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The creative team behind GODFELL discusses killing God

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The tagline is “God is dead. Who’s next?” Godfell, a new Vault series from writer Christopher Sebela and artist Ben Hennessy, is set to debut next month, offering a fresh fantasy series filled with action, mystery, and so much more. Triona Farrell on colors and Jim Campbell on letters complete the creative team. 

The synopsis is below:

One sunny day in the land of Kerethim, God falls dead from the sky. The impact sends out shockwaves that draw in royal families at war, shadowy creatures of the dark, and armies of the dispossessed, all coming to lay claim to parts of God’s body. Into this power struggle wanders Zanzi Vuiline, a soldier and berserker trying to get home from a years-long war. Forced to fight her way through the strange landscapes in and on God’s corpse, from the soles of its feet through the top of its head, Zanzi will acquire a mysterious traveling companion on her own pilgrimage.

The Beat chatted with Sebela and Hennessy about how they approached killing God and what that means for their new universe.

Deanna Destito: How did you work together to create an epic such as this?

Christopher Sebela: I worked on it for a while on my own for a long time, trying to get all the puzzle pieces into place and building up a world and characters that were fleshed out enough that I wasn’t coming to an artist with just a cool concept and nothing else to show for it. Once I figured out our main characters, Zanzi and Neth, and the world they occupy, Kerethim, I wrote the whole first script in a week or so. Testing myself to see if I could pull it off. I found an editor, Raven Smith, and she helped refine it into something good enough that I went looking for an artist to work with.

When Ben and I started talking about it, Ben just took the ball and ran with it, coming up with characters and creatures and tons of stuff I hadn’t even begun to consider. That’s pretty much how it’s been ever since. We have big talks every two weeks via zoom while emails and messages are constantly going back and forth, but I mostly try to stay out of Ben’s way and give him good scripts to turn into something much better.

Ben Hennessy: Lots of zoom calls and email threads. But I think it’s been a pretty easy experience working together. Chris and Raven had a great concept at the ready before I came on board. When I started designing Zanzi and Neth, one of the things Chris said about Zanzi in one of our Zoom calls was that she was a “Force of Nature.” I put that sentence front and center of the model sheet that I was working on so I could make sure that my design always had this goal in mind.

When Chris and I were happy with the design for Zanzi, I then needed a steed for a “force of nature” and after trying a destrier horse, despite it being a magnificent animal it didn’t seem worthy of a force of nature. This got me thinking, we’re working on a fantasy book, I can create the animals we need. So I went about filling the world of Kerethim with chimeras like the Horibulls that became Zanzi’s steed and I littered the towns with rat-pigeons and cat-monkeys.  Chris seemed to dig this, so we kept going down that road of world-building.

Destito: What inspired the story’s main concept?

Hennessy: Better leave this one to you, Chris.

Sebela: For a long time I had a challenge to myself to try writing a fantasy story — a genre I have been a bit rude to — and that was bouncing around in my head for months before I came up with what would be Godfell. I don’t even know where the core concept came from, really. It was an idle thought spun off by something I was listening to while walking my dog one morning. That’s all it takes sometimes, that one little bit. The little bit I came up with was the very beginning and the very ending of the book. So, suddenly, I’ve got a dead god lying in the earth and a warrior trying to make their way through the body to get home. The rest is like turning a tree branch into a magic wand with a pocket knife and piece of sandpaper; you just go over it and over it until it hardly resembles its original form anymore.

Destito: How did you create the design and look of God?

Sebela: My only real notes were that I didn’t want it to be a god we’ve seen before, I didn’t want it to be an actual god that people worship and some thoughts on how its corpse is arranged on the ground so that the path our characters takes makes logistical sense. Mostly I stepped back and let Ben do his thing.

Hennessy: Creating the God was a fun process. It’s definitely been the design that’s gone through the most iterations.

I think Chris and I had discussed the outline when I started working on the god’s character design. I had a pretty good idea of what the god needed to do for us story-wise. We needed it to be something for our characters to traverse in and on, it needed to be mysterious and it also needed to be MASSIVE. So with those necessities in mind, I then tried to roughly tackle what a God is, that sounds far more pretentious than it’s supposed to.

Right from the start I had the taijitu symbol in mind. I’m trying to come up with a God. Gods have been chronicled as doing great good and great bad and that’s the yin & yang concept that we’re all familiar with, right? You have a balance of two opposites with the seed of the opposite element in each part. This sounded like a “godly” enough foundation to build my design on and the taijitu symbol really gave me something graphic to play with as well.

I also incorporated the Buddhist and Hindu Chakra points, as from a graphic standpoint I could use more circles like those in the taijitu symbol throughout the God body. Since the balance of opposites was central to the design and I was designing a God I thought about borrowing some design aesthetics from the Devil. Horns and red skin seemed a little too on the nose but I thought a hoof of some kind might work. And this led to what you see here, this was the first draft.

Godfell

 Chris and I had a chat about the first draft. The hooves were something he hadn’t imagined initially, but he saw an opportunity in them for a story beat he had in mind so we kept them. The hair and clothes were cut and then I took another stab at the design after all the points we made had percolated into some kind of an idea. I basically streamlined the initial design and came up with this.

Godfell And it was this for some time. Using the graphic shapes of the taijitu symbol made me get pretty creative with graphic shapes for the god’s musculature. This felt like we had something, it looked other-worldly, aesthetically it was pleasing and it worked for all the story beats that we had in mind. Then the awesome Der-shing Helmer joined the Vault team and she had a really good point; she felt that the God design was a little too figurative and could afford to be a bit more abstract. Straight away you could tell Der-shing was 100% correct, this was such a good call! I did a few more iterations with Der-shing’s advice in mind. I found that doing something as simple as taking away the eyes and leaning into those graphic shapes on the body really made us feel like we had gotten to the level of abstraction and emotional unreadability of the God that really worked for us and so then the design was locked.

Godfell

Now I just needed a pose for it. I actually thought about it falling into the land all broken and twisted, bones poking out, all that gnarly stuff, but in practice that looked a bit silly. We kind of needed it to be something iconic. Things like the Vitruvian man and Christ on the cross came to mind because this pose that the God finally rested in, would be the pose that followers of this God would recreate as religious ornaments, illustrate in religious books, or even tattoo onto themselves. And so I settled on this, I thought it was unique and was different to other religious icons, the silhouette was clear. From this point on, we had our God for the book.

Godfell

Destito: How has been working with this creative team and with Vault to bring the story to life?

Sebela: Ever since I did my first book at Vault, Test, I’ve wanted to do another book with them. I think they’re the best new publisher to emerge in a long while. They’re smart, conscientious, and they care about letting creators tell their best story above all else. So getting to work with everyone there again has been a real joyous reunion on my end. Ben is a dream to work with. Beyond defining the world and its look, he’s a really good collaborator on a story level too and will tell me if I’m drifting off up my own ass or if there’s a thread I half-mention that he thinks could do with some more pulling.

Hennessy: It’s been a great experience. This was my first time working on comic outside of an indie or a self-published venture. So having people like Der-shing, Adrian [Wassel] and Tim [Daniel] weigh in on the creative parts of the project and then have David [Dissanayake], Dan [Crary], Alex [Creese], and Alex [Scola] put our book out to the world has just been brilliant. I think when you spend so long doing self-published works where you have to do it a lot of the heavy lifting yourself, it’s easy to forget that it’s actually the job of a whole team and this particular team is really good at what they do.

Working with Tríona Farrell and Vittorio Astone on colors is a blast. I genuinely get excited every time I see their colors come in. They make me look 10 times the artist I am.

Creating Godfell with Chris has been awesome. Even though we’ll have discussed the script on a zoom call it’s still a thrill to see how he’s put that conversation into a script. He’s a four-time Eisner nominee, he really knows what he’s doing, but in no way is there any ego there. He’s always been open to me making suggestions on some part of the script that he’s been mulling over and I’m only cutting my teeth in this industry. I hope this book does well and we get the opportunity to work together again.

Destito: Underneath the epic fantasy tale are interesting and complex characters. Who is your favorite character and why?

Sebela: With any kind of duo in stories, I think, as the creator, you have to love both of them equally. And who I like more between Zanzi and Neth, it fluctuates from issue to issue, sometimes from page to page. They’re both coming back from this huge war, an awful event that’s really reshaped their lives, with different reactions. And they’re on this journey through the body of God for very different reasons, most of which they keep secret from the reader and each other. There’s a power dynamic that gets a little loosey-goosey and the real fun and energy of both Zanzi and Neth come from how they respond to each other. So I can’t pick faves on this one.

Hennessy: Hmmm, that’s a harder one to answer than I would have thought. I think my answer changes to whoever it is that I’m drawing at the moment. And that includes our villains, just wait until you meet them.

Godfell #1 will be available on February 22. Look for covers from Hennessy, Nathan Gooden, Heather Vaughn, Skylar Patridge, and Tula Lotay. Ahead of the release check out some preview pages here!

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