Review Fix chats with Dark Horse’s Adam Warren, who discusses the newest trade of his on-going “Empowered” series. Sexy and fun, Empowered is both written and illustrated by Warren, who is easily one of the most candid creators in comics today.
Review Fix: For those who have never checked out the series, how would you describe it?
Adam Warren: My oft-repeated summation of the series goes like this: “Empowered is a sexy superhero comedy, except when it isn’t.”
Longer version: Empowered, my ongoing series of graphic novels (and occasional one-shot comics in “floppy” format) published by Dark Horse Comics, tells the story of Elissa Megan Powers, a plucky but deeply insecure superheroine struggling her way through a comically twisted world of never-ending, cape-clad superdrama. Warped humor and whimsical sexiness abound, save for times when the books dip into wrenching emotion and startling violence—the series covers quite a wide variety of narrative tones, believe me.
Review Fix: How is this volume of Empowered different from the others?
Adam Warren: The main difference, IMHO, is that Empowered vol.7 uses a boldly fractured storytelling structure to weave one very critical plot thread throughout the volume: Namely, the desperate ordeal endured by Elissa’s best friend (forever), the hard-drinking Ninjette, when a revenge-seeking ninja clan catches up to her. The book also tells the tragic tale of Empowered’s very first brush with superheroic failure and embarrassment—and, by the end, reveals a very important secret about Emp’s true nature as a superheroine. On the “big reveal” front, vol.7 additionally features a unique revelation about the so-called “Caged Demonwolf,” the bombastic, bodiless blowhard (and god-like space monster) presently entrapped upon Elissa’s coffee table.
On a more mundane level, Empowered vol.7 is also noticeably longer than most of the other installments in the series; we needed to jack the book’s pagecount up to 224pp to fit in all of the volume’s superheroic wackiness and ninja-riffic shenanigans. The book’s also printed on the nicest paper stock—by far—of any individual volume, meaning that my pencil-based artwork has never, ever looked prettier.
Review Fix: Who do you think would enjoy it the most?
Adam Warren: How about: Anyone who appreciates good comics? Or, anyone who can appreciate a humorous and/or sexy take on the evergreen topic of superheroes? Or, since most of my artistic and narrative inspirations are Japanese, anyone who can appreciate manga-influenced comics storytelling? Or, anyone who can appreciate the emotional conflicts and inspirational striving of sympathetic but flawed female characters? Or, as I’m quite fond of complex and kinetic action sequences—behold, here are my ticket stubs from repeat screenings of THE RAID: REDEMPTION—anyone who can appreciate seriously kickass fight scenes?
Review Fix: What’s your favorite part of this trade?
Adam Warren: My favorite part of Empowered vol.7? That, I’m afraid, would have to be a tie between two very, very different scenes in the book. One of the stories in question is a strangely intimate bathtub sequence between Ninjette and the Caged Demonwolf, in a conversation that fluctuates from sexiness to humor to horror to melancholy, before swinging back to sexiness and humor. Weirdly enough, this odd little scene ends up being arguably the emotional heart of the volume.
My other favorite scene in the book? That would be a long, complicated, vicious and brutal fight scene between thoroughly badass ninja warriors near the volume’s climax, a battle that required heavy-duty fight choreography and detailed action planning on my part to depict. Hey, like I said, this book features a wide-ranging array of moods and tones, folks.
Review Fix: What can people expect from the series in the future?
Adam Warren: By the end of the year, the first of what I hope is a series of new Empowered one-shots should hit the shelves. Written by yours truly and featuring art by Very Special Guest Artists (and by me as well, never fear), these one-shots will help to fill the gap between regular volumes with shorter bursts of Empowered goodness. Beyond that, I’m working on a number of other hush-hush “Secret Empowered Side Projects” that will, I believe, prove very pleasing indeed for fans of the series. To paraphrase Russell Crowe, “Are you not intrigued?”
In the meantime, work has already begun on Empowered vol.8, which focuses on the spectacular resolution of Sistah Spooky’s increasingly tragic character arc, and forces poor Emp to learn a great deal more than she might like about the disturbing underpinnings of her superheroic universe… Ooh, ah.
Review Fix: For aspiring comic book writers and artists, how difficult is it to
write and draw your own series?
Adam Warren: Personally, I find that the actual writing and drawing of a comic-book series isn’t the difficult part—no, wait, that’s a ridiculous statement. Writing and drawing a comic can indeed be extraordinarily difficult, requiring a helluva lot of careful thought at the word processor and ountless workdays at the drawing board. Producing Empowered vol.7 took me almost all of 2011, in a maddeningly time-consuming process that stressed me out considerably—and stressed out my poor drawing hand considerably more so.
No, what I meant to say was, the actual writing and drawing of a comic-book series isn’t the most difficult part of the process. As far as I’m concerned, the totality of everything else that makes the writing and drawing of the book possible is the truly difficult part. Painstakingly assembling the varied skill set necessary to create the comic in the first place? Difficult. Lining up the publishing opportunity to make the job possible? Difficult, too. Piecing together the extravagant amount of worktime necessary to produce the book? Difficult, you bet. Mustering the determination and resolve to keep on cranking out pages when the process is going badly, or circumstances seem to conspire against you? Seriously difficult. Taken together as a whole, all these extraneous issues often seen like more of a challenge than actually writing and drawing the comic itself.
Review Fix: What do you think is the most important thing you’ve learned while doing this series?
Adam Warren: Over the course of Empowered, the most important thing I’ve learned is that astonishingly enjoyable and remarkably fulfilling stories can arise from utterly unpromising beginnings. Back in the earliest days of Empowered’s genesis, I had no idea that random, dashed-off sketches of a hapless heroine could one day develop into the longest-running, most emotionally complex, most (ahem) “epic” comic project of my career. Getting to this point has been a bit of a bumpy ride, but I’m glad I set out on this storytelling journey—even if, at the start, I had no idea whatsoever as to where Empowered was gonna lead me.
On this volume in particular, I (re)learned an important fact that’s become increasingly obvious to me, over the last few volumes: As the series grows ever more narratively and artistically complex, I’m finding it more and more problematic to produce the artwork at anywhere near the breakneck pace at which I used to crank out pages, back in the simpler, slapdash days of early Empowered… Oh, well. Hey, at least the pages look a great deal prettier, nowadays.