Jonny Jimison is the creator of the five-volume graphic novel series The Dragon Lord Saga. I had the opportunity to talk with Jonny about his career as a visual storyteller, what inspired him to create this series, a non-definitive ranking of The Legend of Zelda games, and what adventures we can expect for Martin and Marco in his new graphic novel, The River Fox.
The first volume, Martin and Marco, was released in 2014. The Kickstarter campaign to publish volume two, The River Fox, is currently underway.
CY: So, as of the time of this interview, The River Fox Kickstarter campaign is 50% funded! Congrats!
CY: How are you feeling about the campaign so far considering this is your second rodeo?
JJ: I’m a lot more relaxed this time. During the campaign for the first book, I was panicking and wildly reaching in every direction to get the word out; this time around, I have a better idea of what methods are effective for spreading the word and how to go about them.
CY: I imagine knowing you have a fan base from the first book helps.
JJ: Oh, definitely! Even if you know your target audience, it can be hard to seek out people who are invested in what you’re doing. It’s great to have that fanbase from the first Kickstarter to reach out to, as well as fans from the book shows that have happened since then!
CY: Speaking of the first book, this campaign is obviously for the second book in The Dragon Lord Saga: The River Fox, the first book being Martin and Marco, which has already been out for a few years. What’s been the reaction to the series so far?
JJ: That has actually been hard to gauge, because my biggest fans aren’t outspoken members of the fan community. They’re quiet kids who prefer to race home with their comics to get lost in the story — kids like me, when I was young! So I’ve found my biggest reactions at small family book fairs and school visits, where I can interact with those kids one-on-one, and witness that eagerness to start discovering a new story by the look on their faces! That’s the best reaction I could ask for.
CY: Nothing like inspiring the quiet nerdy kids.
JJ: Exactly! Us quiet nerdy kids love to be inspired!
CY: So, what inspired you to start this project? Any particular influences? Reading Martin and Marco I definitely detected a Calvin and Hobbes meets Princess Bride kind of vibe.
JJ: My pitch line is “The Lord of the Rings meets Calvin and Hobbes” — but I like the Princess Bride comparison! The epic fantasy world came from all the usual suspects — not only Tolkien, but also Star Wars and The Legend of Zelda. But the real inspiration comes from my comics heritage: Peanuts, Pogo, and Calvin and Hobbes from the newspaper strips taught me the language of comics and the joy of comic strip acting, and the Disney comic stories of Carl Barks, Floyd Gottfredson, and Don Rosa inspired me to expand those character-based humor comics into epic, sprawling adventures — without losing the fun! Also, there’s no denying it — I keep catching Looney Tunes creeping into The Dragon Lord Saga!
CY: As a recent convert to The Legend of Zelda series, I can totally see that now that you mention it. Village boy becomes hero.
JJ: Congratulations on converting to Zelda! It’s dangerous to go alone. And yes, a lot of various aesthetics from games like Wind Waker and Skyward Sword guide my fantasy-building imagination!
CY: I just finished playing Wind Waker for the first time!
JJ: That’s a great game overall, but I especially like the art design!
CY: Yeah! Having played Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword first, it felt cartoony initially, but I came to enjoy it by the end.
JJ: Skyward Sword is probably my favorite because it feels like a wonderful middle ground between the dark realism of Twilight Princess and the cute cartoonyness of Wind Waker.
CY: True…. ANYWAY.
CY: Back to the more serious business of discussing… er… cartoons. So Martin and Marco was your first foray into creating a graphic novel. Is there anything new you’ve learned in the process of creating your first book? Or maybe anything about the publication process you’ve learned to appreciate more having now done it yourself?
JJ: Oh yes, lots of things. Two really big ones stand out: Pete Peterson recently did a really good summary of the revision process. Doing a full graphic novel — in a five-part-series, no less! — I’ve had to really put my stories through the ringer in this revising process. I’m finding the process easier on the second book, as I’ve started to get the hang of asking my proofreaders the right questions, and hearing their responses the right way. The second big thing I’ve learned is the importance of laying a strong foundation — getting the story right early on is essential, but the thumb-nailing and penciling stages are also essential. I tend to pencil super loose and tighten things up in the inking stage, but I’m learning to take a little more time fine-tuning the pencils, because it makes a world of difference in the look of the finished product.
CY: How long exactly had you been working on the story before publishing Martin and Marco?
JJ: The germ of the idea had been with me for about ten years when I really started piecing The Dragon Lord Saga together. I spent about three years laying out the story for all five volumes, and at the same time scripting and drawing the first volume, Martin and Marco.
CY: I imagine story creation is somewhat different for an illustrator than an author. Do you find the story changing as you begin the illustration process?
JJ: Absolutely. Comics have a language all their own, and the comics that have influenced me have taught me a particular dialect of that language. So as I begin laying out pages visually, the story takes new and unexpected turns. It’s also at that stage that I discover things like redundancies and gag opportunities — it’s like getting an additional draft of the story after several scripted drafts!
CY: Sort of like 2D popping out into 3D, except more like…1D popping out into 2D, technically speaking…I think (the interviewer is obviously not an illustrator).
JJ: I like that comparison! I’m going to start referring to my writing as 1D art.
CY: So, I think every artist goes through a period where they do some sort of work that’s perhaps not exactly where they want to be, yet it helps forge them as an artist. Putting in those 10,000 hours so to speak. Looking back, are there some things you had to do in perhaps, “less inspiring” moments of your career that have proved important in creating The Dragon Lord Saga?
JJ: There have certainly been those moments, but my experience looks a little different than what you’re describing. For some bizarre reason, in my early life, I couldn’t see my passion for comics as a goal to pursue. I only really began respecting and pursuing that passion after some detours through prose, music, and film. So, rather than forcing myself through extra work to get to where I want to be, my pursuit has been more like hungrily trying to make up for lost time.
CY: So, more like a journey towards finding which passion to truly focus on, but picking up lots of valuable lessons along the way. Or rather, a journey back to your original passion and seeing it as legitimate. I’m tempted to burst into “God Bless the Broken Road” here, but I’ll spare you.
JJ: Yes! That’s a good way of putting it. And even when I’m forcing myself to do the part of the work I’m not fired up about, the contrast with those earlier pursuits makes it feel like less of a chore.
CY: “God bless the stinky prose, that led me straight to you….”
JJ: Oh that’s beautiful. I think you should pitch that to Ben Shive, he could help shape it into an album.
CY: On it
CY: Okay, last question. When last we saw our heroes, Martin was unconscious and in the clutches of some masked outlaw (dare I say the River Fox?), and Marco was prooobably walking into a trap set by the evil spider dude Old Bill. What can we expect for our intrepid heroes in The River Fox?
JJ: Martin has always been eager to chart an adventure of his own, and — after mounting an escape — he’ll have lots of opportunities to chase the bandits, face the dragon, and win the heart of the princess. But knowing Martin… well, he may win points for enthusiasm, but adventure might not end up looking like the romantic notions in his head. As for Marco, he’s headed south, into the great desert. New country and new characters fill the adventure Marco never meant to have, and one of those characters, an exiled queen, tries to convince Marco of something he doesn’t want to hear — that maybe he’s the hero of an adventure after all!
CY: Aaaaaand that’s all the time we have for tonight’s adventure, kids!
JJ: Lights out! Adventure on hold!
CY: Tune in next time to get your own published copy of volume two of The Dragon Lord Saga: The River Fox!
JJ: In which you will actually MEET The River Fox!
CY: *suspenseful organ music* And scene.
Be sure to check out The River Fox Kickstarter campaign!
Chris is an Associate Professor of English at Bristol Community College in Massachusetts, and is also the author of several books of poetry. In 2018 he helped co-found The Poetry Pub, an online community for poets. He enjoys walking in the woods, visiting coffee shops, and poking through used bookstores with his wife Jen.