Magic Words: Price, Norton and Isaacs Talk Magus from 12 Gauge

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 Debuting this December from 12 Gauge Comics, Magus examines what would happen if the forces of magic were suddenly unleashed on the real world. Broken Frontier chats with Magus co-creators and writers Jon Price & David Norton and artist Rebekah Isaacs (DV8: Gods and Monsters) about what the future holds for this brand new fantasy series...  

BROKEN FRONTIER: To begin could you give the Broken Frontier readership a brief rundown of the Magus's premise and its main players?

JON PRICE: Magus is 'what would happen if everyone in our world could suddenly perform magic?'. Thousands of years ago everyone had magic but it was stripped away from us and locked behind a giant, magical Seal. Now most everyone has forgotten about it and just assumes magic is relegated to fantasy novels and myth. But things are starting to turn and the Seal is breaking, so magic starts leaking out and strange things begin to happen. That's about where we are when Issue 1 starts. Ben and Darius are our two leads - best friends since they were very young. Lena, who opens the book in a very dramatic fashion, is "Wild", meaning she (and a few others like her) can perform magic even though the Seal is in place.

BF: WildStorm fans will know the name Rebekah Isaacs from the current DV8: Gods and Monsters series, but readers may not be so familiar with the names of Magus co-creators Jon Price and David Norton. Could you all give us a quick potted history of your different routes into the comics biz to date?

JP: I worked in television for a while and was a video game tester before that. I've just sort of stumbled around from job-to-job wanting to write. I was working on TV pitches before Magus and when Rebekah and I met, I told her about Magus as a comic book idea and she loved it.

DAVE NORTON: I’ve always wanted to be a writer, any kind of writer, since around the 2nd grade when I realized I would never be athletic enough to be the starting small forward for the Boston Celtics. I never really got into comics as a kid as there wasn’t a comic book store for miles and I spent most of my time in libraries. However, now that I’m part of the comic book world, I’ve come to really appreciate the amount of work and effort in the world building and mythology that comic book creators go through. Those two aspects are my favorite parts of books or tv or comics, and it seems that in comics, more thought is put into mythology and world building than in any other medium right now.

REBEKAH ISAACS: I graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design, and 12 Gauge has had a great relationship with the school, including sponsoring a special elective course in which students competed to have their work featured in "The Ride." I didn't get a chance to take that course, but I was really impressed by their catalog and creative teams, and jumped at the chance to be introduced to Keven at NYCC '09. We were hoping to work together shortly after that, but almost immediately after the Con I got my first Marvel gig, and then right after I was offered DV8. But when things settled down for me and we started pitching Magus a bit later, I sent it to Keven and he loved it!

BF: I feel almost guilty asking this question, because the first issue certainly does not feel derivative, but I think it’s fair to say there is an intriguing mix of disparate elements from recent pop culture phenomena apparent in Magus. For example, the voyage of personal discovery from early Heroes, the conspiracy plot threads that remind the reader of The X-Files and its successors and, of course, there’s a perhaps too easy comparison to the world of Harry Potter. What would you say were your direct or indirect influences when shaping the book’s concept and how would you describe it in terms of the ever-expanding sub-genres of the comics industry?

JP: Good question! And don't feel guilty, we sort of wear our influences on our sleeves a bit. Those are all good comparisons as I can definitely see elements of all the works you mention throughout Magus. We've always loved fantasy as a genre, but I don't think we had any real NEW ideas on what to do there, in terms of strict fantasy. One of the things that I always notice with a story where some of its characters have some level of superpowers, is that it's always a small group and is somehow hidden from the rest of the world. We wanted to play with the opposite idea and throw it into the real world and see how that would operate.

DN: I would say that at that time, most of my influences stemmed more from fantasy novels than anything else. I was a big fan of David Eddings and RA Salvatore and tried to carry some of that along with me. I also played a lot of role-playing games, both video and table, and so types and uses of magic stemmed from those two areas as well. In a way, everything is derivative of something else, all of us are influenced by things that came before us, we just try and put our spin on it.

BF: The series is initially five issues long. Do you have more plans for visiting the world of Magus should the title prove a success and how far down the line do you have ideas for Magus stories planned?

JP: We have Ben and Darius's complete story plotted out should the book be successful. It's always been thought of as a long-ish story with a bunch of mini-arcs. I don't want to say the number of issues we have in mind, but there's enough stories for several chapters.

BF: You have a central premise that is extremely adaptable and could open up any number of story possibilities in any number of locations in the world of Magus. In the longer term would you consider focusing on other casts of characters in the same fictional reality, in an Astro City kind of way?

JP: Definitely! It's funny that you mention that because we have plans for spinoffs for some of the characters within the story and some that are just casually mentioned. Putting together a big story like this definitely lends itself to possibilities.

DN: I would be very interested in going back in time and telling the story of Magus from the creation of the Seal and the politics and stories that could be told as to why magic would need to be sealed away from humanity.

RI: I do hope the series can continue because, along those lines, we have plans for a spin-off miniseries featuring a particularly high-profile figure in the American Revolution that I would love to draw! It's always fun for me to look back at history and wonder what hidden forces were at work. And although we had to keep the focus mostly on our main characters in the U.S. in the first 5, this is obviously a worldwide event and we have lots of plans to focus on international locations in the future.

BF: Magus is a creator-owned property. How much freedom in terms of storytelling does that afford you as compared, for example, to the constraints of the super-hero medium and its philosophy of only portraying the “illusion of change” for its central characters?

JP: Being creator-owned definitely has its ups and downs. We have a lot of flexibility in terms of story-telling and don't have an editor screaming over our shoulder. That being said, Keven [Gardner] at 12-Gauge has been very helpful in giving his feedback and story suggestions. He's been in the biz for a while now, so his opinions are well-founded. But, to your question, this is a finite story, with a finite ending point. Unlike a superhero comic that is ongoing, we can put our characters through a set arc and know where we're ending it. There doesn't have to be convenient plot devices to reset the reality in which these characters live so that everyone can continue to grow.

BF: The pre-publicity for the book goes to great pains to underline just how much the humanity of the cast is at the core of the title to begin with, but do you have plans to eventually expand your coverage to that much bigger picture if this initial run is a success?

JP: Totally. It's hard when you're putting together such a gigantic idea on a huge scope because there's a lot you have to put in place. And, in the long run, you have to WANT to follow your protagonists (and antagonists, of course) through the course of the story. So we really focused quite a bit in this arc on building these characters and setting the world so that people will want to come back. Things definitely blow up quite a lot bigger as we move on from here.

BF: Rebekah, your art has a very clear, defined style that incorporates a level of background detail that’s quite rare in comics these days. Who are your artistic influences both within and without the comics arena?

RI: As a child my influences were entirely from animation, since we had no comics stores within hours of where I grew up. I got into manga a lot when I was in middle school, and although that's become something of a dirty word amongst mainstream artists, I'm glad that I discovered it at an early age because I think it caused me to put more focus on the expression and emotion of the characters. When I got to college and started reading comics, I was obsessed with Josh Middleton and Steve McNiven and still am, of course.


Recently, my style was compared to Chris Sprouse, and although I hadn't seen his work before then, I quickly looked it up and now he's definitely a big influence. I like clean, open linework with a lot of detail, styles that are reminiscent of art nouveau. I used to beat myself up over not having enough hatching or spotted blacks in my work, but I'm learning to make that work for me. I love background detail because it can be such a powerful yet subtle storytelling device.

BF: What are the biggest artistic challenges, Rebekah, in bringing a fantastic magical sensibility to a story that still remains very much rooted in a recognizably realistic world?

RI: The biggest challenge is to include enough mundane, trivial detail in the real-world settings that the instances of magic stand out as totally other-worldly and extraordinary. I had to really pore over a lot of photo reference of small-town sidewalks, street signs, shopping mall atriums, shopping carts, and dumpsters. And then thinking of how those environments would react to certain elements. How much damage would a dragon cause on a rampage through suburbia? I could hardly label something so fun to draw a "challenge" though.

BF: Following on from that, the magical elements are more limited in this scene-setting opener. Will there be more of an opportunity in future issues to let rip with the fantasy-based imagery?

RI: Definitely. As the seal continues to break we see more and more instances of magic right in front of our main characters' eyes. The aforementioned dragon was one of my favorite parts of the series to draw so far.

BF: Jon and Rebekah, does being a couple influence the creative dynamic between (co-)writer and artist in any significant way? Or perhaps change the traditional approach to the collaborative creative process?

JP: Rebekah is incredibly talented, not only in her drawing ability, but in her storytelling. Since this is my first comic, her insight into how to best layout each page and where we can cut or add panels, is invaluable. I think being a couple definitely improves the working relationship as she always knows what it is I'm going for in a certain panel or page description and she just makes it better. The trade off is, when she has a tough page of Magus to do, I give her chocolate and backrubs.

RI: We're more likely to give each other brutally honest feedback than the average writer/artist team, which can obviously be good or bad, but I think always works to the benefit of the book ultimately. I should say, though, that I consider anything in writing the equivalent of a contract, and I am going to be having a LOT of tough pages in the future.

BF: The first issue of the book has a very striking cover image. How did cover artist Fiona Staples’ involvement with the MAGUS #1 cover come about?

RI: I met Fiona at San Diego 2009 after we started working on DV8 together, and not only does she have this totally unique style that so elegantly captures mood, expression, and lighting, but she's also just a really cool, fun person. So when I had this concept for the cover, and my own attempts to draw and paint it were totally unpublishable, I knew exactly who could pull it off. And not suprisingly, she totally knocked it out of the park! She totally nailed the ambience of a totally normal early morning in the suburbs where some very abnormal things are going on at second glance.

BF: What hints and teases can you provide for the next four issues of Magus?

JP: Death! Destruction! Mayhem! While those things are true, the first five issues of Magus are very much about the breaking of the Seal and the spread of magic. While we don't go super big-picture in the first 5, lots of pretty big stuff happens to keep people into it. I don't want to give too much away, but I will say one word: Dragons.

BF: Are there any other current or upcoming projects you’re working on that you would like to tell the Broken Frontier readership about?

DN: Currently, Magus is my primary focus, however, I’d like to start working on some other ideas I have and seeing what else I can do in the field.

JP: Magus is taking up all of my time! But there is some stuff I'm working on that hopefully people will be able to see soon. And if you want to work with me in exchange for backrubs or chocolate, let me know.

RI: I'm currently splitting my work between Magus and a Marvel project .. but that's about all I can say about it for now!

Magus #1 goes on sale December 2010 from 12 Gauge Comics priced $3.99. PREVIEWS CODE OCT101150.


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