Humans tend to gravitate toward post-apocalyptic tales, in part, because it’s difficult to fathom life without us, but also due to the fact that how fictional characters survive the world’s end can give us inspiration for our own struggles. While many of these yarns envision the planet devastated by nuclear holocaust or alien invasion or a tipping point to climate change, writer Seth M. Peck and artist Jeremy Haun have another idea in mind. In their new Image Comics series The Realm, Haun and Peck tell the story of an Earth overrun by creatures of fantasy, with everything from orcs to trolls plaguing humanity.

Misters Haun and Peck spoke with me recently about the conceit of The Realm, the series’ inspirations, and why we should never get too attached to any of the characters of the book.

Note: This interview was conducted just prior to the release of The Realm #1.

THE REALM #1 cover

FreakSugar: For folks who might be considering picking up the book, what is the conceit of The Realm?

Jeremy Haun: The Realm is a post apocalyptic high fantasy book. Think Mad Max meets Dungeons and Dragons.

It’s set fifteen years after the end of the world as we know it. Imagine looking outside and seeing these giant spires appearing in the middle of cities all over the earth. Instead of an ensuing alien invasion our invaders are creatures from fantasy— trolls, orcs, dragons, and even a gelatinous cube here and there.

Seth M. Peck: It’s a mash-up of apocalyptic violence, survival horror, and high fantasy. The book has it’s roots in Dungeons & Dragons, The Road Warrior, and grimdark stuff like Joe Abercrombie’s “First Law” trilogy.

THE REALM #2 cover

FS: The book explores a post-apocalyptic Earth riddled with creatures of fantasy. What can you tell about the genesis behind The Realm’s creation?

JH: Over the years working in comics I’ve done a lot of different things. The majority of that work has been superhero, crime, or horror stuff. While I love all of those genre, when I started thinking about my next project I knew I wanted to try something different. I’ve always loved fantasy stories. I wanted to try doing one. Seth and I got together and I pitched the idea to him. He got it and was all in. We dove in full tilt from there.

SMP: Jeremy came to me with the basic concept, and after just a few minutes of talking it became pretty clear that we had something worth doing. You can always tell when a concept has some meat on it.

THE REALM #3 cover

FS: The series protagonist, Will Nolan, seems to be a guide and tracker of sorts through the hellscape of post-civilization Earth. What can you tell us about Will and why he does what he does?

SMP: Will is resourceful and pragmatic, and exactly the sort of guy who can find a way to thrive in any environment; including a lawless wasteland overrun by rampaging hordes of orcs and fire-breathing dragons. He does what he does because he’s good at it, and it allows him to have access to things like food and medicine, and maybe have a chance at rebuilding some semblance of a normal life.

THE REALM #4 cover

FS: From the book’s solicitations, we know that the Earth was overrun by creatures of myth and horror about 15 years prior to the beginning of issue 1. What can you tell us about that initial invasion? Will we learn about that time through the course of the series?

JH: We’ll reveal more about it as we go. I’m not sure that we’re necessarily flash back to it…but that’s always a possibility.

The event— The Break was utter chaos. These things appear, suddenly none of our technology works because of crazy magical EMPs, and…well…dragons.

SMP: We will definitely be filling in details and sharing some of what occurred over the last decade, but the story isn’t structured as a mystery.

THE REALM #5 cover

FS: Following up on that, how would describe life on Earth post-invasion? How have the things we take for granted changed in the world of The Realm?

JH: A lot of people wouldn’t get to finish that final season of their favorite show. That’s pretty much an apocalypse right there.

Due to the magic, nothing really works anymore. All of our defenses, communication, modes of travel, and more is just suddenly gone. People have to figure out how to start over again. That’s doable. The only problem is that there are also all of these crazy creatures deciding that this is THEIR world now.

SMP: Resources are obviously scarce, and things like medical supplies and ammunition are valuable commodities. Even though it’s ten years or so after the collapse, sharp-eyed readers will notice there are some things that indicate that SOME parts of society are still functioning.

THE REALM #5 variant cover

FS: The two of you created The Realm and the marriage between your work is gorgeous. What is your collaboration process like?

JH: The way we work is a bit more freeform than some comics. Seth is still the writer and I’m the artist, but it’s actually as title based as it might seem in most cases. We’ve built this story and world together. Everything stems from the conversations we’ve had along the way.

Each arc and then issue start with us just talking about the story and where it needs to go. There’s a lot going on, so we try and map it out pretty carefully. Seth takes that and writes the script. Those scripts leave enough room for a bit of interpretation from me. I take the script, thumbnail it out and add in little moments as needed. From there he takes the finished artwork and does a final dialogue pass.

I’d also like to point out the work that our colorist Nick Filardi and letterer/designer Thomas Mauer have in the process. Colorists and letterers deserve a whole hell of a lot more love. Nick’s colors really bring my work to life. He’s fantastic. When it comes to letters people tend to say if you notice them, they’re not being done right. Thomas has done something really special with the lettering of this book. It has an edge to it and really feels like it belongs in this world, without distracting. I’m incredibly proud of the design he’s brought to this book. My starting point was “It needs to feel like an old pulp novel.”. He hit that perfectly.  

SMP: It’s a collaboration in the truest sense of the word. It starts with a general discussion about the overall story, and from there it’s a process of carving out the little details and story beats that will get us from one point to the next. There’s a fair amount of discussion back and forth before I start on a script, and that continues afterwards when Jeremy starts drawing. As a team, we are trying to create a “singular” project out of multiple visions, so it’s best if everyone is involved at all stages of the process. We work well together, and that’s a big part of it, being comfortable making suggestions and pitching in with ideas.

FS: There’s a real balance between real-world aesthetic and fantasy at play in the series. How did you decide what you wanted the look of the book to be?

JH: That took a while. I’d been thinking about this book for a long time even before we started. But before we did anything I went into research mode. I visited as many abandoned places and ghost towns as I could. I dove pretty deep into the post-apocalyptic genre. We also dug out a lot of old Dungeons and Dragons manuals and art books. I wanted to figure out how I was going to intemperate all of this stuff.

SMP: Jeremy’s ability realistic characters and environments is second to none, so we knew that the book would have a grounded feel to it, and that it would make the fantasy elements more believable. The juxtaposition of realism and fantasy is such an important element to the story that it makes Jeremy the perfect artist for the book.

FS: The Realm, while being its own animal, seems to share DNA with other post-apocalyptic and fantasy tales. Are there any that particularly impact your work or made an impression on you?

JH: The Road warrior was probably the first one. I saw that when I was eleven or twelve and it melted my brain. I was equal parts terrified and enthralled. From that point on I always check out as much post-apocalyptic stuff as possible. Fury Road may be the best example of what the gene has available in forever. I’m also more than a little obsessed with the Fallout games. What a perfectly realized world they have there.

On the fantasy side, I was always a huge Conan and Lord of the Rings fan. Add to that, stuff like Final Fantasy, Dungeons and Dragons, and Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series.

SMP: I’d put Mad Max: Fury Road up there as one of the best films I’ve ever seen, so that’s definitely one that had an impression on me. I read books like “The Stand”, “The Gunslinger”, and “Swan’s Song” back when I was in high school and the idea of trying to survive the end of the world always makes fertile soil for stories.

FS: The Realm is a book where I could see it going down so many rabbit holes, as there are so many different storytelling avenues you could explore. How far out do you have the series plotted out so far?

JH: That’s the thing— we’ve built this world where anything is on the table. We can do a story that pushes more fantasy or western and then pivot and do something that has more of a horror feel.

We’ve got things planned out for a few solid arcs.  Beyond that we have a much broader sense of the series. The book is very much an epic quest. We can just play with the sub-quests along the way.

SMP: We have been designing this from the beginning as a large, overall story that had a lot of room for detours and exploration if the desire (or need) to do so arose. We wanted to be able to keep the narrative moving forward while allowing the characters to move around and grow organically. As a writer, I always want to have some idea of where I am headed, but I like to leave myself some space to improvise and to dig deeper into the bits of the story that take on a life of their own.

FS: Something doesn’t exactly look copacetic with Will at the end of the issue. Is there anything you can tease about we can expect in issue two?

JH: Will is going to always try and do the best he can. Hopefully that’s enough.

SMP: I will personally guarantee that Will does not die in issue two. Beyond that, you will have to wait and see.

The Realm 4# , written Seth M. Peck with Jeremy Haun on art, is on sale now from Image Comics.

From the official issue description:

The weary adventurers may have found a safe haven hidden away in the savage wastelands of Kansas. Unfortunately, it looks like someone else has found it too…

And check out this trailer for the series!