Feminist, Queer, And Lots of Fun: ‘Cassius’ from Emily Willis and Ann Uland [Back Pages]
We're always looking for new comics to champion, and Cassius, from Emily Willis and Ann Uland, immediately caught our attention with the promise not only of Romans, but ass-kicking Roman lesbians. The proposed three-arc series plots a bloody course through the back-stabbing politics of Rome (and given the setting, we mean that literally), following our hero Junia as she attempts to come out the other side in one piece.
Is there a single part of the phrase "ass kicking Roman lesbians" that is not absolutely perfect? And even better, the whole thing is based on Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, so you're getting cultured at the same time. To find out more about the series, we spoke to both Willis (who writes) and Uland (who pencils), as we continue our new crowdfunding Q&A feature, Back Pages.
ComicsAlliance: What’s the basic premise of Cassius?
Emily Willis: Cassius is a fun twist on a classic hero’s journey with some kickass queer female characters, all inspired by Julius Caesar! It follows our main character Junia, whose ordinary life comes to a grinding halt after a terrifying event alters the course of her fate forever. That one event forces her to become the bearer of a mark that identifies her as Cassius – a legendary figure said to bring about great change.
Ann Uland: It chronicles intrigue, murder, fate, and one woman’s rise to power in the Roman-inspired state of Latium. The cast showcases diversity that is feminist, queer, and lots of fun!
CA: What was the genesis of the project? How long have you wanted to get this comic up and running?
AU: Emily and I both adore Shakespeare and the Greco-Roman classics. She came up with the concept and title based around wanting to explore an under-rated character in that play – Cassius - and pitched it to me. The project grew rapidly from there and sort of took on a life of its own! We both knew from the beginning though that this was one we’d definitely want to flesh out to completion and publish!
EW: I had been bouncing the idea of doing just a straight-up retelling of Julius Caesar for a while now – it’s my absolute favorite Shakespeare play – but I was never sure what I wanted to do with it. Then I had a conversation with one of my friends about how there are so few pure action-adventure stories with canonically lesbian female characters that aren’t about their sexuality, and I think the lightbulb went off then.
I’ve been working on this story since September of last year – I sort of put everything down so that I could work out the plot entirely and develop the characters.
CA: What was it about this story that made you want to tell it?
EW: Cassius has so many fun plot threads to it. I loved reading a good adventure story that kept building the stakes higher and higher and got me invested in it – that’s what Cassius aims to do. I’m also a huge fan of that “write women as people” saying that goes around social media. That’s so important to me --- and for some reason, I see a lot of people equate “strong female character” with “cold and stoic” and it just doesn’t need to be that way.
So Junia – our main character – isn’t some unfeeling person just because she’s been given this gigantic task. Junia will be frustrated, and determined, and happy, and all these other things along her journey, because people are full of complex emotions. I want Junia and the rest of the cast to feel real, and for their choices to be full of consequences.
AU: As an artist, I do most of my storytelling visually (Emily is in charge of the complex plot and phenomenal script). An adventure story like this offers a lot in the way of action so it’s a real treat for a sequential artist like myself to get to work on scenes like the ones in Cassius --- the script calls for sword fights, murder, and dramatic flight into the night on horseback, among other things! This is all much more fun to draw that what we might term ‘talking heads,' where a script has lots of dialogue but not much action.
Plus all the Roman aesthetic references I get to take inspiration from can’t be beat!
CA: What’s your collaborative process like together?
EW: Ann and I have been creating comics together since 2012 and printing them since 2013. We’re actually a couple – we’ve been engaged since 2014 – so being creative partners seemed like the natural thing to do. We go to a lot of conventions so there’s a lot of plot creation done in our car during 16-hour road-trips. We come up with new story ideas together and I’ll go away and write a script and flesh out the characters more on paper while she does some character designs – and then we’ll regroup. We’re really passionate about what we do!
AU: Like I mentioned, Emily got bitten by the inspiration bug; and since we are engaged and living together as well as working together, she started talking to me almost immediately about it. Most ideas we have together tend to be so mutual that it’s hard to tell who came up with what half the time, and the whole project grows very organically.
She writes and I draw, but we give each other a tremendous amount of feedback, so I guess you could say we’re co-editing each other as we work. Cassius is definitely her baby, but I’m happy to be bringing her vision to life!
CA: Why take this to Kickstarter?
AU: We’ve heard great things about the benefits of crowd-funding from our comic friends who have done it successfully. Printing a run of books can be expensive for independent creators and Kickstarter offers us the chance to both ease that burden so it doesn’t delay production and reach out and connect with a much wider audience of readers that appreciate a story like this!
EW: I knew there were more people out there that wanted something like this to exist. I would pitch Cassius to people at conventions and they would get so excited! It really made me smile! So I thought: what better way to get people involved in something than to do a Kickstarter? It’s all about community after all – and I really believe in giving back to the comics community to try and make it as inclusive as possible!
CA: What stage are you at with the project?
EW: Right now we have all of the pages penciled for issues #1 and #2, all of the text set, and the cover finished for issue #1.
AU: As of launch, we’ve got the scripts for books #1 and #2 and the pages are penciled for those books --- I’m working on inking and coloring the first 32 as the Kickstarter progresses, and I’m drawing some of our top tier backers into the comic itself!
CA: Should you achieve your goal, what’s your estimated delivery on the final comic?
AU: We expect the books to be in print and mailed to backers by August of this year at the latest. Although it’d be even cooler if we surpassed that goal, since then we could combine issues #1 and #2 and get a softcover volume.
EW: It would be so cool if we managed to succeed in reaching our stretch goals. Not only would our backers get some great prints done by some phenomenal guest artists, but we could also tell more of the story by including issue #2 or even getting to include issue #3!
Cassius is running on Kickstarter until April 14 2015, and is looking to reach a goal of $3,700. You can find more of Emily and Ann's work over on their site, right here.