Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the release of your comic book, A Light Before the Darkness! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Ken Mora: A Light Before The Darkness is my biography of one of history’s most influential, enigmatic, and volatile artists in serialized graphic novel form. Known as Caravaggio, after his home-town, Michelangelo di Merisi became renowned for his style of painting using dramatically lit subjects against dark staging (Chiaroscuro). He was the first to use common people, in common dress and in true scale, to depict Holy subjects. Alongside his rise in artistic prominence, he also gained renown for a violent and defensive temperament, evidenced by the fact that there are more documented criminal charges against him than there are records of his art sales.
His Art was the vanguard of the Counter-Reformation. The Reformation, when Martin Luther denounced the Roman Catholic Church for corruption, saw a mass exodus-in-protest and was nearly The Church’s political end, exacerbated by ruinous fallout from The Inquisition and even more ruinous taxation for endless wars. It was then that Caravaggio’s dramatic vision brought the disillusioned back to the pews with saints represented by models culled from the indigent and outcast. Models whose real-life suffering was etched in the lines of their harried faces. These were saints parishioners could identify with, and it lent their own sufferings an air of Divine trial.
Also reflected in Caravaggio’s art was his own fervent desire for acceptance. Acceptance, ironically, by the Church and it’s alienated flock which formed the very society that would condemn him for his unpardonable sin of loving other men. Caravaggio sought acceptance via his art, from the very people that would see him and his lovers burn at the stake.
This sets the backdrop for the story, but not my motivation to write it. That came from the impossibly lethargic 1986 movie, Caravaggio. Exposed to Caravaggio’s techniques while studying for my degree in Fine Art, the film was recommended to me and I was eager to find some popular literary or theatrical representation of him. While the film has it’s fervent fans, it only served to catalyze me to tell his dynamic story with the "Chiaroscuro" and empathy the film lacked. To extend the filmic metaphor, you can imagine A Light Before The Darkness to be an experience like the 1950 film Cyrano De Bergerac or the 1956 adaptation of Irving Stone’s Lust For Life.
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in writing the comic book, and what have been some of your creative influences? Likewise, what can you tell us about your process in working with your other creative team members?
KM: This serialized graphic novel is actually an adaptation of a screenplay optioned for production; however, despite that option and several awards on the film-fest/script-competition circuit, that film never came to be.
Working on my next screenplays, I also rekindled my love for comic books. An avid reader of Marvel superhero comics as a teenager, I rediscovered sequential story telling with more mature-themed books like Charles Burns’s Black Hole and Alex Robinson’s Box Office Poison. I then began re-envisioning Caravaggio’s story in that light.
I have the skills to render the story myself, having earned my BFA from USC’s Roski School of Fine Arts after transferring from Santa Monica College - institutions with stellar Art programs. Unfortunately, while my observational drawing and painting are strong, I lack the illustrator’s facility required by an experienced day-in, day-out Penciler.
Enter Penciler Cyrus Mesarcia whom I love like a brother despite the fact we’ve never met, since he lives in the Philippines and I live in Los Angeles. I chose him after "auditioning" several artists I discovered on Deviant Art and Facebook, and found his style was the perfect fit for my books.
Part of our agreed rate was an added per-page bonus for on time delivery, paid in a lump sum at the end of each issue. This is my current contract structure, and I believe it ensures good compensation and a guarantee of an artist’s participation for the ‘life’ of the series, and incentive to deliver to schedule. Cyrus has never failed to earn this bonus.
My colorist for Issue 1 is listed in that issue’s credits page, and did a wonderful job. For remaining issues I pulled the colorist Lancelot “Lance” Catan from my newly started Caged Birds comic. I’m indebted to Lance and he has now earned the position of go-to colorist for all my books.
My wife insists, "You can learn anything," so I looked to save money by taking on the job of letterer. I schooled myself, learning that the distribution of word balloons, the configuration of dialog, and lettering’s ability to enhance the visual experience by guiding the viewer within and between panels is an art-form in itself.
BD: What do you hope that readers will take away from your work and learn about the artist, Caravaggio?
KM: Churchill is quoted saying, "History is written by the victors," but in Caravaggio’s case, his story was written by biographers who were also his chief rivals in the politically charged world of Church patronage.
In those biographies, stories of Caravaggio’s foul temperament and mercurial tantrums abound. While I found little in the documentation of his misdeeds to refute those stories, I felt to classify him as the first (and even worst) of the "dark" and temperamental: artists that spawned that over-used trope, was unjust. I used this star to steer by: Caravaggio was a man driven to earn enough power to gain him acceptance in a world determined to extinguish him and "his kind" for the sin of loving another man.
I hope the reader will take from this interpretation of Caravaggio, that he was like all of us who crave the freedom to be who we are. That he strove to be accepted by the very institutions who defined the bounds of conformity and maneuvered themselves to be the gatekeepers for societal, and even Devine, acceptance.
BD: Given the release of issue #1 of the series, how many total issues do you have planned?
KM: I’m delighted to announce that in March 2018 the final issue of the series was released, and the entire six-part saga (154 pages) is available at ComiXology.com. Issue 1 was published as the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2015. The campaign goal was to produce that issue in an exclusive first-print run limited to the number of backers, then to publish the electronic version of all issues via ComiXology Submit. Now, I’m looking for a publisher/distributor for the eventual Trade Paperback edition but may end up choosing to self-publish the print edition with a return to Kickstarter.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
KM: I mentioned Cage Birds, a psychological drama of Anna, a girl who agrees to marry her professor, George, if he’ll teach her to play concert-level piano. As her success grows, their relationship cools, so he plots to have her discover him with a prostitute, Marie, in order to spark Anna’s jealousy. Marie, meanwhile, struggles to escape the darker neighborhoods of Paris and looks to George to set her up in a life away from those cruel streets. The seeds of Anna’s psychological unraveling and Marie’s tortuous trials start when Anna discovers the affair, but unexpectedly falls in love with Marie.
My third project is a life-goes-on dystopian future series, Ms. Valkyrie. She’s a "passage care worker: who ushers the dying to the next world, then rebels against a corrupt society where the immortal rich live at the expense of the poor.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about A Light Before the Darkness?
KM: All six issues are now at ComiXology.
I have a preview of Issue #1 on Webtoons.
For more information on this and on other projects mentioned (and more), my company website is BellaFeMedia.com.