After a while, most serialized webcomics start to look the same. Just about every series seems to strike a similar balance of influences from anime and western animation. But not Light Years Away, which draws inspiration from European sci-fi comics by artists like Moebius and Tanino Liberatore.
LYA is set in a world where many — perhaps most — people have cybernetic implants. But there’s a growing, violent anti-implant movement called the Puritans. The first story arc, Escape from Prison Planet, tells the story of Milo, a repeat offender doing time on an off-planet penal colony, where he ends up in the middle of a prison gang war between the Puritans and the implantees. Soon, however, he finds out there’s something bigger going on.
I talked with writer Ethan Ede and artist Adam Rosenlund — the Boise, Idaho based duo behind the series — about webcomics, the future of the series and other projects they have in the hopper.
Left: Ethan Ede Right: Adam Rosenlund
Klint Finley: First, I’m curious why you guys self-published online. Did you shop it around to publishers first?
Ethan: We self-published this story because we wanted to do it our way. Having control over our product is very important to us, that’s one of the reasons there are no ads on the site, because that is content we can’t control. At the time when we started Light Years Away we were shopping several products around to publishers and we wanted to put something out in the meantime. We actually picked LYA because it is the least like the stories we normally tell.
Adam: As well as the story being built for the format. We were kind of frustrated at the pitch process when we decided on LYA. We just wanted to get some stories out there and read, and at the time, no one was buying science fiction. The market was in contraction, and publishers were reticent to take a chance on what we were selling.
Do you think you’ll ever go to a publisher or will you continue to self-publish?
Ethan: LYA will always be self published on the web, we wouldn’t turn away a publisher that wanted to collect the stories for print though.
Adam: We have a few projects that are built specifically for print as well. We have one that we are currently working on for Dark Horse, but it doesn’t change how we approach LYA.
Anything more you can tell us about the Dark Horse project?
Adam: The story we’re doing for Dark Horse will be in Dark Horse presents. It’s not on the schedule just yet since we’re still putting it together, but probably should be out sometime later this year.
Congrats, that’s a good foot in the door. Have you had any other professional work published?
Ethan: We did a story for an anthology called CTRL.ALT.SHIFT back in 2009 but mostly we have just been working on developing our own stories. We have been offered other gigs which we turned down because they weren’t ours. Creative control is very important to us, we don’t want to do a corporate owned story. We want to make our books our way, and that takes a little more work, than showing off sample pages and getting work on a license.
Adam: I’ve done my fair share of sample pages and inventory stories, but it’s hard to get excited about those, you know? The creation is the thing for us. Breathing life into the things that spring from our imaginations so that we can share them with other people. It’s a harder road than cutting your teeth on a large profile book, but it’s more fulfilling.
I also saw Adam’s name attached to, I think, the original announcement of MonkeyBrain Comics, but I haven’t seen a specific book…
Adam: Yeah, I was originally working on a Monkeybrain story with Brandon Seifert, but both of us got a bit underwater with our respective projects and commitments, so we haven’t created our book yet.
Stepping back a bit, how did Light Years Away come about? I know you guys have also collaborated on Fat Baby — was that before or after you started LYA?
Ethan: Adam and I have been collaborating since late 2004. When we first met it was pretty clear that we basically shared one brain, and we instantly wanted to work together. We started making pitches and approaching publishers blind. Adam’s art was always strong but we didn’t have a name for ourselves and we didn’t have a full book to show off what we could do. So we decided to self publish a story. LYA was one of many scripts I had written and the one we felt best lent itself to the format. We just wanted to make comics, and with the web a publisher wasn’t a gate we necessarily had to get through anymore.
Adam: Fat Baby came about right around the same time as LYA, if I remember correctly. The thing started as an elaborate joke to make ourselves laugh. If you have an hour, we can give you the full rundown of the creation of that project. It’s a real doozy. It’s one big metagag on the comics industry, from international printing rights to creator egoes to the 4-panel gag strip format itself.
In the intro to Escape from Prison Planet, you mention European sci-fi comics being an influence. I think I can see the Tanino Liberatore influence in there. What else influenced the two of you?
Ethan: Moebius Moebius Moebius.
Adam: As a kid, I was gung ho for Jim Lee X-Men. Then when I hit pimples and pubes phase of life, I discovered Jean Giraud and Bilal and fell in love. Intercut that with a healthy love of Katsuhiro Otomo.
The thing I love most about Moebius and Otomo is the sense of place they give their scenes. Everywhere feels lived in. There’s dirt. There’s graffiti. There’s flies and old water and plugged storm drains. Even in natural surroundings, the Earth feels weathered and the surface earned through years of erosion. These elements I really took hold of and try to apply to my work, as well as a sense of motion and momentum to character movement. That I think I learned from overdosing on animation and cartoons at a formative age.
Ethan: Mezieres and Christin’s Valerian series was also a huge inspiration for me in terms of how I want the story to move. Smaller albums that told a larger tale.
The back of the print book you sell at conventions says “Futurism.” Do you do a lot of research on the technology and theory behind implants, or is this mostly imaginative?
Ethan: Most of what Adam and I do together is Hard Science fiction. That is our passion. LYA happens to be one story where we decided to play fast and loose with science and physics. But nearly every other story we have in the workings is Hard SF. We spend a lot of time world building behind the panels, figuring out things work, looking at how technology can be used and misused. Doing a lot of research.
Adam: Yeah, LYA has warp gates and sentient alien life and all kinds of fantastical stuff in it, but even then, our hard science fiction background causes us to think waaaaaaaay too long about how even the most ridiculous piece of tech in Light Years Away functions on a basic level.
Do you have a background in science or are you self-taught?
Ethan: Neither of us have formal backgrounds in science. we are both autodidacts, we both read a lot and read a lot about emerging technology and science. we are both futurists.
It’s been a while since the site has updated — when can we expect new material?
Ethan: At the moment we are working very hard on this project for DHP but after that is wrapped we plan on a website redesign and the launch of book two of LYA. It makes us bad webcomicers, but Adam and I care less about an update schedule and more about the archives, we want the total book to be quality and that sometimes means we are slower and don’t keep as regular a schedule.
Adam: That’s the big bummer of where we’re at. It’s just the two of us. I only have one brain and two arms, and one of the arms is functionally useless in creating art. It’s basically there to hold the t-square steady. So updates are light when we have more pressing projects to work on unfortunately. But going forward, we really don’t want to sacrifice quality for the sake of a steady update. Book 2 is going to be GORGEOUS. Some of the pages in book one make me shake my head and wish I could re do it, so I promised myself that going forward, LYA will be as well drawn as any project we do for a publisher.
Outside of comics, what sort of creative projects are you two involved with? I know Ethan has a band, for example.
Ethan: Yeah we both play music, I’ve been playing in bands since I was 15. I also make auto-bio comics. We have made short films, and Adam does a lot of design work for bands. I’ve also designed T-shirts and things for a few local bands here in Boise. Basically we try to always keep our hands moving.
Adam: Yeah, I wear a lot of hats. I do Illustration work on the side in addition to my day job as a senior graphic designer for a large web company. I’ve done work for Playboy and various papers and magazines around the world.