Comics: Moro Rogers on City in the Desert: The Monster Problem

Playing with the Platonic ideal

By , Columnist

If asked, I’d have to say that the most telling aspects of living in this, what will surely be recognized as the Golden Age of Graphic Novels, isn’t the quantity and depth of the collections and OGNs being published—instead, I would argue that it’s the diversity and quality of content on offer that are most important.

Never before have there been so many original books from so many talented creators offered to the reading public each and every week. Truth be told, sometimes it can all become more than a little overwhelming. And when that happens, a lot of good work can be missed by even the most dedicated of observers.

Still, sometimes you do make those happy discoveries and catch a title and its creators at precisely the right moment, just as they’re appearing on the scene. I’ve been lucky enough to have been in the right place at the right time in the past, and it’s my hope that it’ll happen again.

Take, for instance, City in the Desert: The Monster Problem by Moro Rogers. It’s one of a group of books that already have been or will be released by Archaia, each one of them exceptionally entertaining in its own way. I’ll be talking with the creators of many of these projects over the next few weeks, but wanted to start off with Rogers because her work could be seen as the epitome of the perfect entry point comic.

Rogers’ open, airy lines and deceptively simple narrative invite the eye and the imagination of the reader into the tale even as they introduce some highly complex concepts and relationships. Ultimately, her work seems to achieve that seemingly impossible balance between thought and expression, between the realities of the human heart and its wildest fantasies, all while remaining firmly rooted in a world that, despite its oddities, remains wholly recognizable and believable.

In short, City in the Desert is a book that deserves to be read, savored, and explored.

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Who are Irro and Hari, and what can you tell us about their world and the City in the Desert they all inhabit?

Irro is a monster hunter and Hari is his mysterious assistant—she has claws, a tail, and other peculiar qualities. They live in Kevala, a desert city that doesn't have much contact with the outside world. I took the name from a Sanskrit word meaning “isolated.”

So where’d this all come from? What were the circumstances that led to this series’ conception, and what influenced its development into its current form?

The idea had been kicking around in my head for a long time, but I was doing odd jobs at animation studios so I kept putting off writing it. I found myself out of work a few years ago and felt like I needed to do something of my own just to stay sane.

I guess I was kind of cranky at the time and I thought if I made a graphic novel I'd at least have something to show for it.

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How much work did you put into developing the politics and religions of this strangely familiar world, and how important are those aspects to your overall story?

I have to confess I didn't do a lot of research, so I hope I haven't horribly misrepresented the views of any nice, dedicated Gnostics or Manichaeans. When I was coming up with the characters I tried to consider how a person would behave if they were obsessed with a particular idea. One thing I did want to do was to get away from more familiar moral dichotomies like "Evil Religious People vs. Good Free Thinkers," or "Good Religion vs. Evil Science."

The two lead characters have a very special relationship, but it does seem to have its limitations. Will we be learning more about the reasons for those boundaries, and their histories, together and separately, any time soon?

Yup, in Volume 2.

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One of the really intriguing ideas, and one that appears to be central to at least this first story arc, is concept of a spirit fountain. Is that just a cool bit of scenery, or is it perhaps more important to this world than merely being a cool special effect?

I like the Platonic notion that ideas have an independent reality. The stuff about thoughts being recycled into physical forms is kind of similar to a Hong Kong/Thai fantasy flick I enjoyed called Re-Cycle. Hopefully my story has taken a different enough direction from the movie. In the next volume I'm going to hint a little more at the nature of the differences between the CITD world and our world, and the spirit fountain ties into that.

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What’s your approach to creating the story and art itself? Do you tend to sit down and write out the whole script and then start drawing, or do you take a looser approach than that? And how much room is there for sudden inspiration or serendipity in there?

This was my first graphic novel, so I was learning in the process.

I did a first pass which was very sketchy. I usually did the drawing and dialogue together. The first pass didn't really look like anything. There were a few parts where I just put in a note that said 'Insert exciting action sequence here' because I hadn't figured it out fully.

In the second pass I tried to establish the settings, action and compositions. There is actually plenty of room for sudden inspiration. Long into the final pass I still think, "I can make this better." I've even had good story insights in real time when I was chatting with my editor.

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Are you working with actual pencils, ink and paper, or doing most of this on a computer? Why? What about that method appeals to you?

City in the Desert is all digital. This was more of a practical decision than an artistic one. Digital is easy to fix and change and I didn't want to waste a bunch of trees and fill our house with paper. I like the look of traditional media, though, so I might go with that for my next project.

One of the interesting visual choices you’ve made, particularly in light that it’s done digitally, is your sparing use of color. Rather than go the way of computer coloring and modeling, the book instead features spots and swaths of color. What are your reasons for going that route as opposed to full-on application of color?

I guess I just wanted to remove a variable so I wouldn't have to worry about it. I think full color can look really good if the artist really knows what he or she is doing, but a lot of bright detailed color can be distracting. Also, in the story there are only a few explicit references to color so I guess I wanted them to stand out.

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It’s obvious by the end of this first book that there’s a lot more to this story. Which makes me wonder if you just plan on telling one discrete tale—something with a definite beginning, middle and end—or if you have bigger plans for the series as a whole?

This story will be self-contained in three volumes. I don't like series that go on forever. But I might like to do a book of short stories set in this world.

Well, what’s next for our heroes, and when do you expect the next book to be ready?

I've got the next two volumes mostly written, but I'm not sure when they are coming out. I'll keep you posted.

What do you get from making comics and art?

I enjoy being able to control every aspect of storytelling. It's like making my very own big-budget fantasy film, except that I don't need a giant budget and crew.

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How about City in the Desert, specifically? What does that provide to you that you might not find elsewhere?

I always wanted to see what an R-rated (Hayao) Miyazaki flick would be like; this is my attempt to do something along those lines.

And what do you hope readers take from your work, generally, and from this book in particular?

Mostly I hope people are entertained, but I also hope they come away from CITD with a greater appreciation for monsters and nature as a whole. I think it's better to live in a world with real monsters like tigers and sharks even if one doesn't want to meet them at close range.

Anything else you’d like to add before I let you go?

Yeah! If you like CITD you can check out the series’ website, it's got a bunch of concept art and bio information and stuff like that.

I'll be at Wondercon in Anaheim this year and the San Diego Comic-Con, so you can look me up and I will draw for you!

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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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