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Friday, January 10, 2014

Flintlocks firing and autopsies: A Q&A with Manifest Destiny artist Matthew Roberts

Posted By on Fri, Jan 10, 2014 at 10:24 AM

Back in November, Comic Afterthoughts previewed a new series on Image's Skybound imprint. Manifest Destiny, written by Chris Dingess and drawn by Matthew Roberts, recasts the true intentions of Thomas Jefferson, who sent Lewis and Clark on their famous journey.

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Dingess and Roberts have created something special in Manifest Destiny. This isn't one of those series that simply inserts zombies or vampires into historical backdrops. There's a real sense of terror, and thrill, in following the duo into the unknown. And though we've been thoroughly creeped out already, there's a sense that the best is to come.

After the release of Manifest Destiny's third issue, Comic Afterthoughts spoke with Roberts about creating the world of the comic. See what he had to say about what we've seen - and what's ahead.

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  • Photo courtesy of Matthew Roberts

Creative Loafing: How did you develop the look for the series? What kind of research materials were you able to get?
Matthew Roberts: The look, as far as anything intentional, is based on heavy research up front for everything. I have a book solely detailing the clothes and equipment of the expedition, and there's tons of reference for the uniforms and boats online. After a point, though, it gets streamlined a bit. I can't have a reference for everything all the time, so I do my own thing. Especially the civilian gear - it's all pretty simple, like Clark having a two-tone leather jacket and a feather in his hat, but with 30-some-odd characters, I need to find a way to not make it a sea of deerskins. After research, most of it is a reaction to Chris Dingess' script. If they're all ducking into a fort to hide from 15-plus-foot Buffalo monsters, then the fort should probably have stupidly high walls.

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What was the process for creating the first monsters we encounter? What inspired these "minotaurs" (who aren't actually minotaurs, as Lewis and Clark assert)?
Luckily, the description from Chris did a lot of the legwork for me. The dreadlocks for the first one we see is all me - the rest was pretty much what Chris described. As far as inspiration, I don't want to speak for Chris but I'm pretty sure he thought centaurs would be bad-ass, and them being buffaloes instead of horses would be a unique American twist and also make them even more bad-ass.

What makes Image, and specifically, Skybound, the right home for this book?
Why Image in general is obvious, I think. We maybe could have done this through a niche publisher like Top Shelf or Fantagraphics, both of which I adore, maybe Dark Horse, but the Big Two wouldn't even consider it. Image consistently puts out a huge variety of books. Well-made, and compelling books with huge talent. As far as Skybound specifically - I think this title is a goldmine for exploration in different media, and Skybound is set up to safeguard creators while giving them an outreach to those different media outlets.

Well, how did the idea for this story come about? What was the pitching process like?
That's all Mr. Dingess and Mr. Kirkman.

Is there a moment within those first three issues that was particularly fun to draw?
Flintlocks firing and autopsies.

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Do you think there's something inherently spooky in the story of Lewis and Clark that lends itself to a story like this? And can you tease any upcoming encounters that fans can anticipate?
I think there's something spooky about setting off into the unknown in any situation. I think there's a weirdness to this whole expedition that creates conflict from the outset. On the one hand, there's this incredible story of what these guys actually went through and survived. It's bold and heroic and inspiring. There's a grandeur to it - it really is amazing. But there's the other side to this that can't be ignored. The whole concept of Manifest Destiny and what America did to accomplish it. It's is absolutely horrifying. So I think that weird mix of high adventure and disgust kind of puts you off kilter to start with. Then people get big fat axes in the face.

As far as the future, I think the last page from #3 and the cover solicit for 4 kind of spells out that we'll be seeing Sacajawea handle some business. We haven't seen the last of Clark's whip. The heron from #1 makes an appearance in a panel I had tremendous fun Googling reference for. Anther Google search to be on the look out for: horse eating an apple. Other than that, I will say that I have researched the most disgusting thing ever. I decided the best storytelling would be to use a different angle, but what you almost saw was horrible. It's still awfully gross. So, you can look forward to that.

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