The following is an interview with Dan Miles and Ben Flebbe, creators of the upcoming graphic novel, Tale of the Taira. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Miles and Flebbe about the inspiration behind the graphic novel, their currently running Kickstarter campaign, their shared creative process, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the premise of Tale of the Taira, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Ben Flebbe: Tale of the Taira is our rendition of the Japanese epic, Tale of the Heike. (The two proper names are essentially interchangeable, and we liked the alliteration.) This is the fictionalized version of the founding of the first Shogunate of Japan. It’s about tension in the capital growing into political intrigue and eventually into a civil war. This part of Japanese history isn’t as well known as, say, the Edo or Warring States periods. We set out to tell this story because of our love of exploration. Reading Tale of the Heike, we got to learn again with fresh eyes. When we started the Tale, we didn’t know what stories we’d hear, the themes we’d explore, or the ending we’d reach. It’s a fantastically exciting and addictive experience. Enough so that we want to share it.
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in co-writing/adapting this graphic novel, and what have been some of your creative influences? Likewise, what has been your experience in working with artists Milan Mišić and Miloš Trajković?
Dan Miles: The co-writing part of the process has been a much smoother one than I expected. Ben and I will fire up a Skype call and talk our way through the story and our ideas, with one of us typing as we go. When we get stuck on the phrasing of something, we’ll each type out a handful of variations, then edit each other’s and cut down the options together. On the whole, I’d say I might do a little more of the typing and Ben a little more of the research, but most lines have at least a little of each of us in them.
When we were looking for artists, we commissioned test pages from half a dozen or so different people. Milan stood out immediately not just because of his talent, but because he immediately let us know, “You wrote this as two pages, but I think it needs to be three, and here’s why.” He and Milos are very good at keeping us grounded in what works and what doesn’t in this medium, and their willingness to share their expertise has definitely made us better writers. We all respect each other’s areas of expertise, but are unafraid to give or take feedback that might improve the comic, which has resulted in a very strong shared vision.
BD: What do you hope that readers will take away from your work?
BF: Our greatest hope is to bring to Western audiences a story fundamentally different than anything else they know. Many of the touchstones are similar: There are proud patriarchs, daring heroes, and conniving villains. But the things that make characters heroes or villains? And the lines between them? Exploring those distinctions is how we hope to surprise our audience and teach them something about Japanese culture and history.
DM: When Ben first told me he wanted to do this project, he had me read the chapter that we based our first issue on, and at the end I just went “huh” and sat there thinking for a while. I didn’t feel like I’d been handed a moral or a message, or like I knew exactly why the characters had acted the way they did. But I felt confronted with unfamiliar values and actions in a way that made me feel like I had to sit down and think about them and figure out how I felt. That’s the experience I want to bring to more people.
BD: You recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund for the production costs for the first volume of Tale of the Taira. What encouraged you to utilize the platform, and what are some of the backer rewards available?
DM: We discussed a lot of different funding options when we decided to self-publish. I think the decision really came together when we realized we had a way to group stories together into a coherent volume that served our story goals nicely and gave us a good-sized unit to market to people. For something of this magnitude, Kickstarter fit our goals and capital levels ideally.
As for rewards, of course, we’ve got the selections you’d expect: the first chapter, the whole volume, various options for covers, and limited edition format. We’ve also got a great poster that we just got the finished design for. I think our coolest current reward is that Milan has agreed to part with some of the original pages from our first chapter for our highest tier reward. And we’ve got a really awesome collaboration in the works with a guest artist for a variant cover, if we hit the stretch goal. We’ll be announcing details on that soon.
BD: Given that the Kickstarter campaign is geared towards funding the first volume of the series, do you have a certain number of volumes in mind to fully encompass the Tale of the Taira story?
BF: One of the great things about the Tale and its surrounding literature is that it’s kind of a fractal: The closer you look, the more interesting and complex it gets. So, it lets us scale the number of volumes to fit outside forces while staying true to the story. Currently, we’re hoping to mix a sprinkling of really in-depth stories and medium-granularity stories with the broader arc over six volumes. But even with six volumes, we’d be cutting a whole bunch of dearly loved content. We could do this for ten years if we wanted and people were interested.
DM: I think 6 volumes is a pretty ideal number. But we’re playing around with structure a little, trying to recreate the experience of listening to a storyteller at an inn. We want to engage people at the micro level of individual stories and give a sense of place. Over time, the big picture plot will emerge. We’ve constructed this volume around the theme of loyalty. For the next, we want to focus on the perspective of a single character. For others, stories grouped by place or around a particular event. We feel like there are a lot of interesting ways to play with different perspectives and approaches to a clear overarching story.
BD: Are there any other upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
BF: We’re all in on Tale of the Taira. It is definitely our baby.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Tale of the Taira?
DM: The best place is on Kickstarter. You can find all our information and read an 8-page sample at kickstarter.peersofmenard.com.
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