Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the release of your comic book series, Dino Beasts! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the series’ premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
John Coats: Dino Beasts is a fantasy adventure with humanoid-dinosaur characters in a Paleozoic world of barbarian sword-and-sorcery action. Think Conan with dinosaur people and you’re on the right track. Our hero, Kumoto, the last survivor of a dinosaur clan, embarks on a desperate quest to rescue a mystical salamander princess.
This story comes directly from our childhood in the late 1980s where we were surrounded by great cartoons and toys, and also great comics. The first comics we had as kids were mostly creator-owned books like Elfquest, Usagi Yojimbo, and Ninja Turtles, so the independent spirit was implanted in our brains early.
Dino Beasts is a story that we always wanted to read as kids, teens, and then adults, but nobody else was making it. So, we decided to tell it ourselves, with the characters and elements, we always dreamed of experiencing together in one story.
BD: How would you describe your shared creative process in bringing this story to life, and what have been some of your creative influences?
John: Some of my strongest writing influences include Bone and Usagi Yojimbo.
I love the immediacy of those stories and their lack of caption boxes. They suck you into their worlds with just a few panels and they let the art do the “talking” as much as possible. Expressions and gestures are powerful storytelling tools and visually relatable for readers. In comics I think it’s important to remember that you can contribute as a writer even without lots of words appearing on the page. Our overall views on storytelling have been pretty much in sync from the beginning of this project and we have a great collaborative back-and-forth process. I’ll write a script and give it to James and we will talk about it, and then he can add elements, panels, pages, anything he wants as he plans out the visual flow and how he wants the story to look and read visually. Then we will talk it over again and look at his thumbnails, and then the drawing begins. We have both come at the story with different elements and ideas, and we are allowing our scripts the flexibility to change and adjust as we work. For the next book, James showed me some designs for new characters that were just going to be in the background. But they were so good I’m giving them names and adding some bigger parts for them to play. That’s how our process has been for the first two books and it’s a fun way to work. The interplay between us as creators is really strong right now.
James Coats: Artistically, I have always had a strong affinity towards more expressive cartoonist. Guys like Milton Caniff, Doug Wildey, Paul Pope, Jeff Smith, Kyle Baker, Alex Toth, and Bill Waterson. To me, they are the pinnacle of the art form and my main source of artistic influence. Caniff, Wildey, Pope, and Smith are probably the biggest influences on what I am trying to do with the Dino Beasts series. Trying to find the right balance between realistic and cartoony elements isn’t easy, yet those guys were all able to mix those styles into some beautiful comics. I’m always amazed at how well their stories work. I also admire the way those guys ink with a brush. Their line work is so fun and energetic it’s almost alive. The pacing of my storytelling is more influenced by European comics and Manga than the traditional monthly pamphlet. I want to take my time with the characters so you get to see their expressions and reactions and hopefully that brings the reader into their world. The most fun in the drawing is the acting that goes on between your characters. Well, that and fight scenes. John and I both agree comics are first and foremost a visual medium, so that has allowed me almost free reign when it comes to the pacing of the book. But we both have similar thoughts on how we want the story to come out and what the important beats are we need to hit so it has been a pretty smooth working process so far.
BD: At Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Dino Beasts’ story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
John: Growing up we were always interested in Adventure stories. Books like Hardy Boys, John Carter, Treasure Island, and Lord of the Rings. And comics also have a rich history of adventure strips like Terry and The Pirates, Flash Gordon, and Prince Valiant to name a few. We wanted to bring back that energy and excitement and tell an adventure story through the lens of our own unique interests. Comics should be fun and we want readers to relax and let their minds wander as they go on an adventure with our characters. Dino Beasts is something that really appealed to us, so we made it. And hopefully other readers will take a chance on more non superhero stories, so that other creators can just tell stories that appeal to them and don’t necessarily fit into a narrow box that the American comic industry has created. If someone wants to make a story about a porcupine, then they should do it, and the industry and readership should be openminded enough to try that book and appreciate what it is, not scoff at what it isn’t. Dino Beasts does have some important environmental themes and ideas, but nothing we are going to preach at anyone. In the end, it’s about fun and adventure and escaping to a world completely different from our own.
BD: Do you have a certain number of issues or story arcs planned for the series?
John: Dino Beasts is a five-book series, with each book being the size of a small graphic novel between 80 and 100 pages. Book 1 and 2 are available now in print and digital options.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
John: We are hard at work on Dino Beasts book 3 right now, and focusing all our efforts on that.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Dino Beasts?
John: More information, preview art, and books can be found on our website, dinobeasts.com. We are also on Instagram: @jacoats, @jdcoats.