Pulled from death row and recruited by the secretive inquisition to steal an artifact called The Myros Pendulum, Stilian Desault now paired with an old colleague, Veina must put together a group of Brigands for the heist of their lives. But there are no happy endings or quick deaths for battle-forged blades. Stilian will soon discover that things are about to go very wrong.
Brigands is one of those stories that rates a second reading, without a doubt. The world, the characters, and chaos they seem to thrive under is as entertaining as anything out there. So it was with some pretty great enthusiasm that I greeted the chance to chat with creator/writer Ram V for a bit through private messages on Twitter. It was with some even greater enthusiasm that I greeted the chance to bounce some thoughts off him, and to even dare to get a reply or two.
Y’know… like an interview or something.
Because our two schedules are a little more complicated, we agreed to keep it casual. I wanted to come up with some questions, which I would shoot his way, and then he’d send something back with his replies. Or, conversely, he’d ignore me completely because I’d gotten something wrong, in which case this is a really lame interview (fingers crossed).
Now, before you go dipping into the convo/correspondence, such as it is, take a look back at my previous reviews for Brigands.
You done? Cool. So here we go…
Paul- First of all, I am going to gush just enough to say that I enjoyed the hell out of Brigands. Having read through the first five issue story arc twice, I would like to repeat myself by pointing out that you’ve captured the spirit of movies like The Dirty Dozen and The Wild Bunch to a tee.
Ram- Thank you!
Paul- Along the way, I caught onto a few things that stuck out, at least for myself. You’ve got all of the classic archetypes normally associated with the rough and tumble fantasy genre, but they seem to be just a little bit twisted with your own flavor.
• Stilian isn’t the noble leader, looking for redemption for both his team and himself. He’s pretty much a bastard who’ll do whatever he thinks he needs to in order to win.
• Griz is the “muscle”, but you’ve invested him with more than the usual dose of smarts.
• The Count, a ruthless and highly paid assassin and master of the blade is a woman who hides her identity behind an iron mask.
So how do you see your characters filling the roles laid out for them in so many other stories, and how much work did you put into thinking through how to break down or blur the lines dividing the archetypical fantasy characters?
Ram V- I was very clear that I wanted to take the fantasy tropes but twist them and play with them in a way that was interesting to me but also presented the characters in a more human light. Stilian is a man overshadowed by his reputation. He’s a survivor, not a hero. Heroes get killed, survivors live long enough to be celebrated. So, he’ll do anything to stay alive. Or so it seems…
Brigands really is about the characters. I know may not seem that way yet, I envisioned it as a 3 arc story so as to let the characters grow in front of the readers rather than be presented to them. And what you’re seeing is that. The Count and Veina are probably reactions to seeing female characters either being presented as damsels in distress or warrior princesses. Both feel stilted to me. The truth lies somewhere in between for all characters and genders. And that is a much more interesting place for me to explore. What reduces the masked assassin to tears? To Stilian, what if anything is worth risking his life for? The story, in some ways, only serves as the canvas to explore the characters.
Paul- Another thing that I thought was kinda cool was the motivation behind the Brigands. They’ve been tasked with an impossible mission, to retrieve an artifact called the Myros Pendulum which is an item believed to predict the arrival of a comet that’s been recognized as a portent of momentous events throughout history.
While it’s generally pretty easy to assign the generic “save the world” motivation to a party of characters on a quest, not so much with your Brigands, a group of sell-swords, cutthroats, and thieves. What do you view as the defining and unifying goal that brings this group of individuals together?
Ram V- There is no unifying goal. Not yet. I mean sure there’s this comet drawing closer, but everyone’s really in it for themselves. Stilian – because he’ll be killed if he doesn’t. Veina because it’s a job- more money, which she’s learned in her past, is the only thing worth caring about. Griz because being a ‘good guy’ has only ever gotten him into trouble so far. This is his one chance to take back control of his situation. The Count because she’s tired of running, of hiding- the pardons are a pretty big motivator
But there will be a unifying goal. One that will surprise our Brigands as much as it does the readers. Remember all those events happening in the background? They’re all leading somewhere. There is war looming and the smell of conflict on the horizon.
Paul- Every good character ever written, the ones that really stick with you, have a great backstory. In Brigands, there are several hints at some pretty deep layered histories that have defined your characters, but we have yet to see too many details.
A) Do you think that what’s actually shown on the page carries as much weight as what’s left open-ended when it comes to a character’s history?
B) How much effort on your part goes into filling in those blanks?
C) Do you have plans for a gradual reveal, to show the events that made characters like Stilian and The Count the people they are today?
Ram V- A) Absolutely. I feel that a story is a participative experience. Not a consumptive one. The writer’s ability to write a story that invites the reader to fill in the blanks is his or her biggest challenge. People have lives outside of the narrative of the book and those lives shape the characters into who they are. Without those open ended and often unfinished backstories characters become cardboard cutouts.
B) Some. But a trick I was taught is that you only fill in the blanks when you know it’ll lead into creating more blanks to fill. So, I don’t fill in everything – but you’ll see glimpses. The second arc looks at how The Count became the masked assassin that she is. The quest for the Myros Pendulum is taking her back to where she came from. And her memories of home are not entirely pleasant. That backstory also ties into the current events so it makes sense to fill in that blank, now.
C) To some extent, yes. Everything I do helps the narrative of the larger story move along. So, any reveals of backstories have to help that narrative progress. In issue 1, you found out Stilian was on the chopping block by the order of a Governor Unger. In issue 2, you found out Stilian killed the governor’s wife. In Issue 4, you see Governor Unger hiring The Count to kill Stilian. The pay-off for these snippets is possibly in the penultimate issue of the third arc. So, I reveal things if they pay off later at some point and more gradual the reveal, bigger the pay off.
Paul- When you approach your writing, are you the guy who outlines the events of your work, from beginning to end and then just fleshes it out as you go? Or are you more of a seat of the pants writer who maybe has a beginning and an end, and then moves along however the story takes you?
Bit of both?
Ram V- This has changed over time. I used to outline things heavily. But it makes the process feel overly controlled that way. Things happen because you want them to happen, because it says so in the outline. But in a good story, things should happen because a character’s choices led them there. Sure, there is room for coincidence and happenstance. But ideally, you only get to do that once in a story and it better be for a great pay off (Keep your eyes open for the last issue of the second arc!)
So, these days, I don’t outline as much. I know where I am going. But I’m open to the characters figuring out how to get there. Sometimes it leads to interesting places. Sometimes it presents narrative challenges to overcome. But it sure feels like a much more fun way to write a story.
Paul- There are a lot of plot twists and events moving along in the background of your story, wholly separate from the activities of your characters (or are they…?). Some of the political intrigue that you’ve invested in the series really would be worthy of the work of George R. R. Martin. I’m pretty sure I have an answer already, but are these events really just background meant to give depth to the world you’ve created, or are there future story arcs planned that will bring Stilian Desault and Company into the larger world?
Ram V- Everything I’ve shown, is there for a reason. It’ll all tie in. I intended for Brigands to be a Trilogy of arcs. And I need that room if the events present themselves gradually. So all those peripheral incidents are there for a reason. For me, part of the joy of writing stories this way is to begin with what appears to be disparate threads and as the story goes on weave them all into a tighter, rewarding climax.
Paul- Okay, this one’s more for me than anything else… In issue 3, page 19 or so, Stilian stands back and proudly proclaims, “I love it when a plan comes together.” Dude, I grew up on the original A-Team, the original Suicide Squad of “bad guys doing good things”. I’ve drawn all of the comparisons in my head, but I just have to ask if that was a deliberate nod to The A-Team’s Hannibal Smith, or was it just some crazy random happenstance?
Ram V- Ah man, 80s television! In India, mid-nineties, they used to fill afternoon television with re-runs of old eighties shows. So as a kid, I’d come back home to the A-Team and Manimal and Streethawk. I grew up with that stuff around me. And I’m always dropping references to that era in my stories. Just a nod to the things I had fun with, nothing deeper. Incidentally, my ringtone is the Knightrider theme. So, that tells you everything you need to know!
Paul- That’s about it, sir. I appreciate you making a little time to field some questions for both myself, and anyone else out there who’s both reading your stuff, and on the smaller stage mine. I look forward to the next story arc, which you so generously and yet cruelly teased for me. I wish you all the best on this title, and can’t urge anyone out there with a love for left-of-center characters to give Brigands a look.
Personally, I’m gonna call this interview a personal best (out of two)… I not only worked in mention of the A-Team, but also got Streethawk and Manimal thrown back at me as a bonus! Big shout out to Ram V for the chat.
Hey, how ’bout a cover gallery? And as a special payoff for you folks who’ve taken the time to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page (thanks for hanging in there, by the way…), some preview pages from the yet to be announced second arc of Brigands… Compliments of Ram V himself