Blue Delliquanti Brings Us “Across a Field of Starlight”

By | March 15th, 2022
Posted in Interviews | % Comments

Blue Delliquanti, creator of the webcomic “O Human Star” and the illustrator on the graphic novel “Meal,” is no stranger to Multiversity. But they’re not here to talk about that…or, not primarily about that. They’re here to talk about “Across a Field of Starlight,” their new OGN from Random House Graphic, which is full of all the great Sci-fi concepts, philosophical quandaries, and quiet, loud, and queer relationship drama you could ask for. We talked inspirations, process, webcomics, adult graphic novels, and Wife City.

Wanna know more? Read on and thank you so much to Blue for taking the time to chat.

How did “Across a Field of Starlight” come about? What was the pitching process like with a fairly established publisher?

Blue Delliquanti: Let me think. In terms of the timeline when it started Random House Graphic (RHG,) the imprint that published it, was relatively new. I think they had just started out. I had been familiar with the imprint runner for a few years through talking to her at conventions and stuff – this is Gina Gagliano. She and I had been friendly at conventions and we’d talk to each other for a while. I believe I had met my soon to be editor, Whitney Leopard, at conventions as well.

So when I heard about RHG coming together, they got in touch with me and were like “hey if you ever want to pitch something, let me know. What you tend to do might be a good fit, if you’re interested in writing YA or Middle-Grade.” I went OK. I had had some ideas for a space opera type story. I had an idea for how to have it star teenage protagonists, so I pitched it to them, they seemed interested in the premise, and I ended up actually getting an interesting creative inspiration from something Gina had recommended to me. She’s a really prolific reader and she and I have some favorite authors in common; one of them is Urusla K. LeGuin, which is a big influence of mine.

Gina had read this essay that I was not familiar with that was about the concept of Utopia, especially when it comes to how it’s presented in Science Fiction. That ended up being really interesting. The way she had written it was very unique and I had ended up taking some inspiration from that. At that point I was like, “Well, I really should pitch it to Gina. I kinda owe her one for this.”

Did she love it right away or did you go straight into workshopping it? Or were there a few steps in-between that are a bit more crunchy on the technical end?

BD: I would say that for this book it was pretty straightforward. They were interested in the premise, they were interested in the characters that I had presented in the pitch which remained fairly unchanged throughout that process. I think most of it was sorting out the length and that was something I was still getting experience with in how long things should be to tell them in the way I want to tell them.

I have what I would say is a fairly decompressed style. I don’t have a lot of text jammed onto a page; I try not to have a lot of action onto a page. I like having moments of silence or beats for people to absorb information or what just happened. The consequence of that is I tend to low-ball page count estimates when it should be higher. I think I initially pitched it as a 250-page book and the ending thing is, like, 350.

So that was something where my editor just said: “So, I’m going to go and tack a few more pages onto that. I think you’ll need it.” And I appreciate it now. I think I have a little more experience evaluating realistically how many pages that will be when I outline. That’s kinda what editors are helpful with. Aside from the obvious stuff. That’s a skill to have and be prepared to talk with your artists about.

Do you think your decompressed style is from all those years doing webcomics?

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BD: Yeah, I would say that was definitely the case because I had gotten into a habit of…you know, I wasn’t responsible for an editor with “O Human Star.” There wasn’t any set chapter length that I had to make sure I was hitting or not exceeding. Basically, when I printed them, I would self-print them. I mostly determined the length of the chapters by how long felt correct.

I also have this background in reading manga where I feel like that’s more common, or at least the lengths are more generous on a chapter by chapter basis. I feel like in the graphic novel world, there is also more interest and tolerance for that as well. It does mean you have to draw more which is always more time and more work.

What was the process of creating this? When I’ve talked to other webcomics artists who are now doing work for an imprint, they said that their processes changed because the expectations are a little different. Was that the same for Random House?

BD: In terms of process, I would say most of the leg work I got into the habit of doing for myself, which is to say writing full outlines so I got a sense of the story structure. That’s something that’s expected if you’re pitching a graphic novel: you have to know your entire story beginning to end. You have to be prepared to deliver at least a comprehensive outline and you have to get a sense of who your characters are. So that was something I already had experience for myself cause it helps me write.

In terms of differences in the process, the big ones were mostly in terms of what happened in what order. With “O Human Star,” I had this story skeleton that I’d always worked with since I started the comic but I would approach each chapter on its own. I would fully draft a chapter and then I could get into penciling the first page, inking the first page, coloring the first page. Then I would post online and do the same with the rest. I would have the script for that full chapter but nothing beyond.

The difference with graphic novels is I would have to draft out the entire script. I could do it in chunks so that my editor could look at the first chunk while I worked on the next but that had to be all ready to go before I could approach the penciling stage. That all had to be signed off.

And there are benefits to that. It helps you make sure threads aren’t being dropped or if I’m having trouble with what order certain scenes are going in, Whit can make suggestions in that way. The one exception to that was she did make some flexibility for some small scene additions right at the end, when I was inking and coloring. We’re talking, like, 10 page-ish, but that was nice. I was able to plead my case for why I thought it was important and as long as I did it before everything was super set in stone, it wouldn’t mess with the behind the scenes people who are in charge of getting the information to the libraries and stuff how many pages the thing would be.

But yeah, I would basically do each step of the process for the entire book as a whole as opposed to how webcomics would work. And I could kinda do the pages in whatever order I wanted. I could work on a page from chapter 7 and then hop back to chapter 2, so in that way my art also remained more consistent, which is nice.

Did you find this method more freeing than when you were working on “O Human Star?” Like, the ability to, at least in the early stages, make those kinds of changes across the entirety of the work instead of being trapped in making what’s going on now fit what happened before.

BD: There are definitely drawbacks and benefits to both things. As you say, the benefit of being able to consider the piece as a whole and make sure you’re thinking about stuff at the beginning that gets resolved by the end and being able to look at a whole project over the course of two and a half years as opposed to eight, that’s definitely a positive in my book.

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Oddly enough, the drawback I wasn’t expecting is the instant feedback you get from posting a new page. There’s like a squirt of dopamine that gets into my brain every time I post a page and I instantly get feedback, you know for better or for worse, and that was just something that is not there in the graphic novel process because you’ll finish the book and then no one will see it except your editor for like nine months. Even when I had working with Iron Circus Comics – for “Meal,” my last graphic novel before this – they’re a smaller press so their timeline is just shorter.

I had not had that experience of that waiting game and by the end I was really stressing over whether anyone would like this book at all because by then I had totally mentally moved on from it, like I had to? So it’s been really interesting since the book came out seeing what people actually think of it.
I can imagine. It must have been both very nice and terrifying.

BD: Absolutely, yes.

Would you ever go back into webcomics after having this experience?

BD: I would, yeah. It’s actually something I’ve thought about. This is an iteration of a conversation I’ve had with several people over the last couple of years. Since I’ve gotten more into teaching comics classes and explaining to people who haven’t done comics as long as I have what the internet used to be like – which is a very cantankerous thing to say – but I feel like even in the last decade the infrastructure of the internet has changed substantially and the way artists share their work has changed substantially.

When I think about the kind of things I feel like I don’t get to experience anymore, that gives me some ideas for more experimental webcomics where it’s not just about the content, as much as I hate that word, it’s about the experience of where you read it and the site that you go to and the way that you experience it.

I would say the most interesting online comic experiences I’ve had in the last couple years, the one that stands out right away is, have you read Jon Bois’ “17776?” I would call it a webcomic. It’s borderline but I would consider it a webcomic. It’s basically: this guy is a writer for SB Nation, and he did as a side-project, a mixed-media narrative about sentient space satellites in the distant future talking about humanity and sports. It’s on its own site and you perceive the story in such a way that you go to the website to experience the thing, which is something I feel like I haven’t gotten to do in a while.

It would be really fun to approach webcomics again with that intention. That’s kinda like I’d have to do on the side. For now, graphic novels are the thing that are paying work. It’s good and it’s fun. I like graphic novels very much but at the same time, I think about other ways I could do webcomics as a side project ‘cause that could be fun too.

Do you currenly have any plans that you can talk about?

BD: Most of what I have are either being considered or in the works but what I can say is I have a project and my intention is to be an exhibitor at the Shortbox comics fair this fall.

Oh that’s really exciting.

BD: I’m super excited about that and some of the other folks exhibiting work digitally this year are very talented. I’ve been planning out what I think my comic for that will be. It’s early on enough that I don’t want to say too much but I do have an idea for it that I think would be really interesting. Everything else is just too early to cook.

That’s good that you’ve got all these potential projects brewing. Would you ever think about doing a longer project, page wise, than “O Human Star?” Like a multi-book series.

BD: I have a few ideas but I’m not sure what the best format for that would be. But I have an idea for an anthology of short stories where they’re all connected by the same general premise. It’s something where, earlier this summer I thought it would be my next big thing, my next project, and now I’ve tabled it for some more pressing projects for now. But that is something I would consider again in the future.

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I like those kinds of weird, experimental short story-type things and I think comics do them really well.

BD: I agree.

OK. Let’s move to the book itself. You were saying when you came up with the story, you wanted to do something very space operatic. What in LeGuin’s essay about Utopia really sparked something for the central premise? What grabbed you and made you go, “I need to explore this now?”

BD: I was really interested in the way she distinguished between a couple of different kinds of utopias. For context, I think the thing LeGuin is best known for in her Science Fiction and her Fantasy is that she likes thinking about the cultures that stories take place in. She has an anthropological perspective on it, which makes sense. She grew up in an anthropologist’s family who I think was focusing on indigenous peoples of California.

She based this essay around this concept of Utopias and societies in general where some things are stable for a long time and people have figured out a balance that sustains them with nature and then she also contrasts that with societies where it feels like change is really important, like things are always changing all the time or growing, and that can be less stable and less sustainable but when you’re in that mind-set it’s hard to imagine anything else. It’s a very high level concept but she makes some really interesting comparisons to Science Fiction that was coming out at the time.

When I was thinking about what interested me about space stories, I was simultaneously really interested in how things had been done and really frustrated in the lack of introspection that big franchises and well-known stories that take place in space often, you know, don’t show.

I mean, when I explain this book really glibly to someone where I don’t know how much they’ll care, I describe it as “A teenager from a Star Wars style society becomes pen pals with a teenager from a Star Trek style society” because I feel like that’s a pop culture analog between gritty, constant upheaval, lots of high moral seeming stakes of the underdog and the bad guys and that kind of thing versus this ongoing, more cerebral, discover and cooperation and it’s less about big change and more about steady understanding.

I feel like that’s the level people approach these ideas at if they engage with that story and pop culture at all and I wanted to push those ideas a little more in terms of how really entrenched in each of those world views would react when exposed to the other one and trying to get a sense of which one was more…like, I feel like there’s a question to be asked about which one feels right. In which society are you a good person or a kind person or a just person? That’s the thing that I’m really interested in but I also really love the visuals of that era of Science Fiction. I love that aesthetic, so I also just really wanted to pay homage to those visuals while making them my own.

I took a lot of inspiration from 70s art, 70s aesthetic, 70s illustration, while looking for something that was slightly familiar but went in its own direction.

So like a movement away from the sleek shiny minimalism of modern sci-fi and bringing more of the chunky back?

BD: Yeah. Since you’re familiar with “O Human Star” you’ll recall that my style – my inking style, my coloring style – was very sparse and full of relatively smooth lines and there was that limited color palette, which I like very much, but for this one I wanted to challenge myself in terms of the line art quality and texture to make something a little grittier, a little more lived in.

That was a challenge. I really had to remind myself to keep putting in more lines and give things more weight but I had some good references and artists I could look to to achieve the look I had in mind. I think in the end it turned out pretty well, especially with the color scheme I went with. I think this is the best color work I’ve ever done.

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It is really good. I was struck by the coloring in this, especially near the end when you showed the art book section photos versus the planet Tsanggho with all the deserts. Instead of it being bleak and barren like Tatooine, it’s got all the vibrancy of it until it kinda starts getting destroyed.

BD: Yeah. That was really intentional. I was interested in something that had relatively sparse resources but still felt rich. I feel like that’s something that Western media in general has a very bad habit of, just because of our history of real life conflicts where we engage in desert conflicts a lot. We want to make it seem as barren and hostile looking as possible and it’s really not – there’s lots of richness and color.

I was looking at some really interesting biospheres from around the world and the ways people live in those hotter places. Those striped rock formations are based on areas in Western China. There are underground settlements that are based around opal mines where people have just lived underground because it’s just too hot. They’re very retro; you can tell when these settlements were made in the 70s. It’s really cool finding evidence of all these ways people can live and what they see on a day to day basis.

That idea of culture influencing story is very present in the book. With regards to the characters, in the back of the book you talked about using the “I Ching” to help you create your characters.

BD: That was another thing LeGuin’s essay inspired me to do. One of the interesting things about that essay was…this is something she has studied a lot of her life and it’s become part of her anthropological interest in story writing in general. At one point, she straight up says “yeah, I’m not entirely sure how I want to tie these ideas together so I’m going to consult the ‘I Ching’ and see what that gets me.” I end up going down, you know, as you do, especially in quarantine, you start investigating lots of things and going down rabbit holes of information and it ended up being a really interesting experiment in terms of storytelling.

Like, I’d given myself those sorts of challenges before with art where you randomly generate art prompts or you’ll improvise based on things for art. Writing is not something I thought of but I have since then found a few helpful tools for giving yourself new ideas or getting yourself out of a rut of thinking how something should resolve or where a story should go. This randomized series of symbols or prompts or phrases or imagery, even, that has been generated over millennia with the “I Ching” was a good way for me to push that for myself.

But yeah, that was something where I applied it to some characters and it gave me a sense of archetypes and motivations and how those interact with each other. It kind of gave me a way to try and find a resolution to a conundrum that I feel is difficult to resolve, because I feel like we’re kinda dealing with it on a day to day basis – how can you live in a way that doesn’t involve violence? Can you? Is that something that’s doable?

Finding a way to determine meaning out of randomness kept me from going into an existential spiral about it at one point.

And also not falling into the trap of Science Fiction where there are two sides of a conflict and the “right way” is the middle way when the middle way doesn’t feel like the correct place to be. You did a great job of making everyone complex enough that it feels real while not mealy mouthed about the themes and ideas.

BD: Thank you. That means a lot because it’s something I struggled with. How could I talk about the nuance of people’s positions and priorities that didn’t feel really cowardly and centrist? That’s a conversation I see in lots of spaces and trying to make the most of that in a way that felt like something the young adult readers could wrap their heads around and connect to. I dunno. It was really challenging!

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I think that’s why there are fewer works that do it really well. When you were creating the visuals for all the characters, you create such a variety of faces, of body types, of everything within these characters and even the side-characters feel like whole people even if we only see them for three or four pages. What was the process for making sure your world felt full and unique like reality instead of having large chunks of similar looking characters? And not just similar as in “all white men” but similar in general visuals.

BD: Totally. There’s two layers to that in that there’s the main characters who spring up on their own and then there’s the cultures they’re representing, the background characters, and how to make that all feel coherent. To answer the second question first, I sat down and I gave myself a world building guide. I didn’t want to go too far into it but I wanted to make sure there was some kind of rhyme or reasons for, you know, making them feel coherent.

A lot of it came down to the main cultures we see. There’s this militaristic culture of the Fireback Brigade and I made some rules like “OK. If you are assigned to be a fighter, it’s more macho but you’ve got longer hair and certain colors that you wear. Like, you’ll ornament yourself with trophies essentially. It’s glitzy and there’s often shiny stuff and glass. Warm colors. Then there’s the indigenous culture on the planet’s surface that has more teals and blues and lots of stripes and there’s some softness to it that comes from, like, I think about what are the plant and animal life they would have access to or what would the visuals, symbols, be precious to them? How are their families structured differently? That sort of thing.

Space Sheep are Best Sheep.

I gave Sertig, who is the secondary character who is indigenous to the planet but fights in Fassen’s squadron, her name is written in a different order. It’s Eastern style where she’s got her family name and then her community name that’s tied to the valley that she comes from and then her first name. It’s Western order for most people in the Fireback Brigade and that’s something that I feel like people could spot and go “Oh, okay. I see what you’re doing there,” to reflect her priorities.

For the characters themselves, I dunno. Over time as I was thinking about what these characters would look like, I would collect images that stood out to me. I think there was one for Fassen, I saw a picture of someone in this big sweater, like this retro-70s like sweater, and I wanna say it was the actress Alia Shawkat with big curly hair and freckles and I was like “Oh OK. This is a cool look.”

It made me think of…So, when I was a teenager, I was really into “Neon Genesis Evangelion” and as you do, I made an OC wearing a plug suit. But I was kinda self-conscious about how skin-tight it was so I drew cargo-pants over the plug suit. I thought it would be really funny if this kid was wearing this skin-tight armor but they have a big 70s sweater over it. That kinda became the silhouette and the image for Fassen.

Lu, I feel like, came a bit more of that Wachowski Sisters, slightly more updated, futuristic pants and boots and fun patterns that’s a little more “make do with what you have but have fun with it” and braids. Just something that’s a little more fun and free. The thing that was set right away was I knew they would be bigger because it seems like if you’re gonna live in a utopia in space, it doesn’t matter how fat you are. That seems like something you don’t see very much in space; it’s policed so much in our culture and it really doesn’t matter how much space you take up. I dunno. That seemed important to me.

But yeah. Thinking about what is important and what isn’t important but also having fun visuals and stuff that you have connections to…there was some nostalgia thrown in there as well.

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It was very important for the story to have two non-binary leads. Was there any institutional pushback?

BD: That’s the thing that was cool about Random House – there was none. I was really upfront that this was something I wanted to do and they didn’t have any problem with that. I think that was very indicative of their priorities. As an imprint, it seemed like they were really interested in queer stories that are not what is typically being put out. That’s not to say there aren’t way more options for queer stories from these up and coming graphic novel imprints but I feel like with Random House in particular, there’s kind of a knowing who to ask for them from and being accepting of what kind of stories and priorities they might have.

What I mean by that is I think that they were reaching for a lot of people from the online comics world and they’ve been able to tell stories beyond the 101, you know – what is my identity? What do these terms mean? – and they can go into slightly more high-level conversations that kids and teens are capable of having and grown ups just…aren’t prepared to have those kinds of conversations with them yet?

Like when I think about other authors that Random House has put out, there’s Trung Le Nguyen’s “The Magic Fish” which is spectacular, and I’m trying to think of what else they’ve put out, but there’s a more willingness to trust us that we have stories to tell so it’d be cool to see that from other imprints as well and take that to the next level because I think readers are ready for it.

There’s been a huge focus on the YA market, which is very important and a lot of my favorite books sit in there, but do you think more of these imprints should be expanding out into having novels that are geared more towards adults that can talk in a…I don’t what the word would be other than “adult” and “mature” but those are fraught terms.

BD: It’s fraught and if you’re not very clear about what you mean by that, people will intentionally misunderstand you. I absolutely agree and the reason for that being: YA novels have a lot of room for nuance but by their nature, the protagonist can only be so old. They can only be about teenagers and that’s not realistic about what teens and even kids seek out. They want to understand adults and the adult world and they want to prepare for what that’s like.

And they do like things that are maybe a little scary or a little transgressive or just, like, more ambivalent. They want to experience that and I think there is a practical concern on behalf of the publishers that the market’s not there, which I don’t think is realistic and it’s definitely less realistic now than it was five or ten years ago.

When you look at the numbers for graphic novels and what sells: graphic novels are doing great in general as part of the business but when you break down what’s selling, it’s manga. And the titles that come out for manga are all kinds of genres but they offer all sorts of audiences too. Lots of adult audiences and really intense stuff and horror and romance and really niche, slice-of-life stuff. People are gobbling that up! I wish there was a little more daring and willingness to try and make works like that, and have the infrastructure ready for them so that people will look for them.

I feel like it’s still being pigeonholed into some very specific genres based on what have been big bestsellers. That’s usually like auto-bio or something like that. It would be really fun to see more variety and I think as this age market that’s buying all the YA novels grows up, they’ll want more and if they’re not getting it from North American produced stuff, they’ll keep getting it from manga or online comics or wherever they can find it.

I have opinions about this haha.

I can imagine. I have my own opinions about that. Every time they announced a new artist and then YA/Middle Grade/Children I was like “That’s amazing. Please also announce…maybe two for adult? It’d be nice.”

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BD: Yeah and I get it. Artists…I don’t blame them. They just want what they know will be a guaranteed paycheck and, you know, that’s what I did but it’d be nice for more variety.

Again, I don’t want to disparage these genres either because there’s so much room and so many amazing stories being told in these spaces. Another question I had, when you were talking about the pacing of this, how did you eventually crack it? Because it definitely feels like the last third is the shortest third, in terms of acts, even though that is what Random House has decided the blurb should be. That was the tension I felt. I read the blurb and I’m reading and I go, “Huh. Something seems off between the two.”

BD: Interesting! That’s the feedback I think I’ve heard the most is that there’s this gap between the expectations and what a romance is, or what the shape of this kind of story is, and…yeah, I think there’s a challenge when it comes with any publisher trying to summarize this book.

On my end, in terms of the question of pacing…That’s a good question. I’m trying to figure out how I want to describe that process because for me, so much of the reading experience I wanted was to be building up these two character’s expectations of each other and then having those expectations challenged when they meet each other and having to figure out what that means.

And yeah, eventually there’s a climactic, you know, event where they really have to make decisions about whose lead they’re going to follow or what their priorities are going to be. It was something that is tricky to do and I’m not entirely sure how successful I was with the last bit, as I said before, but I think it was mostly trying to figure out the beats at the beginning when I was working on the outline and breaking down the script. I wanted to make sure I had enough room for the really interesting visuals and conflicts at the end. That’s what I really wanted to make sure I hit.

I think you did a great job with the visuals. I love…I don’t want to talk spoilers but-

BD: I think I know the part you mean.

But whenever you…Most of the book is drawn in a very traditional panel style and then when you get the chance to break that, it was really cool and I think it was a really great way of showing the complete drastic and radical change in what was going on.

BD: Those were really fun – very challenging but, man, when I figured it out, it was a really good feeling.

When it clicked, what were some of the versions beforehand? Were you just not sure?

BD: I think the paneling layout was more traditional and I was trying to figure out how to make it flow in a way that felt natural for the eye. That’s something I was always really interested in, is getting that panel flow. Yeah, it’s very dense and it’s very untraditionally layered. The color scheme in those pages in particular was really tough.

Again, I was looking at 70s art and there were some artists in particular who did lots of really abstract painted work in the 70s. You know, lots of layers and stripes of color that looked so cool and I wanted to capture that vibrancy in a way that wasn’t a total shocking departure from the colors I’d done before but looked like another setting entirely, like another world. That was really fun.

How much of a life saver were the flatters?

BD: OH MY GOD. Yeah, so I had flatters. I work at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design and students can do an internship later on in their comics program. So there were students I offered how to teach professionally if they would flat pages for me and it was very good. First of all, it did help out so much because it gives you more flexibility to try out color palettes and budget more time for that. It was really fun because my flatters would leave notes for me, like commentary on what was happening on pages.

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They would label the file folders and Sertig was always a fan favorite so I would always see a page with Sertig on it and the layer folder would be “Wife City” or something. It was great.

Oh that’s amazing. That’s great. These are the things you don’t have when you don’t have flatters.

BD: Mm-hmm. It’s a dialog.

I guess it was far enough along that large changes couldn’t be made but did they ever say anything that you went, “Hold on. Maybe I could integrate that here somewhere.”

BD: Not the coloring stage, no. I think the only thing was there was one part near the middle of the book when I wanted to put an extra ten page scene, just because I was worried about that centrism, I felt like I hadn’t established the ideology and the drawbacks of the Fireback Brigade to my satisfaction. So I frantically emailed Whit and I was like, “I have an idea for ten pages that I think will fit here. I don’t think it will mess up anything before or after it. I really think it’s important for X, Y, Z reasons. Can I please quickly pencil, ink, and color and get it in there?” And she was like, “Yeah, alright.”

I think if I hadn’t caught it in the time that I caught it, it would’ve made everyone’s lives way more difficult.

What was your lettering process?

BD: My lettering was a font I had made of my own handwriting. I’m pretty sure it was some website that will do this for you and I’ve done it a couple times in my career. “O Human Star” has an earlier iteration of it that’s all caps. This one, Random House has a style guide that wanted caps and lowercase so I made a new one and it gave me the opportunity to clean it up a little bit and do a version of it with better kerning. That was my lettering process; I essentially did it myself.

I drew the balloons myself. I usually hand-draw my balloons so I can make them a little more organic and so they can fit around stuff in the panels better and on a case by case basis. I typically like having that control unless I’m in the hands of a really good letterer.

You work entirely digitally so do you use any tool for creating the balloons, especially the more ovular, regular sized balloons or do you freehand draw them and you’re really good at drawing ovals?

BD: I freehand draw them all. I will re-draw balloons several times and I am almost positive there is a better way to do that than an organic line but Clip Studio, which is the program that I use, does have a lot of the nice tools. I know if I sat down and made a week of learning them all, I could probably find a more efficient process for getting the balloons drawn in a line texture that I want or is a slightly less perfect looking ellipse shape but I haven’t. Not yet. Maybe I will if it really speeds up my process a bit.

But yeah, I do have a knack for freehand drawing balloons at this point.

Probably not but do you miss hand lettering?

BD: No. No, I don’t miss hand lettering. That’s one thing where I think it would be a little easier traditional than digital. I feel like it goes a little more smoothly or looks a little better but no, I’m pretty satisfied with the font lettering. Just as long as it looks like it was handwritten at some point down the line.

Do you like the mixed case lettering? Cause it looks really nice here but in general, is there a preference or does it depend on the project?

BD: You know? That is a good question. I got more attached to it and look back at “OHS” and kind of feel a little off about it. I dunno. I think it has its places and I feel like it’s evocative of some genres more than others.

Like, when I think of mixed case, I think of European comics and more skewed towards a young audience comics or, you know, a little more indy. All caps fonts still makes me think of stuff that’s a little more high impact like manga or classic American stuff. I think it depends on if it looks good and if you don’t struggle over recognizing letters right away. There’s some very good all caps fonts that I’ve seen. They work.

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I’ve got two more sort-of related questions. Who, of all the characters in “Across a Field of Starlight,” are your favorites and are there any scenes that you thought came together perfectly? Obviously it’s a little weird to just read one scene out of a graphic novel but if you were to sell someone with a book just one scene that you were like, “This. This is what it is,” what would it be?

BD: Hmmm. OK. These are good questions.

First question. My main characters are great. I love my kids. I got really attached to Nide and Sertig who are the main adult characters from the first section of the book. Sertig is just really interesting to me and I got really interested in her. She’s a very practical person and she has priorities that I think are different from people around her and she doesn’t let that influence the kind of person that she is.

I really like juxtaposing her with Nide, who, he’s the kind of villain I find very…Well, he’s an antagonist that I find very interesting because I absolutely understand him and I feel like his line of thinking is very familiar to me. I designed him to be cool and, frankly, hot. I hope I find at least one post or something being like: “Yeah, this guy is hot.” I’d be like: “Thank you. That was on purpose.” I really liked their dynamic and I would have liked to draw more of them if I could have. Those are the ones I’m attached to personally.

In terms of a scene, like what I think is some of the best choreography and color work I’ve ever done? I like the first scene on the planet where Fassen gets into a fire fight and has to outrun a whole bunch of guys on hoverbikes. I just think it turned out really well and if you’re on board for that, you’re on board for anything else.

You’re here for fire fights, speedbikes, and clever engineering.

BD: And then it wraps up and the kid’s like, “OH MY PEN PAL! I HAVE TO GET BACK.” All the emotional stakes are there.

Is sci-fi a genre you…well, you probably do absolutely love it but, what flavor of sci-fi are you really interested in? Because in both “O Human Star” and “Across a Field of Starlight” the technical aspects of the sci-fi world are front and center without being “Here’s a 500 page manual called ‘The Expanse.’ Have fun.”

BD: I think what I tend to prioritize in terms of story is, I like stories where it’s about the relationships between the characters first and foremost but the way they are thinking about each other and the way they’re thinking about themselves and the world are absolutely and inextricably related to what’s happening behind them. And I usually like being interested in some kind of technical innovation or some kind of sci-fi conceit that is fundamentally changing something about either the culture or what kind of person you can be or how you can communicate with each other and how that changes you as a person or changes your relationship and your family; that’s what’s really interesting to me.

Hard sci-fi where it’s just kind of like window dressing or there’s not really any kind of care for how a person would engage with it is not interesting to me. But being able to focus on the drama of a relationship and being able to use context to get a sense of “Oh this is happening because this wild shit is happening in the background.” That’s what’s really interesting to me.

Very interactive with the world.

BD: Yeah! Very much so. They’re inextricably related to each other.

How did you come up with the idea of channels? Was there some paper you saw? Were you just like “How can you connect this far across the universe?”

BD: I wanted to try and figure out a sci-fi concept, cause I was really interested in the logistics behind traversing and communicating through big spaces, especially in a way that could make an empire feasible. I wanted the faster than light concept to be something that wasn’t necessarily on the table just yet but you still needed to be able to communicate over big distances, like instantaneous communication.

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LeGuin has this technical concept in some of her books that kind of got grandfathered into other sci-fi things called the Ansible. Which is basically, like, if you meet certain technical conditions, you can communicate instantaneously with anyone, anywhere else in the galaxy – I think Orson Scott Card lifted it for “Ender’s Game” too as this instantaneous communication.

So I wanted something that served that purpose, didn’t take away the challenge and drama of traveling, and making that matter, but I was also aware that running a big, scary, galactic empire can’t really work unless you can communicate with people fairly quickly. My attempt to not reinvent the Ansible over and over again was this concept of channels, where if you travel some distance, you can unlock access to a bunch of other places, but you have to put in some work.

Kinda like being stuck between a bunch of radio towers and not really connecting to any.

BD: Yeah, that’s a good analog.

Elias Rosner

Elias is a lover of stories who, when he isn't writing reviews for Mulitversity, is hiding in the stacks of his library. Co-host of Make Mine Multiversity, a Marvel podcast, after winning the no-prize from the former hosts, co-editor of The Webcomics Weekly, and writer of the Worthy column, he can be found on Twitter (for mostly comics stuff) here and has finally updated his profile photo again.