Conversations with Creators is a collaborative interview series designed to understand the processes and inner workings of the artist, their creations, and how their work impacts the comic booking industry. Each meeting is candid and personal, seeking to explore previously unexplored avenues of insight.
Royden Lepp is the creator of Rust, an acclaimed diesel punk published by Archaia Entertainment. He is currently working on the 4th volume of Rust. The first three are out and available to purchase via amazon.
Stuart Warren: So thank you for meeting with me Royden.
Royden Lepp: It’s a pleasure Stuart.
Stuart Warren: What brought you to comics?
Royden Lepp: Probably my Dad. He was the one that bought me my first comic, it was a Spectacular Spider-Man issue and I remember reading it several times over. He saw that I liked it so much that he bought a subscription for me. I got a copy of Amazing Spiderman every month, and that kind of got me started
Stuart Warren: And when was this? As in what year?
Royden Lepp: Hmmm… Mid to late 80′s?
Stuart Warren: What was your first impression reading a superhero comic?
Royden Lepp: It just seemed like such a perfect method of storytelling, compact, concise, and engaging. Spiderman wasn’t new to me but I think sequential storytelling was. I’d read Calvin and Hobbes and other “strips,” but nothing that had any in-depth, ongoing drama.
Stuart Warren: There was this fad, and I’m not sure how aware of it you were when you first started, that comics in the 80s were rather dark. Did this come across to you in any way?
Royden Lepp: Spiderman stayed pretty light as I read it. I don’t think I ventured into the dark stuff; maybe a bit more in the 90′s in some of the Image stuff. But I had to hide Terminator and Alien issues from my parents! I guess that was Vertigo, or Dark Horse? I can’t remember.
Stuart Warren: Haha!
Stuart Warren: Comics, I’ve been told, is somewhat of a juvenile term. Now that “Graphic Novels” have become more commonplace in the market, more publishers are creating extended stories that unfold more like traditional books. Did this appeal to you when you decided to start working with Archaia? And did you feel that Archaia could allow you to tell your Rust story more effectively?
Royden Lepp: It did. I liked the “book” format. I liked the idea of never releasing single issues. That’s not how I like to tell stories anyway, I need more than 27 pages. Archaia allowed me to tell Rust the way I wanted to and even tried to make it feel more “novely” than any graphic novel I’ve ever picked up. That’s my favorite thing about Rust, it’s a book I’d buy without thinking twice if I came upon it somewhere on a shelf. Archaia has a lot to do with that.
Stuart Warren: For those who don’t know, Rust is one of your more notable works, a Noir Thriller set in the American Mid-West with Diesel-Punk elements. What influenced you to write the story?
Royden Lepp: Definitely my childhood, growing up in the Canadian prairies. My Dad was a farmer. My memories of the farm are distant and hazy. I could swear there were robots.
Stuart Warren: Haha!
Royden Lepp: I basically took that setting, that quiet solitude of the prairies, and added the genre element. I love science fiction, I love robot stories, but I like it when they’re grounded in something tangible and believable. That’s how Rust came about.
Stuart Warren: One thing that I’ve always liked about the characters in Rust is that they are very similar to the people that we encounter in our own lives.
Royden Lepp: Ah interesting
Stuart Warren: One of your characters is blind and I can relate to this. My grandmother is blind.
Royden Lepp: Mmm, I did not know this. You and I have talked often and you never mentioned it.
Stuart Warren: Yeah. Being blind is interesting. We don’t often reflect on what it would be like to be completely without a sense, as in the five senses. Especially considering that this is a graphic narrative, one that requires sight to be fully engrossed in the story, I found it interesting that a main character is unable to appreciate sight the way most people do. Did you base this character off of anyone in particular?
Royden Lepp: Yeah that’s true. I did spend a lot of time thinking about Ava (the blind girl) and how she would “see” the world and the threats that show up. She’s not based off of anyone really, just a character I really saw in my mind and really fit into the story the way I wanted. But speaking of disabilities, Oz, one of the main characters, 8 or 9 year old boy, is missing his right hand, he has a hook.
Stuart Warren: Yeah, and I only recently caught that.
Royden Lepp: Ha!
Stuart Warren: It is so understated
Royden Lepp: Well my Dad was an amputee. He was also missing his right hand. And when I was designing Oz I was looking at old photos of my Dad on the farm with my Grandpa. I wondered then, “how would it change Oz if he was missing his right hand?” So that character is kind of inspired by my Dad. At least a photo of him
Stuart Warren: Does your dad resonate with the character, or appreciate how you included him in the story?
Royden Lepp: I don’t know. He never got to read it. I was working on Volume 1 when he passed away.
Stuart Warren: I’m sorry to hear that. I had no idea.
Royden Lepp: He got to see some of the work but never got to read it as a whole. I used to accidentally draw Oz with both hands all the time and I’d complain to him that I had to keep going back and correct the art. He thought that was really funny for some reason.
Stuart Warren: Did you and your father’s relationship influence the work in any way? Rust is a generational story, I feel, one that follows a son, with the wisdom of the grandfather interspersed. Was this family dynamic also present in your life?
Royden Lepp: It does much more now than it did before. Roman is writing letters to his Father who we can assume is not coming back into his life. Often when I sit down to write those letters, I am of course thinking about my Dad. It’s true, it is generational. It’s hard to relate directly to my life, but it is surely influenced. Mr. Aicot was an actual person
Stuart Warren: Really?
Royden Lepp: When I was very young, he was an old trapper that lived near our farm. Really old and wrinkly. His name was actually Mr. Aicot. We used to call him Mr. Apricot. We were very young
Stuart Warren: Haha!
Stuart Warren: Now, you say you grew up in Canada. So why did you set the story in the American mid-west? Was that done for the sake of style?
Royden Lepp: Well… Technically I didn’t! I wanted the setting to look familiar but I’m not ever really stating anywhere that it’s America, or even earth for that matter. I’d rather depict an alternate earth rather than an alternate history. For all you know it could actually be Canada!
Stuart Warren: Ah, how strange. I never considered that.
Royden Lepp: But the great long war that’s referred to in the prologues is not the first or second world war. It’s something else, from another time and place. Mid-west Canada looks strikingly similar to mid-west America, actually.
Stuart Warren: I admit that I have still yet to read volume 2 and 3. 3 Recently came out I believe.
Royden Lepp: In May, yeah.
Stuart Warren: What’s the reception been so far?
Royden Lepp: Volume 3 is my personal favorite of the series so far. I think fans are agreeing. It’s the biggest cliffhanger in the book (greatest cliffhanger in the series I should say), so people aren’t as happy about that. But overall it’s been warmly received. Great reviews.
Stuart Warren: When you set out to create Rust, did you have a particular end in mind? How many volumes do you envision?
Royden Lepp: I’ve always know Rust would be 4 volumes. I knew how it would end, but I wasn’t always sure how I would get there. There were some twists and turns in the plot and my editor, Tay, really helped me nail down my plan. She was pivotal in the process for me. She helps me assemble my thoughts.
Stuart Warren: I thought about the production model for most comics and graphic novels as being artist/writer teams. What is it like being able to create something that you author and draw simultaneously?
Royden Lepp: I don’t really know any other way. I know it’s a luxury in many ways. But Rust is told so primarily through pictures that it makes the most sense to do it like this. I think for me; having an editor is really important. I need someone to speak into the process before I execute on it. That’s what Tay does for Rust. Otherwise I’d be writing and drawing in the dark without any feedback
Royden Lepp: love telling stories. I love drawing. I can’t imagine doing this any other way.
Stuart Warren: Other than Tay, is there any other editorial oversight on behalf of your publishers?
Royden Lepp: Not really. Many others get to read Rust before it goes to print, but feedback is all filtered through my editor.
Stuart Warren: That must give you a lot of freedom to shape your story.
Royden Lepp: Great freedom. Yes.
Stuart Warren:Do your personal beliefs and philosophy have sway over the stories you write?
Royden Lepp: Absolutely. Who’s doesn’t really? Everyone is really writing from their heart in one way or another. They’re talking about the world from the way in which they see it.When people agree in their heart with my view, that’s when they enjoy the story; when something inside them deep down says “that’s true.”
Stuart Warren: What do you think the worldview of Rust contends with? Obviously there are some that might reject it.
Royden Lepp: Of course. And actually they can reject it and still enjoy it. Rust is about decay. It’s about loss: of family, of relationships, of trust, of purpose, and of hope. And it’s about renewal. It’s about responsibility, change. Should I keep going?
Stuart Warren: Well, you bring up some interesting themes.
Royden Lepp: It’ about robots too. And jet packs
Stuart Warren: Haha!
Royden Lepp: It’s a lot about true freedom.
Stuart Warren: What is your objective in Rust, as in, what kind of proposition are you making to your reader? Are you asking them to reassess what they live for, or how they see the world? Or are you trying to create a world in which the reader encounters a simpler life that is bolstered by essentials? And I suppose, considering true freedom, what is that to the reader?
Royden Lepp: Well… I don’t want to give too much “instruction.” I want people to interpret the themes as they see fit. But the one question I ask is “what is true freedom?” Or moreover, what kind of freedom brings the most satisfaction in life? Is it the freedom to be and do anything? I think freedom is more simple than that, but that’s the question I’m posing. Yeah, it’s hard to get into.
Stuart Warren: Well I know that your personal faith likely influences the themes. But that just shapes the world you know.
Royden Lepp: Of course. I have my beliefs about life, about all life, and I’d be lying if I said those things weren’t underlying in the themes of Rust. I can’t avoid them. I can’t ignore them.
Stuart Warren: I understand completely, being a writer myself I think that is what drew me to comics, personally. Many writers are very set in what they believe, which is so diverse, more so than any of the writers I read while I was in college when it comes to comics
Royden Lepp: Interesting observation. I’ve never noted that.
Stuart Warren: That’s why I think comics also push the boundaries of what stories we can tell as humans
Royden Lepp: It’s true. Comic is one of the easiest ways to tell a story. I’ve heard many say that comics are the new screenplay, only with concept art. Comics are a great freedom.
Stuart Warren: So as you finish up Rust are you in the process of launching another project? Or would you plan on working with a writer from Archaia to create another story in the mean time?
Royden Lepp: Unfortunately, I still have a lot of work left on Vol4. I’ve had a tumultuous year with the birth of my first son. So I’m still 100% focused on Rust. I have some really strong ideas for what my next book will be, but by the time I start drawing it… and by the time you get to read it… We might as well not talk about it yet. But I will write and illustrate again.I enjoy it too much. There are a number of writers I’d love to work with. But I just need to tell my own stories as long as people still want to read them.
Stuart Warren: If you could work with one famous comics writer who would it be?
Royden Lepp: Ha! Hmm. On the spot. I’m not sure they’d be famous. I have friends I’d like to work with, people with whom I share vision. I don’t know that I could name anyone off the top of my head.
Stuart Warren: Too many good ideas?
Royden Lepp: I hope they’re good!
Stuart Warren: Well our time is almost up. In the tradition of Conversations with Creators, I wanted to ask you, when you get the pearly gates, what are the first words you want to hear god tell you?
Royden Lepp: Ha – You actually mean conversations with creators… Nice. Hmm, well…I want to hear, “Thank you for not wasting what I gave you.”
Stuart Warren: Beautiful. Thank you for your time, Royden. It has been a pleasure getting to know you and your work.
Royden Lepp: I always enjoy our conversations, Stuart. Please come see me at a con again sometime soon.