When the first issue of The Mighty Zodiac from Oni Press went on sale last month, we quickly snatched it up right away, with Kieran giving it a glowing five-star rating, calling it a potential classic in the making.
The series, written by J. Torres (TEEN TITANS GO!) with artwork from Corin Howell (TRANSFORMERS: WINDBLADE) and colours from Maarta Laiho (LUMBERJANES), delivered a fantastic re-imagining of the Zodiac myth, introducing us to some intriguing new characters along the way. The word Zodiac essentially means “circle of animals” and the eponymous Mighty Zodiac are a clan of animal warriors based on the Chinese Zodiac who act as peacekeepers, defenders of the weak and general righters of wrongs.
Naturally, we wanted to find out more about the series, and were incredibly fortunate to catch a few moments in the busy schedules of J, Corin and Maarta to have a little chat about the book, its inception, and what to expect from the remainder of the run.
BIG COMIC PAGE: For those who haven’t read it yet, how would you describe The Mighty Zodiac?
J. TORRES: It’s an epic story that’s a mix of Asian mythology and Western fables; a martial arts fantasy by way of Disney. On the surface, it’s about a clan of warriors defending their realm, but at its heart, it’s really a story about family and community.
BCP: On reading The Mighty Zodiac, I felt a bit of a “Kung Fu Panda” vibe, and I mean that as a huge compliment. Was that an inspiration? What other inspirations went into creating the story?
JT: While I did enjoy the Kung Fu Panda movies, my inspiration comes more from animation like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra plus comic books like Usagi Yojimbo and Ninja Turtles as well as various myths and legends I’ve read throughout my life.
BCP: I feel this is a story that will appeal to both kids and adults. Children are bound to enjoy the adventure aspect, whereas grown ups will be more likely to pick up on the mythological aspects. Did you have a specific demographic in mind when you were putting it together?
JT: I applied what my friend Scott Chantler calls “The Pixar Principal.” Meaning writing for a general audience with everyone in the family in mind. It has to be fun enough to engage the youngest readers but also sophisticated enough for older readers. You want “fun for the whole family.”
BCP: Without giving too much away, what should readers be looking out for during the rest of the series?
JT: We’ll get a peek at the backgrounds of certain characters like Ko as well as Great Tiger Ho and Rang. There are some interesting “transformations” along the way. There are also some cool battles on the road to Twilight’s Bastion but the biggest of them all, of course, comes at the end. It’s an exciting, action-packed finale if I do say so myself.
BCP: If this opening six-part arc does well, are there plans to revisit this saga in future?
JT: I would love to! I do have many more stories to tell, including looks back at different characters’ origins as well a sequel to “Starfall.” Hopefully, the sales warrant more comics! So, everyone, go buy this book please!
BCP: Can you tell us a little about the collaborative process between the three of you?
JT: There are actually four of us, counting our amazing editor Robin. Before Rin sees my scripts and gets to kick butt on the page, Robin and I go back and forth, finessing the story. Then Rin gets feedback from the both of us before Maarta does her magic with the colours. Robin and I also go back and forth about the colours. Then there’s Warren with the letters! He’s also doing great work and I hope he doesn’t hate me with all the revisions by the end of this. It’s very collaborative with everyone working toward the best comic we can put out there as a team.
CORIN HOWELL: J. and Robin are really good about giving feedback early on in the process when we’ve established layouts. We have fun and make sure we get all the notes down with everything before everything is sent out to Maarta
BCP: How did you go about coming up with the distinctive visual style of the book?
CH: In terms of character design, we drew a lot of inspiration from Disney’s “Robin Hood”, and personally I drew some inspiration from “BlackSad” by Juanjo Guarnido.
MAARTA LAIHO: I knew from the start I wanted it to look very textured and painterly, to match Rin’s inks. Since this is to be kid-friendly, I also aimed to keep it quite saturated with colors and almost animated looking.
BCP: With comic book adaptations hotter than ever in Hollywood, television and online streaming services nowadays, would you consider adapting The Mighty Zodiac if an opportunity came along?
JT: That would be very exciting!
ML: That would be amazing! I can definitely see it being the type of story that would adapt well to the big (or small) screen :)
BCP: If you could collaborate with any other writer or artist in the world right now, who would it be and why?
CH: Brendan Fletcher is definitely a writer I would like to work with. Becky Cloonan too because she was one of the artists I draw inspiration from.
ML: Either Fiona Staples or Karl Kerschl would be a dream-come-true, as both do amazing work and are huge inspirations for me!
BCP: Can you tell us about any other projects you guys are working on right now that our readers should keep an eye out for?
JT: I’ve also got Brobots and the Kaiju Kerfuffle coming out in May. The super talented Sean Dove is the artist of the book which is a graphic novella for younger readers. It’s sort of our love letter to childhood favourites ranging from monster movies like Godzilla to robot anime like Voltron and of course comic books and books on fairy tales and legends we devoured as kids.
CH: I’m working on my book “The Green Witch” which I am writing and illustrating. I’m also going to be working with some projects with IDW, though I’m not allowed to say anything JUST YET. Sorry guys but just keep look out! ;)
ML: Right now I am working as the colorist for Lumberjanes and Adventure Time from Boom! Studios. Also I’m the colorist for Noelle Stevenson’s newest graphic novel 4 Wizards, which will be published with HarperTeen in 2017.
BCP: And finally, if you could say one thing to a reader who’s on the fence about this series to convince them to pick it up, what would it be?
ML: If I was a kid, the animal characters would’ve been enough to convince me! Mention ninjas and dragons, and you’ve got me sold.
CH: I loved all the talking-animal Disney movies as a kid, so I’m with Maarta on this one – that’s enough to get me to read it!
JT: The way I see it is, even if for some reason the book ends up not being your cup of tea, I think it has enough appeal that you can pass it on to someone else in your family or circle of friends. But what I’ve seen so far is that folks who’ve given the book a shot have not only found something they like in the book, they want to share it with others. People who loved Kung Fu Panda or Zootopoia, fans of Aesop’s Fables, fans of the Ninja Turtles, people who like mythology, people who like fantasy, etc. So I say, take a chance!
BCP: Thanks again for your time, guys.
Issue two of THE MIGHTY ZODIAC hits shelves everywhere Wednesday 28th of May.
Interview by: Kieran Fisher
Kieran Tweets from @HairEverywhere_.