This week’s feature came to me from MySpace (yes, I still have one, and keep it updated…sorta). From the steampunk community there, I friended Tess Fowler. She’d done some gorgeous steampunk erotica work in the past, but I noticed that she began posting character designs such as these:
Cue the double-take on the names. Characters of color in my steampunk? And (gasp) one of them is Vietnamese-?
Since then, I’ve been following Tess and her progress on The Seven for months. The project is still in its development stages, but, dying to know more, I had a recent conversation with Tess and The Seven’s writer Chris Gutierrez about The Seven and what inspired them to create a multiracial steampunk world.
Hey guys, I’m glad you can take a moment to chat up this exciting project. First, tell me a little about your background.
Tess: I’m a self taught illustrator. First published work was a gallery in Heavy Metal magazine. I’ve done quite a few sketch card collections, and I have two comic books coming out in 2010. The first is a biography on Michelle Obama’s first year as our First Lady. The second is a biography about Lady Gaga due out in May.
Chris: Well I’m more of an illustrator than anything, I just fell into writing because Tess’s first writing partner dropped the ball. I went to school for media and communications. I originally wanted to work in film as a concept artist and prop builder, but later discovered my passions truly lied in the gaming and comic industry. I also very nearly became a cop. I passed the test right before Tess and I met and she talked me out of it when she saw my art.
How did the both of you cross paths? Have you worked together on any projects before?
Tess: I’ll let Chris take the first question. (laughing)
Chris: We met at Comic Con in 2004. I was working for the Lucasfilm booth as Boba Fett and happened to walk by the Heavy Metal booth where she was working. This gorgeous young lady jumped over the table to take a picture with me and the rest is history.
Tess: As for working together. We’ve been drawing together since the first day we ever hung out. And we brain storm constantly. But Chris became a writer purely by accident.
Chris: Like I said before, the first guy dropped the ball. Tess and I came up with all the concepts and inspiration for the series but this particular writer would go weeks at a time not producing anything. So one day I sat down at the computer and just started to type. What came out was pretty hilarious. The first incarnation of the Mei Mei story arc came out in a day.
Tess: Nevermind the fact that he can’t spell worth a damn. (laughing)
Chris: Yeah, Tess is the only one who can read my writing. (laughing) Can you believe I’m technically a game editor? Meaning I correct grammar and spelling on video games! All your base belong to us!
So now we know who to blame for that. ^-~ Okay, besides the amazing concept art I’ve seen, I don’t know much about this project. Can you enlighten me with a summary about The Seven?
Chris: The original story arc we were working on dealt with the trafficking of Chinese women and children in late 1800’s San Francisco, during the anti Chinese riots. The Chinese gangster “Little Pete” was a main player.
Tess: Yes, we still love that story, but it deals with some very extreme kinds of themes such as child prostitution, and violence against women. We’re thinking that should be a follow up book to the one we’re doing now.
Chris: This book deals more with the supernatural and is a more effective origin story of “The Seven”. It has room to be a lot funnier than the first arc we wrote, because our cast of Seven get to show their personalities. In this new story The Seven will be investigating a sudden outbreak of disease that looks strangely like evidence of The Plague. It leads them to a band of beautiful seductive women with a shady past.
Tess: They eat people!
Chris: They do not! They make love to them and THEN eat them. You know, kinda like your mom.
Tess: Touche, sir.
How was the idea of The Seven born? To me, I’m curious about whether the title is an allusion to Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (or the Western it inspired, The Magnificent Seven).
Chris: The reason for calling it “The Seven” is that there are coincidentally seven martial arts instructors who the characters are modeled after. If there had been four of them it would have been called “The Four.”
Tess: There is a small judo/ju jitsu dojo in my hometown which I have attended on and off since 2004. The instructors there have such different and unique personalities, styles and teaching methods, the stories kind of write themselves!
Chris: I feel that the comaraderie between these characters is similar to Seven Samurai and Magnificent Seven, but the stories are completely different. This is not an homage to those great films, though I know many will see it that way. It is an homage to seven men Tess and I admire and love. And also aspire to be like one day.
Why did the both of you decide on a multicultural cast?
Tess: The men who inspired us all hail from different cultural backgrounds. Some came here from outside the states, and some were born here. But not a one of them comes from the same place. You would be surprised how little artistic license was needed to make this band of hooligans. (laughing)
What research went into exploring your setting and your characters?
Tess: I became very good friends with a lot of folks at the San Francisco historical society. We had a lot of lengthy phone conversations, and they sent me to various off shoot groups that helped me gather information for what life was like in San Francisco before the big earthquake hit early in the 1900’s.
Chris: Being a student of these men was all the research I needed.
Now what does this bring up an image of your following them around like Harriet the Spy? (laughs) So, do your instructors know you’re writing a story with characters based off of them? What have been their reactions?
Tess: They loved it. Well, they loved the FIRST version. (laughs) They haven’t seen this one yet. We might get into trouble when they do!!
One of the first things that caught my eye about this project is that The Gentleman, one of the Seven, is Vietnamese. Since the story takes place in San Fransisco, 1898, I suspect that he has a very interesting reason on why he’s there. How much does a character’s individual cultural history play into the comic?
Chris: At the time (as it is today) San Francisco was a crazy blend of nationalities and cultures. These men came together for a single purpose (to study/fight the occult) directly because of their own personal and diverse histories. They each have a different skill set (again because of where they each hail from) and San Francisco (as it is today) was the ideal place for them to come together.
Tess: I remember when you first noticed the sketch studies of “The Gentleman”. (Nguyen) He is one of my favorites in the story because he’s actually the comic relief in a lot of scenes. And he’s also got the most mysterious past. He’s this beautiful speciman of man whom all the ladies swoon for, but no one really knows how the hell he ended up in San Francisco, where his money stems from, or how he even joined The Seven.
Yes, Nguyen’s hot factor definitely peaked my interest! ^_~ It’s so refreshing to see Asian men as attractive in the American media.
Tess: Oh he’s gonna LOVE that. (laughs) Yoshimune’s pretty hot too, though. I don’t think you’ve seen him yet. Unlike Nguyen, he’s much quieter and carries a MUCH bigger stick.
Chris: I’m going to give him a book all his own. Actually they all are going to have off shoot stories, to better explain who they are. Kind of like “Sam and Twitch” from the Spawn comics.
Are either of you afraid that people might view this project as a deliberate Five Token Band? How do you address this concern?
Tess: Not at all. We were inspired by real life, and the diversity is real.
Chris: You mean those Burger King brats? I don’t remember them fighting monsters or sleeping with exotic women. No comparison. But honestly, I believe people will connect with The Seven BECAUSE they are so diverse.
When can we expect The Seven to hit the shelves? Until then, where are the best places where we can follow this project and your other work?
Tess: We have editors who are intrigued but we haven’t been signed yet. The project is still in it’s infancy.
Chris: Tess and I are on facebook and myspace. We post updates all the time. Tess is finishing two other books right now, so this is set to ramp up sometime in February.
And what else can we look forward to from you both in the near future?
Chris: More stories of The Seven!!!
Thanks again guys, and I wish you all the best in getting The Seven out there.