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Sci-fi comic ‘Pilgrim’s Dirge’ immersed with fantasy, magic and family drama

16 mins read

When you merge the genres of science fiction with magic, fantasy and adventure, you will get “Pilgrim’s Dirge,” the latest independent comic being featured on Kickstarter. 

“Pilgrim’s Dirge” is a sci-fi comic that takes place in the future and centers around a soldier named Orin Daniels who becomes stranded on a frozen Earth. Orin has defected from a military organization called C.O.R.E. (Celestial Orbit Reparation Effort) after a cataclysm to eradicate an alien race. While Orin is on a quest to return to his family while fighting for survival in the frozen climate of Earth, C.O.R.E. is in pursuit of their former soldier. 

On Aug 5, The Earth-16 Comics Wire Podcast streamed an exclusive interview with “Pilgrim’s Dirge” creator Toben Racicot. The episode touched base on the fundamentals behind creating “Pilgrim’s Dirge” and the many influences that went into creating the comic.

One question that was quickly discussed at the beginning of the interview was how “Pilgrim’s Dirge” truly came about. Racicot stated that the idea behind the original comic series was due to a lack of anything fun going on during one semester at school. He also noted that in the previous semester, he was addicted to the game “Destiny.” 

“So, when I went back home and took the break, I didn’t have any form of media entertainment really, I just was working. So as a way to fill the void, I guess, I was like what if I did something similar?” Racicot stated.

By filling the void, Racicot created a “kind of dystopia solar system” in which he taped two pieces of paper together and drew the sun at the top in a straight line. 

“And I said, ‘okay, where are all the planets?’ and I kind of envisioned somebody taking a pool cue and a cue ball and hitting them and then we sort out where they all went,”  Racicot explained. 

The comic creator also noted how the cold winters in his hometown of Saskatchewan, Canada served as an influence behind “Pilgrim’s Dirge.” 

“So, the idea of living in a very frozen climate is very real in my existence so I thought ‘what if I do like a frost punk but, not really frost punk, kind of thing to start out with and kind of set the tone of this isolation and this loneliness of this kind of lone soldier trying to get back to where he wants to go.” 

Other influences Racicot mentioned was Joseph Cambell’s “The Hero’s Journey,” the aforementioned “Destiny” video game,  and “Treasure Planet.” 

“I try to find these tropes in other literature like ‘Treasure Planet’ or some people have referenced it as ‘Green Lantern’ in the past and try to do something different or unique with them and then as the series goes along, it gets a little more fantasy with some of the aliens we meet and it the quest of nature the adventure we go on is a little bit more ‘D and D’ than kind of the sci-fi tropes,” Racicot confirmed. 

When talking about the character of Orin Daniels, Racicot mentioned how the former C.O.R.E soldier is a family man and why he initially joined the military organization. 

“We learned the reason why he came to Earth was basically beyond helping humanity get back to Earth,” he added. “He’s a father and he needs to pay the bills and this was an opportunity that he wasn’t forced into but is kind of like, there’s nothing else really going on and we gotta put something on the table and then it all falls apart.”

According to Racicot, Orin was originally a character who was going to have a lot of kids on the frozen Earth and in addition, he was reflective of an early character who was a paladin. 

The character does have some elements of a paladin and the motivation to do good which will also play a role in the pilgrimage that would be explained in later issues. He also mentioned his own experiences as a father and working hard for his family.

Racicot added that the very first issues of “Pilgrim’s Dirge” are going to lean towards Sci-Fi while future issues will evoke other genres. He also noted that when it comes to the writing of a comic on Kickstarter, the first issue has to be a little longer to be worthwhile so that readers can read it multiple times and read the additional issues together. 

Racicot mentioned that as a student studying creative writing, he learned about the “Maze Runner” issue that explains “the revelation of information causes more suspense than the withholding of information.”

“A lot of novice writers are really scared of dropping a bomb on page one or at the end of chapter one because they want this huge ending to have to cause people to go ‘oh that was amazing’ but you’re not gonna make it to the end of the book,” Racicot said. 

Later during the podcast, Daily Planet editor Brendan Rooney made a comparison of the art of “Pilgrim’s Dirge,” by Matteo Leoni and Martina Bonanni, with a popular superhero comic. He mentioned that the art was amazing since he felt that it was similar to that of Image Comics’ Invincible which was done by Ryan Ottley. Racicot explained that he chose Leoni and Bonanni to be on his team.

“There is a level of energy in Italian art that I don’t see in any other culture,” Racicot said. “Maybe manga sometimes, but I feel like Italian artists just come from a whole other mindset and you can see that with this kind of Italian invasion hearkening to like the British invasion that’s happening like through Boom [Studios], you have all these Italian artists on ‘Power Rangers.’ They see something that we don’t in North American art and maybe because of our fixation with superheroes where it’s like the body itself allows the reader to tap into that energy of that kind of thing.” 

When asked about the process of forming the creative team for “Pilgrim’s Dirge” with Italian artists Matteo Leoni and Martina Bobanni, Racico noted that it was about last year when COVID-19 hit, he made a goal for 2020 to make more time for writing. He had written several stories while setting up a budget with his wife to create the comic. Initially, he did not know how to find artists because all the people he worked with as a letterer were already employed and he did not  want to start poaching because he knew how overwhelming it would be. And that’s where social media came in. 

“So I just went onto Twitter and I found someone,” he said. “I think actually it was an artist on ‘Power Rangers’ and I said ‘well if this is kind of an up-and-comer and they had a little bit less than 5,000 subscribers, maybe even less than 4,000, who’s following them? Who do I look for that’s looking to them for inspiration and I would be that person. So I started going through and I found Martina first and I said ‘yeah this has good line work. I really like the faces that she does, I think she’s a great artist in terms of body language and conveying emotion through looks. I think that’s fantastic,” said Racicot. 

He also found Leoni on Twitter and mentioned how one of the artist’s illustrations appealed to him. 

“The illustration that appealed to me was honestly, it was just like a big mech,” Racicot confirmed.  “It almost looked like something out of ‘Pacific Rim’ and I was like ‘yep, that’s what I want because we’re gonna get funky. We’re gonna start doing robots. We’re gonna do aliens. This is the person who can handle that.” 

Transitioning back to his writing, Racicot informed us of his unique way of which he edits his own prose. 

“I don’t credit an editor because I don’t employ one,” Racicot explained. “But it [his writing] goes through a lot of pre-readers and it’s one of those things I’m really fortunate about with people that I collaborate with as a letterer is that they respect my work as a writer as well and they take interest in it. Primarily, it goes to my wife. She’s the main reader and she’s really good with picking up character beats and developments and so she’ll be reading stuff and she’ll say ‘I don’t think this person would do this here or they would do something else.” 

Racicot also credits his wife for being very good with dialogue and that when he gives her scripts, she would draw. However, when it comes to him lettering his comics, they would roleplay the script because of the better understanding of the characters. This led to  the creator telling us who he had in mind when creating the character of Orin Daniels.

“One of the things we are taught is when you’re writing, because I did a lot of film writing courses too,” Racicot added. “They said write the film with the actor you want to portray in mind because you already know their speaking cadence and stuff and honestly, the person that I would want to play Orin would be John Boyega.” 

When he mentioned the Star Wars actor being an inspiration for the character of Orin, I told him that I initially thought of the character being analogous to Will Smith’s role as Dr. Robert Neville in the movie  “I Am Legend.” Both Neville and Daniels are trying to survive in a desolate environment while being alone without their family. We noted how the drawing of Daniels resembled John Boyega. 

When Racicot wanted to circle back to the editing process, he noted that he has a small group of other writers that he collaborates with when taking another pass and doing pre-reads.

“They give really specific critiques as well like Christian gave a lot of great stuff about kind of making plot progression make sense,” he noted.“He would say ‘I understand that this needs to happen but again this isn’t like a good enough catalyst. There needs to be something else this person would do that you’re basically just making them do that to force the narrative. Then Grant gives good stuff too about character interactions and making that feel authentic and then the ultimate editor is honestly just the lettering process and I’ve talked about this before and I’ve heard other creators who write themselves like John Layman, who does “Chew,” talked about this a lot in earlier interviews. He says that he never ever changes what is on his script versus what’s on the page.”

“Pilgrim’s Dirge” from the creative genius of Toben Racicot and it is a sci-fi story that is immersed with fantasy, magic, adventure, and family drama. More information about the series can be found on Kickstarter until Aug. 12.  

Learn more about this comic here.

Editors note: A previous version of this story featured an unauthorized image for a future issue from creator Toben Racicot. We have removed the photo per the owners request.

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