INTERVIEW: Sebastian A. Jones on Creating the World of THE UNTAMED

Last week we took a look at The Untamed, a dark fantasy series from Sebastian Jones and Peter Bergting. The story centers on a mysterious Stranger and his return to a corrupt desert town called Oasis. There, he cuts a bloody swathe through the avenues, reaping seven souls for seven days as part of an arcane covenant.

We talked to Jones about the book’s violent setting as well as his efforts to promote the series with a top notch motion comic.

Concept art for The Untamed by Hyoung Taek Nam

Graphicly – The Untamed takes place in a shared fantasy world called Asunda. Where or when is Asunda? 

Sebastian A. Jones – Asunda is a vast and volatile world steeped in magic and myth. It is a world all its own with no connection to our world or to others. With Asunda, I wanted to create something truly unique.

About twenty years ago I was still living in England and playing a lot of live action and table top roleplaying, pretty much anything that had to do swords and sorcery or superheroes. I spent my time collecting comics and painting miniatures, listening to Coltrane and watching Sergio Leone.

I have always been a comic nut, specifically an Incredible Hulk fiend. Peter David’s run was genius. And while I love my superheroes, it always bugged me that there were no comics outside of Conan tales that gave us a complete fantasy universe I could check in with each month, one that contained characters as complex as Batman, Wolverine, Black Panther and so on. Sure we had Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, and that sort, but their presence in comics was limited, and although fun, just a tad tame for my taste.

I wanted a Marvel or DC Universe where sword swinging dudes could live. But I don’t mean the airbrushed knights off to save the princess with affected English accents. Nor do I mean the stereotypical blood and guts bathed warriors with no motivation other than violence for its own sake. As much as I love a hacked limb and scantily clad vixen, it all gets old quickly without real story and background. With Leone, Sam Peckinpah and Akira Kurosawa in my soul, I wanted something visceral, tragic, patient, beautifully violent, and dare I say… character driven. Hell, it worked for Greek mythology and Tolkien novels, surely it could work in comics. So I began a two decade long journey to create that world.

Graphicly – Can you describe the genesis of Asunda?

Sebastian A. Jones - It started with a game. I was seventeen. I started by creating a world that I could game in with some local pals. By day it was Larping with foam swords and half ripped bathrobes stolen from our mother’s closet, by night it was dice rolling in a world that had no rules other than the rules that we made, because I was never happy with how limiting most fantasy worlds were. Not just in scope, which should stretch the imagination for unchartered lands, but also in sameness. All the Elves were fair. And live in one forest. Well that just blows.

Nothing pissed me off more than when some douchebag at Larp would tell me I couldn’t be an elf because I’m not fair skinned. Unless, of course, I wanted to be a “dark” elf villain, because to be dark naturally meant something evil and frightening. F*** that. Aside from the bullshit racism of it, which made me beyond angry, the concept of dark elves didn’t even make sense. If they lived underground in complete dark, wouldn’t they be the whitest elves that ever existed? And are we referencing “dark” for skin color, or mood and tone. Whatever.

Asunda is much like our world in that where you come from determines what you look like. Whether you are an elf, dwarf or human, if you hail from Ujoa (Africa-type continent), you are black. If you live in Frivanna (Europe-like), you are pale. In issue 1 of The Untamed we first meet Niobe, who is half Galemren, our wild elves. She has brown skin, full features and pointy ears. And Asunda’s “evil” elves are the Morkai, silver elves who live in the darkness of Morrok. As the name implies, they’re silver.

Over the years, a lot of people have inhabited Asunda and helped grow my world into something real and complete. An awesome group of guys have poured their creative hearts into the games which helped fuel the machine. Shout out to Chris, Dave, Richard, Dirk, Solo, Mike, Josh, Ken, Dustin, Raven, Hyoung, Peter B, Mum, and the Ojai & Ventura crew, and especially to Stranger’s visionary art director, Darrell May. Darrell has a degree in anthropology and he’s used it to really enhance the reality of our world. After two decades of development, Asunda is a fully enriched brutal fantasy world with years of established history, a pantheon of gods, and a unique approach to magic.

So all that babble is to say, The Untamed is just cracking the surface. Stranger Comics plans to share this vast world through character driven comics and other media. We have a cart load of stories on the way, but for now, keep your peepers posted for Dusu: Path of the Ancient, written by me and Christopher Garner (Little Boy Po) with stellar art by newcomer James C. Webster. I’ve also done Tales of Asunda: Erathune with Darrell May and Sheldon Mitchell (The Darkness). Our Tales of Asunda #0 issue, Silver Blood, is already finished with art by Darrell and Japanese master Tomo (Piñata). As for The Untamed, with art by the incomparable Swede, Peter Bergting (The Portent, Fraztetta’s Creatures), we have three issues out and the fourth is set to be released on Graphicly on the 7th day of March.

Graphicly – This particular story centers on a dusty town called Oasis. A little patch of paradise in the desert or just a mirage of all that? 

Sebastian A. Jones - “The Town of Oasis is a watering hole for the Devil” – Salem Ravensong

Once upon a time in Asunda it was a haven, during a time of pilgrimage and peace. Now, it is a den of iniquity set away from prying eyes, and that is its attraction… for folk looking for killing work. There is a lot to discover in Oasis, but digging too deep can get your throat cut.

Character sheets by Hyoung Taek Nam & Peter Bergting

Graphicly – What can you tell us about the cloaked Stranger who comes calling in issue #1? 

Sebastian A. Jones - This is a tricky one. What I can I tell you? Stranger is the epitome of every man who has failed and needs a second chance. No matter the cost. He is a sinner, a husband, a father, and a lover. A bad man trying to do good. Or a good man wanting to do bad. In this tale we root for him to discover what is right in life, a hope for a better tomorrow, even if it is only for seven days. We all need a little hope, and we all want to be Clint Eastwood along the journey.

He is also dead. He ran the piece of sh*t hellhole that is the Town of Oasis, and for his murdering ways, he was betrayed and killed along with his family. Now he has made a deal with The Untamed, our devil. Seven days for seven souls. He has returned hell-bent on vengeance – more powerful than ever.

But ultimately he is a pawn, as all men are under the eyes of the devil. And thus, the mythos for the world will also be discovered if you have the eyes to look. Sounds a bit frickin preachy, but there you have it. What deal wouldn’t you make to save the souls of your family? Who would you kill? How would you die?

Graphicly – You’ve also produced this really impressive motion comic. How did that come about? 

Sebastian A. Jones - Thanks a lot. It is really through my awesome friendship and partnership with Ken Locsmandi. Kenny is a VFX genius who got his start on The Matrix, Donnie Darko, Fight Club and The Cell to Hollywood namedrop a few. For over a decade, he has been running his own amazing VFX and production company, Filmworks/FX (Apocalypto, Juno, Knight and Day). When Kenny is not creating breathtaking effects or beating people up in an MMA cage, he works with me on graphic novels and children’s books like Piñata.

Kenny offered me the chance to direct a motion comic for the first issue, which his amazing team would edit and animate. And so we did it, and the results were pretty awesome thanks to those guys.

But I also owe a debt to a number of other good friends and collaborators. Actress Melissa Bickerton (The Office) and The Untamed producer and developer, Andrew Cosby (Co-founder of BOOM! Studios) brought in their amazing pals for the voices. Most notably, Ed Quinn from Cosby’s show, Eureka, came in to play the voice role of Stranger.

With the music, I was inspired by Ennio Morricone, and the whistler, Alessandro Alessandron, from The Man with No Name trilogy. Then my artist, Peter Bergting, introduced me to another amazing Swede, the multitalented composer, Jens Engelbrecht. We spent hours on the phone together and eventually we got a haunting sound that had enough grit for the Frazetta Western we were trying to conjure. Jens was amazing! He completely nailed it and the motion comic is really a testament to him and the entire crew that worked on it.

We hope that it is just the first of many more to come, as we would love to tell the complete story in that format. But, one step at a time. For now it is a nice way to introduce fans to our world, and it is a great way for our producers, Lloyd Levin (Watchmen, Hellboy) and Andrew Sugerman (Conviction, Death Sentence), to show Hollywood our tale in a cinematic way.

We have every intention of making a kickass motion picture that evokes the spirit of Leone and Peckinpah. In the meantime, we’re finishing The Untamed graphic novel series and other brutal comic tales set in the vast and volatile world of Asunda.