Interview with Nathan Sage and Ron Joseph, Creators of The Shepherd

Panel Patter is pleased to present this interview with Nathan Sage and Ron Joseph, the primary creators behind a new Kickstarter Project, The Shepherd. The visuals by Joseph (with inks by Jake Isenberg and colors by Zoar Huerta) really popped out at me when I reviewed the project, which features the title character Astrid, who must balance her role as protector of the flock with the potential to bring a legendary species back to life. It looks absolutely amazing, and after talking to the creators about this project over e-mail, I'm even more excited to see this one funded and into print and digital versions.

Sage and Joseph sat down for an e-mail interview with me about their careers, their collaboration, and The Shepherd. Their answers are below. If you like what you see, you can fund the Kickstarter here.

Panel Patter: For those unfamiliar with you, tell readers a bit about your prior work.

Ron Joseph: Most of my early comic book work was for very small indie publishers; so small that the books they wanted to produce never saw the light of day! Which is probably a good thing, as I wouldn't want anyone digging them up now.  I did a decent amount of work for Outlaw Biker Magazine in the 90s and penciled a few issues of a book called Peace Party for Blue Corn Comics.

In addition to The Shepherd, I'm currently penciling Slashermania, for Freaktown Comics and The Chronicles of Creighton Craven, a sci-fi/fantasy epic featuring characters designed by long-time fantasy painter Ken Kelly.

Nathan Sage: I moved to Los Angeles ten years ago to write screenplays, and I gradually found my very visual sensibilities about story made great comic scripts. I have a short story called "Scout's Honor" coming out very soon, about a futuristic boy scout searching for his little sister in a monster-filled forest. That one is with artist Brian Latimer and colorist Tamra Bonvillain, who are both wonderful as well.

Panel Patter: Who are your creative influences?

Joseph: I love the old school artists I grew up with; guys like Jack Kirby, John Romita Sr. and Jr., John and Sal Buscema, and George Perez.  John Byrne and Alan Davis are, without a doubt, the two biggest influences on my work.  Outside the comic book world, it's Frank Frazetta, Bill Watterson, and my all-time favorite, Mr. Jim Henson.  That man was a creative genius.

Sage: Moebius for his visual storytelling, Miyazaki for his work on the Nausicaa manga, J.M. Barrie for Peter Pan, Victor Hugo for The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Panel Patter: How did you come together for this project?

Sage: Honestly? I stumbled across Ron's work while combing through artist submissions on the BOOM! Studios Facebook page. His post said "Hi, I'm Ron" and had a gigantic 2-page spread of Cthulhu he'd pencilled. And I thought, "I HAVE to work with this guy."

Joseph: Although our initial emails held a lot of promise for a good working relationship, it was our first "face to face" meeting that really sealed the deal.  We live about 30 minutes from each other and decided to meet up in the best place we could think of.  A pub.  Over a few draft beers and some appetizers, we talked comics, viewed my portfolio, and threw ideas about the world of The Shepherd back and forth.

We drew the attention of just about everyone that came through the door over the course of the evening! They treated us like we were celebrities.  Well, it was probably more like we were strange aliens, but they were in awe either way, so whatever they thought was fine by me!

Panel Patter: In your own words, describe The Shepherd for Panel Patter readers.

Sage: The Shepherd is about Astrid, a young woman who watches a flock of deer-like "ghazals" on a distant planet. She is put to the test when she finds beast of legend called a Thanacht--wounded. And then the guys who wounded that ancient beast show up, led by Rul, a hardened hunter obsessed with the Thanacht. Astrid surprises you at every turn, and the story is really about her.

Panel Patter: There are a lot of comics Kickstarters out there. Why should readers support this one? What makes it worth their pledge?

Sage: Before we pencilled a single page, Ron and I spent three months churning out design after design on everything from Astrid's headpiece to the giant dinosaur-like creatures of that world to the ruins of ancient statues in that world. And I think that attention to detail, that passion for world-building, shows in our comic.

Joseph: There is a love and respect for the story, the characters, and the medium itself that just permeates this entire project.  You can almost see the heart and soul of the creative team in every image, on every page.  And I hope that creates a very unique experience for the reader.  We really want to take them on an uplifting, emotional journey.

Panel Patter: I've noticed that you, Nathan, have backed a lot of projects. Do you think that helps when the time comes to produce one of your own?

Sage: I back projects on Kickstarter because I like betting on people--and in that way, it's perhaps my way of gambling--you get a rush from joining a project as a backer when it's far behind, and then to see it rally in the end. I love Kickstarter for that. But indeed, there is also a learning component to it. I've told Ron that I've spent more time studying Kickstarter than I studied for all of my tests in college. It's an amazing beast--it can be exhilarating, it can be infuriating, but in the end it's people.

Panel Patter: From the sample pages, it looks like this world has quite a few unique creatures. How did you come up with them?

Sage:  Ron and I do this game of creative ping-pong. I told him, for instance, that the Thanacht needed to feel both monstrous and mythical at the same time. There needed to be a balance between its scariness and its nobleness, because yes, it does have some noble tendencies. Sometimes I feel like a creative direction gets stale, and I'll wipe the slate and send Ron some completely new reference to try again (Ron hates it when I do this). For the thanacht, it was a picture of a leopard attacking a warthog that ended up leading us to the mythical beast--I sent Ron that picture and asked him to combine the energy and features of the two animals.

Panel Patter: How does the collaborative process work between the two of you? Shared noted? Full Script? Marvel style?

Sage: We started with a script, but I'm constantly open to hearing Ron's ideas and I've changed things and added things to make the story richer. We do the same thing with the art--Ron usually draws up a few mockups and we talk through them until we have something we both dig.

Joseph: I'm going to say it's a little bit of all three.  We've altered and adapted our approach as the project dictated.  It's a living, breathing thing and should be treated as such.  Creation is an ever-changing process and to try to shoehorn it into one format would most likely result in an inferior product.

Much like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, "life found a way."

Panel Patter: You mention that the art uses analog pencils and inks, combined with digital colors. Can you talk about what went into that decision and the way that it impacts on the finished story?

Sage: I've always felt there's a distinct way analog pencils and inks look compared to digital. And that's not a value statement per say--indeed I think there are many comics that are perfect for digital pencils and inks. But I felt there was a certain classic sci-fi sensibility to my story, and I wanted the pencils and inks to fit that aesthetic. And so that dictated the choice of artists--I wanted to work with Ron, because he was a wonderful penciller in the classic sense, and he and Jake Isenberg (our inker) already had a great working relationship.

Now as for colors, I wanted to go digital because I like the flexibility afforded by digital brushes, and I think it has a neat look against analog pencils and inks. And of course, Zoar Huerta is a colorist with an incredible eye, and I'm glad we found her.

Panel Patter: The Shepherd is fully funded and you're ready to create new things. What's next for you? 

Joseph: I'd love to work on something with Nathan again.  He's a great storyteller and we work very well together.  I've also got a superhero team book - with a twist - that I'd like to get working on.  It'd be an ongoing series (I've got three years worth of stories mapped out already!) that hearkens back to the earlier days of the Fantastic Four and Avengers; big, fun, exciting adventures.

Sage: I have several stories I'd like to tell as one-shots and limited or ongoing series with Ron and other artist friends. Often my ideas for comics involve creating whole cities and worlds for the story to live in--worlds that are dramatically different from our own, much like in The Shepherd.

Panel Patter: Thank you both for taking the time to speak with us here at Panel Patter. Best of luck on your Kickstarter!