The comic book format seems perfect for telling the most epic fantasy stories. That’s, in part, due to the low budgets required to draw anything awesome, but also because you can take more chances. That’s why we’re extra excited for writer-artist Steve Skroce’s new series Maestros, which comes out October 18. We got to pick his brain about the new series as well as talk comics, art and more!
AiPT!: First off, thank you for taking the time, Steve. I had a chance to read the first issue and it’s quite something. I love the mix of humor, adult themes and fantasy! Can you tell us what inspired the creation of this story?
Steve Skroce: I’d been doing storyboards for film for a number of years and was feeling a bit unfulfilled by it. Movies were a lot of fun and they brought me many great life experiences but I was still a comics guy at heart, I’d buy new comics and feel jealous of all the people doing their own thing, then fate smiled at me and I ran into Brian K. Vaughan, that led to We Stand on Guard. It was a great experience, and once that finished, Image gave me the opportunity to do my own thing and I jumped at the chance. I had spent years starting then stopping my own stories and now the time had come to actually make something.
Maestros is kind of a hodgepodge of everything I like about fantasy and action-adventure. I’ve always liked wizards and I’m not even sure why, they possess secret knowledge and power. They have magical weapons and travel to distant lands and dimensions, what’s not to like?
AiPT!: How long has the story been percolating for Maestros? It’s so complex with a lot going on! A follow-up, did you start by writing or drawing?
Skroce: There’s been a version of Maestros percolating for well over a decade. In other versions, it’s a much more traditional sword & horse fantasy tale with a dark lord full of unknowable evil, a lot of that’s changed over the years but the protagonist, William Little has always been fairly consistent, he’s from contemporary Earth, he’s not a chosen one and he gains his power and position through blind luck. I tried to make a protagonist that was special because he wasn’t special at all.
The process is always drawing and writing at the same time. I fill sketchbooks with notes and sketches and then I put Post-it Notes on top of the old notes as I revise. I always find the sight of my sketchbook bursting with little yellow Post-its gratifying, even though they look like a crazy person’s conspiracy theory journal.
AiPT!: From whom did you draw influence when you first started in comics? Are these the same sources of inspiration you use today?
Skroce: Back in the day, I was a Marvel zombie, then I got into DC with The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, I followed Frank Miller to Dark Horse, then I discovered Fantagraphics and so on. I feel like it all influenced me. A diverse media diet is good for your creativity.
From a drawing perspective, I always liked the detailed orientated artists, people who created tangible worlds inside those little panels. Micheal Golden and John Byrne in the earlier years, then I discovered Darrow, Moebius, and Otomo, later it was François Boucq. Writing-wise, it’s Alan Moore, Gaiman, Joss Whedon, Stephen King, Joe Abercrombie and Jack Vance.
AiPT!: A Joe Abercrombie fan, nice! In that series the Viking-like heroes are given a name based on their actions in battle. What would your name manned name be?
Skroce: My ‘named man name’ would have to be… Ivan the Sedentary.
AiPT!: Are you looking to make an ongoing series out of Maestros or will it be a limited run?
Skroce: I’d like to. There are lots of places for this story to go, so hopefully, we’ll get to see more of the Infinite Realms.
AiPT!: What inspired you to go with a fantasy story? Do you have any other genres you’d like to explore as writer/artist?
Skroce: I broke a little ground on a new fantasy story and a post-apocalyptic one, I’d love to get to those, but I’m open to all kinds of genres if the right story comes to me.
AiPT!: I’m a sucker for creation stories and there’s a bit of one in the first issue of Maestros. Can you go into a little detail on how you approached this aspect of the story?
Skroce: That part of the story evolved out of the question, “what do wizards do?” I know Harry Potter went to Hogwarts, then what? Does everyone open a shop on Diagon Alley? Do they teach? Do they return to the muggle world and get into finance? Why don’t these super powerful wizards just take over? Later I read some more esoteric stuff, Jack Vance wrote crazy wizard stories in the ’60s, like The Dying Earth and Rhialto the Marvelous. His wizards were often petty and narcissistic, wielding the forces of creation didn’t grant them empathy or perspective. That reminded me of the cruelty and megalomania of the Gods of Greek mythology, so I gave the Maestros that kind of power level, they created worlds and life for amusement, they are at the pinnacle of what a wizard was capable of. Reality was a reality TV show for them. Once you had infinite power and resources the only conflict would be with whatever you’re egotism fabricated.
The Maestros created Earth (at least they say they did) because they wanted to try something new, Earth is uniquely magicless. The only gods we have are the ones our imagination created, instead of spells we have technological ingenuity. So my protagonist, William Little is kind of a fish out of water in his father’s magical realms and he’s eager to bring modern social justice to the twisted mad mages that stepped on him at wizarding school.
AiPT!: We Stand on Guard and Maestros seem to have one obvious similarity, the gore! There’s some delectably gross-out stuff in Maestros and I’m curious what inspires these sorts of scenes (and the humor you instill in them in Maestros).
Skroce: I do love my gore but it has to be in a certain context. I’m totally squeamish when it comes to true crime, I can’t watch any of those ‘did they do it?’ documentaries or bloody news stories, but comedy horror, like the Evil Dead films, Slither or Cabin In The Woods is totally my jam. I love the effort that goes into grossing people out. The Walking Dead is a drama but I howl when they have some imaginative, twisted and disgusting kill.
AiPT!: There’s a great sense of humor in Maestros I wasn’t expecting. Where does the inspiration for the humor come from?
Skroce: Probably boredom and too many unsupervised hours as a child. My parents need to be held accountable.
AiPT!: What’s your favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?
Skroce: Rick & Morty.