RICH INTERVIEWS: Adam Warren Writer “Empowered and the Soldier of Love” Dark Horse Comics

First Comics News: How did you come to be published by Dark Horse Comics?

Adam Warren: My late business partner Toren Smith and I brought our English-language adaptation of the Japanese SF characters the Dirty Pair over to Dark Horse in the early nineties. I’ve been working on and off for the company ever since, with my creator-owned “sexy superhero comedy” series Empowered being my current collaboration with them.

1st: Why did you want to write Empowered and the Soldier of Love?

Adam: Well, this year marks the tenth anniversary of the release of Empowered Volume 1, the first installment in my ongoing series of—ahem—graphic novels about the trials, tribulations, and body-image issues of a struggling yet plucky C-list superheroine. Even though this summer sees the release of Empowered Volume 10, written and drawn entirely by me, I felt that 2017 also needed to see a fresh new supply of Empowered stories drawn by other, usually better “guest artists” I’ve invited into Emp’s goofy little world.

Over the last decade or so, all the excellent artists I collaborated with did great work with the previous one-shot stories that were collected in the Empowered Unchained trade paperback, but ultimately I found the one-and-done nature of the single-issue stories a bit limiting and not as creatively fulfilling as I would have liked. So, for the next slate of Empowered guest artist projects that Soldier of Love kicks off, I was eager to work in the more open-ended format of a miniseries for each installment, allowing the story and art far more room to breathe.

1st: What is the three-issue miniseries Empowered and the Soldier of Love about?

Adam: For the record, Soldier of Love is an old pitch of mine, originally conceived independently of the Empowered universe. It asks the question—what happens to a Sailor Moon–style “magical girl” who discovers, as a disillusioned grown up, that having unearthly “love powers” isn’t quite as awesome as she thought it would be as a naive teenager?

Ah, but with this miniseries, a further question is asked: And then what happens when this embittered magical girl sets her sights on an already chaotic and semi-deranged superhero universe like that of Empowered? Not surprisingly for the Empverse, what happens is, everything goes to hell—but a goofily sexy and romantically supercharged kind of hell, of course!

I’d long wanted to integrate the idea of the Soldier of Love into the freewheeling Empverse, if only I could find the right guest artist to draw the story—and after I encountered the lively and whimsical webcomics work of writer/artist Karla Diaz online, I knew I’d stumbled across the perfect collaborator for the project.

1st: What type of foes does Emp face in this story?

Adam: Well, as the series’ title hints, Empowered confronts the Soldier of Love, an embittered and disgruntled “international magical girl of mystery” who uses her amazing love powers to turn Emp’s superhero-infested city upside down with a figurative tsunami of superpowered passion! I should add that the Soldier is aided and abetted in her crimes of love by the frankly adorable Señor Pangolin, a magical pink mascot who bears an eerie but accidental resemblance to the armored anteater of Pangolin Love, the game Google featured on its main page for Valentine’s Day. (Strictly an amusing coincidence, I hasten to clarify!)

1st: How do Empowered and the Soldier of Love interact in the miniseries?

At first, Empowered deals only indirectly with the Soldier, as Emp’s community of superheroes is whipped into a distracting and increasingly dangerous frenzy of passion by the mercenary magical girl’s reckless use of her love powers on the cape-clad masses. Ah, but as of issue #2, Empowered and her BFF Ninjette find themselves confronting their mysterious, pink-haired foe directly, as the Soldier of Love and magical mascot Señor Pangolin kick off a rather supervillainous scheme to unleash an ominous-sounding “romantipocalypse” on the already love-drunk city! Thus, the stage is set for an all-out clash between the cuddly, affectionate, warm-and-fuzzy Empowered and the embittered, resentful, down-on-love Soldier. Who will prevail? Find out in the senses-shattering, trippy-as-hell, emotionally charged conclusion of our miniseries!

 1st: How did artist Karla Diaz bring the Soldier of Love to life?

Adam: Well, from the moment I first stumbled across Karla’s work online, with her romantic comedy webcomic NON-NON as well as earlier online series CUTE SINS and Coffee Shop, I was struck by both her hilariously expressive character work and her equally strong sense of high-energy visual humor. Of course, being a self-centered jerk as most comics writers are, I immediately began scheming about how these fine artistic qualities could be employed to tell an Empowered story! As I mentioned earlier, I was long hoping to import the Soldier of Love into the wacky ol’ Empowered universe—and Karla’s comedic sensibilities made her the perfect artist to handle the task! (Note that I never considered drawing the Soldier’s story myself, as all the ribbons, bows, pleats, and frills of her flowery workwear drove me crazy every time I tried to draw her.)

So, after tracking down Karla online and commissioning some sample artwork, I was thrilled with the character designs she worked up for the Soldier of Love and her magical pangolin mascot—er, that is, the Soldier’s magical mascot, not Karla’s. (I don’t think she has a talkative pet pangolin, but I could be wrong.) Her takes on existing characters Emp and Ninjette were just as much fun, with the comical fluffiness of the latter’s ponytail being a particular Karla flourish that cracks me up every time I see it. Her pages for the actual issues have worked out even better, with all the energetic humor, visual flair, and charming facial expression work I was hoping for—with a key bonus being her beautiful color art, as the Soldier’s story was one that very much needed to be told in full color. (Well, full color with a noted emphasis on pink, that is.)

By the way, I should note that the Sailor Moon–inspired Soldier of Love is referred to as an “international magical girl of mystery” in the miniseries’ description because I wanted to take full advantage of working with a bilingual artist like Karla. (Hence #1’s cover featuring the Soldier informing the reader that she prefers to be addressed as the Soldado del Amor.) Sadly, I think my body of work’s featured more Japanese, Chinese, and even ultra localised Québécois French than Spanish, which does seem like a bit of a linguistic missed opportunity.

1st: What’s the creative process like between you and Karla?

Adam: As a writer/artist for most of my time in comics, I still tend to think in visual terms even when working solely as a writer, so I have to work up thumbnail sketches for an issue’s pages before I can write a script for them. I send these roughs along with the finished script to Karla, who then works up a quick pencil version of each page before proceeding on to inks and colors.

I’ve found it a really interesting experience—on multiple occasions, now—to work with younger artists who bring a broader array of abilities to the table than I do. Given that they have to handle all the heavy lifting of comics production themselves, webcomic artists like Karla have wider skill sets than most of us who work in the more specialized and limited roles in print comics. While I was impressed with how fun, lively, and expressive Karla’s character work was, that type of drawing skill is relatable to something I’m capable of doing myself. Ah, but another thing I enjoyed about Karla’s art was her excellent color work, which is something that I most certainly cannot do myself, nor am I ever likely to. So, when I’m looking over the beautiful coloring on Soldier of Love’s story pages, I do feel a twinge of envy at Karla’s broader portfolio of art skills.

1st: You’ve written, penciled, inked, lettered, and even colored comics at various times in your career. Is there anything else you wish you could do in the field?

Adam: The one thing I really can’t do, as a creator, is to truly surprise myself, which is why I enjoy working with other artists like Karla, who bring unique visions to the work that are often wonderfully different from what I would’ve devised on my own. I love looking at a beautiful page of Empowered guest artwork and thinking, “Dang, that is absolutely not something I would’ve drawn—and that’s what makes it so darn refreshing and spectacular! Woo-hoo!” (Note: I don’t always think “Woo-hoo” after seeing new pages—but that did happen quite a bit on Soldier of Love!)

1st: Empowered is also serialized as a webcomic. What does this version offer that the printed form of the series does not?

Adam: First off, I should clarify that we’ve serialized Empowered online—starting from its very first printed story onward—in a dogged attempt to broaden the series’ reach, to get the “sexy superhero comedy” out to readers not inclined to sample its print-format graphic novels and comics. The main bonus offered by the Empowered webcomic serialization is the fact that every single page features an extensive—if not exhaustive—written commentary by me about the creation of the story, more or less like the director’s commentary one might listen to on a Blu-ray or DVD. Plus, hey, readers can comment on each page as it posts, a feedback option that was, of course, not previously available on the print comic collections!

Anyhoo, the Empowered online experience starts here:

1st: What will you be working on next?

Adam: Well, this summer will see the release of Empowered Volume 10, the latest drawn-by-me graphic novel installment in the sexy superhero comedy epic. This 216-page volume represents a bit of a turning point for the series, as readers will notice by the book’s end—not that I want to wax “spoiler-iffic,” of course!

We’ll also see further Empowered-related developments and announcements later in the year—the tenth anniversary year, as I mentioned earlier! This will likely include something very special in the late fall, so keep an eye peeled for further Empowered news, folks—and thanks so much for reading Empowered and the Soldier of Love, okay?

About Author