Wednesday, April 18, 2012

We Moved!

You know, we got so excited about our new site that we forgot about the old one! If you've come here looking for Unbroken Skies material, check us out at our new site: Unbroken Skies

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Preparing for Planet Comic Con

 So the "Unbroken Skies" team has had an extrememly busy couple of weeks putting together our book and preparing for Planet Comic Con in Kansas City. This weeks post is going to be pretty minimal as we are discussing and preparing our next project for "Unbroken Skies" as well as creating a new website. We're hard at work and we will have some pretty exciting stuff on the blog soon so stay tuned and keep an eye on the sky.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Preview: Santos' Journal

 We've been working extremely hard getting the first Unbroken Skies book "Santos' Journal" ready for Planet Comic Con in Kansas City. We're very close to completion and the book should be off to the printers any day now. In the mean time, the "Unbroken Skies" team thought we'd preview a few pages of the book. "Unbroken Skies: Santos' Journal" will be available at the con March 23rd and 24th. Here is a link for more information about Planet Comic Con.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Production Post #6 - On Santos

Oh, Santos. He’s the teacher’s pet, you know? If only every character could be like him, I tell his parents on Writer-Parent Meeting Night. His quiet demeanor and willingness to let things play out lend him a gravitas that make him very attractive as a character. His intelligence and strategic abilities make him a kind of character that writers often use as a stand-in for themselves. Self-aware and always looking at the long game, his view comes closer than any of the other Rogue Winds to matching that of the writer. He’s seeing things that are coming before I even see it, at times. It’s true. He’s a born leader in a lot of ways, which is exactly why he doesn’t want the role. He’s smart enough to stay back and out of trouble (well, as much as that’s possible for a rogue fighter pilot).
         But still, he leads me through situations and stories by his very ability to notice something. Oh, he sees Lori pacing? That must mean something. Oh, he’s heard of this trader? There’s probably some trouble ahead. He’s already braced for it by the time I figure out what it is, and has an escape route planned for he and the other Rogue Winds.
         It makes me feel lucky, to be honest, because he’s not as forthcoming with the other Winds as he is with me. Granted, they don’t get to be inside his head, and he doesn’t have much choice as to whether I’m there, but still. He’s quiet with them, and I think that quiet draws other people to him. The others watch him to see what he’s doing, because they know he won’t say anything unless he has to, and he’ll act when he thinks it’s appropriate and without any warning. He keeps them on their toes.
         In some ways, he’s become the default father figure of the group now that Captain Harrison is gone. I think this makes his relationship with Lori a little bit tense at times. Lori is the leader of the Winds, but she wants to prove her worth to her adoptive father. Santos is the stand-in for that father, so she needs to prove herself to him as well. When combined with her desire to prove herself worthy of command to her comrades, Santos makes her uncomfortable at times, and on occasion she feels resentful of Santos’ presence, his silence, his unwillingness to give approval. Santos, for his part, sees all the ways that Lori could improve, but would never dream of telling her what to do; that’s just not his style, and anyway some lessons need to be learned firsthand. His annoyance at her lack of confidence and her resentfulness of his silence leads to conflict. Of course, all of this conflict could be resolved with a simple conversation, but they’re fighter pilots, not therapists.

 Written By Dave Shapiro
Illustrated By Vince Medellin
Story By Paul Dodson, Dave Shapiro and Vince Medellin

Character Introductions: The Rogue Winds - Part 4

“More tea, Harrison?” Gregor asked as he filled his weathered cup with the weak brown fluid.
“No, thank you. I’ve had my fill,” Harrison replied.
Maddie shuffled around the tiny kitchen and gathered up the dishes from their lunch. She chatted to Harrison about the state of Surgard, how many of their neighbors had moved topside when they got the chance. But they liked their shop, felt too much at home to ever try to find another place.
“The revolution was about respect,” she laughed, “not housing problems.”
“Tell us about your problem with the ship,” Gregor asked after they had grown tired of pleasant conversation.
“There’s not any kind of damage I can find. She’s just sluggish, losing power. Nothing so drastic I’m afraid of stalling, just a little catch in her spin.”
“Have you opened her up? Looked at her engine?” Maddie asked as she squeezed into the seat next to Gregor.
“Half a dozen times. Can’t find a thing.”
They continued to talk about the plane. They asked questions, and he answered what he could. They proposed theories then dismissed them. At some point, Harrison realized Frankie had joined them. He had held Frankie when she was just weeks old, and she’d grown up with him as a regular occurrence in their home. Now she was twelve years old and sharp as a prop. She crouched in the doorway of the kitchen, scribbling on a scrap of paper. The Burmann’s were debating the possible reasons for his engine trouble, so Harrison turned to Frankie.
“What are you so intent on, kiddo?” he asked.
“Your engine,” she replied.
“Really? What do you think?”
“I think your F-33 is a slick and spinning lady with one major catch in her gears,” Frankie said without looking away from her sketch.
By this time, Gregor and Maddie had stopped talking. Harrison looked over to them and found huge grins on their faces. Maddie met his eye and nodded. Frankie jumped up and slammed the paper down on the table. It held a detailed rendering of the Harrison’s engine. Frankie had circled several parts and scrawled illegible notes all around the page.
“Those wrenches in the Bans ain’t half bad at designing ships. But they can’t think three ticks into the future. They build for speed and maneuverability, to longevity. Here’s your hitch,” she said, pointing to one of the circled areas on her schematic.
“What’s the problem?” Harrison asked.
“Those square cogs didn’t consider the natural wear and tear inside your engine. You’re losing pressure, not so much to put you in danger, but enough to slow her down. We’ll have to break her heart and rebuild the whole Nulled thing.”
“What are the other notes you made?” Harrison pointed at the other circles on the schematic.
“The rest of the changes I’m going to make. I can up your speed a few ticks and get her sucking up less fuel.”
She continued to talk about her plans, and Harrison couldn’t follow half of what she proposed.
“That’s my girl,” Gregor mused.

Santos dropped into the cockpit of the P-22 Cloudfire and grinned. It was a Ban Altian ship, one of their first twin prop designs. The model had it flaws and hadn’t been produced in a decade, but older pilots talked about these ships in reverent tones. He’d seen a few fly back in Qullo, and he always thought they were beautiful.
“What do you think?” Captain Harrison called from below the plane.
“She’s amazing,” Santos replied. A few seconds later, Harrison climbed up to stick his head in the cockpit.
“Amazing. Looks like somebody retrofit most of the controls, though.”
“I did. They’re better like that,” a female voice came from the hangar door.
A young girl in a blue coverall jogged across the hangar toward them. She had red hair and a pale, round face streaked with engine grease. Harrison dropped to the ground and picked her up in a hug. She seemed embarrassed at first then smiled and hugged him back.
“When did you get back?” Harrison asked as she stepped back.
“Been a few ticks. The tour finished and I didn’t re-up,” as she spoke, a dark looked crawled over her face then dissipated.
“Santos, this is Frankie Burmann, the smartest mechanic you’re likely to meet. Frankie, this is the new man on my crew, Santos.”
Santos waved from the cockpit and Frankie flashed him a smile. She launched into a discussion of the Cloudfire, the changes she’d made and the things she wanted to tweak. Santos let her and the captain talk while he examined the controls. At first, he didn’t understand why she had moved things around in the cockpit. Then he started running through maneuvers in his head and everything clicked.
“This is fantastic,” he exclaimed.
“I know,” Frankie called from the floor slid right back into their conversation.
“I need a favor, Cappy,” she said after the tech talk had wound down.
“Anything for you, Frankie,” he said as he wrapped an arm around her shoulder.
“Take me with you.”
“Wait. What? You just got home…”
“I thought joining the army would get me in the air. I could fly fighters for Heimdurn because being a Cog isn’t a bad thing anymore,” she spoke in a whisper meant just for the two of them.
“You were wrong?” Harrison asked.
“Just traded one under city for another. They stuck me in the engine room on one of the carriers. Said I was too valuable a mechanic to waste in a ship. Buncha cracked gears, all of them.”
“Well then, I guess we’ll have to find Santos a different ship,” Harrison laughed.
“Oh, he can have her. The Cloudfire was just a way to keep me ticking. Wait til you see my ship.”
Harrison waved to Santos, and the pair of them sauntered out of the hangar. Another stick on the crew, Santos thought. He and Lori were finally starting to get along, At least they weren’t yelling at each other as much. Baggar had decided to stick around after that Nulled fight with the pirates and he was fitting right in. Now they had a mechanic, and Frankie seemed like one of the best. Santos smiled and dreamed of flying.
Frankie was born during a time of great unrest in Heimdurn. Her parents were Cogs in the Surgard under city during the darkest days of Leopold the Mad’s reign. The Committee on Progress called her parents and half the adults in Surgard to help build Drohnenstadt, the King’s flying fortress. Rather than give up their lives, the Cogs of Surgard revolted and an army of fellow workers ready to follow. Frankie grew up in hidden back rooms, listening to revolutionaries plan a new society.
When Ban Altia declared war on the weakened nation, Frankie enlisted without a second thought. She dreamed of flying a fighter in defense of her homeland. In reality, little had changed in the military. A Cog was still a cog to the old guard. She never got a chance as a pilot and took the first opportunity to leave the service. Disappointed but undeterred, she found another way to land in a cockpit. The Rogue Winds needed a mechanic, and she needed a squad worthy of her skill.

Written By Paul Dodson
Illustrated By Vince Medellin
Story by Paul Dodson, Dave Shapiro and Vince Medellin 


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Production Post #5 - On Lori

I’ve never wanted to be a parent. Also, it’s cliche to refer to characters as your children, so let me back up. No, wait; let me just continue on. I get really protective of characters I spend a lot of time with, whether I created/wrote for them or not. The hallmark of a successful show, for me, is characters that resonate and have depth.
         How do you do that? Well, if you’re lucky, characters spring fully formed from the thigh of Zeus and you just plop them into a story and watch them go. I’ve had this happen before, and it’s a strange kind of magic (as opposed to the normal kind of magic). They’ll say things and do things seemingly on their own, and you end up surprised at how autonomous they are.
         But sometimes it takes real work. Sometimes a character is stubborn, and obstinate, and contrary for the sake of being contrary (which I’m honestly surprised I have a hard time understanding). Lori has been one of those characters for me. On the surface, her defining traits are clear enough. Brought into the fold by Captain Harrison when she’s a young, homeless orphan, Lori is willful, independent, self-righteous, but also wholly devoted to those deserving of her respect and love. She’s the one that keeps the Rogue Winds together, who stepped up to assume leadership, lest she lose her makeshift family and find herself an orphan again.
         But she keeps her emotions very close to chest. And as a writer, I find myself afraid of getting too close to her, like she’ll lash out at me if I pry too hard. That’s a ridiculous thing, I know, but still, I have a hard time writing her. That’s why I’ve been working with her more than any other character. I have yet to be really comfortable with her.
         There are other difficulties, too. There is, unfortunately, a lot of baggage that comes along with being a white dude writing a female of color. Even though the universe we’re endeavoring to build is devoid of much of that baggage, and I should therefore be able to write whatever I want, the viewer isn’t from that universe. The viewer is from our universe, and will use the shorthand of popular culture to determine who these characters are. This means we have to work against stereotypes. Lori is a strong female character, but it’s important that she not be a Strong Female Character. The difference is that a strong female characters is a human being, and a Strong Female Character is a stereotypical female character who also happens to be assertive (see also: “shrew”). A male character has the advantage of being seen by the bulk of an audience as already commanding some authority by virtue of his gender. A female character has to work harder to come across as strong, but still likable. It’s very angering. It’s too easy to make this type of character a “mother hen” type” (like Katara in “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” who took a nurturing, controlling role in the group dynamic, which was really annoying at times).
But I don’t think Lori would care what you think of her. Lori’s not a born leader. She’s trying to keep her family together, and trying to live up to the legacy of her adoptive father. She’s not catering to some sort of internal desire to be mothering, and is actually pretty bad at taking care of people. In some ways, she’s the least suited to be in charge. She’s trying to prove to herself that she’s worthy of the faith her companions have placed in her, worthy of the second chance she was given to make something of herself. Whether this leads to success or failure, well, only time will tell.

Written By Dave Shapiro

Story By Paul Dodson, Dave Shapiro and Vince Medellin

Character Introductions: The Rogue Winds - Part 3

 Santos didn’t like Cabry much. It was small and crowded and hung precariously from a mined out husk of rock. Every building looked worn down, like the inhabitants built them from discounted materials obtained second-hand. Even the glass that held his whiskey looked like it had been discarded by two or three far nicer establishments before ending up in Cabry’s single saloon: Friendly’s Hangar. Santos also knew these were not the reasons he wanted to get out of Cabry. He’d stayed in worse towns and choked down worse whiskey. What he hated about Cabry was all the Null-bound patriots.
“It’s only a matter of time before the Bans put an end to the rebellion,” the enormous man shouted then emptied his mug. “You burn down enough of those colonies and the rest of ‘em will fall in line.”
His friends, which filled up most of the bar, murmured agreement and pounded on tables as though they were anxious to attack a colony right after the next drink. Their leader was blonde and muscular and wore a weathered Ban Altian uniform. Santos recognized the colors but the cut looked outdated. Even the patriotism in this town was acquired second-hand. He motioned for the bartender to fill his glass.
“Do you know Captain Harrison?” Santos asked as he paid for the drink.
“Sure,” the bartender replied, “he glides through Cabry pretty regular.”
“Have you seen him lately?” Santos asked.
“It’s been a turn or two. Let me see…”
The bartender stopped when the patriot stumbled against the bar. He slammed his mug on the table and asked for more. His eyes locked on Santos while he waited and silence fell over his friends. Santos knocked back the last of his whiskey then stood.
“Can I help you with something, friend?” he asked.
“I was just overhearing your conversation, friend,” the patriot spat. “You talking about Captain Harrison and his Rogue Winds?”
“I suppose so. We have a mutual acquaintance, and I’d like to pass along a greeting.”
“I don’t like Harrison. He’s a coward. Too afraid to stand with the Bans against the ‘Durins and their colonial trash,” the big man leaned toward Santos as he talked. Two of his friends stood up and wandered toward the bar. Out of the corner of his eye, Santos caught a flash of metal as the bartender reached for something under the bar. Then a chuckle escaped Santos’ lips and turned into a belly laugh. The patriot didn’t react at first then joined in with a laugh of his own.
“As I said, he’s just a friend of a friend. I’ve never even met the man. Though your high opinion of him seems like a mark in his favor,” as he spoke, Santos backed toward the door. “You boys enjoy your evening.”
A Young Santos
The night had cooled down, and the air shocked Santos after the close heat of the bar. It took him a moment to get his bearing in the darkened streets. The Limitless, a Trade Guild zep he was crewing, was hangared and resupplying. He’d hoped Captain Harrison would be in town because the zep was moving on in the morning. Santos sighed. Another tour with the Limitless seemed inevitable. At least Baggar planned to stick with the crew. He could count on Baggar to keep things interesting.
Santos focused on not getting lost and almost missed the sound of footsteps behind him. He glanced back to find the patriot and a couple of his friends approaching. A narrow, cluttered alley presented itself, and Santos took a quick turn into it. The patriot charged after him, afraid of losing his prey, and Santos greeted him as he came around the corner. A boot to the groin sent the burly man groaning to the ground. His friends, who seemed less drunk, came into the alley more slowly. The alley was too narrow for them to flank Santos. He stepped over their collapsed friend and waited for them to make a move. The lead man charged at Santos with his arms spread like they were going to hug. Santos ducked under his arm then body checked him as he passed. He stumbled off balance and slammed face-first into the wall. The last man started to pull something from his coat, but Santos closed the distance between them and punched him in the throat. The gurgling sound he made seemed comical after his bravado.
“Stop,” shouted the patriot, and Santos turned to find a gun flashing in the moonlight. He raised his hands and took a step back.
“Looks like your fists…um…you brought a gun…I mean…This is a gun fight!” the drunk managed to stutter.
“Listen,” Santos began, “there’s no reason…”
“Shut up! I don’t like you smart-mouth tone. That’s reason enough.” The patriot raised his gun and drew back the hammer. Then a voice from the street caught them both by surprise.
“Shift’s wings, Dugan, I told you to be gone when I came back to Cabry.”
Santos couldn’t convince himself to look away from the gun, so he just listened for the new comer to take action. The patriot, Dugan apparently, got pale and let the gun droop just for a second. Then he tightened his jaw and his grip.
“This is none of your business Harrison. This boy ain’t…”
The thunder of the gun in the confined space stunned Santos. He waited to feel the pain from then gunshot. When Dugan fell to the ground, Santos realized he wasn’t going to die. He spun to find an older man with a dark flecked gray hair and beard wearing a long coat. The man was holding a pistol with a wisp of smoke rising from the barrel. The gun slid back into its holster as the man stepped forward.
“I told him I’d collect the bounty on him if he didn’t make himself scarce,” the man said to no one in particular.
“Captain Harrison?” Santos managed to ask after several false starts.
“I am.”
“I’m Edward Santos.”
“Pleasure to meet you Santos. You might want to get a move on before the local law shows up,” Harrison said as he checked on Dugan’s friends to make sure they were out of commission.
“But I’m here…” Santo started.
“Meet me at hangar 12 at dawn. If you handle yourself in the air as well as you did tonight, I might have a place for you on my crew.”
Santos couldn’t think of another thing to say. He jogged away from the alley and started toward The Limitless. Less than an hour later, he had packed up his few belongings, said his goodbyes to Baggar, and let Captain Kern know she had a hole to fill on her crew. He couldn’t sleep, and dawn rushed at him like a crashing fighter.
Santos comes from Qullo, a small town that was once a Ban Altian colony. He joined the Ban Altian military at 18, a talented young man anxious to fight the good fight. The Ban Altian exploitation of the colonies and the ensuing revolt was still just a dark cloud on a distant horizon. Santos just wanted to fly, and his natural skill served him well in the Air Corp. But after a few years at war, he began to question why he kept fighting. The Horizon War wasn’t about good versus evil or right versus wrong. It was two groups of people squabbling over lines on a map.
When Qullo and the rest of the colonies rose up against Ban Altia, Santos’ life in the corps got harder. Suspicion grew among the men, and the commanders started looking for “agents of the revolution” within the enlisted men. A letter from an old friend named Slip convinced Santos it was time to fly toward new skies. He deserted the army and took odd jobs for a while, drifting all over Caelum. Slip had suggested he seek out Captain Harrison and the Rogue Winds. When he finally found the Captain, he also found a new life.

Written by Paul Dodson
Illustrations by Vince Medellin
Story by Paul Dodson, Dave Shapiro and Vince Medellin

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Production Post #4: Character Design - Baggar

Baggar was probably the most fun character to design. Also, he is the only main character whose design is based off individuals that I know. Below are just a few of the early concepts of Baggar.

Art By - Vince Medellin

Story By - Paul Dodson, Dave Shapiro and Vince Medellin

Production Post #3: On Story and Themes

  Let me be honest about something: I hate fairy tales and fables. They really, really bore me. Maybe it’s a lack of imagination on my part; any time I’ve read books of old, collected tales, I’ve wound up paying more attention to the pictures. I always know how the stories are going to end, who dies and who lives and who kisses who and who lives happily ever after.
This is because the people in them aren’t real people. They’re types. The boy, the roguish charmer, the maiden, the old woman, the farmer. The lessons gleaned from the stories are based (at times) in outmoded ways of thinking, painted with a broad brush. Vanity has a cost. Pride and arrogance bring about destruction. Love conquers all. Chastity is purity. I think those types of moral lessons are for weiners.
The problem is that these stories are inescapable; as the writer and storyteller Thomas King says, stories are all we are. The stories we tell ourselves shape the world we live in, for good or ill. And so, to some extent, these old, powerful stories underlie all endeavors to spin any sort of tale. I spent a lot of years as a young writer doing everything I could to extricate myself from these narrative roots, and wound up with a bunch of unreadable stories. As loathe as I was to admit it, I needed these cultural touchstones to write, even if it was to move away from them.
The best stories, even if they rely on character types, keep things grounded in reality. I’m not talking about “How would Bruce Wayne make his Batman voice sound?” kind of reality; I’m talking about emotional reality. My favorite books, movies, TV series and comics resonate with me because they put a human face on the the archetypes, and they acknowledge the shades of gray between the fairy tale’s black-and-white.
So here we are, in our modern world (though really we’re always in our modern world, whenever we are), and as long distance communication has become easier and easier over the years, to the point of being taken for granted, we find ourselves far apart from our families, growing up, growing older. This spreading out of the biological family has led to a whole generation of people who create their own families. The acceptance of “alternative” lifestyles, too, has led to a change in the idea of what a family can be. To some (embattled and threatened) extent, we are living in the ultimate age of self-determination.
What is a family? What is a friend? What is the difference?
This is what we want to explore in “Unbroken Skies.” Having grown up often feeling very friendless, I spent a lot of time examining the nature of human relationships. The bonds that keep people together are built in myriad ways, some stronger than others. What brings you to care for somebody can be an illusion of your own mind, the false story you tell yourself. Likewise, a small glimpse of someone’s interior life can plant a seed of respect that grows into a lifelong friendship, and a bond stronger than blood, despite any outward differences.
The Rogue Winds aren’t afraid of danger; they live it and breathe it, and accept that their actions have consequences. That makes them the perfect candidates to make and break very, very strong bonds, to find themselves in unlikely alliances that turn into friendships, to examine the true nature of a person, and to find themselves at the center of a great story, one whose ending cannot be foreseen.

Written By - Dave Shapiro
Story By - Paul Dodson, Dave Shapiro and Vince Medellin

Character Introductions: The Rogue Winds - Part 2

The saloon was smoky and reeked of sweat and spilled liquor. The first light of dawn struggled to shine through the grimy windows but mostly failed. Three men sat around a table, a pile of cards and coins in front of each of them. One was an older, gray haired man with a pipe clenched in his teeth. He looked at the cards on the table, then the ones in his hand. He selected one of the worn and faded cards and placed it face down in the center of the table. A match flared in his hand, and he took a few long draws from his pipe.
“A blind to the Drift, boys,” Captain Harrison said as he attempted to blow smoke rings. The man to his right, a burly middle aged man with fair skin and close-cropped hair, nodded. The game was coming to a close and left him with very few choices. The face down card that just landed on the table bothered him. He had a good hand, but not great. If the old man had a great hand…but then he looked at all the coins scattered across the table.
“Well worth the risk, I should think,” the burly man whispered as he dropped a card onto the table. “That is a Zep in the North Wind. A 5 of Zeps to be precise.”
The old man just nodded and smoked his pipe. The third player was a grungy little man that had only kept his money this long through blind luck. He eyed his opponents like they had tricked him into playing this hand. He proceeded to suck at his teeth, a loud and lengthy process that he had performed numerous times in the last five hours. He stared at his cards, then set them on the table. He picked them back up, shuffled through them, set them down again. A gravelly cough came up his throat and the other players shifted away involuntarily.
“Maybe,” the scrawny man said after he regained his breath, “maybe a Fighter.” He flipped over a card with the outline of a single prop ship on it, a red two in the upper right corner. His eyes wandered to the Harrison, as though seeking permission.
“Listen, friend, you’re in a tight spot,” the captain said. “I understand that, but if you play that card, you’re just losing more money.”
“I find I must agree,” the burly man added after a moment of silence.
“Maybe you should take what you’ve got left head home. After a drink, of course,” as Harrison spoke he slid a single coin across the table and left it just next to the man’s hand. The scrawny man picked it up and glanced to the bar. The bartender had long since given up on the game and dozed while leaning on the bar. The gaze of all three players seemed to wake him.
“What? You done?” he drawled. The third player gathered his coins and sought the solace of a bit more whiskey.
“Now then, we’ve got a bit of privacy. We can finish our game like gentlemen, Baggar,” Captain Harrison said. His opponent cocked an eyebrow.
“You have me at a loss, sir. If we have met before, I apologize for misplacing your face,” Baggar smiled as he spoke, but a wary look crept into his eyes.
“No, we haven’t meet, though I’ve heard about you. I fly with an old friend of yours.”
With that, Harrison went back to surveying the game. Baggar waited for more information, but found only silence. Eventually, the old man placed a card on the table, a 7 of Fighters.
“The South Wind, I think,” Harrison said as he slid the card across the table. He picked up two coins from his bank and placed them on top of the card. The pipe smoke covered his tiny grin. Baggar felt his stomach churn. That seven was trouble, but not a game ender. It all came down to the Drift card.
“Santos,” Harrison said.
“I fly with Santos,” Harrison repeated.
“Ha! How the wind does blow! I have not seen Santos far too long. How is he?” Baggar felt sure the old man was playing him, using this to catch him off guard. But was it to hide a bluff or draw him out?
“Good enough. Fit and flying.”
“Always a fine stick was Santos. We served on a trade ship together. A story for another time, perhaps,” Baggar chatted as he laid out his card, another Zep. “To the Drift, I think.”
Harrison nodded as Baggar placed three coins on the new card.
“A bold choice,” Harrison whispered.
“Bold is not a choice, but a way of life. My father was quite fond of platitudes,” Baggar laughed. Harrison chose one of his two remaining cards and set it on the table. The move was inconsequential though, like a bullet tied to a stick of dynamite. The game balanced on two cards: the face down card in the Drift and the card left in Baggar’s hand. The various permutations of victory and failure flashed through Baggar’s mind as Harrison placed a single coin on the last card to even out his bet.
“How about we make things interesting,” Harrison said.
“As though the rest of the night was boring and common?” Baggar responded.
“My crew and I just took a tricky job up toward the Bans. Unfortunately, we recently lost a member of the crew, and I’m looking to fill a spot.”
“I assume that you use ‘lost’ euphemistically,” Baggar smirked.
“No. Lost is about the best way to describe it without going too far into details. He won’t be flying with us again. We can leave it at that,” Harrison almost growled.
“Then you wish me to place my services upon the table as part of the wager? What would you offer in return?”
“My name is Captain Harrison, by the way. You may have heard that name before. In the hangar, I have a fine Heimdurin Harbinger . She’s a beautiful ship, built before the Revolt, too,” Harrison finished with a broad grin.
“Your plane against my flying? That seems more than fair. I agree,” Baggar dropped his 8 of Storms onto the table and leaned back. The chair groaned under his weight as he leaned into a comfortable position.
“That gives me a full Squadron, Captain. Not unbeatable, but surely a dangerous hand to face.”
The Captain smiled and flipped over his Drift card… 

Baggar doesn’t like to talk about his past. When the crew trades stories over drinks, he doesn’t stray much further back then the trade zep he crewed before joining the Winds. He’s Heimdurin but never fought in the Horizon War. He’s at home in just about any cockpit since Shift’s first flight but can’t be bothered to repair his own ship. He wouldn’t loan you a Guild Mark, but he’d wager every coin he has on a single hand of cards. The Rogue Winds don’t always know what to make of Baggar, but they know they can trust him.
During his first flight with the Winds, Baggar helped track down a crew of pirates that had “acquired” sensitive documents during a raid on a Paragon outpost.  A quick and dirty fight at the pirate camp left Baggar with some a valuable package and his new partners captured. Harrison figured he had reached the end of his luck. Then Baggar showed up a few hours later with a squad of fighters that “owed him a favor.” They tore down the pirate’s base and sent them running to the Drift. He’s been with the Winds ever since.

Written By - Paul Dodson
Art By - Vince Medellin
Story By - Paul Dodson, Dave Shapiro and Vince Medellin

Monday, January 30, 2012

Production Post #2: Character Design - Lori and Captain Harrison

So this production post will be fairly simple. These are the early designs for the characters of Lori and Captain Harrison, of whom we introduced last week. Some of these designs are a few years old, especially the designs of Lori, which range from two to four years old.

These are the very first concept drawings of Lori. Over time, Lori would become somewhat of a combination of the three designs. It was eventually decided that these designs would be used for Lori's sisters.

Lori has always been a character with attitude. The trick is to find a way to make sure her attitude doesn't push an audience away. That is still the challenge we face as we write our stories for "Unbroken Skies".

Eventually I tried to make Lori a bit She quickly became less energetic and uninteresting. 
This was the first step in the right direction. Lori finally started to feel like a character. There were some tweaks here and there (mostly with the hair) but this face mostly stayed the same.
Again, a few tweaks here and there but this design is final for the most part. 
Ha! This is a terrible drawing, but it is the first sketch I made of the captain. I was being a tad bit too literal with the Samurai theme. I did very few drawings of the captain over the past four years. He wasn't meant to be featured much in the story so I didn't worry about his design until recently, where I had to have a final design within a week and a half. 
A quick sketch of the "new captain", who is a little more serious. Eventually we settled on a character who would be a cross between Harrison Ford and Gregory Peck. Hence the name, Captain Harrison ; ).
 There are plenty more concept designs to share. Stay tuned as we introduce more and more of the world of "Unbroken Skies". : )

Art by - Vince Medellin

Story by - Paul Dodson, Dave Shapiro and Vince Medellin

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Character Introductions: The Rogue Winds - Part 1

The Four Rouge Winds - Our Main Heroes

Though the inhabitants of Caelum fly every day of their lives, fighter pilots are a breed apart, a closed group viewed with awe and respect. A man repairing his light zep watches a passing Heimdurin Wespe and dreams of having the same skill and freedom. Pilots talk, spreading word of the great and the dangerous, the sharp and the stripped. Any pilot will tell you to turn your wing when Black Jack Saber’s zep runs out her guns, and will point you toward Paydin’s Hawks when you need to make a quick run with no questions asked.  Sit down in any bar, from the finest Ban Altian restaurant to the grimiest Drift hole, and you can find a sky sharp willing to fill your ear for the price of a drink. One name you’ll hear every time the stories glide toward the best in the sky: Captain Harrison and his Rogue Winds.

Captain Harrison - Mentor and Father Figure

Captain Harrison-
Harrison got his start flying with the Ban Altian military. In the years before the Horizon War, the two nations spent a lot of fuel flying along the other’s borders. Occasional skirmishes broke out, and Harrison’s wing showed a skill and ingenuity that got them decorated and promoted. He rose quickly through the ranks and found himself the captain of the most respected carrier in the fleet. And he hated it. The story goes that he got together with the pilots from his old wing and got deep into his cups. After hours of talking about the old days they decided the open sky was the only place for them. The next morning an Admiral found five empty bottles of whiskey outside his front door, each with a letter of resignation rolled up inside. The first Rogue Winds had taken flight.

Some fighter pilots eventually get tired of the life and settle down. More often, they burn up in the open sky when they meet a sharper or luckier ace. Of the original four that left with the captain, two got shot down, one lost her leg on a mission, and one chose to put his plane in the hangar for good. But as he lost friends, he met a few new pilots and rebuilt his squad. 
Harrison refused to pick a side during the war. He took missions from the Trade Guild, escorting medical and food shipments but kept away from any frontline engagement. The Winds helped more than a few refugees on both sides find safe haven out near the Drift. But luck runs out and even the best pilots turn against a strong wind. In the final year of the war, Harrison took a job from a Ban Altian agent that should have been a simple recon and recovery. Things went sideways, and when the clouds cleared, Harrison was ash and the Rogue Winds were left without a Captain. 

Lori Cross - Leader

Lori Cross- 

Captain Harrison wiped the grease from his hands and stared at his ship. He’d done as much as he could to repair her. Now he had to wait for Burn to get back with the new parts. He stepped out of the hangar, stretched, and realized that dawn had somehow arrived without him noticing. Across the street, the vendors were opening up for the day, laying out their wares and shouting to the early morning wanderers. Harrison rolled a cigarette and waited. He spotted the girl a few minutes later as she slipped out of an alley and started chatting with one of the vendors. Her eyes scanned the crowd as she talked, scanning for likely targets. Two candidates stumbled toward her a few seconds later, a couple of sharp-dressed men who didn’t look like they’d made it home from the night before. Nodding farewell to the vendor, she fell back into the street and sauntered towards the men. Neither noticed her into she ran right into the lead one, a dark haired guy twice her size. He shouted and she apologized, patting him on the back. As she slipped away, the man stopped and patted his pockets.
“Almost, kid,” Harrison said as the two men turned and started shouting at the girl. She took off at a sprint, and they pursued. Harrison made a couple calculations in his head crossed the street at a jog. Past the main drag where the market set up, the streets became a tangle of narrow alleys and tight curves. The ground climbed at a steep incline to the packed and stacked houses hewn into the rock. Harrison knew the area pretty well and guessed where she might be running. He found a likely spot and waited. The pounding sound of her feet and the shouts from the men told him he’d guessed right. She skidded around the corner, and Harrison scooped her up by the waist. He set her down, smiled, then plucked the wallet from her hand. The lead man barreled into the alley and almost ran them over. Harrison turned, placing himself between the girl and her pursuers.
“This is yours, I think,” Harrison said, holding up the wallet. “No harm done.”
“Thanks mister, but that girl and I have some business to discuss,” the man growled. His friend stood at the mouth of the alley and laughed.
“I don’t think you do,” Harrison replied. The man started to reply, but Harrison tossed the wallet into his face. His fist followed a second behind. As the partner stopped laughing and moved forward, Harrison grabbed the stunned man by the shirt. He shifted his weight and tossed the guy into his friend. The two of them struggled to get off the ground, and a flash of metal revealed one of them had a knife. Harrison’s pistol slipped out of the holster under his coat.
“Looks like you brought a knife to a gunfight. Take the wallet and have a fine day,” Harrison smiled. They took his advice. He turned around and was surprised to find the girl still in the alley.
“I could’ve handled them, mister,” she said, standing up straight and sticking out her chin.
“I’m sure of that,” he chuckled. “What’s your name, anyway?”
“Lori,” she replied.
“Have you ever thought about working flying, Lori?”
Lori Cross grew up on the streets of a Ban Altian colony called Norwind. Her parents died when she was six and her two teenage sisters didn’t have any idea what to do with a child. They found jobs working with mine crews and left Lori to her own devices. They struggled along as a family, sleeping in crowed homes shared with unlucky kids. Lori learned she could help out by acquiring a bit of extra money from fools in the street. Sure, it cost her an occasional beating when a mark caught up with her, but her agile hands and quicker head kept food in their bellies most nights. Then Captain Harrison found her and decided to turn her talents toward more legitimate exploits.
Lori was twelve years old when the Captain first met her. He and his crew were stuck in Norwind trying to get all their ships back in the air. He showed her around the hangar and started filling his empty days with impromptu flying lessons. By the time his crew was up and spinning, he’d decided to offer her a way off that rock. She hugged her sisters goodbye and hasn’t regretted it.
Lori proved to be a fast learner and a sharp flyer. In turn, Captain Harrison turned into a pretty good father. The roster of the Rogue Winds has changed over the years, but no pilot has come close to Lori’s natural skill in the cockpit. She’s brash and hot headed, but usually smart enough to get out of the trouble that causes. When she can’t…well, that’s what your wingmen are for, right? The Captain’s death hit her harder than any of the other Winds, though she wouldn’t admit to it. She took on the role of leader and has tried to fill the hole he left. She knows her inclination to shoot at any given problem keeps her from being a great captain, but the rest of the crew seems content to follow in her wake.  As long as they want her around, she’ll keep flying with the Rogue Winds.

written by Paul Dodson 
art by Vince Medellin
story by Vince Medellin, Paul Dodson and Dave Shapiro

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Production Post #1: From "Skyline" to "Unbroken Skies"

In addition to posting story content on this blog, Paul and I will also post information about the production of "Unbroken Skies". We'll discuss our creative choices and perspectives in relation to bringing this world to life. This is sort of our, "Behind the Scenes" bonus feature if you will. The first post discusses the origin of "Unbroken Skies"...

The concept that lead to the creation of "Unbroken Skies" has existed in my mind for the past four years. At the time of it's creation I was desperate to find a new story concept to work on for my portfolio. Other story ideas became stale and it was necessary to create something that could capture the imagination and inspire good work. An idea that could be somewhat abstract in it's concept yet grounded in sophisticated storytelling. Basically, something that would create a real challenge for the work that needed to be created for a strong portfolio.

Exploring a team story seemed like fun. I'm a big fan of the "Justice League" and love the idea of different individuals working together with various skill sets. Still, it was difficult to find a concept to build a foundation on. There was an idea of a team of time traveling adventurers looking for lost treasure through time, but for some reason it was difficult connecting with that story. It wasn't until I had a brief conversation with an old man at work about World War II combat pilots, that the idea of a world existing only in the sky started to germinate. I've had a deep fascination with aviation and World War II combat planes ever since I watched the film, "The Tuskegee Airmen" when I was ten. Also, I have an interest in the samurai and thought it would be cool to have a "samurai-ish" story that takes place in the air, with wandering ronin in fighter planes. Eventually this concept would find it's existence as a single page comic via the Campus Ledger, the bi-weekly student newspaper for Johnson County Community College.

"Skyline", as the story was called then, ran for three semesters. Except for our four main characters, the story of "Skyline" was very different from "Unbroken Skies" and to be quite honest, not very good. Writing dialog and making the story practical was extremely difficult, especially with the schedule we had at the newspaper. Often times I would only have one day to illustrate the comic. My good friend Bryan Timmins would often give his thoughts and his wife Julie would also help write some of the "Skyline" comics, which really saved the story. Despite the many hardships "Skyline" faced at the newspaper, the comic managed to win many first place awards including first place with the Associated Collegiate Press two years in a row. A lot of hard work went in to creating that comic and a good portion of credit should go to my wife Whitney, who handled the typesetting and layout.

The "Skyline" story didn't end after its run at the Campus Ledger. Eventually I found myself employed at Half Price Books, where I would meet my good friend Paul Dodson who would shape the struggling "Skyline" story into the dynamic and fun "Unbroken Skies". Paul has managed to give the story it's wings and a horizon to sail upon. It would be unfair for me to discuss "Unbroken Skies" further without the help of Paul, for "Unbroken Skies" belongs to us both!

This is just the first of many production posts which will follow the Wednesday posts every week. I hope you enjoy them!

The Three Nations of Caelum

"Unbroken Skies" takes place on Caelum, a world consumed by sky. The people make their homes on rock formations suspended above the dark cloud layer known as the Null. The cities are divided into three nations: Heimdurn, Ban Altia, and the Paragon Confederacy. At the edge of their realm floats the Drift, a shifting and storm-wracked belt of stones inhabited by strange creatures. The Drift marks the edge of the known world. Beyond that is open sky and myth.

Heimdurn has existed for hundreds of years, and its people take great pride in their long history. Their technological advances, like the armored airships called zeps, bound the world together by making long distance travel easier and safer. They forged the first real nation and turned hundreds of independent villages into a united people. But all greatness fades, and the Heimdurn Empire has been in decline for decades. The rule of Leopold III, whom many call “the Mad,” only hastened the deterioration and started the Horizon War. Five years after the Treaty of Nabrunay, the Heimdurins are still working to recover. Despite these hardships, the Heimdurins remain a proud and resolute people. Their new alliance with the Paragon Confederacy may be the first step in a return to greatness.

Ban Altia:
The Heimdurins have a saying about Ban Altia: it is a nation still crawling at its mother’s feet. True, Heimdurin kings built an empire when Ban Altia was just a handful of people huddling together for protection. But the Altians have grown into a powerful people in a relatively short time, a true rival for Heimdurn at the height of its power. At the heart of the nation lie the Bans, a closely knit group of cities that forms the seat of government. The Altians have spread out adding many of the outlying villages to Greater Altia. When the growing nation began to press upon the borders of Heimdurn, the empire sought to crush the it one decisive battle and launched a fleet of Behemoths. The Ban Altians proved their ingenuity was more than a match for Heimdurin strength at the Battle of Caern’s Rift. The smaller, faster Altian ships and their unparalleled pilots eviscerated the fleet and changed the course of history. A hundred years later, Ban Altia saw Heimdurn in chaos after a revolt against King Leopold and declared war against their old enemy. The Horizon War ended in a stalemate, but many in the Bans look forward to a day when the Altian flag flies over all of Caelum.

Paragon Confederacy:
It may be premature to call the Paragon Confederacy a nation. Not so long ago, they were just unrelated villages spread across the space between two great nations. Ban Altia colonized the islands as they expanded the nation. Altian governors took over from local rulers, but the people’s lives remained mostly the same. Then the Horizon War began, and the Ban Altian Chancellor looked to his colonies as a source for raw materials and fresh recruits. Propaganda encouraged young colonists to join the fight against the Heimdurin threat. When that failed to provide enough pilots, “recruitment drives” bolstered the ranks. With their factories pumping out war machines and their children dragged off to war, the colonials began to plot against the Bans. Local leaders from across the islands met in secret to discuss their options and invited a representative from Heimdurn. The beleaguered empire could offer no troops but sent a handful of their best strategists to plan an uprising. In an impressive feat of tactical coordination, the colonials freed their islands from Ban Altian control in less than a month with a few well planned attacks. They declared themselves the Paragon Confederacy and allied with the Heimdurins. A quarter of Ban Altia’s military deserted and returned home. With the new nation in the sky, the Horizon War ground to a halt. The three nations agreed to a cease fire, and the Paragon Confederacy became a world power. Now they must learn what that means for their future.

 Written by Paul Dodson
Art by Vince Medellin
Story by Paul and Vince

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

On A World Consumed By Sky...

Preliminaries for floating villages and cloudscapes... 

Opening the Hangar

As a child, my Saturday mornings started at 6 am when I dragged myself from a warm bed to watch Robotech with a bowl of cereal. That started the best six hours of my week. I’d bounce from channel to channel, buzzing on a sugar high, watching the best cartoons I could find and discovering the meaning of adventure. Eventually, I’d reach the afternoon wasteland of sports and nature documentaries, and I would stumble outside to continue those adventures in my head. It ruined me for life but in an absolutely amazing way.

I’ve gone back in my adulthood and tried to enjoy those cartoons. Unfortunately, the ProStars just can’t blow my mind anymore. My tastes have matured, my expectations changed (for the better, I think), and I find those adventures of my childhood…lacking. That is where Unbroken Skies begins. My creative partner and I want a cartoon that tells a particular breed of adventure story. We want a Saturday morning cartoon with more sophisticated ideas and more complex characters. If you’ve turned on the TV on a Saturday morning lately, you probably know that cartoon isn’t on the schedule. So we’ve decided to create it.

This blog will chronicle our process as we develop our story. We plan to have a booth at Planet Comicon in Kansas City this March. At the con, we’ll be selling our first Unbroken Skies product: Santos’ Journal. Who is Santos, and why should you care about his journal? Well, keep coming back and find out. Each Wednesday, we’ll post a blog with new art and more information about the Unbroken Skies. You’ll meet our heroes and explore their world. So grab your bomber jacket, zip up your flight suit, and strap into the cockpit. The hangar is open, and we’re about to take off!