Interview: Leila del Duca and Kit Seaton on Image’s Afar

Afar OGN

Afar OGN

Leila del Duca is probably best known for her work on Shutter, but has also worked on comics including The Pantheon Project, Scarlet Witch, and others. Kit Seaton has illustrated children’s books and drawn web comics including The Black Bull of Norway, Otto the Odd and the Dragon King, and more. Together, they bring us the new science fantasy graphic novel, Afar. They recently told Westfield’s Roger Ash more about this exciting new project.

Westfield: How did you two come together to do Afar?

Kit Seaton: Leila and I have been friends since we formally met shortly after our undergraduate studies in Colorado. She had gone to the same school a couple of years ahead of me, but our social circles overlapped until we crashed into each-other like satellites in a happily miscalculated trajectory. Leila actually said once “I want to be your friend”, and so it just naturally followed that after that she would be. Later it was “Would you like to be my colorist”? and so I helped out with the colors on The Pantheon Project. Then later, “Would you like to work on a graphic novel”? This is one of many great things about Leila. You’ll hear that she has some kind of a plan going, and not too long after, she’s found a way to make it happen. She’s lightening in an uncorked bottle.

Leila del Duca: I first remember knowing of Kit from her artwork. I was attending Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, and I was seeing this amazing art on the walls and every time I saw who did it, it turned out to be Kit. After we met through mutual friends and started hanging out, I started working on The Pantheon Project and hired her on as a colorist, always feeling like her true skills were being wasted. She was amazing at everything from design, to draftmanship, to colors, so I believed she should be doing the whole shebang! People deserved to see her brilliance! So the first chance I got to write my own book, Kit was immediately who came to mind and I’m so thrilled we were able to make this book together.

Westfield: What can you tell us about the book and who are the main characters we’ll meet?

del Duca: Afar is a science fantasy coming-of-age tale about two siblings: Boetema, a fifteen year old girl, and Inotu, her thirteen-year-old brother.

Seaton: Boetema is a very intelligent, very headstrong teenage girl. She wants to be independent, but her unguarded courageous nature leads her to make a few mistakes which only she can correct. She’s also suddenly gifted with the ability to travel into the bodies of other beings on different worlds when she sleeps. Sometimes she is accompanied by a strange companion, a lizard-dog creature named Agama-Wanwitu. While she is projecting into the body of a girl a bit like her on another world, her actions lead a young man to be hurt. She wants to help, but she can’t get back to their world. On her own planet, she also risks irreparable harm to her relationship with her little brother, Inotu, who depends upon her, and is also seeking to develop his own identity, but deeply wants to hold his family together.

Westfield: Aside from the two main worlds in the story, Boetema visits a number of others as well. How much planning went into all the various worlds and species in this universe?

Seaton: The off-world characters and creatures start as a prompt coming from Leila’s brain. I can’t comprehend that enigma, I can barely understand my own. She’s helped me out a time or two by sending a sketch that I can build off of (a nice perk that comes from collaborating with an accomplished artist). For my part, I usually see these creatures are chimeras, hybrids that come from combining a couple different animals in interesting ways. It’s a good technique that when you’re trying to design a fantastical beastie, start with what is known. It goes without saying that our world has an amazing milieu of bio-diversity, and that’s always a good place to start looking for ideas.

del Duca: Yeah, what Kit said! I tried to come up with animal combinations that I hadn’t been seeing in sci-fi comics, television, and movies, and then threw them at Kit to design. As for the environments, I tried doing the same. Sometimes it was incredibly hard to come up with original worlds, and I’m not entirely sure I succeeded there. Taneka Stotts, our editor, would often point out that this movie already had blue cat creatures (Avatar), or that movie already had a red and white forest (Star Trek: Into Darkness). I’m so glad Taneka and Kit were both there to add their own two cents about ideas and designs.

When it came to Boetema’s planet, I originally wanted to base it on Earth, in pre-colonial Eastern Africa. However, I decided against making it historically accurate because I wasn’t finding enough reference material within the time-frame I had to make it convincing, or to do it justice. I just wasn’t finding enough information about social structures, clothing, or communication styles, which was a pity because the little I did find was so incredibly interesting and I still want to know more. So I decided to keep the inspiration but put it on a different planet and country that was already technologically advanced but had since lost a lot of that tech due to natural phenomenon and wars. I sent Kit visual reference mainly from Habesha culture and ancient Ethiopia, and later threw in Egyptian, Swedish, and Chinese influences.

Westfield: While this book tells a complete story, there are still events that haven’t concluded and concepts that haven’t been fully explored. Do you hope to do more books in the series?

Seaton: Anything is possible, but nothing is certain.

del Duca: I would love to do a sequel or two! I already have a ton of ideas that I’d like to explore, other characters that I’d love to develop. We’ll see what happens, but like Kit said, nothing is certain.

Westfield: What can you say about your collaboration? How do you work together?

Seaton: I would say that I feel incredibly fortunate, because it has been a great experience working with Leila. We understand each-other’s artistic temperaments really well. We know what the other is willing to leverage, and what our boundaries are, and we respect one another as artists and comrades. If I have one grievance, it would be that I wished we lived a little closer so we could hang out more often.

del Duca: Yes! I wish we lived closer. Kit is in Savannah, GA, and I’m in Portland, OR. Not only is Kit a great collaborator, but she’s an excellent friend and it would be great to see her more often.

Our collaboration usually works with me telling her the basic idea of what I want to write. Once she confirms that she likes the direction I’m going to take, I write the script, send it to my editor, Taneka, and do rewrites. I wrote Afar full of anxiety, fear, and self-doubt because I was so new to writing. When it went smoothly, I was like “Yeah!! I could do this forever!” but when it went badly I definitely suffered and took longer at completing chapters than I wanted to. Kit was very patient and encouraging with me, and Taneka was the best editor I could ask for. Taneka helped shape me into a better writer and I am eternally grateful for her role in this project.

Anyways, enough about my anxieties! After script is turned in, Kit sends me layouts and any important designs. Once that’s okayed by me, she goes on to pencils, inks, colors and letters. Every stage I get to see her incredible work! It’s such a motivation to see someone else bring to life my script before my eyes.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Seaton: This is my first completed long form graphic novel. I have a lot of hopes, but I’m not sure what to expect. All I can say is that I’m happy with the result, and grateful to have had the opportunity to work on it. I’m looking forward to future projects.

del Duca: Well-said, Kit! I feel the same. This is my first longer work as a writer and I’m really interested to see what people think. Kit’s artwork is amazing and I’m so happy I got her as a teammate and hope we can work together again!


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