Deep below the dirt and grass, a giant slumbers, ready to awaken and defend his land, and only a young student of the Natural Arts can awaken him. Writer/artistKen Garing follows up his acclaimed sci-fi series Planetoid with Gogor, a fantasy comic out this week from Image Comics.
Inspired by the likes of Hayao Miyazaki and Moebius, Garing looks to set Gogor apart with a story that goes into “unexplored places.” Newsarama spoke with Garing about how manga influenced a lot of the visuals in Gogor, the ins and outs of the magical world of Altara, and what’s at the top of his list should he be able to summon a plant-based golem.
Newsarama: So, Ken, you’re kind of going in the opposite direction from Planetoid with Gogor. Do you feel like you have a preference for sci-fi or fantasy, maybe one plays more to your strengths?
Ken Garing: I love both genres. My favorite author, Harlan Ellison (who passed away last year), put both genres under the umbrella of what he called “Speculative Fiction”. So, that’s mostly how I think about it; as one big genre.
Nonetheless, Gogor is indeed “fantasy” and very different than Planetoid which was a work of industrial science-fiction. In terms of my strengths, I’m not sure. I like to create entire worlds and then flesh them out with a particular approach to storytelling.
Nrama: What can you tell us about the world of Altara, and the wheel of islands?
Garing: Altara is made up of a multitude of floating islands. Different people, animals, and landscapes can be found among the islands. There is contact and trade among the people of the various islands but it’s limited. There is no central authority or kingdom.
Nrama: Our hero here, Armano, is more of a scholar than a fighter so he joins up with this ragtag team of artisans, which really aren’t usually represented in fantasy tales outside of the bard, so how are they going to help him on his journey?
Garing: Yeah, much of fantasy as a genre has become a bit formalized and generic and entire character types are often left out. I still see a lot of fantasy art that looks like it’s straight out of Peter Jackson’s Lord of The Rings, which is odd to me because it’s such an open-ended genre – it is called “fantasy” after all – and there are still so many unexplored places to go with it.
Basically, throughout his journey, Armano will meet an assortment of characters who will all play a role of some kind and shape the narrative.
Nrama: Right from the start, there was this Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind vibe. Where did you get a lot of your visual inspiration?
Garing: Miyazaki is definitely an influence, although more than anything I’ve been looking at his work from a fantasy manga he did in 1983 called The Journey Of Shuna. Also, Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle have had an influence on aspects of the story, but the big three for me are always Richard Corben, Moebius, and Katsuhiro Otomo. Of course, Otomo is best known for his cyberpunk work but he put out a graphic novel of twisted fairy tales that I’ve been looking at a lot.
I’m also an enormous fan of fantasy painters like Frank Frazetta, Simon Bisley, Brian Froud, James Gurney, and Paul Bonner.
Nrama: Gogor is this sort of plant golem, but will he be more of a weapon or defender?
Garing: He’s a defender but if I had to put a label on it I’d say he’s more of a teacher and companion than anything else. He’s big and strong and there some scenes of him in action but I kind of want to get away from the idea of him simply existing to beat up people. His true purpose is more subtle than that and unraveling the mystery of what he’s all about is a central theme in the series.
Nrama: Looking at the opposition, who are the Domus and why did they attack the Academea?
Garing: The Domus are a paramilitary force roving around Altara and claiming territory as their own which is easy to do because there is no centralized force to stop them. They attack and occupy the island of Academea in order to claim a certain resource, but I can’t say too much or else I’ll give away a key plot point.
Nrama: How does magic work in this world? Is it incantation-based, or something that has to be taught?
Garing: The term “magic” is never used but there is a practice known as “The Natural Arts” of which Armano is a student. As the name indicates, it’s all based on nature. It’s basically a skill that has to be learned. Armano in particular studies animal communication which explains why he gets along so well with Mesmer, the giant shrew he rides on.
Nrama: Is Gogor the last of his kind? Are there more elemental war golems out there?
Garing: There are others but that’s another plot point I have to be tight-lipped about.
Nrama: If you had your elemental soldier, what’s the first thing you’d have them do?
Garing: Reforest the city.