Spotlight on Dungeons & Dragons: Tempest's Gate

A new 4-issue mini-series, set in the Dungeons & Dragons Universe, begins this month from Kenzer & Company. This epic fantasy, Dungeons & Dragons: Tempest's Gate, comes from writer Sean Smith (JLA: Black Baptism) and penciler Mike Lilly (Catwoman). How did this project begin? Mike Lilly explains. “I met Sean Smith at a store signing we did together at Gotham City Comics in New York City. He was signing JLA: Black Baptism #1 and I believe I was signing Catwoman #90 (the Officer Down story-line). I brought my portfolio along to show the customers and I had a double-page spread of a huge dragon looming over his treasure reacting to a dwarf who just happened to stumble upon his lair. It was a piece I did 3 years ago for a black & white comic, Calamodre-Gargoyle, that never got off the ground. Sean zeroed in on this piece and thought it was very good. He asked me what type of stories I'd prefer to do, superhero, sci-fi, etc. I told him even though I draw and read superhero comics I'd love to draw a fantasy adventure ala the Savage Sword of Conan. Sean showed me the Dungeons & Dragons comic, In the Shadow of the Dragon and said, ‘hey, we should pitch something to these guys (Kenzer). I bet we could get a mini-series.’ Not knowing Sean back then I wasn't sure, but I said what the hell, let's try it. Now knowing Sean, besides him being an excellent writer, he's a great motivator and salesman to boot. He quickly gave me an idea for a spec page and I drew one up, lettered it (with Sean's dialogue) and using his Hollywood charm, Sean contacted Kenzer & Co. and 'voila' we got the gig.”

The idea of working on a fantasy book obviously appeals to both Smith and Lilly. “I was hoping to write a fantasy story,” says Smith. “I have great love for the genre, and am excited about the Lord of the Rings film coming out at the end of the year. One of my favorite comics was the Savage Sword Of Conan, the large sized black and white. Readers will see elements of both in Tempest's Gate. I was also given the freedom to create my own characters and plotlines, which is a tremendous bonus as a comic book writer. Established superheroes must act a certain way of course. This new series lets readers jump on from the beginning and learn about the rich backgrounds of the protagonists as the story develops. And it’s a mini-series, so you can have your beginning middle and end within 4 months of comic book collecting. Good for your wallet!”

“Now I used to be a big D&D fan and played quite a bit when I was in Junior High,” says Lilly. “I loved playing but then kinda got out of it. I think what kept me involved with fantasy is that I loved reading Savage Sword of Conan. Especially the ones drawn by John Buscema and inked by Alfredo Alcala and Rudy Nebres. No offense to Ernie Chan or Tony Dezuniga, they're great too. That got me interested in the Robert E. Howard stories as well. And I always loved the movie Excalibur (in my opinion the best fantasy movie ever done).

“On a side note, Sean has now slowly gotten me interested in gaming again. But man you need time to game. I'm always swamped with pages to draw.”

What can readers look forward to in the series? “Tempest's Gate is a high fantasy adventure set in the world of Dungeons and Dragons,” replies Smith. “It uses elements of magic, monsters and locations from the epic World of Greyhawk made famous by the Dungeons and Dragons Role Playing Game.

“The main story centers around a young paladin, Aidus who is thrust into a position of leadership in the Border town of Tempest's Gate. Under siege from Dark Magic and a horde of Orc Warriors, he must forge a fellowship with unlikely allies to protect the Kingdom of Bissel. Old adventuring comrades of his late father start to arrive, and Aidus must decide if he can complete a great quest started by his father years before.”

But don’t worry if you’re not into D&D. According to Smith, that’s not a prerequisite for reading the series. “Comic book readers who appreciate detailed art and rich storylines are going to really enjoy Tempest's Gate. Because it is an independent publisher, Kenzer & Company; who put out the fantastic Knights of the Dinner Table magazine, I recommend pre-ordering the book, as it is sure to sell out fast. While fans of the Roleplaying game will recognize some of the spells and character classes we use, it isn't a necessity to enjoy the story. We referenced classical medieval armor and clothing designs, and studied sword fighting techniques to get the combat styles as close to realistic as we could as well. I am proud to have gotten the best work out of Mike Lilly's pencils he's ever done. His backgrounds are rich and evoke classic John Buscema in style. And if you are a fan of creepy monsters ...well...make sure you leave the night light on after reading issue #1. They are way too creepy.”

As you can see here, Lilly’s art is indeed stunning and he does count John Buscema among his influences. According to Lilly, other influences includes “Mark Schultz, Al Williamson, Frank Frazetta (hey, I know I can't paint or draw like him but man, it's too compelling to look away), Jim Steranko (for his graphic approach), and for pure soul and inspiration... Jack (King) Kirby. Also, Michael Whelan and James Bama's work turns me on.”

Smith hopes this isn’t his last foray into the D&D Universe. “As there aren't many solid high fantasy ongoing comic books in the mass market, I think that we will have to look to independent publishing for these kind of genre adventures,” he says. “Dungeons and Dragons is a recognizable name synonymous with fantasy adventure. To be able to contribute in any way to these ongoing adventures is a dream come true. I hope if readers enjoy Tempest's Gate and want to see more of my epic fantasy stories, I will be privileged to set them in the fine Dungeons and Dragons Universe.”

            And if you like what you see in Tempest’s Gate, both creators have other projects on the way. “Dungeons & Dragon's Tempest's Gate is definitely taking up every ounce of strength I have but I managed to squeeze in some work for Scholastic Books,” says Lilly. “I've done some children's comics for them in the past (13 to be exact) and now they'd like me to illustrate a MacBeth comic (Yeah, I know it's not Batman or Thor or the like but hey, who said it can't be done). I'm also slated to do Force Seven #8 for Lone Star Press as well as some work for Penny-Farthing Press. I have other things in the works for the big two, but can't say right now – wink wink.”

“I am hoping to follow up JLA: Black Baptism, exploring the magical nature of the DC Universe,” says Smith. “I hope to have a Justice League Adventures story out in 2002 as well, based on the animated cartoon. Mike Lilly and I are planning to work together again on projects for Marvel and DC Comics. Keep checking Westfield Comics Web site, as they will be the first to know of our next big mini-series event!”