Today Black Ship Books will spotlight a webcomic that I have been a fan of since I first saw an excerpt from it featured in CE Publishing’s digital Megabook 2 anthology—Demon Fist. Demon Fist has been written and created by Gary Swarer since 2009, compiling 40 chapters into five volumes so far that center on the adventures of Rory Featherwind, a boy with four demons contained in his left arm who embarks on a journey to find his lost childhood friend in a world governed by the Church and filled with angels and demons alike who coexist alongside humans. Guided by the mysterious demon jester Riddle, Rory hunts down demons, helps people in need, and evades agents of the Church who seek to capture him and exploit his power in order to create an army of human-demon hybrids, all while pursuing clues to finding his friend Kai, who was presumed to be dead long ago when Rory first encountered the demons sealed inside of him as a child.
So far Rory has contended with corrupt church officials who use demonic and angelic enforcers to subjugate people, a pirate using a holy relic to make him nearly immortal, demon thugs and killers, and he is now preparing to enter a tournament where he will square off against the fallen angel-come-king-of-demons, Lucifer. Rory also befriends a band of pirates who become his primary allies outside of the demons inhabiting his arm, along with a few common folk, some soldiers of the church, and a couple of other demons as well.
The anime/manga influences are pretty obvious in this series, especially with a strong main character who is willful but not especially bright, which is commonplace in manga heroes, and the themes of bonds of friendship and finding your true self, along with the art style. And of course every manga has to feature the aforementioned martial arts tournament. Swarer has a great talent for storytelling that grips his audience with each new chapter and he paces the development of characters and plot brilliantly. I know my summary doesn’t really do the comic justice, so I highly recommend everyone to read it for yourselves online at demonfist.com.
I loved this story so much I went as far as pursuing an interview with Mr. Swarer himself some time ago. Check out my interview with the talent behind the comic below!
Gary Swarer grew up in New Jersey, mainly in Seaside Hts. and Casino Pier. He went to college at Rutgers for graphic design, which is now what he does as his day job in Philadelphia.
“Comics have been a major role in my life since I was about 8 or 9 when I got my first Spider-man comic. From then on, I was usually always coming up with some kind of character/story/scenario. But it wasn’t until after college that I finally hunkered down and started a project, which was Demon Fist. And I’ve been doing that mostly nonstop since 2009.”
Black Ship Books: You’ve been creating the Demon Fist webcomic since 2009, but tell us what it’s all about?
Gary Swarer: Well, with all my story ideas it always starts with two things, an observation and the question “what if?” Demon Fist was no exception; it has been an idea in my head since around 2002, ever since I found a lost bracelet at my retail job. It got me thinking, “what if” this bracelet stopped someone’s arm from exploding and held back that force and immense strength? Heh, a weird thought I know, but that’s pretty normal for me.
Honestly, the 2002 version of me was way too lazy and immature to commit to doing a comic, but after a couple of years, it stewed in my head and I finally got started on it in 2006. However, my lack of proper planning really made that first try fall pretty flat. The website I created was terrible, and I was very unhappy with the comic’s original beginning. So I went back to the drawing board, and three years later, starting eight chapters earlier, the comic began again.
The story developed from a wacky idea into a fantastical world of its own, based on my own experiences and beliefs, mixed in with humor and a certain amount of fun ridiculousness. Demon Fist is ultimately a challenge to myself. Each page is a step, each chapter a goal, each story arc a lesson in to how to make the next part of this narrative more engaging to myself and others. And I hope the readers see that too.
BSB: What are some of the major themes of Demon Fist? If you had to give a one-minute elevator speech for Demon Fist to give current fans and newbies an idea of what to expect, what would you say?
GS: At its simplest form, Demon Fist is the story of a young man named Rory overcoming the hardships of his troubled life and going on a journey to find the truth and to ultimately find himself. But that simple notion leads him into a much larger world of faith and power and the effects it has on the people involved.
More specifically, from the news that Rory’s childhood friend might be alive, he embarks on a journey that he won’t back down from; he’s even willing to thoughtlessly face off against the strongest power on the earth, the governing church, but at what cost?
To complicate things further, this is a world where demons & angels are commonplace alongside humans, and the lines separating them are beginning to blur. Rory himself falls under this category, as his left arm is home to three demons and a large portion of a fourth, making him a target for the Church, who fights to capture and control any instance of these “hybrids.”
Rory may not be the direct cause of how this world changes, but he is the catalyst that sets events in motion that ultimately will change everything. So I can easily say that in a world ruled by faith and fear, one man will bring it all down.
BSB: Demon Fist has gone more than 30 Chapters strong now, so you’ve introduced tons of characters. Who are some of your favorite characters? Which character do you think that you are the most like?
GS: Ooooo, tough question. I think if I were hard pressed to choose, I could narrow it down to three: Shaise, Riddle, and Aki. Shaise, easily because he’s the most obnoxious of the main quartet of demons in Rory’s arm. Riddle is a mystery; even I don’t know everything about him yet. While I have quite a lot of the greater story of Demon Fist figured out, a large portion of Riddle’s story is still and enigma to me, but I do know it’s interesting and important. Aki has the most detailed fighting style compared to anyone else in Demon Fist. It is a fighting style with a philosophy, a history, and a tragedy. I don’t feel I’ve done this fighting style justice so far, but she always challenges me to work harder in developing fight scenes. I also haven’t really had the opportunity to showcase the details of this fighting style yet, but it still gets me excited to explore it in the future.
BSB: Is Rory based on any mainstream characters? (like Goku maybe)
GS: Not directly, but I can’t deny the fact that DBZ has influenced me with Rory. It’s probably where he got his “love to fight” attitude, heh. Other characters that have influenced Rory would be Mido Ban of Get Backers and Train Heartnet of Black Cat. They had this cool, effortless “strength” in the beginning of their respective stories that really impressed me. While they were challenged later on they started out being unstoppable. Plus, their slightly more aloof attitude I found entertaining as well. It’s funny, I can remember Rory being a lot more like these guys back in the earlier days of Demon Fist, but as the story became more and more fleshed out he changed more into who he is today.
BSB: Are Shaise, Dither, and Crag based on a legend? What do their names mean?
GS: Nope, no legends or anything there. It was really just the story that gave birth to them. I knew I wanted there to be a demon in his arm and as I thought of different situations for him and this demon to get into, it became clear that I couldn’t decide on the personality of his demon. Sometimes I wanted a teacher type, sometimes a “frenemy,” sometimes a “fighting partner.” So it eventually became three demons and they went through so many character designs before I had what I liked. Their names actually come from this kind of onomatopoeia I felt for them. Shaise, was meant to be fast and more energetic, so I came up with words that sounded fast and it sounded vaguely similar to slice, so it felt right. Crag, was strength, like a club hitting a brick wall. So initially he was called Crok, but I always pictured him being a little gentler, so I ended up softening the end of the word to Crag. Dither was basically a demon wizard so I needed something mystical. Being in design school, I heard the word dither. It sounded good, but what really hit the nail on the head was that the meaning of dither is something that helps make a smooth gradient between colors; in essence a mediator between two unlike things, which is what he tends to be a lot of the time.
BSB: Is “Shut up, Shaise!” the catchphrase of the series?
GS: Ha! Not intentionally, but sometimes Shaise just won’t stop.
BSB: You’re also currently working on a Demon Fist Game? Is it a board game, video game, card game? How is it working on a comic versus on a game?
GS: It’s an RPG computer game based on RPG Maker VX technology so don’t expect a ridiculously over the top game, basically hi-def SNES graphics. I plan on it taking place before the first issue. But that being said, it’s still early in development and I am the only one working on it, so progress will probably be slow since I don’t want the comic to suffer from it. But it is completely different from working on the comic. Since it is all sprite based, I have to make characters with very limited parameters. I had a deep respect for pixel artists before, but so much more so now that I’m doing it myself. Also, when writing the scenes for the game I always have to take into consideration how to do what I write with the game engine. With the comic I just have to draw it, it’s pretty straight forward. But with the game there is a limited amount of pixels, plus animation, plus coding, so it definitely adds another level of complication to it.
BSB: You have a great knack for storytelling. Who have been some of your primary influences?
GS: Wow, thanks! The story is always the part that worries me the most. As for influences, I have so many its kind of ridiculous. But here are some of the main ones: My earliest influences were the early to mid 90’s X-Men comic; The Age of Apocalypse story really stuck with me. They took a whole established world, turned it on its head, and brought it back again. It was exciting to say the least. Another was the SNES video game Chrono Trigger. This game really opened my eyes as to how much a story can engross a reader. I can remember staying up all night just to get further and further in the game. It also pushed the limits of storytelling in games at the time; characters died, tragedies occurred. Compared to most games, it dug a decent bit deeper. And more currently, I would have to say Full Metal Alchemist is a big one. How that whole story was weaved together still amazes me. It was a great balance between good character development and plot that really coalesced in the end. Not to mention how funny it could be at times.
BSB: You also have a comic called Heratic Thinker that you’re working on. What is that story about?
GS: It’s about a young girl who lives in a world where only pleasant things happen, to the point where life has become stale and mundane. She comes upon this realization and decides to make a change for better or worse. It mainly deals with complacency and freewill.
It’s a lot more surreal than Demon Fist and has a lot of random funny things that happen, like rocket powered snails or penguins that mug people. It should only end up being a mini series, and I hope to have that started about a year from now. So look out for more details as they develop.
BSB: Do all of the stories you write usually have some tie to religion or the supernatural?
GS: It’s definitely common, but not absolute. My first career choice I ever had at the ripe old age of like eight was to be a paranormal investigator. So ghosts, monsters, aliens, bigfoot, etc., fascinated me as a kid. It still does now, but I’m a lot more grounded about it.
BSB: Should we expect a Heratic Thinker/Demon Fist crossover?
GS: They’re completely different worlds, so it’s highly unlikely. But hey, with enough imagination anything’s possible.
BSB: What do you think makes a strong character?
GS: Muscles? But seriously, a good way to make a strong character is by figuring out their core. What is that simple and base motivation? From there I let the events in that characters life shape him/her into who he/she is at that current point in the story. This usually leads to interesting conflicts that can corrupt and even change the purity of that core. For example, you have a character like Vegeta from DBZ. His base characteristic was pride; he felt he was the best. But when that was challenged, it changed him… it made him angrier, more abrasive. Later on having a kid changed him as well, but this time it made him just a tiny bit softer. His pride was always there, but it was reshaped and ultimately fueled his decisions in the rest of the story. Also, it’s how they relate to the story. I don’t really care for superfluous characters so if they are just crammed into a story with no real point except to lengthen it, it really annoys me. As much as I like Bleach, I feel it does this a lot. There were way too many characters that were introduced without any real need for most of them, so they ended up being pretty useless to the actual story.
BSB: What do you think makes a story worth telling?
GS: For me it’s as simple as this, does it interest me? Do I want to know what happens? If so then I explore that. Does the “what if” lead to a tale that does something that either hasn’t been done before or at least puts a new spin on it? But even though that’s all it takes to get me excited, I still think its worth figuring out the goals of the story. Is it personal? Is it to get popular with a lot of readers? Or something else entirely? Now it could be any or all of these things, but what’s important is to recognize what you want to get out of your story. If you can figure out how to achieve what ever goals you’ve set, then it ultimately makes the story worth telling.
BSB: If you had to choose, what are the top 3 best series out there right now and why?
GS: Hmmmm, that’s a tough one, but for the first one I would say Battle Angel by Yokito Kishiro. Now this is an old series, the original one ended in 2000, but started up again in 2003 with a whole new story that’s still going on today. The artwork is superb and the world that has been developed in the story is ridiculously intricate. I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of sci-fi and cyberpunk.
My second choice, as popular as it is, is Naruto. It really started pulling all of its loose ends together for an awesome finale. Unless, of course, they decide to continue it much past this current arc, then I can really see it getting stale pretty quick.
And lastly, One Piece. This book has been one of my favorites for a very long time, and I still feel it delivers an awesome blend of over the top humor and epic scale bad-assery. Plus, I love pirates.
BSB: What are some of the methods you’ve used to promote Demon Fist, whether locally, through conventions, or online?
GS: I’ve done a decent bit of Project Wonderful campaigns online. And over the past two years I have had a table at about ten conventions; my next convention is AnimeNext 2013. Also recently, I was in the Megabook M2 which is where you found my comic.
But before all of that, I used to do what I called “Guerrilla Advertising.” Basically, I would go to conventions with posters and flyers and hand out all that I could and sneak posters on as many walls as I could. How I never got kicked out, is beyond me.
BSB: What are some of your coolest experiences from attending comic conventions?
GS: Actually, it just happened recently at the past Katsucon in February. A guy came up to my table that had been reading the comic online and was super excited to see me; he didn’t know I was going to be there. We got to chat about the comic for a while. It was the first time that happened at a convention. I’ve had people that knew me from other conventions, but never one that just knew me from the comic.
It was really great and very helpful to hear what parts of the comic he liked a lot, and his favorite characters and so forth. As a comic artist getting feedback is always so important, and it’s really nice when you can converse about it.
BSB: Is there any advice you would like to give other comic creators out there?
GS: The best I can say is never stop trying. If your story doesn’t do well, change it or start a new one. Every single time that you do, you get a little better. It’s all a lesson for the next challenge. If your story is doing well, then pay attention to it and figure out why, because there are things to learn from that as well. And don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone. There have already been so many pages in Demon Fist that I dreaded doing because I had planned a difficult angle or a complex background or something of the like; but I powered through it. Sometimes I conquered it, sometimes I honestly feel it could have been better, but either way I learned from it. The moment you stop trying is the only real way you fail.