Together In Neon Skies: An Interview With Kevin Keane

Neon Skies was one of the most anticipated books of 2018, hitting shelves late in the year, just in time for the ICN Awards. I asked Kevin Keane about co-creating its world, the necessary long lead time and funding it through Kickstarter.

Neon Skies has an impressive world built up around the characters. It feels like you must have spent a lot of time working things out before even getting to drawing it.

The surroundings and structures definitely took a lot of time to visualise, I would say about a month or two. I feel like a lot of cyber punk and sci fi environments look a lot a like and while I didn’t want to stray too far from what’s considered familiar, I wanted to put my own filter over the genre. So I kept my process simple and essentially decided that all the structures and vehicles would be square or rectangular in nature whereas the characters would have more natural circular attributes. This separates the the two primary factors at play within the story. 

What kind of things influenced you when coming up with the design for the series?

Tetris! Designing a landscape like this can get overly busy visually so I looked back at Tetris and how those shapes compliment each other. For the characters, I pretty much free wheeled and played with a bunch of various designs until I arrived at what inevitably made it into the book.

I really liked Cristian Sabbare’s colours. Can you tell us a little bit about how he got involved and what he brought to the book?

Cristian Sabarre, undeniably one of the best colourists active today in my opinion. Initially I had a colourist lined up for the book but due to schedules not lining up, I had to do a call out online for a new colourist. I believe I got roughly 70+ responses from people all around the world and as soon as I saw Cristian’s samples, I knew he was perfect for the story. Cristian is one of the few people I’ve met who is capable of creating a hugely vibrant colour palette and can execute it with incredible subtlety. He elevated the story beyond what I initially visualised. Seeing his version of the pages made me so confident in the final product that it became extremely difficult to not show it all off as soon as I got everything back from him. I can’t speak highly enough of Cristian, he’s a phenomenal artist and person.

You also did lettering on the book. Was that the first time for you on lettering? Can you tell us a little about that? I feel that lettering is often overlooked.

Yeah, this was my first time lettering. We originally had a letterer but again unfortunately due to schedules they were unable to continue forward. So at the stage we were at in the production, we couldn’t really do another call out this time for letterers and get them up to speed while sticking to our deadline, so I decided to try my hand at it and honestly, I found it incredibly relaxing. I actually used it as reward from drawing and inking the pages. It’s certainly a lot less time consuming and a lot less stressful, that said good lettering is overlooked for sure because it seamlessly draws you into the narrative of the story, bad lettering is very noticeable and so I had to learn the rules of lettering on the fly (goddamn crossbar I’s). The rules of lettering I found were quite easy to grasp but you must learn and appreciate them as they all combine to create solid letters that keep your reader involved! It was certainly a learning experience.

Being as it was such a large project, was it tough that readers weren’t getting to see finished pages as you were going along? With a monthly 22 page comic, you tend to get more regular feedback.

It was strange, keeping everything under wraps for so long. It wasn’t new to me as I had kept the first Guards book very quiet while I was working on that back in 2016 but Neon Skies was under the covers for almost two years, I could only gauge responses from snippets of art that I would upload online which was all incredibly positive! So that appeased things for sure but it’s not the same as getting responses for full pages. I’m glad to see that the pages are now being well received and appreciated, it’s certainly a weight off my back.

Rogue Comics has a great group of creators. How much input did they and others have on the project?

Rogue is great, the encouragement we give each other is super valuable especially while you’re watching everyone put out their books while you keep chipping away at yours! In terms of the story and direction of the book we kept it all under wraps though, I would gauge artists responses the pages so I knew I was on the right track as I’m sure Ciaran did with writers too. 

You funded the project through Kickstarter. What was that process like and what advice, if any, would you have for creators who are thinking of going that route? 

PLAN AHEAD. That’s the advice I would certainly like to pass on, Kickstarter is a world unto itself. There are a lot of moving parts and factors to keep in mind. I would recommend any creators looking to go that route to do your homework on it before taking on the graft of making the comics or whatever media you plan to work in. Thankfully Ciaran and I had finished our sections of the book by the time it came around so we could focus on working out how that side of things would play out. I will say Ciaran took on the brunt of the Kickstarter maintenance as well as the interactions while I continued to work with Cristian in colour edits and then lettering after. The Kickstarter route worked out for us which even now I still find hard to believe but I’m incredibly thankful to everyone who backed us. That was a much needed vote of confidence for four very tired creators at that stage, it definitely re-energised us.

There is some cool merch, like badges and t-shirts, with your art on them. That must be kind of cool.

It’s really cool, I love a good t-shirt. Badges and pins aren’t usually my thing but I think Ciaran was right to get them. They turned out looking so slick that I now fully appreciate why people go for merch like that. For me though it’s all about the t-shirt, when you grow up listening to metal like I did, a good tee goes a long way and the cortex t-shirt turned out so much better then I ever imagined it would. I want to see it at every Irish con! 

For readers thinking about picking up the book, how would you sell it to them?

The tag line is one of the most valuable sales tools out there, especially with an indie project! So we mulled over the perfect tag line for Neon Skies for a long time. I would sell the book with a simple description, it’s like X-Men meets Blade Runner.

Neon Skies, its creators and Rogue Comics Ireland are nominated in multiple categories in this year’s ICN Awards. You can purchase Neon Skies and The Guards on the Rogue Comics Ireland website.