Interview - Alex Eckman-Lawn

Thanatos Diver is a brand new series from Th3rd World Studios poised to debut soon. You may have heard about it before now. If not, then it should definitely be on your radar. Not only is a wildly satisfying homage to the JRPG days of 16-bit yore, but it also boasts two very talented individuals in writer Nick Tapalansky and artist Alex Eckman-Lawn. Eckman-Lawn was gracious enough to answer a few questions about the book ahead of its September 18th cutoff date (place your orders here!). Read on to find out what's so cool about being underwater and what RPG could possibly be a contender for greatest of all time.
Omnicomic: What's Thanatos Diver all about?

Alex Eckman-Lawn: Here's the official pitch:

Samantha is bored out of her skull. She lives on an island, her entire world is covered in ocean, and she's explored pretty much every crusty corner of the sunken city that surrounds her home. She's just about accepted a tedious, excitement-free life when a contest with a rival diver sends her deep into the sunken city's forbidden zone, where she discovers a pathway to a world more exciting, and more dangerous, than anything she'd ever imagined-- one full of uncharted lands, mysterious creatures, and the mythical Thanatos Diver who, depending on the teller, is rumored to either save both worlds or destroy them...

I really wish i could get into more specifics but since this is only the first issue i don't want to spoil anything!

Omnicomic: The book has a clear JRPG/action RPG feel to it. Did that feel come as you progressed in working on the book? Did you purposefully want to do a book inspired by the genres?

Eckman-Lawn: Haha, you saw right through us, huh?

Yeah, Nick and I are both big nerds and we were both born in the 80s so we had the good luck to grew up in the glory years of both the SNES and PS1/Sega Saturn. In planning Thanatos Diver, we spent a lot of time reminiscing about what got us really amped as kids (and still does as full grown man-children), and we kept kind of returning to those formative years.

This book totally owes a lot to games like Legend of Zelda, Panzer Dragoon, Shining Force and Final Fantasy. Those games just had such amazing, fully realized worlds! We really wanted to make something compelling and complete like that, with tons to explore.

Omnicomic: The art looks anime inspired as well. What about that style was appealing when creating the book?

Eckman-Lawn: I can't deny the influence. I wasn't sure if I wanted to fully embrace that at first, but the more I thought about where Thanatos Diver was coming from, the more it made sense to let the Japanese influence shine through. I discovered Manga right around the time I was getting REALLY into video games, so it all kind of fit. Plus the Studio Ghibli films were definitely an influence here. I've always admired the way Miyazaki, in particular, blends character and setting. He makes worlds you want to live in.

I've also been looking at at lot of French comics lately, including Moebius of course. I don't know if the influence is as apparent there, but I love that man's comics more than most things (and people) in my life.

Omnicomic: The concept of exploring underwater has an allure to it similar to exploring the reaches of space. Was that a major draw in using an underwater setting?

Eckman-Lawn: Well, the allure of the deep sea setting is kind of twofold for me. It's vast and daunting, full of unknown surprises, danger, adventure (everything a story like ours needs), but in the case of Thanatos Diver it also contains this enormous, forgotten past. The sunken city beneath the sea in Thanatos Diver is really what drives our story, and provides the doorway to Sam's adventures.

Omnicomic: In Greek mythology, Thanatos is essentially the personification of death, Will Thanatos Diver tap into that mythology at all? Is there a deeper meaning to using "Thanatos" in the title?

Eckman-Lawn: This is an awesome question!

Yes, there is a sort of mythology built around the Thanatos Diver, though the facts seem to be a bit blurred. This is actually one of my favorite reveals we've got planned for the book. Again, I don't want to give too much away, so I'll just say YES, there is definitely a reason for our use of that word--you'll just have to stay tuned to find out more!

Omnicomic: Thanatos Diver is a drastic change from Awakening, but your work on Popgun and Mouse Guard seemed to indicate a tonal shift was coming. Is Thanatos Diver representative of where you'd like to go with future works as a team? Zombies have to live on!

Eckman-Lawn: Haha, yeah this was a huge change from Awakening, both stylistically and tonally. I love the doom and gloom stuff and the work I do outside of comics is pretty heavy on dark imagery (I work with a lot of metal bands), but I have to admit, this is the most fun I've ever had making comics. I'm not willing to say that every comic I make from now on will look like Thanatos Diver, but I'm certainly looking forward to working on this for as long as possible.

And you're definitely right about the slow shift! Once Nick and I finished that Legends of the Guard short, I think we knew we had to find a way to keep working in this style. It was just too much fun not to.

And don't worry, I'm sure zombies aren't going anywhere. Tell you what Jonathan, if zombie comics start to die out (haw haw), you and me can revive them together. You heard it here first, folks!

Omnicomic: How many issues will Thanatos Diver be and when/where can excited readers get their hands on a copy?

Eckman-Lawn: Thanatos Diver is an open ended series, HOWEVER, the first five issues will be collected into one complete story. That said, we have SO MUCH MORE planned for the series! At least 15 issues worth of material is pretty much set in stone already, and there's some really great stuff coming in the second collection! I really can't wait to start drawing those...

As for where to find the book, adventure-hungry readers can pre-order the book through september 17th! Pre-orders are INSANELY important to indie books like this one so please talk to your local shop now! As it happens, we've got this handy flyer ready for printing/downloading that will make it extra easy:

just print out the form, or download the pdf, then take it to your local comic shop and tell that you're ready for adventure! If they don't high five you immediately they're idiots.

Omnicomic: What's your favorite RPG of all time? Unfortunately, any answer that's not Chrono Trigger is unacceptable!

Eckman-Lawn: Haha, I actually grew up as a SEGA kid so I had a tough time in the early days. I can't tell you how jealous I was of the kids who were playing Chrono Trigger in middle school; that game is absolutely untouchable. But I will forever have a soft spot for Panzer Dragoon Saga, Shining Force III and Skies of Arcadia. Dude, also Secret of Mana! that game is crazy beautiful for the 16-bit days!

Omnicomic: What's your convention schedule like for the rest of the year?

Eckman-Lawn: Well, Nick JUST became a dad and I'm hard at work drawing MY baby Thanatos Diver so i think things might be a bit quiet for the rest of this year, but we're gonna be coming on STRONG next year. However, I will be at a few indie shows this year, including Locus Moon Fest in Philly on October 25th, which is a pretty amazing show if you're into indie books, zines, screen prints or good art.

Omnicomic: Anything you want to plug while you have the floor?

Eckman-Lawn: Yes, actually!

That Locust Moon Comics Fest is the official debut of the Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream anthology featuring a short from myself as well as comic greats like Paul Pope, Jeremy Bastian, Michael Allred, Yuko Shimizu, J.H. Williams III, David Mack, J.G. Jones, Craig Thompson, Paolo Rivera, Shane Michael Vidaurri and SO MANY OTHERS.

I've also got a piece in the upcoming The Graphic Canon of Childrens Literature. Comic artists reinterpret classic kids stories. It's a cool book and some good pals have great work in there.

The other things I've got in the works need to remain top secret for now, unfortunately. Oh, and listen to metal.