Our own Gardner Mounce recently spoke with Jason Bienvenu, the creator of The Kingdom, a comic about “a magical realm where animals have evolved in the absence of mankind.” You can also read Gardner’s coverage of the series here.
GARDNER MOUNCE: First, tell us a little about yourself and your background.
JASON BIENVENU: Jason Bienvenu (b. 1979). I’m an illustrator and designer born and raised in South Central Louisiana (Lafayette). I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts, with a concentration in graphic design from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. I love collecting action figures, playing video games, and hanging out with my wife, Natalie, and my daughter, Elizabeth.
GM: When did you first know you wanted to write comic books?
JB: In the fall of 2011 I did a lot of animation work for an Xbox XNA game that never got produced leaving me frustrated that I had done so much work on a project that wouldn’t see the light of day. At that point I decided that I wanted to take on a project from start to finish that won’t cost me an arm and a leg; a project that I could learn as I go.
From there I began making little Post-it notes on the look of some of the characters and jotting down ideas. By the spring of 2011 I had begun what would become the first issue of The Kingdom. I had a story arc/road map of where I wanted the series to go, but nothing set in stone. At that point I was still learning how to create my first comic and wasn’t even sure I would finish the first issue!
While struggling through the first issue, I realized how fun and rewarding it was, and my wife Natalie and I would go over dialog together and it really began to come together. By the time I finished the first issue I told myself, “Okay, you can do this.” So I created a Kickstarter to help fund the printing of the books and the rest is history!
GM: Which comic book creators inspire you most?
JB: When I was doing my comic research I picked up Mike Mignola’s Hellboy books and studied them and took in as much as I could from them. They are still a huge influence on me today.
But in a real face-to-face sense I would have to say my friends Kody Chamberlain of Sweets and Punks and Rob Guillory of Chew really helped me out more than I could ever convey in words. We were friends before I decided to start doing comics and I was actually shy about asking them for the longest time, but once I did they gave me really invaluable advice on everything comic wise, from the art and how to transfer line art to digital format to how to have a successful showing at comic conventions. I can’t thank them enough for that.
GM: What are your ambitions for your writing career?
JB: I know a lot of people want to work on the “big” books like Batman and Captain America, but right now for me, I have stories that I want to tell and I have several writing partners on other projects that I am super excited about, so at the end of the day, for now, I would say I want to be able to continue creating comics and would love for the work I create and will produce in the future to be published so that more readers will have the chance to enjoy it.
GM: What was the most challenging aspect of working on The Kingdom?
JB: I’d say the most challenging part of working on The Kingdom was the last two issues of the story arc. I would work my day job, then stay up until 2 a.m. working on each issue, which took about three months to finish both of them. My wife and I had just had our beautiful little girl so there was no guarantee that when I was done at 2 a.m. that I would actually get to sleep the rest of the night, ha!
GM: What was the most thrilling?
JB: I’d say the most thrilling part for me was when I received the trade paperback edition in the mail and I felt the weight of it in my hands and flipped through the pages, and just looked at what I created with the help of my wife and all the Kickstarter backers. It was one of those, “wow, you really did it, kid” type of moments.
GM: What is one unexpected thing you learned while working on The Kingdom?
JB: That I am a comic book creator! This was the first comic book I ever created and I honestly wasn’t sure if I would ever finish it, but once I got the first issue down I felt like I had found my groove and I really feel like I found out what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. That was a great feeling.
GM: Which character in The Kingdom do you most identify with?
JB: I’d say Pale. Pale is basically me, but Thane has a lot of aspects of me in him as well, ha!
GM: As the sole creator of The Kingdom, you don’t have the difficulty of explaining your story to an artist or interpreting a writer’s story. With that in mind, what is your process for creating an issue? Do you write a script first?
JB: Whenever I created the story I knew where I wanted it to go. I had a “roadmap” but I felt like the story should be very organic. I wanted to let the story unfold and I had a lot of fun surprises along the way. For instance the rat Reekey was basically only a plot device to get Pale from point A to B, but I wound up liking him so much that he became this major part of the story and I really like to work that way. Also my wife, Natalie, is listed as editor but in future prints she’ll be listed as writer, as she helped me with much of the dialog, especially between Mala and Thane, who are basically me and her.
The process: whenever I start an issue I look at my road map. Then I close my eyes and literally envision the entire issue one page at a time. As I finish a page I draw it out as a “thumbnail” sketch in my sketchpad and add dialog, like a good joke or important plot point, and continue on until that book is completely thumbnailed out. Then I move onto the dialog and finally start on the artwork itself. Once all the artwork is completed I go in and add all the word bubbles. Then I print it out and Natalie and I go over all of the dialog and make sure it all fits and sounds right and that there are no typos, etc.
GM: Do you have a day job? If so, what is it and how do you balance your day job with working on comics?
JB: I still have a day job, so I do lot of comic work on weekends and at night and during holidays, which can be really grueling and difficult at times, but also very rewarding.
GM: When writing The Kingdom, did you outline the entire plot in advance or did you create it issue by issue?
JB: Yes I outlined the entire story arc, but it was more of a “roadmap” as I knew where I wanted the story to go but I allowed for it flow and have a more organic feel, which allowed me to take what I had built up from the previous issue and incorporate it into the next.
GM: Is there a type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? (Love, action, suspense)
JB: I found from working on other comics that for me a large page of dialogue between a couple of people was difficult because as the artist I have to make several panels of people sitting on a sofa look engaging and interesting, which was really challenging but fun at the same time!
GM: What advice would you give to young writers?
JB: Never wait for permission to follow your dreams. Once you know what you want in life, go for it. You’ll make mistakes but it’s the best way to learn and never be afraid to fail.
GM: How would you have been stereotyped in high school? Jock? Band nerd? Theater kid?
JB: I’d have to go with class clown, ha!
GM: What are you reading right now?
JB: I try not to read anything while I’m writing, and I’m working on issue eight of The Kingdom right now. However, the last thing I read was The Hobbit, which was a Christmas gift from my wife. I would sit in bed and read one chapter at a time and just take it all in; what an amazing book!
GM: What’s next for you? Any future projects?
JB: My next project is called Vamped, about a group of nerds being introduced to the world of Vampers. It’s a dark comedy written by Donny Broussard and illustrated by me. Think Clerks meets The Lost Boys! We are three issues into a six issue story arc and have recently started work on issue four. I’m also working on a sci-fi noir with Brando Gary called Dusk, which I’ll start on when Vamped is completed this summer.
GM: Is there anything you’d like our readers to know about you or The Kingdom?
JB: This project started out as a personal challenge and turned into an inspirational project for me. Growing up with dyslexia presented its own set of challenges, so I tended to fall back on the amazing 80s era that was around when I was a kid. The same era that promoted fun and joy is what I wanted to bring back and share with you guys. I hope that this story inspires you to share in that same nostalgia and that you have enjoyed the story as much as I have enjoyed creating it.
GM: The character designs in The Kingdom are wonderful. Do you have a favorite one?
JB: Thanks! I have to say that character design is one of the aspects that I enjoy the most when creating comics. Pale’s character design is very near and dear to my heart, even though his look evolves throughout this story arc.
I really wanted his outward appearance to suggest what was going on under the surface in his mind and heart. I also wanted the reader to worry a little that he wouldn’t wind up being the hero they thought he was.
GM: Can you describe the process of developing the design of that character?
JB: With respect to the character design of The Kingdom, I was very focused on each character’s look and feel, and the first thing I thought was “each character has to be distinct!” I wanted the reader to know who they were even if they were in total silhouette.
After I got their look and feel down, I focused on the color scheme. I found a lot of inspiration from the 1980s Masters of the Universe and Thundercat cartoons and toys. Those characters had very bold and wild color schemes that in some cases should not have worked, but they really did and it taught me a lot about my own color palette.