Tales From the Dragon Lord Saga: Exploring A Comic Book Fantasy World
This post is part of the "Behind the Curtain"series in which creators share about the process of making their work and deeper themes behind it.
Jonny Jimison is a cartoonist, illustrator, and the creator of the all-ages comic series The Dragon Lord Saga, published by Rabbit Room Press. In addition to drawing playful comics, he loves Thai food, fantasy stories, and playing tabletop games and video games with his wife Elise in their little home in Tennessee. He thinks that you're cool and would love to meet you - come say hello at www.jonnyjimison.com!
Art begets art. When I started working on The Dragon Lord Saga, over a decade ago, I had no idea how far this idea would grow or how many people it would touch. But I knew whence it came: I love the epic fantasy world-building of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, rich in lore, backstory, and adventure. I love the classic comic strip humor of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes and Walt Kelly’s Pogo — two classic comics are fun and exuberant and so joyfully visual. I’ve spent a lifetime absorbing the stories and art that delighted me, and the result was a unique new concoction I called The Dragon Lord Saga - part fantasy adventure, part cartoon comedy.
If you’re new to the series, The Dragon Lord Saga is an epic fantasy in comic book form, told with playful character humor. It’s about two brothers, an impulsive knight named Martin and a cautious stableboy named Marco. Their journeys take them far from home, where they meet a bandit princess and a talking horse, encounter dragons and desperados, and discover a wild fantasy world far beyond their kingdom in the North.
But there’s a new spin-off series, called Tales From the Dragon Lord Saga. It’s a series of short comics — a spin-off from the main series that you can read in any order. But more than that, it’s a comic book anthology!
Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Tales was my template. After writing four Wingfeather Saga novels, Andrew enlisted a group of writers and illustrators to create their own stories in the world he had created. In the forward to Wingfeather Tales, Andrew writes that the anthology was necessary because “there were castle ruins and cities and jungles full of trolls that I hadn’t yet explored.” I had the same predicament: I’ve come to realize that there are areas of this fantasy world I’ve created that Martin and Marco will never see on their journey through The Dragon Lord Saga.
In Tales From the Dragon Lord Saga, I’ve invited some of my favorite cartoonists to tell comic book stories set in my world… but with their own storytelling sensibilities and their own visual style. They went above and beyond, and created some truly incredible tales!
It was ambitious to try to create an anthology comic in just six months. But it happened, it expanded to two issues, and we sprung the project on unsuspecting attendees as a surprise release at Hutchmoot! This was only possible because Tales From the Dragon Lord Saga was a collaboration from start to finish.
Meet the Contributing Artists
John Haney created a comic about a cat named Reginald and a hermit named Batholomew - a playful fable exploring the idea of “losing life by clinging to it and finding life by losing it.” His colorful, exuberant style brought something new to the world I had created, and together, he and I came up with the idea to have the storyteller interrupted mid-story, which set the overall tone for both books.
Ben Humeniuk enlisted the help of the two biggest Dragon Lord Saga fans he knows - his kids, Ellie and Peter. Together, the three of them collaborated on a creepy, funny folktale with sly references to the main Dragon Lord Saga series. Their tale features two kids named Grace and Rocky, and the monsters they encounter in the dark woods. Ben, Ellie, and Peter had loads of fun planning the story and designing the characters… and you can feel it on the finished page!
Jeshua Koilpillai introduced two new characters — short-tempered Tom Foolery and distinguished Robert Moneysworth — and took them to Snark Island, a location that I had placed on the map but had said nothing about in the books. You can tell in the ensuing adventure that Jeshua relished the opportunity to fill that blank slate with clever character designs, wild environmental world-building, and a comic adventure that escalates into pure comedic chaos before resolving into a happy ending!
My wife, Elise Jimison, told a nautical tall tale of sea monsters, prophecy, and a ragtag group of sailors, rendering the whole story in stunning watercolor! I absolutely love watercolor comics, and I don’t see them often enough. Elise used her evocative painting to take us on a journey above the sea, below the sea, onto shore and back again… and she did it all in rhyme, with all the narration and dialogue told as a ballad of the high seas!
Stephen Hesselman created Professor Hesselman’s Varmintpedia — creature profiles pairing a creature illustration with “academic notes.” Stephen wrote his notes in character as Professor Hesselman, a creature enthusiast in the world of The Dragon Lord Saga. His illustrations are a delight, and his creature descriptions make me giggle uncontrollably every time.
Then there’s Will Kelly, who did the impossible: he took all these wildly different stories and came up with amazing cover illustrations that brought every tale together and beckoned us from the cover into the wild cacophony of delightful stories inside! He really helped tie together the themes of each book — stories from the forest in issue #1, and stories from the sea in issue #2.
Even I got in on the act. In addition to overseeing the project, I ended up creating some framing narratives to wrap around the individual stories. My cue here was David Peterson’s Legends of the Guard, an anthology spin-off of his Mouse Guard graphic novels. In Legends of the Guard, Peterson created comics about his mouse characters sitting around the June Alley Inn, swapping stories. When a mouse begins a story, you flip the page and you’re suddenly inside that story, via a comic contributor to the anthology. I followed that pattern to create an eight-page story for each issue, showing the folks in The Dragon Lord Saga who are telling these tales … and just for fun, I made those storytellers my own in-story caricatures of the real-life contributors!
My favorite thing about anthologies is the diverse spectrum of story styles and techniques, and I love how that plays out in Tales From the Dragon Lord Saga. Just as I drew from Tolkien’s fantasy and classic comic strips to create The Dragon Lord Saga, each of my contributors drew from their own influences, inspirations, and resources — as well as drawing from The Dragon Lord Saga itself. The results are art and story that never would have happened if we hadn’t all collided into art and story on these pages!
Elise used her skill with watercolors, her sailing experience, and her love of monster stories to tell a nautical ballad about a giant sea monster. Ben collaborated with his kids, whose adventure-loving personalities shine through their folktale about monsters in the dark forest. John combined my fantasy world with story ideas he was already exploring, creating a tale larger than either of us could have created on our own. Stephen and Will took what everyone else was creating and remixed it in their own inimitable style. And while my fictional world impacted Jeshua’s story, he also put his mark on my comic — he came in at the eleventh hour to help color one of my framing narratives when the deadline was looming a little too heavy!
Art begets art. Inspiration meets inspiration, and something new happens. It’s true of every story, but I love the way that Tales From the Dragon Lord Saga puts that in the front window and lets it shine!
But I’ve saved my favorite story for last:
We always knew that Elise’s story would take place on the high seas, but as an experienced sailor, creating that story prompted some questions. What elevations can be seen from sea level? Which nations in this fictional world are sea traders, and which have military navies? Would the tides behave as though there is one moon, like our world? Or is there more than one moon? Or NO moons?
I had NEVER considered these questions before, and discussing them was so much fun that I asked Elise to create a sea chart for the seas of The Dragon Lord Saga, which she did with a pizzazz and authenticity that befits this wild world we’re creating. The chart is included in issue #2 of Tales From the Dragon Lord Saga. We put it in the center of the book, in case anyone wants to carefully pry up the staples and remove the chart for their own imaginary voyages.
Elise brought her curiosity and scientific knowledge, and I brought the world I’ve been creating all these years. Together we created a sea chart that not only inspired her story, but is already inspiring spin-off stories of my own.
Art begets art. I hope that the ideas, techniques and art styles in Tales From the Dragon Lord Saga inspire you to new ideas and stories as well!
[For the record, Elise and I decided that the world of The Dragon Lord Saga has two moons. Because that sounds cool and I really wanted to draw that.]