BY MATT TUCK
The independent comic scene is on fire in 2021, and Stranger Comics is one publisher on the verge of big things with a deal already in place with HBO Max.
You may have overlooked it, but the small press inked a development deal with WarnerMedia and HBO in 2020. The company optioned the character Niobe and her adventures in the world of Asunda.
Although normally home to the live-action antics of the DC Universe, since the WarnerMedia parent company, AT&T, owns the rights to DC Comics, it would appear that WarnerMedia is branching into the independent comics territory. Keep in mind that being optioned does not guarantee a live-action stint; optioned simply means that a studio has purchased the rights - or option, if you will - to develop that property for the screen.
Many projects fall into what is simply known as “Developmental Hell” where the optioned project collects dust on the shelf of ideas. However, it would seem that Stranger Comics may have something cooking. In an exclusive interview with Wicked Monkey, Niobe creator and Stranger Comics publisher Sebastian Jones remained understandably cryptic on the subject, though there was a major hint. “We’ve been in development...and that’s all I’m allowed to talk about,” he said with a smile.
Could a Niobe series be on the horizon? We shall see. If an HBO Max movie or series comes to fruition, then it will send values for Niobe’s key issues skyrocketing. With such a small print run, it will make these especially hard to find. On that note, here’s what you need to know about the fantasy world of Niobe from the creator himself, Sebastian Jones.
Would you damn your family to save the world? Jones wrote on the Stranger Comics site, introducing the world to Niobe.
Deadline described the world of Asunda as “lying halfway between Westeros and ancient Wakanda.” As Jones put it, the world is a mashup of Game of Thrones meets the Clint Eastwood-era Spaghetti Westerns. The main character of the series, Niobe Ayutami, is first introduced in The Untamed: A Sinner’s Tale #1, which began life as a Kickstarter campaign.
What sets apart Asunda from other fantasy epics is its protagonist, which is what Jones said caught HBO’s corporate eye although that is precisely what made it a tough sell to comic publishers. “The resistance I got, there weren’t enough black or female readers for (them) to risk an investment,” he said. Jones explained that, at the time he was pitching the story to other publishers, fantasy comics with a teenage black female lead were unheard of, and the publishers were staying away. “They weren’t necessarily taking the story I was trying to create...seriously. The first thing they see: black, female, fantasy.”
After a number of rejections, Jones took matters into his own hands by starting his own company that would give Niobe’s world a home. “To protect the integrity of Niobe and the world I was creating, I decided that I’m going to start a company again [Stranger Comics],” he said. “We started with this one tale, The Untamed.”
Spending his childhood in Surrey, England, Jones moved to the United States when he was 18, creating stories that allowed him temporary escape from the world around him. “Even back then as a mixed kid growing up, I wanted to create a fantasy world I could escape into,” he explained. “I created this character called Niobe. I think she was able to take on my inhibitions and vulnerabilities...my anger. As I grew, she grew with me. As I became older, the world expanded.”
GAME OF THRONES WITH A WESTERN SPIN
Much of the inspiration for the tone of Untamed stems from Jones’ lifelong love of Clint Eastwood’s “The Man with No Name” spaghetti westerns and, of course, the films of Akira Kurosawa, which inspired many of those same westerns. While those films helped create the atmosphere of the lone Ronin on a personal journey to find peace within the soul, Jones said that the heart of Untamed and the world of Niobe is family.
“The first story I created was about wanting to be a better man and a better father,” he said. “A lot of the characters I have created and the stories [...] their journey is they’re looking for second chances to find their tribe, essentially.” That lifelong search for peace and kinship is what makes the story relatable to virtually everyone. “I think we’re always looking to find our place in the world. We’re all searching for that. What about the ones who can’t find it? Do we ever really find that home and peace within ourselves? It’s always been something I am very passionate about.”
As Niobe fulfills her quest, the story is also a coming of age tale as the character grows with the reader. “Niobe was that perfect reflection of a teenager: coming of age, growing up too fast. That feeling of sense of duty versus what you really want to do.”
A BIGGER WORLD
Jones said that his ultimate goal is to continue filling the world of Asunda with a range of stories to make an interwoven fantasy world. “My whole goal was kind of to be a mini Marvel of fantasy with a shared universe.”
What does the future hold for the Untamed and Niobe? If the HBO Max tree bears fruit, then this could be the introduction to a shared universe much bigger than anything Jones ever imagined. For now, we’ll have to keep our ears to the track for any coming news.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.