“They’ve saved the planet countless times, but what happens after the final battle has been won? […] What does a fighter do when there’s no one left to fight?” Those two questions sparked my interest in this fantastic series from Dark Horse. It is not only a treat artistically speaking, but it also turned out to be a meditation of what it means to be a superhero in a world that does not need them anymore.
The creative team of No One Left to Fight (Fico Ossio, Taylor Esposito, and Aubrey Sitterson) was kind enough to sit down with Rogues Portal to discuss their series, its manga influences, and their collaboration. The fourth issue comes out next week, October 2, 2019.
Rogues Portal (RP): Can each of you give us a glimpse at your comicbook origin story? What were the first comics you read and what inspired you to work in this medium?
FICO: Ever since I was a kid, I’ve spent my free time drawing. For as long as I can remember really! My first comic book was a Batman comic, the one where the Joker killed Robin with a crowbar. I was 11 then and have been reading comics ever since. It didn’t take long for the comics I was reading to start influencing what I drew and how I drew it, and from then on, I knew that this was what I wanted to do for a living.
TAYLOR: I had a father, uncle, and older cousin who all read comics as kids. They got me into them, first by telling me what was going on in the books before I could read, and then getting me issues of my own. Plus, growing up in the ’80s, I had Super Powers, Masters of the Universe, BraveStarr, and Visionaries toys that were another gateway into comics and storytelling. Since then, everything’s been about storytelling and world-building.
AUBREY: The first comics I remember loving were actually Bloom County and Outland by Berkeley Breathed and Hergé’s Tintin books. A big part of that was just because that’s what was around; I didn’t have ready access to a comicbook shop, but comic strips were in the newspaper every day, the mall bookstore had a ton of strip collections, and my library had a big stack of Tintins. When I moved to New York City at 18, I was blown away by all the comicbook shops and the selection of stuff on display, and I quickly fell down the rabbit hole. The books that hit me the hardest and made me really think about working in comics professionally were Usagi Yojimbo, Alan Moore’s oeuvre, and Cerebus, which I’m realizing right now is a bizarre comics cocktail.
RP: On to “No One Left to Fight: First,” a quick question about the series in general: Is it a limited series or an ongoing?
AUBREY: No One Left to Fight is a five-issue limited series. But in the course of developing this thing, Fico and I fleshed out decades worth of backstory for the characters. We squeezed what we could into the four-page prequel at Entertainment Weekly, but this world is so dense, the characters so complex, there’s more than we could address and explore in a dozen five-issue limited series. And that’s not even considering all the future stuff Fico and I broke down over breakfast at San Diego Comic Con this year!
A big part of creating ✨THE COMIC YOU ALWAYS WANTED✨ is developing a world that’s rich enough to keep going for years on end. That’s one big reason why we’re so fortunate to have found a home at Dark Horse, the publisher that practically invented what’s commonly known as “The Hellboy Model,” a succession of limited series that stand alone, but also contribute to a larger whole.
FICO: Whether No One Left to Fight keeps going or not is all up to the readers. We’ve got plenty of story to go on, so if people keep buying it and loving it like they have these first few issues, nothing would make us happier than to keep exploring this world!
RP: Each collaboration of a creative team is different and unique. Aubrey, has the work on NOLTF with Fico and Taylor changed how you write the script? If so, how?
AUBREY: Without a doubt. As a writer, you’re the first person in the comics assembly line, which means it’s on you to set everyone else up for success by playing to their strengths. I’m just fortunate that both Fico and Taylor have so many to choose from!
For Fico, I’ve really been leaning on his character acting chops. So much of these characters’ personalities are tied up in how they look and behave, so I’m constantly adjusting based on what Fico draws, playing up a pregnant pause or a weighty glance, or even writing additional beats for characters that Fico handles particularly well.
With Taylor, it’s really just about letting that guy rip with expressive lettering choices. I’ll write entire sequences with big SFX treatments in mind because I know that Taylor will absolutely nail them. And every time I see him do something new or different, I add that to the list of things that I can specifically write toward!
RP: In the first issue, you focus mostly on Vâle’s relationship with Timór (which seems to be somewhat heated) and his wife, Krysta. With issues two and three, Krysta, Winda, and even the Hierophant come more and more into play. With all those different relationships and the deep history those characters share, how did you decide which aspects you want to focus on first?
AUBREY: It’s no coincidence that Vâle, Timór, and Krysta are on our first cover and the focus of that first issue; their relationship sits at the core of not just No One Left to Fight but the larger world we’ve created. So while we were dying to start our road trip and show everyone around this rich, fully-realized world we’ve created, we knew that we really needed to establish those core relationships first.
RP: The rich history of the characters, their past relationships, and where they come from play a big part in the story and can be felt in every scene. How much of their past have you written down or planned at this point?
AUBREY: I alluded to it earlier, but Fico and I did an enormous amount of world-building for this thing. I’m talking months upon months of back-and-forth emails about heroes, villains, world events, backstories, and more, all of which informs what’s actually in the series. I love stories that start in the middle, giving readers exactly what they need to understand, and leaving the rest for them to piece together.
RP: So let’s bring in Dragon Ball Z: NOLTF was promoted as a series “For fans of Dragon Ball and other fight manga!” and it clearly shows. What fascinates you about mangas, and was Dragon Ball Z the most influential manga for NOLTF?
FICO: A lot of things! I could go on forever! With Dragon Ball Z, I loved how epic the story was, how it stayed fresh and unpredictable. I was always drawn to how powerful the characters kept becoming and how everything kept moving forward story-wise. I was used to other cartoons, where every episode was basically standalone, but in Dragon Ball, the characters are constantly changing and growing. There are even big time jumps between seasons and story arcs! That’s something I really love about manga: The story arcs tend to be longer, with a real sense that time is moving forward and affecting the characters.
AUBREY: Dragon Ball Z was definitely the biggest influence on No One Left to Fight. It was our goal to take everything we loved about that series and condense it down into a format that’s a little more familiar to American readers. For me, that meant bringing a depth and breadth to the world our characters inhabit, with decades worth of backstory that’s alluded to and built-upon, but never belabored through heavy-handed exposition. Oh … and awesome fights, obviously!
What fascinates me most about manga more broadly, however, are the ways that, by virtue of a drastically different publishing schedule and format, manga has developed its own storytelling language, distinct from American comics. A lot of it comes down to how expedient manga is. With only a handful of pages per week, manga creators have to get to the good stuff as quickly as possible, a storytelling philosophy that I wholeheartedly agree with!
RP: The cliffhanger of the first issue teased a big fight between Vâle and Timór — which does not happen thanks to Krysta. It is nice to see you play with the expectations that come with a manga-inspired comic. Was there ever a version of the script where they fight it out?
FICO: Nope! The plan was always to tease the reader with some big action! And they’re not even at full power in that fight. It’s just a warm-up, or a training exercise practically! When the boys go full power … you’ll know it.
AUBREY: Never! There’s a Divine Math that I try to follow in my writing, and it just simply wasn’t time to have the boys square off in a big serious fight! Besides, when those two throw down, we’ll need more than just part of an issue …
RP: I have to say, I am not a big manga reader at the moment, but what other tropes would you like to play with or which did you sneak in already?
FICO: I don’t want to give anything away, but issue #5 is absolutely nuts, and a lot of it has to do with the influences we’re pulling in from places like One Punch Man and My Hero Academia. We’re also sneaking in a lot of hints and “Easter eggs” tied into potential future volumes of No One Left to Fight. We have so many ideas for the FightVerse, so we’re already planting the seeds for what comes next!
AUBREY: Dragon Ball was definitely the starting point for No One Left to Fight, but in writing it, I’ve been pulling influence in a lot of other manga as well. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Devilman, Lone Wolf & Cub, and Astroboy all come to mind. There’s also a lot of Berserk vibes in issue #5! And that’s not even to mention the American comics I’ve been inspired by recently, like Chaykin’s Time2, Simonson’s Orion, and Burns’s X-ed Out.
RP: Since he first appeared in NOLTF #1, I have been a big fan of Fargan VI. He looks like a creature from a horror movie but has a caring nature. Also, he wears a unicorn shirt, which is always a win. Will we see him again?
AUBREY: Fargie is – in addition to being the strongest fighter on the planet – the absolute coolest, nicest dude in No One Left to Fight. So yes, without a doubt, you’ll see him again. In fact, Fargan VI returns to ✨THE COMIC YOU ALWAYS WANTED✨ in issue #4!
RP: Talking about the looks of the characters … NOLTF would easily pass the silhouette-test as every character has his/her style and shape. But also they feel familiar, and it seems like we’ve known them for a long time. Fico, where do you draw your inspirations from? How do you create those various styles?
FICO: Aubrey and I had been wanting to work together for years, so to finally get to do it on a book that’s as personal as No One Left to Fight is … it’s been really creatively energizing. It’s the first time that I’ve ever had complete freedom to design everything from scratch, and I love it! Obviously, we took a lot of inspiration from anime and manga, but we also developed this really unique creative process. We did everything together, with our ideas bouncing back and forth off of designs and outlines and scripts and beyond.
Everything grew really organically out of this incredibly fun process. It’s the best creative flow I’ve ever had on a project, and I think it has everything to do with our love for the shonen fight genre, the creative freedom that Dark Horse has provided us, and teaming up with someone who really understands what we’re doing and is as fantastic a writer and friend as Aubrey is.
RP: In addition to the characters, the surroundings are captivating as well. I loved the silent pages in issue two, where they just “drove” through the landscape. Could you take us through your process a bit? How do you go from script to the final page? Do you work entirely digital?
FICO: Thanks! I’m trying to load up the No One Left to Fight world with as much detail and originality as possible, so it means a lot that you’re picking up and appreciating it. The whole book is done digitally. Since I’m drawing two monthly books and coloring NOLTF myself, I don’t have much of a choice!
My process starts with laying out the pencils, but very small; in the space of a single comic page, I do layouts for nine pages. It’s tiny, but very detailed, so it lets me wrap my brain around the page’s composition in a format that’s finished enough that I can easily resize and jump right into the inks. Then I do the colors all at once. Doing it all myself actually gives me the opportunity to really change up how I handle the inks and the choices I make along the way.
RP: The pages of NOLTF feel vibrant and very much like an anime — a big part of that comes from the bright colors. What inspired your color choices/how did you approach this aspect of the comic?
FICO: Manga is almost always in black and white, so we looked at getting to do an anime/manga-inspired comic in color as an amazing opportunity. The idea was to capture the vibe of unpredictability and originality that I love in shows and books like Dragon Ball Z and One Punch Man. Color is an extremely important part of my approach on No One Left to Fight, as it’s the first thing that people notice and really sets the tone our world.
TAYLOR: For my part of color, I just ask Fico what he wants there. I’m a firm believer that letterers should work closely with colorists (or in this case the artist, since Fico is coloring himself) in terms of SFX. I want whatever complements the work and makes it stand out more, so I defer to his choices.
RP: Because of the manga influences, was there ever a thought to make NOLTF black-and-white?
FICO: Nope! Color was always a big part of how we wanted to handle the world-building in No One Left to Fight. It’s even impacted how I go about doing the line work for each issue! My No One Left to Fight style has really evolved into its own unique thing. It’s also been a lot of fun getting to collaborate with my coloring assistant, Racial Avila, who has been a fantastic addition to the team!
RP: In my review of the second issue, I wrote that with all the large panels stacked upon each other, reaching into the bleed, and vehicles breaking the panel borders, it should be chaotic and confusing. But somehow it just works. A big part of that is thanks to the lettering. Taylor, can you tell us about your process and how you approach the lettering of NOLTF?
TAYLOR: My process is pretty simple. All lettering, besides being easy to read and complement the art, should subtly guide the eye across the page. Lettering elements should be used as guideposts to help keep the reader from becoming confused. Luckily, Fico is so good, he accounts for the lettering to begin with, so I just jump in with everything clear to me. When the artist is accounting for lettering, it really does make for an easy and clear reading experience.
RP: And last but not least, three quick questions for all of you:
If you had to use one word, how would you describe NOLTF?
RP: So far, what was your the best comic you read this year?
FICO: It’s hard to pick just one! I read so many … I really liked Sean Gordon Murphy’s work on White Knight. Also, bonus answer: One Punch Man.
TAYLOR: No One Left to Fight, natch!
AUBREY: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders
Which fictional world would you choose for a holiday?
FICO: If I’m going on vacation I would say the Isle of Berk, because I’d love to have a dragon pet! For a little while at least … I know I’d set it free in the end! Hah!
TAYLOR: New Genesis. Who doesn’t want to visit Kirby’s utopia?