Empress #1, the newest Millarworld series, premieres this week at comic stores everywhere and on digital platforms like Comixology. It tells the story of Emporia the wife of a high-tech dictator in Earth's ancient past who's fleeing her husband in order to protect their children and escape the violence of his reign. We've had a chance to take a look at the first two issues and they are a splendid combination of a new, beautifully presented science fiction universe, stunning action sequences, and compelling family drama striking at universal themes. That's no surprise coming from this creative team though.
Every person contributing to Empress is a modern comics all-star, and we had the opportunity to speak to each of them at ComicBook.Com. Follow along as we ask 10 questions to everyone who helped make this stunning new debut what it was, finding out how it came to be and what to expect next.
Rachael Fulton and Nicole Boose - Editors
1. Would you mind describing your roles as Millarworld editors and what your place on the Empress team is?
Rachael Fulton: For Empress One and Two I've been supporting the work of Nicole as associate editor and from Empress Three onwards I will be editing the series solo. It's an incredible project to be cutting my Millarworld teeth on and I've been fortunate enough to be surrounded by some of the most talented people in the business as I take over the series.
My job is to edit Mark's scripts, checking for spelling (changing to Americanisms mostly) and continuity and then liaise with artists, inkers, colourists, designers, lawyers and publishers to make these wonderful books come into being. This involves setting deadlines, checking for continuity, performing a scheduling balancing act and putting everything in place to deliver the finished book to the publisher. There's some social media and running competitions in there too, and I do it from Mark's Glasgow office.
Nicole Boose: Dang, I just spent weeks preparing a public talk about the editor's role in today's comic industry, and Rachael nailed it in one paragraph! You're gonna do great, Rach.
What an editor does might vary from one project to the next, but on Empress as with most of Mark's books, we're mainly acting as project managers. So we coordinate the logistical parts, as Rachael explained, and we also have the opportunity to review and weigh in on the content. With the Empress creative team, it's a delight because everyone is performing at the absolute top of their game.
2. At what point did you both come into the project? Was Empress only in its brainstorming phase or were the initial scripts already complete?
Fulton: All of the books are written far in advance, so most of the series was sitting waiting to be transformed into artwork when I arrived.
Boose: Mark is a very mysterious man. He does a lot of his writing in seclusion until a full series springs from his head fully-formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus. Only more godlike
3. What has the experience been like seeing the Empress creative team come together and see what everyone brings to the table?
Fulton: Honestly fascinating. It's quite strange seeing a comic at its most stripped back, when it's just letters on a page. No matter where your imagination is taken by the words on the paper, the artist will often interpret it entirely differently. At no point do you think 'Hey, that's not how I imagined it, it should be this way' you think 'That's incredible (s)he saw that in his mind's eye, when I saw something else.' The fact that an artist and writer can work on collectively creating a universe like this together is just spectacular, it's genuinely wonderful to watch it all unfold.
There's a lot of mutual respect involved. Mark explains his ideas and Stuart knocks the artwork out the park, basically. Wade and Ive are such crucial parts of the puzzle in the next stages of the process. Wade is super efficient and does such a brilliant job inking, and when I get Ive's coloured pages in to my inbox my imagination goes into overdrive. I want to climb into the pages and run around, as insane as that seems, but you will understand when you see the books. As for Pete the designer, he's my hero. He's awesome at the design and lettering but also at tweaking anything that needs fixed before everything's sent away. Nicole is so knowledgable and zen and has been so great at showing me the ropes, it's just a fantastic creative team.
That's very kind! To Rachael's first point, there was a scene in one issue where Stuart handed in his pencils and I thought, "that place looks so familiar, where have I seen it before?" until I realized that I recognized it from the mental picture I'd formed while reading the script. That was heady stuff, seeing how powerfully words can evoke physical images, and how physical images can create worlds.
I've been fortunate to have worked with some brilliant artists, and been able to learn from their talent. Even so, the Empress team is an obscenely smart, meticulous group, with each person operating at peak performance. Every team member is putting their absolute best into this book. So it's keeping me on my toes as an editor, making sure that I'm doing justice to the creative team's efforts by supporting them, coordinating efforts, and keeping an eye on detail at every turn. You absorb so much about storytelling just by witnessing the thought process that goes into each creative decision. It's been fascinating to watch, and an ongoing learning experience.
4. As editors you have your eyes on all of the unique aspects of the work from scripts to inking to the finished design. How do you go about managing all of those different spinning plates?
Fulton: It's great teamwork on everyone's part really and being in constant contact with people (those I'm pestering through email might say otherwise!) Also I'm a fan of colourful spreadsheets. Nicole has this incredible eye for continuity when it comes to panels and I can only hope I can emulate it in future.
Boose: That's a very generous compliment, because honestly I always worry that I'll miss something! I do my best to keep an eye on continuity and so does Rachael, but as a team, we're all interdependent. Stuart is the king of detail, so we count on him to know every stripe and chevron on the characters' costumes, for example. This team is especially good with communication, with everyone offering insightful contributions, while also being receptive to others' expertise. Rachael and I provide the backbone by facilitating these exchanges – and of course by using our firm but gentle deadline whip-cracking, our ornate calendars, and our glorious, glorious spreadsheets.
5. Working with all of these different elements also means you have to have an understanding of the complete comics process too. What lessons has working on Empress taught you?
Fulton: Really everything, as this is the first comic book series launch I've been involved with. This is also the only Marvel book we've done so far this year, and there are lots of differences between Marvel and Image to get your head around at first.
Boose: I've been editing comics for a long time, but one thing that Empress has really hammered home is the importance of staying on top of communication and anticipating the team's needs before they come up. Normally, I try to stay a step or two ahead in the comic production process; with these guys, I feel pretty pleased with myself just for keeping up.
6. By that same virtue of each collaboration being unique and a learning process, how have you seen and helped the creative team of Empress improve their game as well?
Fulton: Haha! I couldn't possibly comment. That's for the others to say. I just try to be polite and supportive while also getting my job done. I'm learning a lot from everyone. I sent Ive a GIF of Rocky Balboa when I hit him with a difficult deadline...does that count?
Boose: Being from Philadelphia, I'm embarrassed that Rachael thought of the Rocky GIF first. Other than that… I also try to provide the structure and support that the creative team needs in order to do their best work. Then I try to step back and let them do it.
7. You're also both involved with the marketing for the comic (having been very helpful in setting up this series). What are the biggest challenges in pushing a brand new comic with original characters and ideas?
Fulton: I think as much as people are attached to their favourite characters or books from childhood, or perhaps became particularly taken by certain comics as adults, people also love to be surprised and entertained. Empress is knock-out in those terms: we've got a feisty female lead, a human story people can relate to and an action-packed journey through space populated by an array of aliens. With Mark and Stuart as the creators and such fantastic material, fans are onboard from the get-go. We're up against huge, established titles but not doing too shabby so far. I think Empress appeals to new and old audiences, really.
Boose: The marketing is mostly coming from Millarworld's secret Glasgow headquarters, so on this particular subject I defer to them. But as a reader, you had me at "female-driven space opera action-adventure created by industry's top talent," and I don't think I'm alone in that. Challenge-wise, I think I'd just want to reassure people that this is different from Star Wars, but I'd humbly submit that it is no less awesome.
8. Now that Empress is debuting does your roles as editor on the comic shift, and what kind of new challenges does going to print bring?
Fulton: Nope nope, before Empress One is away to the printer, Empress 2 is well underway. We're currently sitting with Empress Three ready to be coloured and Empress 4 almost complete. Plus we're still working on all the other comics we're publishing. I will continue to push Empress chat online, engage with readers and find out what they think. The only difference is I'll finally be able to hold the comic in my hands.
Boose: It's true it's all happening at once, but there's a different focus and a different set of tasks involved in getting a series ready to debut, versus maintaining it once it's in print. Now instead of laying the groundwork with design, scheduling, and coordinating with the publisher, we can take a deep breath and focus on a) getting to the reader at the best quality possible and b) keeping those proverbial trains running on time.
9. Having had a chance to see Empress evolve from idea to finished comic, what are you most excited about seeing people respond to when Empress #1 launches this week?
Fulton: I'm excited about so much! I'm excited about the idea that people will be picking copies off shelves, turning pages and seeing everything the gang have put together over the last few months. I'm excited that people will be in a place to give an opinion on something I've been gabbering on about for weeks, that they'll be able to tell me that they love it too. I'm also excited to see how women react to it in particular, because Emporia and Aine are really fascinating characters - they are complex and powerful, caught up in a very relatable story.
Boose: I'm excited that this features a grown woman – a mother, no less – in a substantive, action-driven role, and I think audiences are hungry for that. I'm excited to see the response to the incredible quality of artwork from Stuart, Wade, Ive, Peter, and our many (many!) talented variant cover artists. Audiences are going to have to build a new vocabulary to describe this.
10. Would either of you mind sharing one particular incident or event in the creation of Empress where you had an impact that readers might not notice otherwise?
Fulton: Mmmm, I once accidentally initiated a 'who looks most like Dane' contest among the team. Dane's on the front cover, holding the gun. Stuart won and Mark entered a picture of Ryan Gosling so was automatically disqualified. OK, that's not 'impact' per say. Team morale though, right? ;) I also helped design the back pages with Pete, they are brand new as of 2016.
Boose: I do try to make sure the entire creative team gets credited in whatever publicity I have a hand in. But in general, this whole group is so good at self-regulating content, my most visible contributions are things like, "I pointed out a missing 'the' on page 12!" or "I helped make sure that Peter had the production specs in time to size the pages correctly for print!" The glamorous life of a comic book editor, folks!
Empress is available April 6, 2016 from physical and digital retailers of comics.
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