As you may have heard, we’re currently Kickstarting the second full-length book in the Children of Gaia universe: War & Horses! We spoke with Children of Gaia co-creator and War & Horses co-illustrator, Chris Covelli, about his inspirations, the humble origins of this vast fantasy universe, and the importance of imagination.
Tell us a little about yourself, Chris. Where did you come from and how did you end up working with Oneshi Press?
I’ve actually known Pete [Lampasona, War & Horses author] and Jayel [Draco, Oneshi Press co-founder] nearly all my life, the three of us growing up in Long Island, NY. Pete and I are cousins, and as little kids, our playing often revolved around inventing stories that, in retrospect, were probably a lot more involved than most kids would have come up with.
I met Jayel in middle school, and we soon became best friends; our fascinations with art and illustration were one of the strongest things we had in common. Jayel and I found ourselves coming up with our own stories to go with our art, and over the years, these stories evolved into the basis for Children of Gaia. All through high school, college and our professional art careers, Jayel and I kept building up these stories.
It wasn’t until we asked Pete and Lynsey to help us with writing that a plan started to form on how we’d make our ideas into a project we could put out into the world. When Lynsey [G, co-founder of Oneshi Press] and Jayel came up with the idea to launch Oneshi Press as a venue we could publish ours and other people’s stories through, I knew I had to be a part of it.
Can you tell us how Children of Gaia came into being?
To go a bit deeper into my last response, Children of Gaia essentially was born from little kids playing and using their imagination.
When I was in grammar school, me and Pete would hang out and play with our vast collection of action figures; Ninja Turtles, GI Joes, He-Man, etc. We found ourselves coming up with these stories to go along with our playing, and at some point, being the artistic one, I started augmenting our toys to look more like the characters we were inventing; adding costume pieces, painting them and otherwise personalizing them to fit our stories.
I remember the first time I hung out with Jayel in middle school, he basically told me he’d been doing the same thing for years with his friend Renamecard. That day he invited me to his house, and in his room I saw something that set my pre-teen brain reeling. Against the wall near the bed, there was this giant mech that Jayel and Renamecard had built out of cardboard, duct tape and other household materials. I don’t think I can possibly do it justice with a simple description, but this thing stood about 3 feet tall, had guns and cannons all over it, built-in cockpits for GI Joes to sit in, and it was almost fully articulated. It was probably the coolest fucking thing I’d seen a kid my age make at that point in my life.
Jayel showed me the basics of his technique, and from then on, the two of us were constantly pushing each other and our art, not just in building these toys to play with, but also drawing, painting, sculpture and more. It was the kind of friendly competition I think we both needed to grow into the professional artists we would become.
Around the age [when] most kids were growing out of playing with toys, here we were just starting to build our own characters from scratch, incorporating Super Sculpey, tin foil, and armature wire. With the characters came more stories. At first it was just for fun, using our characters to act out battles and scenarios we’d come up with. By high school, we were starting to realize that the toys we were building could easily be adapted for stop-motion animation. I think at that point, we shared an unspoken revelation that this story might be bigger than the basement we were playing in. We found ourselves playing less, creating more, discussing what we wanted to turn this story into, thinking about what we wanted it to say about the world.
By the time we were in college, we knew we wanted to make comics, novels, and eventually animated films and series about this world we had created. Not exactly sure when we decided on the title Children of Gaia, but by this point, we knew we wanted to share it with the world.
How have you and co-creator Jayel Draco managed to keep working on something for over two decades? What kept the collaboration going?
Our friendship is probably the biggest thing that kept us at it. That and what is likely a psychotic level of stubbornness and refusal to give up on both our parts.
How has Children of Gaia changed and grown over that time?
It’s changed quite a bit over the years. As I’ve mentioned, the story grew from us playing with toys and coming up with battles and fight scenes, the sort of thing that kids that age go for. At that time there were good guys and bad guys, clear-cut and simple. We didn’t think much about the world they inhabited, the cultures of that world or how events in that world could speak to an audience.
Children of Gaia grew and matured as we did. The more we experienced, the more we learned about the real world and how complicated everything is, the more of it we put into the story. The uncertainty of life, learning from failure, accepting hard truths and finding balance in chaos are all themes that have naturally emerged in the narrative as Jayel and I got older and wiser. We found ourselves wanting to know everything about this world we were building, its history, its nature, even its very creation were questions we didn’t realize we were asking until we were already answering them for ourselves.
In Children of Gaia, you have been more responsible for creating the realm of Terra. What can you tell us about that realm?
Its kinda funny, the first few questions got me all nostalgic about my childhood, so I’m going to relate part of my answer to that.
Terra is the homeland of the Empire, and when Jayel and I first started creating this story as kids, the Empire was simply “the bad guys.” While this is still mostly true, over the years Terra has become a bit more complex than that. While Rendaraia is meant to be a magical realm filled with idyllic possibilities of what the world could be, Terra is meant to be, in many ways, a reflection of what our world is really like.
Reigning for over 2,000 years, The Celes Empire finds itself dangerously low on resources and food, the natural abundance of its lands squandered through war, political rivalry and heedless expansion. Out of desperation, the leaders of the Empire invade Rendaraia in hopes of conquering its lands and controlling its resources. This is essentially the main conflict of Children of Gaia’s plot, and all of its characters find themselves caught up in this war in one way or another.
Much like our world, Terra is a place where the wealthy and powerful act to further their own interests, and most ordinary people feel powerless to do anything but go along with it.
Terra is where War & Horses takes place, in a setting reminiscent of the American Old West. How can a setting like that exist alongside the faeries and magic of The Great Nations of Rendaraia?
Basically, it’s the same way that remote, indigenous tribal peoples still exist here on earth alongside modern cultures at the forefront of technology. The cultural history of Earth is long, and all of the world-building we’ve done for Children of Gaia is equally as complex. Across both realms, civilizations have risen, fallen, and left behind traces of their achievements for some of the newer cultures to find, while others live as they have for thousands of years, finding no need to change their way of life. The depth of our lore allows nearly any combination of cultures to plausibly co-exist.
How have you worked with War & Horses author Peter Lampasona as he created this story?
Collaboration is something I’ve come to really love while working on Children of Gaia. As an artist, its only natural to want to make all the creative decisions to be able to truly call a project “yours.” But the benefits of hearing other perspectives on a project as big as this have really become a necessity, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
For War & Horses, the story takes place in a territory called Draven, one of the many houses of the Empire. That said, its a setting that I created, starring a character created by Pete. With any other group of collaborators, I could easily imagine butting heads over every line of dialogue and description, but with everyone involved in Children of Gaia, we’re able to freely come up with ideas and hash them out in a way that leaves everyone satisfied and valued.
I’m honestly amazed at how easily Pete was able to take my few initial thoughts about Draven culture and turn it into a fully realized setting, one that his Triggerman character fit into, and one that took on a style that Pete could truly call his own. Every bit of the larger themes I wanted to portray within this short story, Pete was able to include almost effortlessly. There’s a certain joy when everyone can add their best to a creative project, and the result is vastly better than any one vision dominating the process.
What was the process of co-illustrating the art for War & Horses like?
Technically speaking, it was a bit of a learning curve for me. For the past 13 years, I’ve been working in 3D animation, and nearly all of my creative energy has been put towards making digital 3D art. I’ve never stopped drawing in all that time; sketching out ideas and designs is in my blood. But it’s really been a long time since I’ve had a reason to create finished 2D artwork, and I have to admit there was a fair amount of rust I had to scrape off of myself. I essentially had to find my style again, but I am pretty happy with the results.
Creatively, it was a lot of fun coming up with ideas for a book that also exists as an actual item in our world. Jayel and I came up with a plan for the types of illustrations we’d both do for the book. We decided, in order to reflect the technology of the setting, some of the art would be illustrations created to look like old silver-plate photography—portraits and snapshots that were printed in the fictional book. With his incredibly refined and textural style, it was clear that Jayel should do these pieces.
The illustrations that I got to do were all of the action events of the story that the fictional author had to piece together and hire a fictional illustrator to create. I tried to come up with a looser style that’s more graphic and dynamic, sort of like a comic book. I had a lot of fun portraying what a fictional author might imagine as how the events he’s investigating may have occurred.
What other Children of Gaia projects can we expect to see from you in the future?
I’m actually halfway through writing and just starting to explore artwork for a new book. The working title is A Layman’s Guide to the Empire, and it could be considered a companion piece to Jayel’s The Great Nations of Rendaraia. Whereas Great Nations is an art book that explores the cultures of Rendaraia, Layman’s Guide will do the same for Terra. It will go into its history, both imperial and pre-imperial, and give the reader a lot of background info on each of the major houses and factions of the Empire.
Like Great Nations and War & Horses, Layman’s Guide will also be a book written by a character within the CoG universe for a specific plot purpose in the greater story.
What are some sources of inspiration you turn to when working on Children of Gaia?
Always in my mind is the possibility of turning CoG into a cinematic work, and I take a lot of inspiration for visual storytelling from directors like Akira Kurosawa, Ridley Scott, and Hayao Miyazaki.
Literary influences for me are a bit all over the place. I love contemporary writers like Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchet (especially when they work together), older fantasy and sci-fi writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Vern, Michael Moorcock and Orson Scott Card.
What’s important to you in a book (comic book or other), as a reader, writer, or illustrator?
In anything pop culture, which is basically everything nowadays, I think I need to feel like what I’m reading isn’t bound by its genre. It’s gotta do something that I didn’t expect it to do, and that something shouldn’t be just a gimmick inserted for the sole purpose of being unpredictable.
Oddly enough I’m way less picky about art style than I am about writing.
Where can readers find you online?
You can check out my website here, where you’ll find a collection of my professional and personal 3D and 2D work. Be warned, though, I haven’t updated it in about 6 years.
Check in on the War & Horses Kickstarter here, and share that link to help us meet our goal!