An Interview with Michael Jasper & Niki Smith About In Maps & Legends, Their Current Zuda Comics Monthly Competition Entry


Michael Jasper is a published author of fiction and science fiction books, and is best known for the novels A Gathering of Doorways, and The Wannoshay Cycle, amongst many more ( author page). Niki Smith is an artist and writer, who is currently working on a handful of creator-owned comic projects such as Highwater, and Some Did rest. Her work has also appeared in several English language and German comic anthologies.

Jasper and Smith recently collaborated to create the comic, In Maps & Legends, an eight-page comic strip, which is currently competing in the November 2009 Zuda Comics competition. For those unfamiliar with, Zuda Comics is a web comic imprint of DC Comics. Zuda is open for comic creators to submit their own eight page comic strips, designed as prologues to potential new series, and each month ten of these submissions are selected for the monthly competition. Users can then vote for their favorite strip, and the winner receives a contract to continue their comic on Zuda with 52 more pages. When the contract is filled, if the comic is liked enough it can be renewed for an additional “season”. Occasionally an “instant winner” is chosen to receive a contract without having to compete.

In Maps & Legends tells the story of a woman named Kait, who doesn’t know why she gets up in the middle of the night to carve a map onto the wall of the spare room of her apartment. Before she can finish it, though, a strange man named Bartamus shows up at her place in the middle of a wintry night, claiming to be from another, dying world that desperately needs Kait’s help.

To read In Maps & Legends, make sure to head to, where you can also vote for the comic to win this month’s competition. Remember that voting closes at noon on Monday November 30th, so make sure to vote sooner, rather than later

In order to find out more about this intriguing dark urban fantasy, and the minds behind it, Hypergeek decided to talk to series creators, Michael Jasper and Niki Smith

Michael Jasper

  • What was the genesis of this project, and what was the inspiration?

Mike: As for the story itself, it started life as the opening to a novel I’d started, but never finished. The first panels of the comic are relatively close to the way the novel started, but the storyline will start to diverge from the novel version very quickly. The idea began with this image of a young woman carving an intricate map into the drywall of her spare room, an image I can blame on some work I’d been recently doing with my parents at their house, which they recently renovated. I liked the convergence of manual labor and intricate art.

The idea for the comic came when Niki sent out a general tweet via Twitter ( that she was interested in drawing a comic, if someone was interested in writing it. I raised my virtual hand and tweeted back (, and we decided on this idea.

  • As I understand it, whilst you have written several novels, this is actually the first comic script that you have written. Did you find it easy to transfer your prose writing skills to a comic script format, and what were the major challenges you had?

Mike: Because I had the story more or less in place from my novel version, it was mostly a case of making the prose fit into panels and word balloons. The challenge was to get to the action sooner, and tell the story more visually. Niki suggested two timelines — one of Kait hard at work on her map, and the other of the people approaching her apartment that night. An added benefit of writing this script and working with Niki is that I’m now much more aware of setting, action, and pacing in my own non-comics writing. A win-win situation all around.

  • I imagine then that this is also the first time that you have worked alongside an artist, how was that?

Mike: For someone I’ve never met in person, Niki’s been great to work with! She was open to my suggestions, but also came up with some great ideas of her own to make the story work even better. I’ve collaborated on stories before with other authors, but never in this way, where our skill sets were so different (I tried doing thumbnails of my own, but gave up by the second panel). But the key was that we were focused on accomplishing the same thing — telling the story the best way possible. And her art style is just amazing, and quite different from her other works; her versatility is very impressive.

  • What writers would you say influence your style?

Mike: I’m a big fan of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and I followed all the Vertigo books from DC in the 90s pretty heavily, including Jamie Delano’s Hellblazer and Peter Milligan’s Shade, The Changing Man. I haven’t been keeping up with comics as much as I used to (having two small kids will curtail those trips to the comics shop), but I’m also a huge fan of Tim Powers‘ novels, as well as anything by authors Michael Chabon, Tim Pratt, Greg van Eekhout, and Jenn Reese.

  • How would you describe the series to potential fans?

Mike: A story that starts odd, and gets weird fast. Seriously, this story is a mix of genres, starting with some urban fantasy mixed with a touch of horror, then some science fiction and steampunk action once we figure out what that map is used for (at least, this map…). There’s also a mystery embedded in the core of story, as the reader slowly starts to unravel the secrets and alliances and double-crosses tied up with the powers-that-be, in this world and… elsewhere. Most of all, it’s a fantastic adventure between worlds.

  • Can you tell us more about the maps that Kait is etching on her living room wall, or is that a secret that will be solved when the series continues?

Mike: The purpose of the map Kait is almost done carving into her wall is a semi-secret (um, I probably gave away TOO much in my synopsis). The map ties into why the man on page 8 shows up out of the blue, and the reason Kait ends up constructing this map will be made clear soon. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I say that the map is a kind of gateway between our world and the world of Bartamus. And maybe a few other worlds as well, just for kicks…

  • I have seen several of your novels described as being Urban fantasies. Would this also be a good description for the style of In Maps & Legends?

Mike: Yep — as I mentioned earlier, urban fantasy fits our comic nicely. I jokingly call this comic and my previous novel, A Gathering of Doorways (which takes place about 1/2 a mile up the road from Kait’s apartment, actually) part of a new genre called “rural fantasy” — stories that are grounded in the real world, this world, but with magical or impossible things happening to the protagonists. Neither story takes place in an urban center like New York City, LA, or London — they’re out in the boonies.

  • Can you give us any teasers of things coming up in future installments of In Maps & Legends?

Mike: Things get pretty crazy. Not only do we get to see how Kait and Jeremy deal with the sudden entrance of this dude Bartamus (and his two weird pet squirrels!), but we also get to introduce some of the other characters mentioned in passing in these eight pages: Grandpa and Brema. And there’s more with that big black rock outside Kait’s apartment. Also — bridges, and a trio of villains and zeppelins!

  • Has this whet your appetite for doing more comic work?

Mike: Definitely! I always like to be stretched and challenged, and working in a genre with a different format like comics, where the words are equal to (and sometimes eclipsed by) the art, I’m always forced to rethink how I’m telling the story, so I can make the artwork assist my words. It’s a lot like being a movie director or producer, without the expense of shooting on location, expensive marquee stars, and fickle weather and special effects to mess with. It’s all in my head and in the artist’s pens.

  • What else are you working on right now?

Mike: I don’t have a specific comic idea underway just yet, though I think my in-progress young-adult fantasy series about a group of teens who get “infected” by magic in the American Midwest would make a really fun graphic novel. Lots of stuff exploding and magical fireworks in that one.

I’m currently shipping that young-adult novel (entitled A Sudden Outbreak of Magic) out to editors, and I’m finishing up my historical slipstream novel, The All Nations Team, based on the first mixed-race baseball team in the years leading up to World War I. Say, that might make a fun comic, too… I loved James Sturm’s The Golem’s Mighty Swing. Hmmm…

Niki Smith

  • How did you become involved in this project?

Niki: I put out a call on Twitter one day, just casually wondering if anyone was interested in putting together a Zuda submission. I knew Mike already, and he emailed me with a few story ideas he had. I picked the one I felt most inspired by, and we went from there! I couldn’t resist the visual of a room with a map carved into the walls.

  • How much of a hand did you have in designing the characters and settings?

Mike had a lot of this already thought out, since In Maps & Legends was originally a novel he’d written. For Kait, he mentioned her background, parents’ ethnicities, and mentioned a few actresses with similar looks. I had a lot of fun giving Kait curves and hips.

  • You normally work both script and art duties on your projects, such as Some Did Rest, and I discussed with Michael Jasper that this was the first comic script that he has written, so what was that like for you? Did you have to guide him at all in the process, or did he have it nailed from the start?

Niki: I’ve done a bunch of short comics for anthologies over the past few years, and a few of those were with writers too, so this isn’t the first time I’ve worked from someone else’s script. Before anything else, Mike sent me the first chapter of In Maps & Legends in its original novel form. I read that and gave him some feedback and ideas about how I could see that laid out on the page… I suggested the tier of panels running along the bottom of the pages, building up to the end reveal, and we really went from there.

  • As an artist, how is the Zuda format different for you from the regular comic format? Does the wide screen aspect ratio affect things much, and do you have to do a lot of tweaks in pacing etc. to fit a whole episode into 8-page installments?

I don’t think it was too much of a challenge overall. We knew we wanted that secondary row of panels, and the rest just filled themselves in pretty naturally. We did end up dropping some dialogue here and there, and I think I combined two panels in one place, but that’s a pretty normal part of the process.

  • How do you go about drawing a page of In Maps & Legends? Are you working on paper, or do you work digitally?

Niki: We actually put together a short step-by-step entry about how the pages were put together! You can see that here:

Basically, I put together the page layouts digitally, printed those out and did the pencils and inks on paper, then scanned back in for colors and lettering.

  • Are you using a lot of visual references for this series?

Niki: Mike sent me some photos of an apartment complex and type of car that he had in mind, so those were a great help. Other references were scattered: I spent some time hunting down what kind of shoes I wanted Bartamus to wear, for example. But the final screen, with its big reveal, is what I spent the most time on, wanting to make sure I got it right. I put together and manipulated a basic 3D figure to make sure the foreshortening was realistic, and all of that was before I even got to the scene behind him.

  • As an artist, who, or what, would you say that your biggest influence is?

Niki: Oh, that’s tough. I draw inspiration from all over the place. It may not be very obvious from the art of In Maps & Legends, but I’m a big reader of “josei” manga, and the slow, purposeful pacing you’ll often find in them (see Kiriko Nananan’s Blue, for example). A lot of the comics I read (and write) are very character-based.

On Zuda, and why you should vote for In Maps & Legends

  • How is the story doing in the Zuda rankings right now? All that fans can see is that it is in position #1, but Zuda doesn’t really reveal how much entries are winning by.

Niki: Unless I’ve missed some secret competitor info, I know just as much as the fans and voters… Which is to say, not a lot! We have no idea about the specific number of votes. I hold my breath every time the new rankings go up, and do everything I can to spread the word in between.

Mike: I visit the rankings page way too many times in the course of a day, and like Niki said, I don’t know any more than anyone else. The competition is fun, and encourages creative publicity efforts, but man is it unnerving!

  • Why did you chose to go with Zuda, and do you have plans for the series if it does not win the competition?

Niki: I read a few of the series back when Zuda was new, and then rediscovered the site early this year, and have been really enjoying the sense of community that the site has. It seemed like a great opportunity, and I figured I had nothing to lose… why not enter. If In Maps & Legends doesn’t come in first, we have a few other ideas for places to take it, but we’ll have to see.

  • Do you have anything to say to Zuda fans sitting on the fence, and who have not yet cast their vote yet?

Niki: We have whole worlds yet to explore! They’re about to dive into a corrupt and polluted landscape, filled with airships and burning cities. There are a bunch of great entries this month, and we just hope readers will be interested in carrying Kait’s journey forward.

Mike: I’d suggest reading through the screens one more time to savor the art, and to also pick up the little mysterious bits of information we’ve slipped into the narrative, almost like Easter Eggs. If you like your comics smart and sharply drawn, with unexpected twists, you won’t be disappointed by In Maps & Legends.

Thanks to Michael & Niki for talking with us about this fantastic project! Remember, to read and/or vote for  In Maps & Legends, make sure to head to

Related posts:

  1. In This Month’s Zuda Comics Competition, Hypergeek Endorses In Maps & Legends!
  2. In This Month’s Zuda Comics Competition, Hypergeek Endorses The Symptoms!
  3. An Interview With Creator Dwight L. Macpherson About His New Zuda Comics Title, Sidewise, Steampunk, and His Love of All-ages Comics!
  4. In This Month’s Zuda Comics Competition, Hypergeek Endorses Where Evils Dare!
  5. In This Month’s Zuda Comics Competition, Hypergeek Endorses The Hammer


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  1. [...] To find out more about the series, read the press release posted below, and make sure to check out the interview that I did with creators Michael Jasper and Nikki Smith, which can be found here: [...]

  2. [...] Robot 6: Zudist Colony- Talking with November’s Zuda Contestants Hypergeek: An Interview with Michael Jasper & Niki Smith [...]

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