I are actually working on the adaptation of a Science Fiction story by one of the most famous Science Fiction writers in the world, an author from Asia. It will be a 120 page “hard boiled/SciFi” graphic novel, but for now, we can’t say any more, but you’ll probably hear about it soon!
[This interview is sponsored by the Magnetic Collection at Lion Forge, a sister company of The Beat.]