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Artful Daggers, by writers Adam P. Knave and Sean E. Williams and artist Andrew Losq, is visually one of the most distinctive titles Monkeybrain Comics publishes. The series, which portrays a world 50 years after the end of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, considers the impact of bringing 19th-century technology into medieval times. Or as the creative team puts it succinctly: “Swords, Spies and Science.”
To mark today’s release of Artful Daggers #6, which CBR previewed Tuesday, I reached out to the writing team of Knave and Williams to discuss their universe, where kingdoms have been replaced by corporations. While the focus of the interview is their writing, Losq’s impact on the series is clear, as his collaborators admits they “end up cutting dialogue more often than not, as Andrew’s able to do more with an expression than we can with dialogue.”
Before closing our interview, Knave was happy to chat briefly about his other Monkeybrain ongoing (with co-writer D.J. Kirkbride and artist Nick Brokenshire), Amelia Cole. It’s an especially current topic of discussion given that on Aug. 14 IDW Publishing will release the digital series’ first print collection, Amelia Cole and the Unknown World.
Tim O’Shea: Tell me how you arrived at doing the iconic covers for the series?
Sean E. Williams: Part of it was logistical, part of it was world-building, part of it was marketing. Doing 12-plus pages per month — pencils, inks, colors — plus a cover, was too much for even a super-artist like Andrew. We also wanted to show off a little piece of all the different factions in the Artful Daggers world, and we wanted something that would pop in the lineup on comiXology.
Adam P. Knave: There’s also a lot going on, as far as world-building goes, and the covers end up being a little hint as well. We see, when we hit a new corporation, its logo, but putting them all on the covers lets people piece together what their individual foci are.
How do you two divvy up writing duties?
Williams: We alternate who does the first draft of an issue, and who does the first rewrite. From there it’s who’s got the lighter schedule for the first lettering pass.
Knave: It’s funny, while we plot out everything beforehand, we don’t know exactly what scenes the other one is going to come up with. So it ends up as a game, trying to amuse and excite each other with the scripts. It keeps the creative juices flowing. We’re our first audience, and if it doesn’t make us both excited to be making the book then a scene is wrong.
Williams: True. We throw out a lot of crazy ideas. Like the Tails backup stories. That was one that all three of us got excited about. A lot got shoot down in all directions, though.
In terms of introducing items from the 1800s into the Middle Ages, did you two have to do a great deal of research as to what would be proper to inject in the story?
Williams: We inventoried all the technology and science Twain had in the book, and then research specific tech as it pops up in the story.
Knave: Sean, you make it sound so … simple and clinical. Look, let’s be real: We’ve had fights over chain of technological advancement. We’ve easily spent whole days’ worth of time just working out exactly what bit of tech makes sense where and how. And I think we’ll be doing it the entire run of the book. The world grows and so does our research.
Williams: I’m just glad Twain mentioned filaments, or Adam would have won THAT fight.
Do you two have a favorite character to write among the AD cast?
Williams: They’re all so different, it’s fun to play with each of them. If I had to pick, I’d say Piper. I think Adam likes Robert the most, though.
Knave: It’s true. Robert wasn’t in the original cast, before we started writing. But we needed a specific character to fill a role and Robert came to mind. He just sort of swam into focus for me and I fell in love with him. Then Andrew drew him and I started putting an extra scene with Robert in just to watch Andrew draw him. I just got my very first pair of prescription sunglasses and they look like Robert’s, no lie.
Williams: Seriously? Nice!
The art for AD is quite distinctive, thanks to the unique style and page layouts by Andrew Losq. Are there ever scenes where you almost feel bad having to place dialogue on the page? Do you consult with him on the best spots to place dialogue?
Williams: We end up cutting dialogue more often than not, as Andrew’s able to do more with an expression than we can with dialogue. That’s why the lettering pass is my favorite part of the process.
Knave: Whereas it may be my least favorite. I mean I love it because it gives us a chance to really make the words fit the art, and like Sean said, that’s more often than not cutting back due to the great art. But if you’ve never done a lettering pass … you have to make the script fit the art.
So if Andrew adds a panel you have to add a panel to the script, so the letterer knows what he’s working on. And when it starts to feel like I’m transcribing a comic I get fussy. I’m a big baby. Also, the placement is all down to our wonderful letterer Frank Cvetkovic, who has meshed with Andrew’s art so well! It’s always fun to see how Frank and Andrew tell the story.
Do you see Artful Daggers as a finite series, or are you hoping to go for ongoing?
Williams: Great thing with doing this at Monkeybrain is we have total control. We’ve got the next two arcs plotted out already, but the world gets bigger with every issue, and we keep finding more stories to tell in it. Personally, I’d like to go back and see the founding of the Tricksters. Or maybe we’ll save that for the TV series.
Knave: And the spinoff novels.
Williams: And the tabletop role-playing game.
Knave: This world is huge and complex and interesting to us. We’re not planning on stopping any time soon.
IDW is set to release the first Amelia Cole trade next week. What kind of extras are you working into the trade?
Knave: We ran into an interesting problem with that. The first story Amelia Cole and the Unknown World was six issues that each varied in length from 22 to 28 pages. So when it came time to collect them we had to sit with IDW and work out page count vs. price. Our sweet spot became 152 pages, at $19.99.
We used every single page, and crammed some tricks in so we could, but that left us with only a few pages for extras. We ended up running six pages of Nick Brokenshire sketches, two pages of which D.J. Kirkbride and I had never seen before, either! We also worked in every one of the six covers by using them as endpapers and such. There is not a page of the book that doesn’t have art on it, I think. There may be one. But only one.
Do you feel that being published by IDW (rather than another indie publisher) gives you a greater advantage of exposing Amelia Cole to like-minded potential fans?
Knave: We’d both been fans of a lot of IDW’s output for years going into this and when we first started talking with them their excitement over the project won us over instantly. Working with them has been a blast. Justin, our editor, is wonderful. He’s made some great catches to ensure the book looks wonderful and has been just responsive and involved.
Really, I think the advantage working with IDW gives us is the staff. Great people, who really want to put great books out. We’re lucky to get to work with them.
After trying to draw an audience for your ongoing digital Amelia Cole work, how hard is it to shift gears and generate interest for the TPB at the same time? Or do you feel you are marketing to two different audiences (digital vs. traditional publishing)?
Knave: It has been fascinating. They are different, though with a lot of overlap. We have developed ways of thinking about press and PR stuff for the digital issues over the last year and change and some of those do carry over. But print has its own tricks as well.