From Friendly Ghosts To Gamma Rays, No.180
Welcome back to our all-ages column, From Friendly Ghosts To Gamma Rays! This week we have a great interview with Nick Tapalansky and Alex Eckman-Lawn, the minds behind Th3rd World’s upcoming title, Thanatos Diver! Let’s get down to it!
COMICATTACK: To start, I enjoyed the first issue of THANATOS DIVER a lot, and I hope our readers will pick up a copy and check it out for themselves. For our readers who haven’t heard about the title yet, can you tell us a little what the plot is about?
Nick Tapalansky: Thanks, Drew. Really glad you dug it!
The story is about a young girl named Samantha who lives on an island in a world that’s otherwise entirely covered in ocean. She works with her dad as a salvage diver, grabbing stuff from the sunken city beneath the island to sell in their shop. Every day is the same routine and she’s pretty much bored out of her skull, willing to do just about anything to have something exciting happen, even though she’s pretty sure it never will. Luckily for her—and us—she couldn’t be more wrong!
When a dare from a rival diver sends her deep into the forbidden zone of the sunken city, she discovers a pathway to a world more exciting, and more dangerous, than anything she’d ever imagined– one full of uncharted lands, mysterious creatures, and the mythical Thanatos Diver who, depending on the teller, is rumored to either save both worlds or destroy them…
Alex Eckman-Lawn: It’s about finding adventure and treasure and seeing/doing things you’ve never done before!
CA: How did this collaboration between you two working on this title come to be?
AEL: Nick and I have been working together for going on 10 years now. I think THANATOS DIVER as it is today really grew from the short we did for Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard Vol. 2, though. That was kind of a turning point for us, and both exciting and fun to work on. I think after that, we both knew we had to chase that feeling.
NT: Yeah, that Mouse Guard short was definitely a shift for us. Like Alex said, we’ve been working together (and been best buds) for almost a decade. We share a lot of similar nerdy loves, and we always talk about them but never saw a whole lot of them in our work, which tended toward the darker side of things.
AEL: Yeah, we were keeping things pretty bleak for a while there, haha!
NT: We were the darkness twins, full of existential horror and post-apocalyptic sci-fi. But with Mouse Guard it was sort of like, “Here guys, go stop being downers for a second.” And all that stuff we grew up loving started to poke its head out, you know? We couldn’t just stop with six pages. It was too much fun!
So we decided to make up a world and story of our own that would go on for as long as we want (and as long as people want to read it, which will hopefully be forever’ish).
AEL: Absolutely. THANATOS DIVER pretty much caters to every childish impulse I have and hope to nurture for the rest of my life.
CA: The first issue sets up what could be an enormous world. Are you planning this for a long ongoing or a short life? Do you already know what the ending will be?
NT: We’re definitely planning for an ongoing title here if we can help it!
AEL: Yeah, I guess we sort of showed our hand in that last question a bit. I want to do this comic for as long as I possibly can, and we have SO MANY ideas for future volumes. The first volume is a complete story in itself, but the stuff we have planned for the next batch is really exciting and starts to open things up a lot. I can’t wait to get in there!!
NT: Exactly! We wanted the issues that comprise the first volume to be more or less a complete story, because that’s what you have to do in “indie” comics, lest your readers get left hanging in the event that the numbers aren’t there to support an ongoing. But that first story arc is really only the beginning for Sam and company, and we have reams of notes for where the story’s going next!
As for an ending, we more or less know where the book is heading, but our road map has tons of room for exciting detours.
AEL: We have pretty specific plans for major milestones, and endings to each chapter, but the world is way open.
CA: At first glance I look at it and I think of a ton of other things, anime like Future Boy Conan and Marine Boy, RPGs, being we have a distinct world and Sam has a rival from the get go, like those video games normally do. What are your inspirations for this title?
NT: Yes! Oh man Drew, put on your 16-bit pants. It’s about to get really nerdy up in here.
AEL: Whoa, Future Boy Conan!! This guy knows his stuff.
NT: Drew can hang, man. He knows what’s up!
AEL: But yeah, the RPGs of our youth played a pretty huge part in the development of this series. We’re trying to both pay homage (and we’ve included plenty of specific nods to these classics in the book!) and create something new in the same vein that will hopefully excite a new generation in the same way that Zelda, or Final Fantasy, or Panzer Dragoon excited us!
NT: Or Chrono Trigger, or Secret of Mana, or Lunar. But you’re not wrong on the anime front. We both binge watched tons of anime growing up. There’s definitely some Dragon Ball (pre-Z, though Z was awesome in its own way) in the DNA of Thanatos Diver.
We’ve been describing the book as a sort of “Bone and Zelda get together to hang out, and Studio Ghibli films the whole thing from a majestic secret grove,” which I think sums up our inspirations about as well as anything.
AEL: I get psyched just reading that sentence!
NT: I know, I get excited every time I get to say it!
CA: Whoa, pre-Z! Off topic and out of curiosity, what is it about early Toriyama that does it for you guys? You also mentioned Chrono Trigger, which he did those great character designs on, so my interest is peaked on this topic. I’m a Dr.Slump fan myself, so when my friends talk about Super Sayian level 3 and I talk about Boss Rabbit and his ability to turn folks into carrots, there’s usually a disconnect unless you meet a certain kind of person.
AEL: Man, there’s so much to love about old school Dragonball…
NT: Totally. I’m totally unashamed of my love for all things Dragonball, and I’m proud (?) to say I’ve sat through all 508 episodes from DB through GT. Before Z though, that’s what I always come back to. There’s whole swaths of episodes just dedicated to Goku flying on the nimbus over these gorgeous landscapes, you know? Like Toriyama and crew just said, “We have the amazing world where almost anything is possible, so why not just enjoy it for a little while?”
AEL: I’m a big nerd and have a soft spot for Z as well, but OG Dragonball is all about adventure and exploring, and still has all that “Journey to the West” stuff in there, like the nimbus, and the extendo-pole, etc. Plus the actual dragon balls! Finding them becomes a total afterthought later in the series, and I really like the high stakes Easter egg hunt.
NT: Adventure, exploration, humor, and yeah, even some high stakes “save the world” action still. Somehow when Z happened and things got intergalactic the world actually felt smaller.
AEL: Also characters like Yamcha and Krillin weren’t a complete joke yet. I love those guys. Like Tien! Plus, talking dogs. The world is so nuts and awesome, and fun to hang out in.
NT: Yeah! The cast wasn’t made up of people specifically designed to challenge Goku and then follow him; they were characters with these deep back stories who could hold their own, and did. They weren’t punchlines – they were people. It sounds like we’re slagging on Z but we’re totally not. Z has its place for sure.
AEL: Z is about shockface, scouter busting, power level pissing contests, which I love, but it’s a completely different thing.
NT: Exactly. So for us with this book, Dragonball was a huge inspiration. We probably won’t have nutso charge-up SSJ fights, but everything that came before that? We can only hope readers get that same “anything is possible and we want to hang out here” vibe.
AEL: Yeah, plus when Sam does her first kamehameha it’s a big deal.
CA: Getting back on topic, art style wise I can liken looks to Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and a few others. Was it a choice to make it have more of a Cartoon Network-friendly design appeal, given how successful those properties are, or is it just luck of draw and the art just came out of you to fit the material?
AEL: Wow, i’m actually really flattered by the comparison, but that was not intentional! Both of those shows have some crazy talented artists working on them. I think there are a lot of illustrators who grew up geeking out over the same stuff, and we’ve all kind of absorbed it in different ways. So while I really respect Pen Ward, Rebecca Sugar, and Sam Bosma, I wasn’t setting out specifically to match the style.
It’s funny you mention Steven Universe, though, ’cause I think it’s partially based on Rehoboth Beach, which is actually where I am AT THIS VERY MOMENT!
NT: You can see how difficult life for comic creators can be. Playing video games and relaxing on the beach. Life’s hard.
But seriously, it’s incredibly flattering to be considered alongside those awesome shows, even just aesthetically. And I do definitely think there’s potential that folks who are into them would dig what we’re doing here. Alex is right – all those artists are right around our age and we grew up loving the same stuff, so I think we’re sort of living in a renaissance of “classic” nerdery right now. It’s pretty cool to be a part of that!
CA: Nick, you are (or already have by the time this is published) about to have a baby. Do you see any changes in your writing style where perhaps you make everything all-ages focused and stray away from darker territory?
NT: You know it’s funny, I actually started noticing a shift a few years ago with a book I wrote for First Second (my work’s been done on it for a while, and it’s being illustrated at the moment). It started life as a very serious modern fable and, as I wrote it, sort of became a supernatural coming of age humor book. So I do think all those all-ages stylings have been threatening to take over for a while now. Even THANATOS DIVER underwent the same sort of transformation. But that worked out SUPER well for us, since all that old stuff became the mythology that the current book is based on. So we’ll definitely be getting back to that stuff.
But becoming a dad has definitely made me think about the work I’m doing in a different way. I remember reading an interview with Matt Fraction that makes the rounds a lot where he talked about knowing he was having a daughter and needing to change some things about his writing so he wouldn’t have to apologize to her later.
AEL: Nick’s only concern when writing is being able to look his newborn daughter in the eye at the end of the day.
NT: Ha! It’s true! That thing from Fraction definitely stuck with me, and though Sam was created before my wife got pregnant with our daughter, I knew I didn’t ever want to have to apologize to anyone for what I was writing, especially not my own kid.
So I don’t think what I’m writing has changed because of parenthood, I think that was already happening, but definitely how aware I am when I write it. It’s so important to me that Samantha is a real person that my daughter can see some of herself in, or her friends, her family. Not defined by her gender, but not just a skin swap for a male character either. I want to write a person whose adventures my daughter can follow later without her being embarrassed that her father wrote it.
CA: On the back of the issue we get a nice map of the island, a nice touch, and again one of things that called out to me as RPG-like. As the series continues, will we get more maps, perhaps weapon schematics, etc., of this world?
NT: Thanks, man! The map of Sam’s island was definitely just the start.
AEL: I don’t want to give too much away, but we have plans for a way bigger world map, so stay tuned for that. Schematics is a pretty cool idea too, now that you mention it….
By the end of the run, we’ll probably just include an entire SNES style instruction manual, including button layout.
NT: What do you mean probably? I think we just made a promise to everyone at Comic Attack.
CA: Any final thoughts for our readers?
AEL: If you have fond memories of old school RPGs, video games, anime, or are capable of feeling any kind of happiness, THANATOS DIVER is for you!
NT: Seriously, he’s right. Our first rule on this book was that it always had to be fun for us, and if you like even some of the things that we do, that means it’ll almost definitely always be fun for you, too. Come hang out with us and have an adventure for a while. And bring your friends!
Seriously. Tell your friends. I’m having a kid and she’s gonna need, like, college or something. TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS!
We’d like to thank Nick and Alex for doing this awesome Q ‘n A with us. If you are interested in Thanatos Diver (and you should be, I read the first issue and it’s off to a great start) you can click here to print out a pre-order form like the one above (then you can take it to your local comic shop): http://thanatosdiver.th3rdworld.com
That’s it for this week, see you soon!