Saturday, February 24, 2018
Home  >  Features  >  Adventure Ahoy! Kel Symons on THE MERCENARY SEA and More


Screenwriter Kel Symons sets sail with his second Image Comics title, The Mercenary Sea, this Wednesday, joined by artist Mathew Reynolds. We caught up with Kel and asked him a few questions about this newest maritime adventure and some of his other projects at Image. Read on for the details and some exclusive art!



Screenwriter Kel Symons sets sail with his second Image Comics title, The Mercenary Sea, this Wednesday, joined by artist Mathew Reynolds. We caught up with Kel and asked him a few questions about this newest maritime adventure, currently getting a lot of buzz. We've also got an exclusive look at some art from The Mercenary Sea #3 and Kel's next project, Reyn!


Writer Kel Symons


MightyVille: Thanks for chatting with us today, Kel. Tell us about The Mercenary Sea.

Kel Symons: It's a sort of nostalgic action story, which I co-created with artist Mathew Reynolds, basically as an homage to the adventures we grew up with - Raiders of the Lost Ark, Johnny Quest, the Tarzan stories, the original King Kong.  And at least half a dozen other inspirations.  


The Mercenary Sea #1




It's set in the South Pacific, centering on a motley crew aboard a refitted German U-boat, as they get into scrapes with headhunters, pirates and spies, against the backdrop of the Japanese invasion of China in the late 1930s, just prior to World War II.  We think it's just a very rich environment for adventure.  The world hasn't been entirely mapped yet - there are mysterious, lost lands to explore.  As Mathew likes to say, you're gonna wanna fill up your canteen and pack a sharp knife before you embark on the tale with us

The Mercenary Sea is inspired by a lot of classic adventure film tropes. Why go this route for this project?

Um... why not?  I mean, essentially, this is a story we're creating mostly to amuse ourselves.  We just hope you'll want to hop aboard with us.  Like pretty much all my writing, it's born out of an overactive imagination and countless childhood fantasies, where I would recreate the adventures of Indiana Jones or Han Solo using action figures and LEGOs.  We probably all did that.  I just channeled those energies into a career.  It's a need I have - a sickness, probably - to continue telling the stories I grew up on.  Giving them a fresh spin every once in a while, with the axis just a couple degrees off center, and suddenly this whole new landscape rotates into view - a fantastic play space... Yeah, it's definitely more of a sickness.  




As for why this setting; why the the adventure film tropes - more than a few people have told me there really isn't another comic currently out there like this one.  That, to me, is a plus.  So yeah, maybe we are paying too much homage to those childhood stories we loved.  But I'll be happy to be one of the few out there doing it.  

When you were researching/creating a vision for the story, did you use any real-world pirates or pirate stories as inspiration?

No.  But that's mostly because I don't see it as a "pirate" story, actually.  I think some folks have hit upon this same idea, and while, yes, there are similar elements or trappings (a freelance life on the open sea, treasure hunting, etc.) that's more circumstantial than intentional.   Mostly it's a group of men and women, banded together on this boat, keeping afloat any way they can, taking odd jobs, etc., always sailing just over the horizon to find what's next.  The only pirates in the story are some rough characters they'll get tangled with from time to time.  

Aside from what I mentioned before, the real inspiration comes from Howard Hawks movies.  To Have and Have Not... Only Angels Have Wings... Hawks was enamored with tales of men and women living in far-flung places, carving out a life on the frontier.  So are Mathew and I, it turns out. Howard Hawks is our spirit animal for The Mercenary Sea.

In the past you had more of a focus on screenwriting and development. Can you tell us about how you came to work with Image, and what appealed to you about writing for them? What other Image comics do you enjoy/are you a fan of?

Actually, I'm still a screenwriter - I guess it's my day job, so to speak.  But Eric Stephenson at Image is a good friend of mine, and he approached me a few years ago, saying if I ever had any stories I thought would be right for a comic book, I should let him know.  I never really took him up on the offer until he approached me with the idea for I Love Trouble.   He had this ambitious idea to create a large, shared universe, where some special people were developing super powers like telepathy, psychokinesis and clairvoyance.  It was to be populated with characters created by other writers and artists, which would eventually interact with one another, and develop into its own mythology.  Felicia was just one of these characters.  Unfortunately I Love Trouble was the only story that ever got up and running.  Equally unfortunate is it just didn't find a big enough audience to sustain an ongoing series.  But, it sure was fun to write.  






Image books I'm reading:  Fatale - I love H.P. Lovecraft and Noir, so this is the perfect blend.  I like what I've seen of Pretty Deadly, too.  Black AcreTodd.  Burn the OrphanageChew and The Walking Dead (naturally).

I adored I Love Trouble. It seemed to have a cinematic story construction (spinning panels, lots of sound effects, dialogue volley). Is that some of your screenwriting influence coming through? What have you found to be different in writing for comics versus the screen?

There are some differences between writing for film/TV and writing for comics -- for instance, there's a more structured format for comic scripts than screenplays.  You're locked in to a certain page count most times.  And you write a screenplay to be read by dozens - agents, producers, executives, directors, and other craftsmen.  While a comic script is basically a dialogue between just me and the artist - therefore it can be a little informal.  But the differences are minimal.  

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: writing is writing.  Storytelling - whether it's in a comic, a movie, TV series, novel or even just around the campfire - is still just storytelling.  You're engaging an audience, presenting characters and situations to elicit a response from them, be it a laugh, a shudder of fear or an accelerated heartbeat.  I think my scripts for a comic book are pretty indistinguishable from my scripts for a film or TV show. 

I can tell you that the experience with I Love Trouble is different than The Mercenary Sea - at least from my point of view. Not the writing of it, but the way I told the story.  The Mercenary Sea is obviously more of a genre piece.  But it’s grounded in a reality, whereas I Love Trouble was more fantastical, which gave me a lot of freedom to really have fun – I really had a great time writing for Felicia’s imaginary friend, the troublesome monkey, Marcel.  He was an absolute blast.  I also got to pepper the comics with all sorts of pop culture references – little visual Easter Eggs from Jaws, The X-Files or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  References to Neuromancer, Tenacious D, video games, and William Shatner songs.  






I'm not really going to be doing that with The Mercenary Sea.  Well... probably not.  There are times when I just can't help it.  There's a line of dialogue in the first issue that's paraphrased from Casablanca.  And sharp-eyed readers may spy visual references to Jaws and The African Queen, among others. 

Why the New Orleans setting initially?

Actually, that was a suggestion by Mark Robinson, the artist.  He read the first script, which I think I originally set in Montreal... or maybe it was Toronto.  Anyway, he wanted a city with some real atmosphere and character.   

As soon as he suggested it, though, I was 100% on board.  I love New Orleans, even having only been there for a short time.  But I incorporated what I could from my own experiences.  There's a hole-in-the-wall bar that Felicia and her pal Tweety hang out in, in issue #2, which is a real place - the Hi Ho Lounge - a place I went to in the outskirts of the city, and loved.  And in that bar there's a music act on stage - a man and a woman; he's dressed as Napoleon and she's Josephine - that was a real band I saw play there.  Which means it's an obscure reference that exactly one person on the planet - me - probably gets.  

Volume One ended with a bit of a cliffhanger while building a larger universe. Can we expect to see more from Felicia and her world soon?

Sadly, I don't think so.  Yes, it did end on a bit of a cliffhanger, and part of that was intentional, only because we wanted the series to be ongoing.  I left it somewhat ambiguous - did she kill Johnny, or maybe not?  What did Thomas see when he read her that last time?  What's up with Maggie and her burgeoning special abilities?   

As I said, unfortunately, the series just didn't land with an audience, so there wasn't much demand for it to continue.  Shame, really. We had further issues planned, story lines that were going to continue to unfold.  






Since you asked, I may as well tell you, the next arc would have picked back up with Felicia months later, retired on a secluded beach somewhere.  Only she gets drawn back into the world of the Mars Corporation, because her sister Maggie has been recruited as another agent.  Eventually I was going to have them square off against one another - sister vs. sister, power vs. power.  Yeah, it's kind of a shame, because there was going to be some real fun stuff going on.  Mark Robinson had actually approached me about him wanting to continue the series on his own, but those talks kind of stalled.  Who knows, maybe there will be a chance to revisit Felicia and this world down the road?  

Thanks so much for talking to us, Kel – we are looking forward to checking out The Mercenary Sea! Do you have any other projects on the horizon we should also look out for?

Comics-wise, I have another series I'm writing for Image, which I've partnered with artist Nathan Stockman on.  Nate lives in Ireland, and as you know he came in and batted clean-up on I Love Trouble #6 when Mark got tied down with other commitments.  I really enjoyed working with him, so we cooked up another story.  In fact, the plan is we'll be working with colorist Paul Little and letterer Pat Brosseau - so it's sort of a mini-I Love Trouble reunion.  


EXCLUSIVE concept art from REYN


An EXCLUSIVE look at DAWN the Angel


That one's called Reyn: Warden of Fate... it's a swords and sorcery story, set in a land like Middle Earth or the Hyborian Age, full of magic and monsters.  Reyn, our hero, is a freelance swordsman, the last of an ancient order known as The Wardens, who've all but disappeared.  Wardens would roam the untamed land, fighting evil and dangerous beasts.  Reyn's a little unpolished, though - hardly an errant knight upholding the ideals of chivalry.  He's a little rougher than that.  He's also plagued by these ghostly visions of an angel [Dawn, above], sort of like Joan of Arc hearing voices.  This angel gives him tasks to perform, which he hopes if he completes them, eventually the visions will go away.  I sort of see him like Clint Eastwood's "Man with No Name" in the Dollars Trilogy.  In fact, when Nate and I first talked about this with Image, we pitched it as "What if Frank Frazetta painted Spaghetti Westerns?"  They dug it, and now we're off and running.  With a little luck and clear schedules, maybe we'll start publishing that towards the end of the year.  


I don't know about you guys, but both The Mercenary Sea and Reyn: Warden of Fate sound pretty amazing.  Pick up a copy of The Mercenary Sea #1 on Wednesday, February 12th and let us know what you think!


More Interviews on MightyVille:

Saving AIRBOY: A Conversation with James Robinson

Spotlight on Mark Texeira: A Hero's Journey

Of RISING STARS and LOST TRIBES: A Conversation with Keu Cha


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ATHENA VOLTAIRE 2018 ONGOING #1 (Action Lab Entertainment) - 5.3%
BABY BADASS #1 (Action Lab - Red Zone) - 5.3%
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