In honor of the tenth anniversary of Adam Warren’s breakout hit Empowered, Dark Horse Comics today announced the next installments in the Empowered series: Empowered and the Soldier of Love and Empowered Volume 10.
Adam Warren (The Dirty Pair, Gen13) creates more adventures for his scantily-clad superheroine Emp while Karla Diaz (Cute Sins, Coffee Shop) applies her artistic skills to the Soldier of Love miniseries.
For those unfamiliar with the work -- and you can check it out in serialized form online here if you are -- Empowered is a series of black-and-white, manga-style graphic novels that promotional materials describe as "a sexy superhero comedy -- except when it's not." The story centers on Emp, a beautiful, often-insecure young superheroine who gets her powers from her (easily-destroyed) suit. Warren typically writes and draws Emp's adventures, but this time, has brought in Diaz to provide the art on Soldier of Love.
Empowered and the Soldier of Love finds Emp battling the International Magical Girl of Mystery. Emp’s new foe is using her unearthly powers to inflame the superhero community’s passions and create tension and problems among her fellow Superhomeys.
Warren and Diaz joined ComicBook.com to not only announce the project, but to tease a little bit about Empowered Volume 10 as well, and to provide a pretty in-depth commentary track on the forthcoming Soldier of Love miniseries.
Empowered and the Soldier of Love’s first issue (of three) goes on sale February 8, 2017. Empowered Volume 10 will be available in summer 2017.
Read on to learn more!
TEN YEARS IN
This isn't the first time Warren has recruited help -- but it's the first time that help has stuck around for so long. Instead of shorts or one-shots, Diaz will draw a whole miniseries, and Warren says there's more to come. As the series neared its tenth anniversary, Warren recounts, he started to think about how he could go bigger.
Warren: Well, since we’re nearing the ten-year anniversary of the first volume’s release, I felt that 2017 needed to see a fresh new supply of Empowered stories by both myself and other “Guest Artists” I’ve invited into Emp’s goofy little world. As you noted, though, I really did want to go “bigger” with the series, both in terms of the Empowered volumes I draw myself and the Empverse stories I write for other, usually better artists to draw.
I thought that all the excellent artists I collaborated with did great work with the previous one-shots that were collected in the Empowered Unchained trade paperback. Ultimately, though, I found the “one-and-done” nature of the single-issue stories a bit limiting and, creatively, not quite as fulfilling as I would have liked. So, for the next slate of Empowered “Guest Artist” projects that Soldier of Lovekicks off, I was eager to work in the more open-ended format of a miniseries for each installment, allowing the story and art far more room to breathe.
For the record, Soldier of Love is an old pitch of mine that was conceived independent of the Empowered universe, asking the question, “What happens to a Sailor-Moon-style ‘magical girl’ who discovers, as a disillusioned grown-up, that having unearthly ‘love powers’ isn’t quite as awesome as she thought it would be as a naive teenager?” More recently, I began to think that this concept could easily be integrated into the freewheeling “Empverse,” if only I could find an artist to draw it—and, after I encountered the energetic and entertaining webcomics work of writer/ artist Karla Diaz, I knew I’d found the perfect collaborator for the project.
AN EASIER SELL
Empowered has long challenged and lampooned the damsel-in-distress and scantily-clad heroine tropes that define so many mainstream comics. Does Warren think that, as the comics industry as a whole has become more diverse and socially-conscious, Empowered has become an easier sell?
Well, yes and no...!
Warren: Five or so years ago, Empowered was unsuccessfully pitched as a TV series. To be honest, I very likely escaped disaster thanks to that failure, as I suspect the TV version that was pitched would, if it hadbeen made, have gone so far afield from the comic as to be essentially unrecognizable. Ah, but at the time I was unquestionably carried away by the prospect of a TV adaptation, though not by greed as such—not that much money would’ve been involved for me, I should note. (No, really!) Rather, during a time when DC wasn’t doing much with Batgirl or Supergirl, and well before Marvel’s recent “superheroine renaissance,” I was entirely too thrilled by the prospect of my own arguably disrespected and disreputable superheroine potentially making strides where corporate-owned heroines seemed to make none.
Ah, but the state of contemporary superheroines is rather a different one than in the bygone era of 2007, with characters—and creators!—succeeding without the troublesome baggage inherent to poor Emp’s unsavory origins as a series of (semi-)subverted “damsel in distress” sketches. Then again, Empowered has enough strikes against it as a concept to begin with that it’s hard to say exactly which of them might have limited the series’ potential. A “sexy superhero comedy” series of B&W graphic novels drawn in a manga-influenced art style—arguably, too “manga”-y for the superhero crowd and too “superhero”-y for the manga crowd—isn’t exactly the ideal recipe to take the American comics field by storm. Good thing I relish taking on challenges with a severe degree of difficulty, huh? (Cut to close-up of me grinning widely but unconvincingly, while giving a hearty “thumbs-up.”)
Then again, let me now proceed to completely contradict what I just said. Your question used the term “easier sell” in a figurative sense, but in a more literal sense, Empowered really wasn’t all that tough of a sell when it debuted in 2007. In fact, our early volumes often ranked in the direct market’s top 10 in graphic-novel sales during their release months, an impressive feat that we’re certainly not able to pull off nowadays. Then again, graphic-novel sales made up a far more limited category with much less competition a decade ago. (Though, I should hasten to boast, Empowered usually tops the direct market’s manga sales charts on its release months, despite not technically being manga as such. Hey, I’m just glad the series can still top any chart, okay?)
As of Empowered vol. 9, we now get more orders for the series in the “book market” of bookstores, Amazon, etc. than in the direct market of comics retailers. That’s partly a good thing, as our orders forEmpowered have been trending nicely upward in the book market, but also a not-so-good thing, as Empowered orders in the direct market have been trending downward at the same time. The dreaded phenomenon of “standard attrition” that inexorably whittles away at the order numbers of “floppy”-format comics as a series progresses also applies, it seems, to volumes in a graphic-novel-based franchise like this one.
Part of the direct-market drop-off can, I think, be attributed to the sadly lengthening gap between volumes of the series. That’s an interesting difference I’ve noted, though—the book market doesn’t appear to care very much at all about the elapsed time between Empowered volumes, given that our sales have been trending upward in bookstores even as the orders have fallen off a bit in comics stores. In any event, Dark Horse and I are addressing this issue with veritable onslaught of Empowered material slated to be released in 2017, in the hopes of drumming up a bit more attention and interest about the ongoing series.
Okay, so besides what little we've already revealed, what, exactly is Empowered and the Soldier of Love about?
Warren: Well, here’s the first issue’s solicitation copy:
Love is tearing apart costumed crimefighter Empowered’s city, as the unearthly powers of an embittered “International Magical Girl of Mystery” covertly inflame the superheroic community’s burning passions. But even if a befuddled Emp can puzzle out her shadowy foe’s schemes, can she hope to prevail against… THE SOLDIER OF LOVE?
By the way, I should note that the Sailor-Moon-inspired “Soldier of Love” is referred to as an “international Magical Girl of Mystery” in the miniseries’ description because I wanted to take fuller advantage of working with a bilingual South American artist like Karla. (In fact, though I wasn’t able to prep the full image in time for this piece, the final version of issue #1’s cover is slated to feature the following comment from the character, under the main Empowered and the Soldier of Love logo: “Prefiero ‘Soldado del Amor.’”) Honestly, I think my body of work’s featured more Japanese, Chinese, and even ultra-localized Québécois French(!) than Spanish, which does seem like a bit of a linguistic missed opportunity.
Anyway, as the solicitation copy suggests, the miniseries pits Empowered—and her BFF Ninjette, who costars in the miniseries—against an embittered, disillusioned, mercenary “magical girl” who’s using her fearsome “love powers” to heat up and destabilize the superhero community. But why, might you ask? Who hired this magical merc? And does she possibly have a romantically apocalyptic endgame in mind, which might lead to a wildly, even Inception-ally twisted and over-the-top final act? Let’s find out in February, March and April of 2017, everyone! (Plus, one more bit of hype: The Soldier of Love’s mandatory “magical mascot critter” is the quite frankly adorable “Señor Pangolin,” and who doesn’t love seeing a floating, bright-pink, scaly anteater?)
Something I’ve only belatedly noticed about the Empowered universe is that, even after 2000-odd pages of story, we’ve rarely seen very much in the way of “soap-operatic” romantic shenanigans going on in the background of the series. The “foreground” relationships of, respectively, Emp and Thugboy and the ill-fated Sistah Spooky and Mindf**k have received plenty of narrative attention, but we’ve learned surprisingly little about what the heck is going on romantically and/or sexually in the wider superheroic community. Well, rest assured that you will learn more than you might necessarily want to know about who’s hooking up with whom in the Empverse during the course of Empowered and the Soldier of Love! The technical term “supraromantic churn” is coined to describe the overheated romantic activity depicted in the miniseries, as bizarre new superheroic pairings, couplings and, uh, “grouplings” turn the field upside down. (Or, to use the more informal fanfiction terminology, “Crack ship ahoy!”)
One complaint I occasionally heard from Empowered readers about the previous Guest Artist one-shots was that they didn’t deliver the same emotional range and impact as the full-length Empoweredvolumes—which, I admit, is a feat easier to pull off in the 200-odd pages of a trade paperback than the 30-odd pages of an individual issue. Ah, but don’t you worry, folks, as the three issues of Empowered and the Soldier of Love will deliver hearty helpings from all the figurative food groups of the Empowered experience, from goofy comedy and sexy shenanigans to an emotionally wrenching finale, as we find out that one of the story’s characters is heartbreakingly—pun unintended!—vulnerable to the Soldier’s love powers.
One thing I’m a little worried about, though, is that Empowered readers are occasionally a bit critical of the “Guest Artists” for, well, not being me. Dunno quite what to say about this, as I’m rarely—ornever, really—looking for artists who can ape my art style directly. I’m just seeking out artists whose styles and skills would suit a given story well, which I feel is very much the case with Karla and the Soldier of Lve’s story. Besides, would you rather have new Empowered “side stories” featuring work by talented comics artists handpicked by me and bringing new artistic perspectives to the series, or no new Empowered side stories, period? Because believe me, folks, I’m already drawing as much Empowered material myself as I can possibly handle; for better or worse, I would never have had the time to draw a story like The Soldier of Love.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
When you speak with somebody who's been working on the same project for years or decades -- as ComicBook.com does fairly regularly with writer/artist Erik Larsen for Savage Dragon -- the question of just what a creative process looks like is always an interesting one.
Add in the wrinkle that this is Warren's first time working with a collaborator on Empowered for more than an issue at a time, and you've got a potentially really interesting answer brewing.
Warren: As writer/ artist for most of my comics career, I still tend to think in visual terms even when only working as a writer, so I have to work up “thumbnail sketches” for an issue’s pages before I can write a script for them. So, I send these roughs along with the finished script to Karla, who then works up a quick pencil version of each page for my approval before proceeding on to inks and colors.
I’ve found it a really interesting experience—on several different occasions, now—to work with younger artists who bring a broader array of abilities to the table than I do. Given that they have to handle all the heavy lifting of comics production themselves, webcomic artists invariably have wider skill sets than most of us who work in the more specialized and limited roles of print comics. While I was particularly impressed with how fun and lively and expressive Karla’s character work was, I should note that type of drawing skill is at least vaguely relatable to something I’m capable of doing myself. Ah, but another thing I enjoyed about Karla’s art was her excellent color work, which is something that I most certainly cannot do myself, nor am I ever likely to. So, when I’m looking over the beautiful coloring she does on Soldier of Love’s story pages, I do feel a twinge of envy at Karla’s commendably broader portfolio of art skills.
A note, to accompany the in-progress images of Karla’s Soldier of Love pages: Some of her pages have “temp” word balloons on them, because early on, I was planning on having Karla letter the series herself as well. But, given the increasingly complicated lettering demands that the miniseries would’ve posed as it progressed, we decided that she should just focus on the artwork, which is a demanding enough task in itself.
EVEN MORE COMING
For the last few volumes, it's taken a year or more to get new Empowered out there into the world. With an artist on hand to take some of the production-time load off, though, it seems like a solid bet that Warren is moving much faster.
So might we see some other recognition of the ten-year mark beyond just a tenth book?
Warren: Karla’s Soldier of Love miniseries is just the first salvo in a barrage of Empowered material that’ll be hitting the shelves in 2017, as Dark Horse and I make a concerted effort to celebrate the series’ 10th anniversary. Next up will be the summer 2017 release of Empowered vol. 10, of which I'm currently drawing the final few pages. We can't yet talk about some of the other Emp material planned for later in the year, but rest assured that more is in the pipeline.
Further down the road, I’m planning a longer and even more ambitious Empowered Guest Artist miniseries after Empowered and The Soldier of Love runs its course. As off-the-wall, over-the-top and just plain “trippy” as Soldier of Love grows in its final act—which I’ve described as “Inception but with love instead of dreams, and the craziness meter cranked much higher”—this upcoming miniseries will take even bigger and bolder steps into “out-there” territory. (A hint for Empowered readers: Sistah Spooky and a certain hellishly blonde high school are involved.)
One more thing, before I forget: Empowered is currently being serialized as a webcomic over at empoweredcomic.com, starting off here with the first page of Empowered vol.1. Note that each and every page of the webcomic version boasts extensive—if not exhaustive!—creator commentary. Even more shocking, the site boasts a Store link with the very first few pieces of Empowered merchandise ever made—a series of 12” X 18” prints including the covers from the Empowered Deluxe collections! Check it out!
A VOICE AND A STYLE
Warren has done a lot of talking up to now, so let's turn our eye on artist Karla Diaz. Jumping on board a long-running property like Empowered as a "guest artist" has its own challenges: how do you express yourself artistically? How do you do so while remaining true to the look and feel of Warren's world?
Taking on another artist’s characters and working out your own creative interpretation of them without feeling stifled by the existing material can be both stifling, and an interesting change of pace for a creator who normally writes and draws their own original stories.
Diaz: Well, I think I was so excited and worried about doing things right, that I never really thought about that! I only felt that this opportunity was wonderful and that Adam must be sick of me telling him so many times already, “Thanks for the chance!”
But yes, it was very challenging, trying to keep the Empowered vibe while at the same time trying to do things my own way artistically. And now, thinking about it, I believe Empowered was a perfect comic for me to work on, because I really love the sense of humor Adam puts in his scripts along with tons of action and sexiness, and the characters are very expressive to work with. So, kudos for Adam for having such a good eye on finding an artist who could fit in. Also, I felt really honored he trusted me to work on Empowered. When he emailed me with the proposal, I was thinking, "IS THIS REAL?"
WHO IS KARLA DIAZ?
Where did Diaz come from, and where else can you find her work if you like Soldier of Love -- or if you're just an Empowered fan who wants to see what kind of style you're in for ahead of its February release?
Diaz: I’m from Santiago, Chile, and I’ve been writing and drawing my own webcomics for about two years now, while also working as a freelance illustrator. I mainly chose this path because I wanted to have the freedom to tell my own stories the way I wanted, and webcomics have been the perfect place to do just that.
Three of my webcomic series are currently available online. The first one is Coffee Shop, which is a now-completed story that tells the tale of a romantically troubled boy and the very special coffee shop where he finds love. I self-published it here in Chile entirely on my own, and will soon be publishing an English-language version as well. You can read it online here.
My second series is CuteSins, which tells the story of the Seven Deadly Sins incarnated as cute girls and sent to Earth to cause disaster and mayhem, but find themselves unable to cope with an already sinful humanity! I wanted to try out the Korean digital-comic format of Webtoon, so the series is rendered in full color and designed made to be read online. You can read it here.
And the third series I have online is NON-NON, a very light and fun romantic comedy about a suspicious girl, who's endlessly worried about being taken advantage of by boys, and a serious young man who is focused only on his school studies. Yet as the two sit across from each other at an urban park while seemingly ignoring each other, in their fertile imaginations they become deeply invested in each other's lives and enjoy increasingly romantic encounters. You can read the ongoing series here.
I also have a Patreon account, as a means of both funding my work and sharing special content with my readers.
I hope you have the chance to read my stories and have fun with them!