by Jarrod Jones. You feel something terrible as you approach the cave. You kneel, reach for the canteen. Remember the woodswitch from three nights past, who had healed your wounds from that ruinous raiding just a fortnight past, who’d taken that canteen and filled it with a strange elixir—”for protection,” she had said. You take a long pull from it, feel its effects almost immediately. Electric bolts jolt through your body, your limbs, your mind. Whatever’s down there will do whatever horrible things it can to keep its treasure trove from you—and your brother.
You look to him now. Whatever protection this witch’s brew has given you, you know your brother will keep you just as safe. You cork your canteen, sack it, rise. And enter.
Daniel Freedman & CROM have a tale such as this for you. They call it Raiders, a swords-and-magic epic designed for maximum immersion, a strange and wonderful world with rules and history and consequences where adventure doesn’t mean a thing it you can’t keep your family close.
“While I love epic quests and war-consumed worlds, I wanted to tell a smaller, more intimate story with Raiders,” Freedman tells me. “The story was born from a place of wanting to be more empathic and me realizing what was important in life. That being love, family, and honor over materialism and status.
“The whole concept of dungeon raiding for loot seemed a perfect metaphor for this.”
CROM, the artist of this exciting and affecting new original graphic novel from Dark Horse Comics, agrees. “Daniel and I are suckers for lore,” he says. “[The] little hidden extra bits of info that make the story feel more tangible and help the reader immerse themselves in the world we’re presenting. I want readers to feel the world of Raiders exists with or without the main characters.”
Two brothers, who have shared a long career in the arts of raiding, are about to see their lives diverge in the most dramatic of ways. Loot and peril, or hearth and home? Raiders is more than your run-of-the-mill dungeon crawl. It’s a comic with a big ol’ heart that just might end up breaking yours.
Ahead of its June 10 release from Dark Horse Comics, I spoke with Daniel and CROM about their absolutely terrific Raiders.
1. Now that we’re nearing the drop date of ‘Raiders’, what are your feelings concerning your first major graphic novel being released by Dark Horse Comics? Elation? Terror? Mixture of both?
Daniel Freedman: I couldn’t be more excited. While Raiders is not my first published work—I’ve done a few series at Image—it is my first book with Dark Horse and my first new release in 5 years. Making comics requires so much energy, passion and time. Now that we’re finally here, about to release, all the blood, sweat, and tears we pumped into this project evaporates and I’m left feeling energized, delighted and grateful.
CROM: Pure excitement! I’ve been drawing comics for fun and out of pure self-fulfillment since I was a kid so I wish I could grab a copy and send it to my 12-year-old self and be like, boom! I think he would be really impressed!
2. ‘Raiders’ is clearly styled after fantasy games such as ‘Skyrim’ and RPGs such as ‘Dungeons & Dragons’, what with the featured brothers scoring scads of loot through perilous dungeon crawls and chugging potions before the big boss level, stuff like that. As popular and ubiquitous as these entities are, can you tell our readers how you set out to differentiate ‘Raiders’ from what we’ve seen before?
DF: While I love epic quests and war-consumed worlds, I wanted to tell a smaller, more intimate story with Raiders. The story was born from a place of wanting to be more empathic and me realizing what was important in life. That being love, family, and honor over materialism and status. The whole concept of dungeon raiding for loot seemed a perfect metaphor for this.
What makes Raiders different is that it’s about the little guys who never normally get their story told because ultimately they aren’t destined prophesied princes or arch villains with plans for world domination or destruction, they’re just two struggling working-class dungeon raiders trying to get by. In a way, Raiders is a fantasy story about real life.
CROM: From an aesthetics and worldbuilding point of view I wanted to bring a certain mood to Raiders where you have bright colours, pastel palettes, and a sense of a fun open world while reminding the reader that things can still get pretty dark, bloody and corrupted. There’s not a lot of this mix out there so I think a lot of people will enjoy it for that reason.
3. Daniel, you’ve said that ‘Raiders’ is “the most emotionally intense human story” you’ve written. Which brings us to the bond between the book’s central brothers, Marken and Maron. There’s an aura of doom that surrounds this pair from the outset—there’s even a quote that opens the story attributed to their father, who died some time ago under presumably glorious circumstances—and it’s made clear from the jump that the life of a raider is almost certainly a brief one. What did you know you wanted to establish in the first few scenes of this story? What level of catharsis did you achieve in this, if any?
DF: Aura of doom! I like that. My first few projects came together pretty quickly and were successful. Then I had a long stretch where things just kept falling apart and not working out. I definitely started to feel doomed myself and learned that life doesn’t always go the way you want it to and that sometimes there really is nothing you can do about it. And other times there is. After this period, my writing started to come from a more personal place, heavily influenced by my own life experience. I think a lot of that energy got filtered into Raiders.
4. What is it about the brother/brother relationship that tills such fertile soil for drama? Is it devotion? Acrimony? Jealousy? All of the above?
DF: I think family is a shortcut for emotional connection. It’s something everyone can relate to and understand because we all have families. Even those who don’t have siblings can imagine what kind of bond brothers or sisters have. Platonic but deeply felt. Where each person is devoted and responsible for the other. Family is unique in that way; it’s not always positive or nice, and sometimes it can be quite ugly, but family is family. Marken in a way is both brother and father to Maron so there’s a lot of push and pull going on there.
5. There are some gnarly fell beasts contained within ‘Raiders’. CROM! Tell me about your monster design. Are you piecing together the more monstrous Google finds out there, splicing the vagaries of rough sketches with your more memorable nightmares, what’s going on here?
CROM: Ah yeah, the monsters! I think this comes from that interaction Daniel and I had through the script where he’d roughly describe some of the creatures giving me enough space to interpret what they look like while also triggering ideas in my head to give them my own twist. Daniel and I like a lot of the same games and films which made it so easy for us to identify references that we wanted in the book. When the monsters appear in Raiders I wanted to invoke that feeling you had when you met a final boss for the first time in games like [The Legend of] Zelda, usually hanging from ceilings and with a big introductory name.
6. The action in ‘Raiders’ is wild. Monster guts splash on the floor, limbs fly every which way, heads are split horizontally, etc. How do you space out your action sequences? You have to hit the beats contained in the script, but you also need some space to indulge in the viscera, too.
CROM: I usually look at a page in the script and make a decision of what shots and actions would be cool to see and then work out how they can fit into the page contributing to the narrative of the scene. I grew up watching stuff like Ninja Scroll where the pace of the action scenes was fast, bloody and across the screen like a shock to your eyes.
7. I couldn’t shake one particular element in this fantasy drama/monster mash—a commentary on taxes and bureaucracy. Marken and Maron bring in loot to trade for gold, or coin, but after fees, taxes, tariffs, dues (is there a raider union?) they barely have enough to carve out a life of their own. Tell me how owing the powers-that-be became a central part of ‘Raiders’.
DF: To put it simply, life isn’t fair. This was the first thing my father ever taught me. Raiders put their lives on the line to hack and slash their way down to treasure only to be forced to exchange that treasure for a royal currency. They are simply cogs in a self-perpetuating system of control. I think you can interpret this many different ways, but ultimately it’s about how nobody feels they get what they deserve. Whether you work a crap job and get paid nothing for your hard labor or you make millions that you then have to give away a percentage of to the government, there’s a built-in tension between the fruit of one’s labor and the demand that they give it to some kind of authority, especially when that authority is corrupt and oppressive. There’s also friction between being a free individual with agency and being beholden to an authoritative institution that gets to decide what you’re allowed to do with your powers and skills.
8. CROM, you mentioned in the back matter of ‘Raiders’ that it took several passes before you were pleased with the final cover. How would you describe your path from the initial concept of the piece, the one that began in your mind, to the moment where you felt confident enough to say that it’s finally done? How do you usually navigate this path?
CROM: I knew I wanted to have a clean and simple design while being able to convey what the book was about in one image. When I started working on the first roughs for the cover I had only finished the first 10 or so pages of the comic so I felt like I knew the main characters fairly well but by the time I finished most of the book I had a closer relationship to Marken as a character and I knew I had to rework the cover to reflect that.
9. One of my favorite back matter additions to this graphic novel was an inventory sheet that featured terrifically-rendered items that we see throughout the story: “Marken’s Two-Handed Mammoth Bastard”; “Flower for Ally”; “Second-Edition Raider’s Handbook” (which, haw!); “Father’s Armour Bracelet”. It’s a summation of parts that make up a whole. It’s also something that evokes a feeling of wistfulness after reading the story in its entirety. What are the challenges of constructing a world that feels not just authentic to itself, but complete?
DF: For me personally it’s about creating a world outside the page. Since we’re locked into Marken and Maron’s point of view, and only see what they see, we only get a glimpse of the larger world and history. But that doesn’t mean Crom and I didn’t extensively discuss and develop a larger world with a backstory and fleshed-out political system. So even if we don’t get to see all of it, you get the sense that it exists. I think locking into a characters POV and experiencing the story/world through them is key to making it believable and resonate because the story is personal for the protagonist. And if they don’t care, why would the reader.
CROM: Worldbuilding to me is very important, not only as a creator but also as a consumer in the games I play, the books/comics I read, and the films I watch. Daniel and I are suckers for lore, as well as little hidden extra bits of info that make the story feel more tangible and help the reader immerse themselves in the world we’re presenting. I want readers to feel the world of Raiders exists with or without the main characters.
10. To pluck from a pervasive Twitter meme: You are a raider. What is your outfit, weapon, and means of travel? (No need to retweet your answers.)
DF: Seeing as I just spent hours farming Black Knight armor, I’ll be wearing that but with no helmet. Instead a simple slightly tattered red bandana will be tied around my forehead. As boring as it sounds, I’m a straight sword-and-shield kind of fighter, always balancing my defensive and offensive capabilities. That doesn’t mean I’m not packing some dark magic though. You can never leave home without a little dark magic. As for mount, I’ll take an undead chocobo.
CROM: Ha, I love this! Ok, think Abaddon from Dota 2 with an undead horse who leaves a path of flaming steps as I ride. For weapons I have some light dual-wielding daggers but my main item is a necromancy book with chains and seals à la Warhammer.
‘Raiders’ hits stores on June 10.
Editor’s Note: This article originally ran with a headline referring to Daniel Freedman as “David”. DoomRocket regrets the error.
More comics interviews to get those synapses firing…