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Mat Nastos Talks Elfsong and The Cestus Concern

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From working with Elfquest’s Richard and Wendy Pini at just age 19, to a career in the realms of cult TV and film, through to his recently released sci-fi novel, creator Mat Nastos has had an employment pathway that would be the envy of any dedicated fanboy. Broken Frontier caught up with Mat to chat about his new Elfsong comic and his foray into prose with The Cestus Concern...

BROKEN FRONTIER: To begin, can you give the BF readership a potted history of your cross-media career trajectory to date?

MAT NASTOS: Let's see. I started out in comics as a 12-year-old in Hawaii when I started up and ran the first comic conventions in the state. I ran the shows there for 4-5 years, until I went away to college -- the Joe Kubert School and then the School of Visual Arts.

While I was at school, I started working for a number of indy publishers and dumb lucked myself into a bunch of work as a storyboard artist for Roger Corman's company, New Concorde. As I was finishing up at SVA, Joe Orlando became my mentor and had me work with him at the old DC offices. He was head of the Special Projects area -- licensed art and the like -- and fed me a lot of work while teaching me how to be a better artist. It was an incredible time.

From there, I was hired by Barry Blair to work for the Pinis on their Elfquest books.

After that, it was in and out of comics -- lots of hanging out in the old Marvel Bullpen until all hours of the night -- and lots of work as a storyboard artist. All-told, I've worked on somewhere around 300 TV episodes and over 75 films, low-low budget all the way up to big budget stuff.

In 2000 I even did some time at a video game company as an art director and producer.

With the turn of the century, I started writing for film and television -- mostly really bad horror movies for the SyFy Channel and kids' shows for Disney. I've been doing that for about 9 years and am now adding novelist to the resume.

I've been very lucky because I've never been forced to do a job I didn't like.

BF: It’s not many people who can say their dream job was also their first job but it happened for you when you worked on that fan favourite cult series Elfquest. Was that a daunting introduction to the world of professional comics?

NASTOS: Getting to work on the Elfquest comics for Richard and Wendy Pini, and with Barry Blair, while I was still at the School of Visual Arts was a dream come true. I'd been working with Joe Orlando as his assistant at DC and had gotten a couple of small jobs (in the "Big Books" from Piranha Press, touch up work, stuff in the special projects department) when Barry called me to work with them and I was blown away. Working on Elfquest had been something that would take me years to get a chance to do, if ever, so getting the shot so early on was mindboggling.

Was it daunting? Not really. I was 19 and way too young and stupid to be scared of anything at that point. I might have done a better job if I had a little more fear in me at the time.

Overall, working with Barry Blair and Richard Pini there at the offices in Poughkeepsie is still one of the highlights of my career. 

BF: Given your work to date has seen you involved creatively in the worlds of comics, smaller budget movies and now a sci-fi novel, are you actively seeking to pursue the path of “pop cultural renaissance man”?

NASTOS: Hah! It's all just a matter of working really hard to avoid having a real job. I lucked out early on to get steady work in film and TV, and have been lucky enough that stuff pays well enough to allow me to take a pause every now and again to try something else. 

For me, the most important thing has always been about telling fun stories. As long as I can do that, I'm happy.

                 

A sneak peek at the interiors of Elfsong

BF: The Cadre was your foray into super-hero comics in the ‘90s. What was the book a reaction to and why did you choose the self-publishing route for the series?

NASTOS: The Cadre was something I'd started doing in the mid 90s as an ashcan comic and it grew from there. The books have done really well and I've even helped discover a couple of top artists along the way. What is most interesting about the Cadre work is that it sold really well outside of the comic book direct market. I knew that it wouldn't stand out as a black & white super hero comic inside the industry, so I went outside where people who love comics have no idea that I wasn't as big as Marvel and DC. They bought the work because it was cool and not because of a name brand. 

It was a great experience and I learned a lot of lessons in marketing and sales from it. I'm hoping to have some time to get back to it again in the near future.

BF: Could you tell us a little about the genesis of Bite Me Fanboy, your movie putting the spotlight on comics fan culture.

NASTOS: It was late 2000 and I'd just finished up a stint working on a show called Farscape. I was burned out on working in TV and films, having spent most of the 90s working on just about every science fiction show on TV outside of the Star Trek franchise (MANTIS, Team Knight Rider, Space Above & Beyond, Highlander, Babylon 5, Tattooed Teen-Age Alien Fighters From Beverly Hills and a bunch of others) and a whole lot of really bad low-budget horror movies for Roger Corman. I'd moved away from Manhattan a year or so earlier and missed being in the midst of the comic community there. Luckily, I had a friend who encouraged me to put together an indie flick using a lot of the stories I had from my earlier years doing comics. It turned out to be some of the most fun I'd ever had making a film and it really helped me recharge my batteries .

The concept for the movie was "High Fidelity in a comic book shop." Even though it was a terribly low-budget film, it had a ton of great reaction from comic fans where ever it was shown. It had some spectacular music by super geek band, Ookla the Mok.

I've been toying with the idea of either reshooting the movie with a bigger budget or doing a sequel. 

BF: Your fantasy comic Elfsong used Kickstarter. Beyond the obvious platform for funding do you see other pertinent advantages that can be gained from going that route for Indie creators?

NASTOS: To be honest, Kickstarter didn't go anywhere for me. I wound up having some pretty serious health issues right as the campaign launched and had to cancel it pretty early on. There was a lot of support for the book, but I didn't feel like it was fair to my fans to keep it running if there was a chance I wouldn't be able to complete the project.

Luckily, I got better after about a year and am now back into work mode again.

Regardless of how people spin it, what Kickstarter really is for indy creators is a sales outlet for pre-orders. That's all it is. You run a campaign and hope you get enough pre-orders to make the series profitable. If you don't, your work is cancelled. I think there are a lot of creators gaming the system a bit - both newer creators who don't deliver the work and more established creators taking advantage of it. We've all seen a few big name guys running Kickstarters every few months and it's a bit pathetic. It's a cool system, it's just getting a lot of abuse and so is the community supporting it.

BF: You have a new Elfsong series coming out next year. What can the readers expect to see this time around?

NASTOS: Elves have been in my blood since I was a child. Elfquest and Elflord were both huge influences on me and Elfsong is my chance to get back to that kind of work. As an artist, I'd be happy to just draw elves for the rest of my life. 

The new book is going to run quarterly and I'd describe it as a lot more action/adventure than its influences. The best comment I had was from a retailer who said "Wow, it's Elfquest but for boys." 

BF: You’ve just moved into prose fiction with the publication of your first novel The Cestus Concern. What’s the basic premise of the book?

NASTOS: Yes! The Cestus Concern is now out as an ebook (available at places like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and the iBook Store) and will be out as a print book in late January 2013. The quick synopsis is that it is about an army ranger who wakes up to find himself implanted with cybernetic arms and missing a year of his life. It is a hardcore action/adventure piece with a lot of sci-fi elements mixed in. 

I wanted to write something that was fast-paced and read like a big budget summer action blockbuster. 

BF: How long have you been itching to try your hand at a full-blown prose novel?

NASTOS: It's been something that has rattled around in the back of my head for a couple of years now. Once I'd become comfortable enough as a screenwriter I began to toy with the idea of doing prose work. Last year, I released a number of short stories as my way of trying it out. When I started getting a lot of good feedback on those stories, I thought "what the hell" and launched into the first novel. 

Now, I can't get enough of it and wish I had more time in the day to get more written.

BF: You describe the novel in pre-publicity as “Johnny Mnemonic meets Wolverine”. From that soundbite do you see the book as having a crossover appeal to comic book fans as well?

NASTOS: I think there is a huge potential for crossover appeal with the novel. Growing up as immersed in comic books as I was, the medium has had a monster influence on me. Even now as a professional I'm still guided by what I learned reading guys like Chris Claremont, Marv Wolfman, Jim Shooter and others.

The Cestus Concern was very much written with an eye towards fans of comic books and big budget action/martial arts movies. In particular, fans who loved Image Comics of the 90s will enjoy the book. It's full of over-the-top action and cool bad guys. One of the Image founders, Rob Liefeld, gave me a spectacular quote after he'd read an early copy of the novel. It was incredibly kind of him to do that and I was glad he liked what he saw in it.

BF: This is Book 1 in the series. How expansive a universe/arc are you looking to create here?

NASTOS: I'm already hard at work on Book 2 and have ideas for a few more. The series will have threads that tie them together and a loose arc, but the books will be stand alone for the most part. You'll be able to read one and come away with a full, satisfying story.

BF: And, finally, what’s next on the horizon for Mat Nastos both in the shorter and longer term?

NASTOS: Short term, I'm finishing up The Cestus Contract for release in the summer. Beyond that, it's back to work writing for Disney and the SyFy Channel. Longer term, I'm going to be releasing a lot of the old Aircel Comics series reprints. Things like Dragonforce/Dragonring, Elflord, Samurai, and Warlock 5 will be making a comeback in print and digital. I'm also in talks to bring out new content with the characters, too. Barry Blair was my mentor early in my career (and a great friend!) and I want to make sure to do justice to the worlds he created.

For more on the work of Mat Nastos check out his website here. For more on The Cestus Concern visit the publisher's page here.

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