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Interview: Sebastian Girner on Scales and Scoundrels

We chat with the TKO Studios Editor-In-Chief about their new Young Adult line and how Scales and Scoundrels factors into the launch.

This is the story of a girl who likes to wander. Scales and Scoundrels from writer Sebastian Girner and artist Galaad is a warm trek with colorful characters that remind you of other fantasy heroes while never falling into outright thievery. If you're old-timers like us, the book will wrap you like a blanket on a soft summer night. If you're a whipper-snapper, and this is your first foray into the realm of orcs, dwarves, and dragons, then you're on the verge of obsession. Girner and Galaad have swung open a gateway. It's best to rush in feverishly.


Once upon a time, Scales and Scoundrels experienced a healthy life over at Image Comics. It built a solid fanbase and left them wanting more. But there was a pause. And now, the comic adventure returns in grand fashion as part of TKO Studios' new line of Young Adult graphic novels. Even better, TKO dropped two complete Scales and Scoundrels digests on the same day, alongside the equally exciting YA treasure Djeliya from Juni Ba.


We were flipping delighted to speak with TKO Editor-In-Chief Sebastian Girner about why now was the right time for the publisher to jump into the YA market and how Scales and Scoundrels fits snuggly within. YA is such a weird moniker, and it's fascinating to discuss its importance from both a publishing side and a creative side. Girner has a lot of hope for what these books offer, and so do we. At the very least, we want more Scales and Scoundrels on our shelves, so make sure to order both volumes HERE.


This interview was edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the entire conversation on our Patreon feed. Just 1 Dollar.

Brad: You're celebrating not only the publication of a new book, but also the birth of a new baby.


Lisa: A human baby!


Brad: How exhausted are you?


Sebastian: Yes, a lot of babies happening right now, comic babies and real babies. I am okay. Our baby boy is just over three month and he is either spoiling us or just giving us a break. He's sleeping quite well at night right now, so I feel I'm missing out on the one collective trauma that all new parents love to talk about, but there's still plenty of time for him to give us a shellacking, but we're excited. It is a very strange new experience to be making comics for a living, anyway, and now having another mouth to feed with that, it's definitely putting a spring in my step, as it were.


Brad: Well, congratulations on both fronts.


Sebastian: Thank you so much.


Brad: We're big TKO fans here at Comic Book Couples Counseling, and we're so excited to see you guys embracing YA. I'm just curious about what it means for you to be bringing TKO into this market?


Sebastian: When we started TKO, we wanted to launch out of the core comic book market which was more adult-oriented, even though certain TKO books could definitely go toward a younger audience. I think The Fearsome Dr. Fang would work great for younger readers, as well as some others, but I think with this, it's both embracing YA, kind of the younger audience specifically, but also a different format. We felt that there's certain types of books and comics, and I think, especially, with younger readers, who in this day and age are just reared on manga more, which tends to be more page-quantity-heavy.


We wanted to give our creators the format and the space they need. Our normal trade paperbacks end up being about the same size. These YA titles are formatted slightly smaller. It's a little digest-y, geared towards bookstores, geared towards libraries, school libraries. We're just tweaking the format a tiny bit and taking that into account. I think this will help these books reach the audience that we know is out there and is really clamoring for these types of stories, so it was always something that we wanted to do.


It was just a question of rolling out the core TKO as it were. It's in the same way that we did the shorts, which are these really fun 20-page one-and-done little comics. TKO has really started stretching its muscle into different types of comic book formats, which is really exciting. As an editor and as a writer of comics, I love to be able to see how form can inform content. And just on a personal note, it feels really good to be holding a hefty, 280-page book of Scales, and putting out two at once is kind of a flex. So we're very, very excited to be putting these books out. Between Scales and Djeliya, I think it's a really strong showing.

Lisa: We love a digest-size, because you can really spoon a digest. Where with floppies, you have to either sit up or lay on your belly, because they're flat.


Sebastian: Yeah, definitely.


Lisa: As both a writer and an editor-in-chief, how would you define YA as a genre? It's not really a genre, but what makes a YA book YA?


Sebastian: See, this is odd, because I was thinking about growing up reading. For me, YA was just Stephen King.


Brad: Yeah, same.


Sebastian: The books were kind of not meant to be read by kids, but I know a lot of kids who were 13, 14, 15 and you grab It and it just absolutely terrifies the pants off of you. Personally, I know that there's probably more clinical or market-focused YA. I think YA is when you make a delineation into adult content material without it feeling so hopelessly dreary. There's still fantasy involved. Despite dystopia being a big YA genre, there's kind of a gap where you can retain some childlike sense of wonder and hope and a little naivety while also embracing the fact that the world isn't as it was presented to you, if you were lucky as a child.


I think it makes it a very vibrant genre, because it is actually quite hard to nail down. As many younger readers get into YA, there's also a lot of adult readers of YA and people who go back and read those kind of books, because, I guess, in this book market especially, there's still the sense that once you get to a certain age you should not - quote, unquote - be reading certain types of stories. In the American, Western culture, comics are still very, very much considered or viewed to be a superhero type of affair. A lot of the kinds of comics that I really love have trickled over into YA where you have more fantasy, you have more sci-fi, you have more playfulness in tone and characters where it doesn't follow these very delineated paths that superheroes create for storytelling, sometimes.


That's a longer answer to your question.


Lisa: No, I love it.

Sebastian: I think that the term YA is actually more, like, "Oh, look, it's books that young kids are reading." Which always shocks and amazes the parents or older people. Kids just are a lot more discerning about what it is that they're reading. They know a lot more than adults about what they want to read and what they want to read a lot of. I think that that's why manga stole the show for many, many years. It's exciting to see, now, the Western creators who themselves were reared on manga, bringing some of that visual and thematic and narrative tradition to Western storytelling.


Lisa: When you think of a reader flipping through the pages of Scales and Scoundrels, who do you see?


Sebastian: The grand plan when we launched the original Scales and Scoundrels with Image Comics back in 2017, was that we would have readers somewhere between 8 and 9, 10, maybe. But It's all ages. I do genuinely think that if you can read and like to read comics, that Scales is a book for you.


Brad: We can confirm.


Sebastian: If you're on the younger end of the spectrum, if you're a kid, we wanted to embrace fantasy. Galaad and myself, when we started talking - this was in the heyday of grimdark fantasy and Game of Thrones was winning Emmys and all that. As much as we have an appreciation for that kind of stuff, and I'm a big fan of dark fantasy myself, we started talking about when we read The Hobbit, specifically. Not Lord of the Rings, but The Hobbit, which is a lot more playful. It's right before Tolkien found his inner DM and started creating all these worlds and languages, that it left a lot for the reader to imagine.


With The Hobbit, you just wanted to be in that fantasy world, unlike a lot of modern or dark fantasy. I do not want to go to Westeros! I'm not really sure I want to go to Middle-earth, because it seems like a depressing, sad, and horrifying place. We wanted to primarily craft something that seemed like a fantasy world you actually wanted to spend time in, with characters that you might love to have an adventure with, but then also create wanderlust. This is a world I really want to get lost in. We want the comic to insight the reader so they take their imagination and stay there, and maybe write their own story in this part of the world or that part of the world. And while we embrace fantasy, we also poke a tiny bit of fun at it too.


We always described Scales and Scoundrels as an all-ages book for the young and the young at heart. It wasn't for one reader. I think it is, hopefully, a kind of fantasy that we felt was hard to find. Fantasy became very segmented into different genres. You got high or low or post or dark or grimdark and all this stuff, and we were just kind of like, "Let's do a fantasy book where you don't know what's going to happen." We play with tropes. We have some allusions to classic Tolkienian fantasy, but then we also turn it on its head and hopefully take the reader to places that, if this is your first time reading about dragons and elves and goblins and orcs and stuff like that, if you're one of our younger readers, then you're in for a treat. If you're one of the older readers who speak Orcish, maybe, we're also going to start subverting some of those expectations, hopefully.