Comics: Robert Sodaro on Kickstarting The Owlgirls

Death and the Maidens

By , Columnist

I’ve known Robert Sodaro for about five years now. We were first introduced by the driving force behind Atlas Unleashed, Mark Mazz, during one of the early incarnations of the New York Comic-Con. Sodaro and I have kept in close contact ever since.

One of the important things that helped cement our friendship quickly is the fact that we’re fellow travelers in more ways than not. Like me, Sodaro is a full-time freelance entertainment journalist with a specialty in covering the comics medium and industry. He’s also a published author, publishing consultant and editor among many other things—things like writing the occasional comic series.

All of which leads nicely to today’s main topic: The Kickstarter to fund The Owlgirls, an otherworldly and stylish mash-up of quirky urban horror and lush noir sensibilities that Sodaro has helped develop and scripted. First conceived by Rachele Aragno, a wonderfully talented artist based in Italy, The Owlgirls uses those genres’ familiar tropes in surprising new ways, combining them with the twists, turns and surprises offered by the plot, characterization and art to provide a wholly entertaining, engrossing, even enthralling reading experience.

Read on to learn more about The Owlgirls and how you can help make this otherworldy dream a reality.

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Who, exactly, are the Owlgirls?

Well, that’s actually a two-part answer. First off they are the creation of Rachele Aragno, an extremely talented illustrator who lives in Italy.

The Owlgirls themselves are three sisters—Magda, Martha, and Maggie—who have the bodies of human women but the heads of owls—hence the name “Owlgirls.” They live in 1940s in the SoHo section of New York and they are essentially Greek furies or Norse Norns. They commune with Lady Death, and are charged with pursuing the wicked.

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And who are some of the other important players in the series, and what can you tell us about the world that they share with the leading ladies?

Most importantly is Gebedhia, the owner of the mortuary in which they live, and lover of the oldest sister. There is also Giuseppe, a young lad who lives in the neighborhood and is not only fascinated by the sisters, but comes into contact with and has a relationship with Maggie, the youngest of the sisters. He comes to feel protective of the sisters, especially Maggie, upon whom he has something of a schoolboy crush. And there is Enrico, who works for Gebedhia in the mortuary.

Of course there is also Death, who appears as an elderly woman and speaks not only to Gebedhia, but eventually winds up directing the actions of the sisters themselves.

The villain of the first five issues is Don Amechee, the local Mafia crime boss who wants to use the sister’s “powers” in his nefarious enterprises.

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Well, where’d all this brilliant madness come from? Who came up the original idea for the book, how has it developed since then, and who’s been involved in that process?

About a year ago my friend, Dave Ryan (Red Anvil Comics) became friends with Rachele. He found her page on Facebook and was looking through her portfolio. Dave was so fascinated with her style that he struck up a conversation and they began discussing the characters. Through their discussions, Dave learned that while she had the initial core concept of who these characters were, she really didn’t have any understanding of how to translate that into an ongoing story.

It was at this point he suggested to her that perhaps I could write a story to go with her characters and concepts. After looking over Rachele’s illustrations and speaking with her, I agreed to pen a story. I then did some research on the lore surrounding owls and learned that virtually every culture and society has some sort of owl mythology. Using her original concepts, I then went on to craft the overall five-issue story arc as well as the underlying story of the first issue, which Rachele loved, and began illustrating under the art direction of Dave.

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What about this project and the work of its artist-originator made you want to invest your time and energy into making it a reality? And did you have any qualms or misgivings about taking on this job, or was it basically a no-brainer decision?

Well, I’ve been working with Dave a little bit on The War of the Independents—he is using a couple of my characters, the Wülf Girlz, in the story—plus I did some editorial work on issue #3 of WotI, as well as some marketing and PR work for him. So when Dave brought the project to me, I was not only very flattered, but quite intrigued as well.

Then when I saw Rachele’s artwork I was completely hooked. I’ve been reading comics for some 50 years, and she truly has some of the most engaging and eclectic artwork that I’ve ever seen. She has such a distinct style, almost Ditko-ish, but completely original.

As an aside, I really hate the term “no-brainer” as it implies that this stuff just happens. It doesn’t. It requires a brain, a thought process, inspiration and passion. For my part I was totally inspired by Rachele’s art, and by her enthusiasm in the project. She is like a little kid in a candy store. She totally wants to produce her best work, and under Dave’s tutelage her technique is improving with every panel. It is really hard not to be inspired by all of that positive energy. I think that the three of us make a really good team, and are producing a very compelling story.

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Well, how’d you each contribute to development process, generally?

Well, as I stated, Rachele had an initial concept of who these characters were, and of their background. From there, and my conversations with her, I developed a more formalized back-story, which she approved, and then I went to work on crafting the first story. When she and Dave saw it, they both loved it, and now we’re off to the races.

Working with Dave is great. He is a very talented artist and is really helping mentor Rachele, who, while she is a most excellent illustrator, has never practiced sequential work.

As far as the storytelling itself, Dave has really left me alone to craft the tale that grew inside my head, based on my conversations with Rachele.

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Sounds like the makings of a perfect collaboration.

Funny thing about collaborating with others — when I got back the final couple of pages for the first issue, Dave and Rachele apparently mixed up the two characters Giuseppe—the young lad, who at the time was actually named Fredrico, so you really can’t blame them?—and Enrico, the assistant mortician. I had already written the script for issue #2, so the choice was to either re-draw the last couple of pages of issue #1 or re-write the script for #2.

I chose to re-write the script for #2, as it wound up making the story stronger, and flow better. Dave also contributed a bit towards a scene in issue #1 between Maggie, Giuseppe, and Giuseppe’s baby sister.

Dave is also a big help with the pacing of the story. While I tend to think and write scripts visually, as an artist Dave has a better understanding of the flow of the events, so once the entire first issue was fully illustrated, he sent it all to me and I re-tooled some of the dialogue to reflect what he had done. I also had Rachele double-check my use of Italian in the story, to make sure I got the tense correctly.

And I also made a small correction to a scene where Gebedhia and Enrico were drinking Chianti to have them drink anisette as it was pointed out to me that would actually make more sense given the situation.

So, yeah, I do have a vision of what I want the story to be, and where I want it to go, but I’m willing to adjust it to better reflect where it takes me.

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How much of a challenge has crafting this series been for you as a writer? For instance, given how ubiquitous Death has become as a character in modern fiction as well as comics, how difficult was it to find the unique voice that properly suits the original conception of the character?

Truthfully, other writers' vision of Death—[Jim] Starlin’s, [Neil] Gaiman’s, et al.—really didn’t affect me in the way I was presenting my, or more precisely, Rachele’s, vision of Death. Here, she is an old Italian woman who is the advocate for the dead.

I think that each culture views Death as they perceive death. None of them are really wrong; they are just what individuals see at the time that they are looking. Sort of like frogs at the bottom of a well only being able to see a portion of the sky.

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Well, what can we do to help make the Owlgirls comic a reality? And is there any significant way we contribute to the cause beyond simply becoming another contributor to the Kickstarter campaign?

Right now we have a Kickstarter that is still a week or so from completion and we are looking for backers to help us fund our project. We are so close right now, and every little bit helps..

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A veteran journalist who has covered the comics medium since 1998, Bill Baker is also the author of Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee and seven previous books featuring his extended interviews with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and other notable creators. You can learn more about Bill’s work…

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