Greetings comic fans! Today we’ve got a nice surprise in store just for you. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Markisan Naso and Jason Muhr, the creators of Action Lab’s Voracious and the upcoming Voracious: Feeding Time, and they had a whole lot to say! So take a seat, put on a pair of your favorite dinosaur-leather cowboy boots, and let’s get started!
AP2HYC: Give us a little background on Nate Willner and the story of Voracious so far.
Naso: Sure. Voracious is about a New York City chef named Nate Willner who moves back to his hometown of Blackfossil, Utah after his restaurant explodes and kills his sister, Sara. He’s living with his eccentric Grandma Maribel. He’s lost his passion for cooking and his life has pretty much become a dead end. Then one day he unexpectedly inherits a mysterious house that’s built into the side of a mountain and a time travel suit that can take him to the age of the dinosaurs.
During his first trip he has to kill a dino to survive. He ends up eating it and it’s the best meal he’s ever tasted, so he decides to open a restaurant in the present that secretly serves dinosaur meat.
Our series is really about Nate learning to deal with tragedy and becoming a stronger person despite all the hurt he’s endured. It just so happens that the catalyst for turning his life around is Pterodactyl barbecue.
AP2HYC: This book contains many unique elements. What were some of the inspirations in creating the world of Voracious?
Naso: I guess my biggest inspiration for Voracious came from my love of sandwiches! A while back I was at a party and a friend asked me the question “If I could have any superpower what would it be?” I told her I’d choose the power to manipulate time and space. Then I told her the first thing I’d do with my power would be to go back in time and make a dinosaur sandwich. We laughed about that, but I ended up jotting it down. Years later I found “Dinosaur Sandwich” in a notebook and realized I could write a comic based on the concept.
Beyond that there are just so many odd things that influenced the ideas, places and characters in the book. For example, I decided the story should take place in Utah because I’ve never seen a comic set out there. It’s also a hotbed for fossils and my wife and I adore vacationing in the Southwest. Putting the book in Utah also gave me the idea to make the main character Native American because I enjoy visiting the pueblos and learning about native culture. I also wanted most of the main characters to be people of color who didn’t really fit stereotypes. As far as I know Voracious is the only piece of fiction that stars a Native American lead in a sci-fi action dramedy about cooking.
Obviously we needed a way for Nate to go to the Cretaceous, but coming up with a unique method of time travel can be a challenge because it’s already been presented in so many different ways. Over lunch one day, my wife and I spontaneously started talking about diving and that turned into a discussion on modeling the Voracious time travel suit on old, deep sea dive gear that had to be immersed in water to work. I also wanted the time travel to be limited. Nate can only dive to the Cretaceous and back. He can’t go wherever he wants like Doctor Who.
It’s probably no surprise that I’ve been fascinated with dinosaurs since I was a kid. My parents bought me a library of books about them and I committed their names and features to memory. For a long time I wanted to be a paleontologist too, so putting them in a story had been on my mind for a while. Today I am greatly influenced by science which says dinosaurs had feathers and brightly colored patterns, so that’s the initial direction I gave to Jason and Andrei Tabacaru. I wanted the dinosaurs to look like nothing else we’ve seen in film or comics, and they really delivered on that. Jason and I both do a lot of research to make sure all our dinosaurs actually lived in the American Southwest during the Cretaceous period, which is pretty unique…I can go on and on with this Rob. I think you made a mistake asking this one…
AP2HYC: The dinosaurs in Voracious look absolutely incredible. Jason, was this something you had to improve upon specifically for this book?
Muhr: Thanks! Like most kids, I’ve been drawing dinosaurs as long as I can remember, but I definitely wanted to up my game for this book. If the dinosaurs didn’t look right, the book wouldn’t really work. Before I draw any species of dinosaur called for in a script I spend a lot of time on Google seeing different interpretations of it – drawings, 3D models, fossils, movies, etc. Since we don’t have any photographs of them, you can really put your own spin on a dinosaur and not be incorrect. I try to do something unique with each one, adding feathers and quills, and varying the skin textures. And of course Andrei works his magic on the colors. We really wanted to introduce colors and patterns typically associated with birds, which would make sense on dinosaurs given what we know now.
AP2HYC: Tell us a bit about the collaborative process between the two of you and Andrei.
Naso: Voracious is a very collaborative effort. I think we probably make comics a little bit differently than most creative teams because Jason and I are buddies and we live in the same area. I brought him the initial idea, the overall outline for the story and a bunch of design thoughts, but during that first meeting we decided to be co-creators, equally involved in shaping the book.
Before we even started working on the actual issues Jason and I spent a lot of lunches coming up with character and location designs, and just talking about the whole series. Once we did all that prep work I started writing scripts. When I finish a script I send it to Jason and he can make any suggestions he wants. I take all his comments to heart and then I’ll revise the script if I think it needs changes. It’s the same process for the art. I don’t always make the changes Jason suggests and he doesn’t always re-work the art based on my comments, but we always listen to one another and really consider what will work best for each issue.
Muhr: Once we like the script, I’ll start thumbnailing the book, and then I share it with Markisan to see if that’s how he envisioned it. If we both like it, I start on the pages and post them to a shared folder as I go. Markisan will call out anything that looks odd with a page, or if I missed a detail in the script. Then the pages get sent to our colorist Andrei. Markisan usually puts color notes in the script if he has something in mind. The rest of the color direction comes from me, but as we are getting farther along in the series, Andrei pretty much knows what we’re looking for without us even suggesting anything. He has really great color instincts. After that, I’ll letter the book and Markisan will usually make dialogue changes after seeing the words matched with the art. We work really far in advance, so there is a lot of time to pass the book back and forth and get it just right.
AP2HYC: Jason, as an artist what is your favorite thing about working on a unique book such as this?
Muhr: Variety, for sure. One day I’m drawing average, everyday small town America and then crazy, sci-fi, futuristic laboratories the next. So when I’m getting a little tired of humans having a conversation, the next scene will be a dinosaur getting chopped up with a meat cleaver. And when drawing detailed dinosaur scales gets to be too much, it’s nice to return to people faces again.
I really love drawing characters acting. When I can capture an emotion without needing the words to dictate what’s happening in a scene, I’m really proud. Lately, getting a full range of emotions to come across on the dino-people featured in the second miniseries is a new challenge.
AP2HYC: What kind of impact will the revelation at the end of issue 4 have on the series going forward, without giving too much away?
Naso: It has a huge impact moving forward because it really changes the direction of the series. The challenges of the dinosaur hunts and running a restaurant quickly takes a back seat to the exploration of the consequenecs we revealed at the end of issue 4. The first issue of Voracious: Feeding Time features only new characters, so readers will be immersed in a whole different place and get a new perspective on Nate and Jim’s time dives to the Cretaceous. We’ll get back to our original characters in issue 2 as we start to tie the stories together.
Muhr: From the start we always knew the book had two hooks: serving dinosaur meat in a restaurant, and the revelation at the end of the first miniseries. We’ve been really excited to finally get to play in the world of this new paradigm, and we can’t wait to show it to readers. The scope of the book grows so much larger in the second miniseries.
AP2HYC: We’ve started to learn a bit more about the mysteries surrounding Maribel, Uncle Tony and their past. How will this come into play in the new series?
Naso: Readers will get more about Maribel and Tony, but not until issue 5. You’ll actually see how they met and began their relationship.
AP2HYC: The Kickstarter for Feeding Time has been a smashing success. Does this mean we will be getting lots more Voracious in the future?
Naso: Oh man, we are really surprised by the response to the Kickstarter. We can’t believe we hit our goal in seven days. We are very, very grateful to all our backers for supporting Voracious: Feeding Time.
However, the Kickstarter success doesn’t automatically translate into lots more Voracious. When the campaign ends we might earn enough to break even on Feeding Time. We set our goal below our actual production cost. We were just hoping to cut down on some of those expenses when we started. But now, all of the sudden we’re funded and the pledges are still coming in with 20 days left, so it’s possible we’ll earn enough to cover our second series. That would be fantastic. If we make more than we need, that money will go right into volume 3.
The main Voracious story was designed to be about 15 issues, so we have one more miniseries to go after Feeding Time to tell the story the way we envisioned it. Jason and I are committed to finishing our story but the fate of series three ultimately rests with the comic shop order numbers for Voracious: Feeding Time. If it does as well as the first series then we should get the green light from Action Lab for the final arc.
Beyond that I have a few ideas for spinoff series starring characters from Voracious. It would be great to do those down the road, so we’ll see.
AP2HYC: What types of ideas are you playing with for future stories, without spoiling anything?
Naso: As I mentioned earlier, we get to see the terrible effects of Nate and Jim’s hunts in the Cretaceous. With time travel there are always consequences. Without spoiling anything we dial up the sci-fi in Voracious by 150% and we’ll be playing around with all new locations, characters and concepts that readers probably didn’t expect when they started reading the series. That said, the themes we started exploring in volume 1 will continue.
A lot of our first series has to do with eating, so you’ll see a motif play out in a different way over the next five issues. The title Voracious will really matter. We also continue to explore the concept of loss and grief, and how our characters handle it in different ways. That theme will be present all the way to the end of the series. For our new characters, the losses they experience are more immediate and more palpable than those Nate and company have been dealing with. I think that intensity comes across pretty strongly in volume 2.
Muhr: The start of our story in volume 2 literally is a different world, so it might shock readers at first. But quickly you’ll see how the stories come together, and that the same craziness of volume 1 is there, just turned up to 11.
AP2HYC: Has anyone told you whether they’ve tried some of the recipes from the backs of the issues of Voracious?
Naso: Yes! We’ve received a bunch of letters and messages from people who have tried the recipes and enjoyed them. We’ve even received photos of how the dishes turned out. It’s really cool. Jason and I are amazed and humbled by all the readers who have been interested enough in our book to cook a dish we feature. Oh, and I have to give a special shout out to Voracious fan Katie Schneller Schell who not only cooked the dishes in the backs of our issues, but made action figures and created a functional Voracious “Happy Meal” box that artist Jeffrey Veregge came up with for our third issue variant cover!
What do you say when someone you don’t even know does something like that just because she loves your creation? Thank you doesn’t seem like enough.
Muhr: A friend of ours also spotted a Voracious cosplayer recently. We don’t know his identity, but if you’re our mystery man, please contact us!
AP2HYC: What and who are some of your biggest influences as creators?
Muhr: There’s a ton of artists I love, whose style might look very different from my own, but have all shaped me in some way. Art Adams and Erik Larsen were my first artistic loves. Their work is so dynamic. Joe Madureira too. I adore the body language and acting of J. Scott Campbell. He can really tell a whole story in one scene. I love the line quality of Gary Frank, Frank Cho and Olivier Coipel. I spend twice as long reading their stuff because I just study every detail. Davi Marquez is a huge influence as well. He works digitally like me, and I love seeing the way he experiments with textures and line qualities, and really using the digital medium to its full potential. I met him last year and it’s really great to be able to talk techniques with him.
Naso: My all-time favorite, I heart him forever creator is Peter David. I think he’s one of the smartest and most versatile writers, not just in comics, but in any literary medium. He’s written some of my favorite long runs in comics like The Incredible Hulk, Aquaman, Supergirl, X-Factor, Captain Marvel and Fallen Angel; he writes a ton of great novels for all ages, scripts for TV shows and films…you name it and he can kick its ass. And he’s been doing that consistently since the 80s, which is remarkable. His writing style had a huge influence on my own because I grew up with his stories, which often blend humor, action and heart effortlessly. He makes me care about the characters he writes, makes me laugh and always makes me want to read the next issue. When I sat down to write Voracious for the first time that PAD cocktail was something I wanted to pour into the story. Of course I can’t do it anywhere near as well as he does, but I do my best.
I love so many writers like Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Joe Casey, Frank Miller…but I’d say Mark Millar‘s work is probably the second biggest influence on me. I love every comic he’s ever written from Saviour to Superman Adventures to Jupiter’s Legacy. I really dig his characters and snappy dialogue, but most of all I’m a huge fan of the way he structures books. I just like the pacing and the clarity of his storytelling. He never writes long, 60 issue series. He trims out all the fat. He streamlines. The pacing in Voracious is partly inspired by that approach to storytelling. It could be a 60 issue series but I wanted it to move a lot faster. So I skip things like “how did Nate set up his new diner and make renovations?”
AP2HYC: What are some of your all time favorite comics?
Muhr: I really loved Larsen’s early Savage Dragon. He told such a great superhero story that evolved with time. I know he heavily inspired Robert Kirkman on Invincible, which is my favorite book on the shelves right now. I’m heartbroken it’s ending next year. I discovered James Robinson‘s Starman only about 8 years ago, and it made me angry I dismissed it in my ignorant, comic reading younger days. It’s all about life changes and growing up, and I began reading it while I was experiencing a life change, so it really had a profound effect on me. I feel like Craig Thompson‘s Blankets falls into that category too. I love books that have great world building, like Locke and Key, Astro City and Lazarus. Everything about those feels so meticulously thought out. Waid and Samnee‘s Daredevil was incredible. I’ll read anything by Geoff Johns, Jason Aaron, Brian K. Vaughn and Joshua Williamson, so you can throw out all their books, past and present, into my all-time favorites. Mark Millar‘s on fire lately. He claimed Jupiter’s Legacy/Circle was his Watchmen and I agree. It’s not over yet, but it’s already an all-time favorite. Also, I’m a Spider-Man fan until I die, so any number of runs fall into my favorites category.
I feel like most comic fans have been readers for life and can usually remember the first time they read something that impacted them; where they bought it, where they read it, what they were going through at the time. To me, a comic collection that spans years is really a personal time capsule.
Naso: Man, you really want me to keep talking…I mentioned Peter David’s Incredible Hulk. That’s a huge favorite of mine. Chris Claremont‘s X-Men is essential to my childhood and Ann Nocenti‘s Daredevil run is largely responsible for making me fall in love with comics. I just had her complete run bound in two, foil-stamped leather hardcovers. Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude is a book I’ve read over and over again since the eighties and it’s probably my favorite series of all time. Alien Legion, Usagi Yojimbo, early TMNT, Blade of the Immortal, Lone Wolf and Cub. Matt Wagner comics are a must for me, especially Grendel and Mage. Anything by Frank Miller. Ed Brubaker and Mark Waid‘s Captain America runs. Priest‘s Black Panther. Nightwing by Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel. I adore Robert Kirkman’s work, especially Invincible, which is also my favorite series going on right now and I hate that it’s coming to and end. Oh, and I recently told my wife that when I die I need to be placed atop a funeral boat and set on fire with my Mighty Thor Omnibus and at least one volume of Ragnarok by Walt Simonson tucked lovingly in my arms.
I’d also say that Hellblazer, Preacher, Transmetropolitan, Hitman, Planetary, The Authority and Cerebus are really high on my list because I discovered them 20 years ago when I made friends with a group of punk rock, comic kids in Syracuse, NY. Every Tuesday night we’d meet up at a bar downtown, get hammered, cause mischief and talk comics until 3:00am. Those books in particular were always discussed and fawned over because they were like nothing else we’d read before. Looking back they are all smartly written epics that featured badass characters who would wise crack and then punch out your spleen. They really spoke to us because we were angsty kids in our very early twenties who enjoyed breaking things. Man, I really need to write a character like that. Maybe I’ll even call her Spleen Puncher.
AP2HYC: Thanks guys!