People call them...'adventurers' ".
Prologue of Gauntlet, Episode IV: The Castle of Succession
Sega Genesis Version
An interview with the author, Lewis Smith (LS):
SEVEN SPHERES LEGEND'S NOT-SO-HUMBLE BEGINNINGS:
How SSL came to be
Interviewer What inspired you to do Seven Spheres Legend?
LS: It was either that or snuff myself . . .It was 1996, and a relationship I had invested a lot in had fallen through and I was sitting at my desk in my dorm room, crying my eyes out. As I was, I started drawing the character that would become Darken Blackangel. For the next couple of weeks I couldnt get his design out of my head, I kept drawing him, and slowly I formed the rudiments of his story. Well, his story at first anyway. Gradually I started laying down ideas, and two weeks later, I was writing the rough draft of the first arc. Only now do I see how truly ugly and self-indulgent that work is. ^_~
I: So SSL had a dramatic start in a way.
LS: Pretty much, thought it doesn't really bother as much now as it did then. What does bother me still is just how awful those first few chapters are. I didn't understand why some artists left their early stuff unreleased. Then I realized why when I had some of my own shameful stuff I didnt want anyone to see. At least not without a lot of work in the shop. ^_~
I: Like for example, Boris Vallejo (one of your
favorite artists along with mine) probably suffered the same situation,
but then again that's just me. [laughs]
LS: Yeah, I guess all three of us suffer for our art. But people are more likely to give me crap about it . . .because I don't have huge biceps, I guess. ^_~
I: So why SSL? Why not the Ronin stories?
LS: Well, my Ronin stories are less personal, and a lot more action-heavy. They're also written broader, more generational. Darken's written a lot more personally and from the heart. To draw it a bit clearer, the Ronin stories are about the duty, the SSL is about the person.
I: So the Ronin stories were a bit too heavy for
your taste to be released yet. But evenually there'll be a time for that,
LS: Oh yeah. If I get them whipped into shape. Hopefully it won't take 4 years. ^_~
I: Explain the general plot in a nutshell.
LS: It's the story of Darken Blackangel, and how his destiny is tied to the destiny of his world. Stripped of all the bric-a-brac, it seems really simple, doesn't it?
I: Self-explanatory. ^_^
LS: It's only when you add his rivalry with Kirone and all the political machinations that spin off and into it that it gets a bit muddled. ^_~ Most of that arose from the need in me not to have a lot of people standing around talking all the time. However, due to the way some chapters were paced, I ended up with a crowd of people standing around talking. Can't win for losing I guess.
I: That probably explains why Chapter Six in the
second arc was so damned boring. [laughs]
LS: Well, there are some times where I have to go through the crushing boredom of the slow setup, even though I really don't want to. I'm more eager to get to the good part than anyone who reads this, but if I just jumped ahead, it wouldn't make any sense. Then again . . .some people have accused me of never making sense, so your mileage may vary.
I: Is there any references from outside sources
that you used in SSL?
LS: There are certain influences that creep in, and sometimes the characters will spout a throwaway line that I want to use. I tried to do a lot of anime-type things in the pacing of the story . . .lots of balletic fights, lingering . . .I guess you'd call them "moments." I tried to write it as a cinematic anime, because that's how it plays out in my head.
I: I bet the "What's Up Tiger Lily" ref with Lanicrus
is your fave. ^_~
LS: You got me. ^_~
I: Did you ever think that SSL would come this
LS: Oh God no . . .It was just work therapy for me, but I guess it grew into something more when Phoenix Romanova came into it. I started seeing potential, I started seeing it as something bigger than just an action story. Kind of like what happened when a certain lady walked into my life and helped me figure it all out. ^_~
I: That was Micaila Taylor, who created Phoenix? ^_~
LS: Yes, that's right.
SSL'S UNIQUE CHARACTER LINE-UP:
Playing God in terms of creating a character
I: How did you come up with the main character,
LS: I was just doodling, and one thing led to the other. It was really subconscious, now I think about it. I've done a million guys with that basic design--the black and blue gi, the blue pants, the white gloves (OK, not at first) and boots. Maybe it was the wings . . .I've never seen wings quite like that. Anyway, the familiar from me and the wings combined into something good. Lucky accident. ^_^
I: Would you say that Darken is somewhat a reflection
LS: He's my passionate side . . .the side that believes very much in things . . .the side that's very loving, the side that still doesn't know how to talk to girls. He's very pure and naïve . . .I like it a lot. It's a useful archetype. But even though he's naïve, there's a bit of the rogue to him, which makes him, yeah . . .I guess, he's the person I'd like to be. Damn real world. ^_~
I: Would you say that Darken's somewhat of a "dramatic"
LS: In a way he is. He's had some major traumas shape his life--losing his parents, losing Maryna, but to my credit I haven't made him extremely whiny about it all. At least I hope not!
I: So Darken pretty much plays his role well.
LS: Yeah. Actually he shocks me with his naturalness, which is amazing because despite the fact that he's based on me, he's apparently quite the ladies man. I made my first bishounen.
I: How does Phoenix Romanova tie into the storyline?
LS: Well, in a professional since, she saved the SSL from a load of crappy stories about him and Maryna. No, actually Phoenix ties into the SSL because she's the guide for Darken, one of the people who helps him come into his own. She helps Darken become a proactive force (making things happen) rather than a reactive force (things happen to him).
I: What do you think Phoenix represents?
LS: Passion, light, reason. That perfect love you find when someone is always there behind you, quietly believing in you. She's really wonderful, though some people complain she's too perfect. . .whatever that means. . .
I: I guess being a goddess has its disadvantages.
I think a lot of people see gods and goddesses as "too perfect".
LS: Well yes, but that's something I like to play with. None of the gods in my story are in any way perfect. The Dark Gods certainly aren't--they're either screwed up beyond help or just degenerate! The two normal gods, Cyan and Phoenix, are really more fun-loving, more like humans.
I: How did you come up with the other main characters
LS: Liandra was meant to be a throwaway ex-girlfriend of Darken's but I couldn't work it in that way, so I had to re-write it as her being his "little sister", which worked out well, because it means I could get to Kirone sooner. Kirone is essentially my most reviled ex-girlfriend made a bit sharper. She made a natural villain, I guess. ^_^
I: So some of your villains are modeled after
the people you hate?
LS: Oooooh yeah. I'm bad for that. Some of them, like Darknova, Darken's adversary from the first arc are compressions of a lot of people I downright loathe. That sounds pretty mean, when I say it like that. -_-
I: Who would you consider your favorite characters
in terms of either personal choice or writing appeal? Are there any characters
that you like more then others?
LS: Darken, Phoenix, Liandra, Vertigo, and Kirone. Every time I write them they surprise me a little bit more, because they're so vital, always doing things that shock me. That's when you know your characters are really good . . .when they even confound the guy who writes all this.
I: Any characters that you don't like?
LS: Hm . . .Tralesta. Tralesta Darknova is my stock answer there. The symbol for all my characters I bring in with big plans, then I get a better idea they're not in it, and I have to kill them. What bothers me is how I seem to relish it! -_-
I: You seem to kill a lot of your supporting
cast that way. [laughs] ^_^
LS: Write 'em out . . .with extreme prejudice! [laughs]
THE PROCESS OF WRITING A SSL CHAPTER:
Inspriating and brainstorming the final product
I: How do you prepare yourself before writing
LS: Usually I have the chapter in my head, running like a movie. Now, depending on how clearly I can see that picture, it's usually set up and all I have to do is transcribe it. Then I put on some appropriate music and I'm off!
I: So no Yoga, drinking a lot of Diet Mountain
Dew, or anything like that? (just kidding) ^_^
LS: No, actually it's either orange juice or milk. My writing is the one part of the day where I don't try to caffeine myself into hyperactivity. Weird, huh? ^_~
I: Now that's a shocker. Usually you're
high strung on Diet Dew. ^_^
LS: Man cannot live on Diet Dew alone. ^_^
I: Do you plan the chapters ahead of time or are
they random thoughts that just come up as you go along?
LS: Usually I have the general direction and the major moments already planned, but the pacing and the other small bits in between happen on the fly . . .that's where some of my happy accidents seem to happen.
I: I bet some of the fight scenes took a lot of
time to plan out.
LS: Oy . . .the big fights . . .the real money fights take a lot of planning. From the third arc, the "Fatal Gravity" chapter, that fight at the Machine Sphere took a flowchart to choreograph. It was a nightmare! [laughs] I had Darken and company on the skyships above the Machine Sphere, going down, and I had his enemies coming up from the Sphere. So I had to pace them as skydiving, spiraling down, fighting a bit, hitting the ground and splitting up to go after their pre-planned objective. It was so hard I vowed never to do it again. And then, in "Battleship Morgana," the fourth chapter of the final arc I did a battle just as complex . . . again. I really need to write these promises to myself down. [laughs]
I: There's always the year-end Rant. [laughs]
LS: I'll forget by then. ^_^
I: How long would you say an average chapter takes
LS: Two hours on a very good day. Four if I'm limping through with no ideas.
I: Which do you consider to be your favorite chapters?
LS: Hmm . . .the first "Interlude," when Darken and Phoenix meet, "Echoes in the Heart," with Phoenix kicking ass on Lanicrus, "Day of Armageddon," "Reflected in the Heart," and "Introspection,"--that whole trilogy with Vertigo that caused so much of a stir. And "Countdown," because the fight with Kirone and Darken is so intense, and taps into their big feud so well, and recapitulates their whole history without making the chapter a long interminable listing. And from the last arc, which I'm still writing, Id have to say "Stillness," which I can't talk too much about with spoiling a very heavy part.
I: Any chapters that you wish you would had fixed
LS: The entire first arc . . .that's why no one sees too much of it . . .-_- That and I wish I could go back and fix all those times where someone says something really pretentious and screaming "this is a SPEECH!" and make them all interior monologues. I'm really guilty of speechifying sometimes.
I: Is there any particular chapters that you've
written that had moved you so much that they actually made you cry?
LS: "Stillness," because it so emotional and visual. Matter of fact, despite its grim and sad going, the finish is beautiful. Very few words are said during the tragedy at the end, because as I was writing it, I found they were really unnecessary.
I: Have some of the chapters you've written had
any kind of reflection or reference of events that happened in your life?
LS: Hm. Some events that happen in the chapters have a resonance with my life, and some of them reflect on moments from my life. Though I have to say . . .I wish I was more like Darken when it came to conflict resolution, especially during the whole Phoenix/Vertigo/Darken triangle . . .I was proud of the silly bird that he didn't let it get all "Jerry Springer." ^_~
I: Or Phoenix and Darken ending up being on The
LS: Oh good lord, let us not get that bad! [laughs]
JUGGLING SSL AND THE HOH:
Doing two things at once
I: Was it difficult for you to write SSL and run
the House of Hardcore?
LS: Not really . . .SSL is something that takes mental discipline to do . . .HOH is kind of a lark, and I can do it just on my stream on consciousness. It's whatever's coming out of my brain at the time. That's not to say I don't think about what I put on HOH . . .it's just a different thought process is involved.
I: So it's like two different mindsets. Does that
get confusing after a while, though?
LS: No, but I will admit more readily to phoning in a Rant. This will disappoint the 6 people that read it regularly, but most of my HOH Rants are just one idea, riffed into oblivion. For example, when I'm really tapped out of ideas and dont come to the desk with a subject, I will pick one idea or phrase, say-- "I ate a pickle," and flail at it mercilessly. Or--and most of my readers have come to fear these--I will do a "random thoughts" Rant, which is just me picking 10 things and meandering. It's a good thing I dont get paid to do that . . .for the really bad ones I'd feel obligated to pay people to read it. -_-
I: That'd be crossing the line. [laughs]
LS: It wouldnt be the first time. It would, however be the first time I did it and knew better. ^_^
I: You do enjoy doing both, or do you enjoy doing
one thing over the other? For example, was there ever a time where you
get sick of doing two things at once?
LS: Not really. I think I really need to do both, because I have to have a little safety valve where I can be silly as hell . . .that's HOH. Also, HOH works well because it forces me to focus on the writing. It can be incoherent, but I have to at least be entertaining. It helps my discipline.
I: I don't know if babbling like an utter prat
while trying to write a coherent Rant is considered discipline. [laughs]
You know I'm just kidding, right? ^_^
LS: Touché! [laughs too] Hey, dont be afraid to call it . . .that's about what I'm doing!
I: Does all that in the end pretty much worth
it in a positive sense?
LS: Oh yeah. HOH does what it's supposed to, and so too will the SSL . . .at least I hope so!
SSL AND ITS FANS:
Bringing a new meaning to "fan service"
I: When you first started SSL, were there any
immediate plans to bring it out to the public?
LS: Not really . . .it was more me picking my mental scabs over the breakup. Selfish, I know, but that's me . . .
I: So it was hard to let go at first...you basically
needed the time to recover, huh?
LS: I'm not sure if it was that . . .more like I just didn't think it was that good, and I didn't think anyone would want to read it. Then I got such a good response from one person, and then from someone else, and from someone else, and then finally I felt like I had the confidence to offer it to people. "Read this --it's pretty good!"
I: What made you finally decide to share SSL to
LS: I think when Micaila let me use Phoenix-chan, and the stories began getting a focus and a purpose. ^_~ Chapter 9 of the second arc "Echoes in the Heart" was the big point for me, where I said, "People have to see this."
I: Did you feel that it was the right decision
in your part?
LS: Very much so. And I'm continually amazed when I send a random chapter to someone, and they ask for more.
I: Now that SSL has expanded itself into a fan
following, are there any regrets? Some things that you wished you had time
to change before showing the final product?
LS: I wish I had a better first arc to show people. And I wish I had enough time to fill in all the other character's lives that everyone's fallen in love with, like Liandra and Vertigo. That's one of the things that makes me wonder if I'll ever finish SSL, really . . .there's so much I can go back and fill in here and there. But then there's a part of me that says "There's gonna come a time where you should leave it alone, Lewis." The trick is to know when to cut off the impulse to put everything back in.
I: It would had taken too much time to go back
to fix everything.
LS: Something like that. The first arc does need to be fixed, but there's a temptation to say "Oh, remember that bit you wanted to put it, because it got cut?" when you re-read the whole thing, and try to make it snap to continuity. That's fine in an isolated case, but not 200 times.
I: Do you feel that the fan's feedback to SSL
make it worthwhile to do the series?
LS: Definitely. The fan response is what motivates me when I wonder exactly what it's all for. Thanks, all of you!
I: List some praises that you feel are noteworthy.
LS: Hm . . .well, "Darken is the anti-love god." I'm still trying to figure that one out. ^_~ That and your thoughts on him on how you see Darken as a reluctant hero in search of his destiny. I think you have cut right to the heart of the matter there. But then you've read more than your share of these, hm?
I: Well the "anti-love god" makes sense. A lot
of the female fans think that Darken's quite the lady's man. ^_~
LS: [blushes] Oh my. ^_^ He'll never have a moment's peace now, the poor lil' bird! [laughs]
I: Me and my big mouth...Darken's got enough problems
on his own. [laughs too]
LS: Now he's gonna have to fill out fan mail until he dies. Oh well, at least it's job security. ^_^
I: Any oddball feedback?
LS: I think "Darken is the anti love god," is my reigning favorite as far as oddball feedback.. I never intended to have all these women fall for him but that was how it came out . . .oh, and the e-mail that said I should kill Phoenix and hook Darken and Vertigo up. Sorry ma'am . . .ain't happening. ^_~
I: I can't picture Darken and Vertigo as a couple
either. She doesn't seem to be his type.
LS: The whole reason for teasing the Darken/Vertigo thing was really to illustrate how screwed up Vertigo was. She latched on to Darken because he was the first person to show her a way out of confusion. And of course, poor Darken was just confused by the whole thing--"Wait, wasn't she trying to kill me not too long ago?"
I: Yeah... "Weren't you the guy in Scene 27 that
tried to kill me?" [laughs]
LS: No, youre thinking of the old man in Scene 23. ^_~
I: Any other fan favorites? (Characters, chapters,
LS: Oooh, two more, favorite characters . . .Sachiel (I even gave him his own little character arc) is one. Cyan Indigo too--matter of fact that whole story "In the Shadow of a Wave" is a favorite of mine, and I'm glad that most of the fans have responded to it too. It's a very sweet and gentle story, much unlike most of the SSL. Very funny too. How can you not love a Darken story where he wears a bucket on his head and sneezes fire?
I: Sachiel?! REALLY? That's kind of hard to believe.
LS: Well, someone had to care about the whole Sachiel/Yrouel arc. I guess it's me. ^_~
I: Also, I really liked "In the Shadow of a Wave".
It was a very cute story.
LS: It's a nice departure from the heavy stuff that makes up the SSL proper. That's one of the reasons I love Darken. He's versatile enough to be in any story.
I: Did you ever expect SSL to get such recognition
as it does now?
LS: Oh it stuns the hell out of me . . .sometimes I sit back and I think about it. "How did this therapeutic exercise turn into a 4 year project? More than that, why does it capture people's imaginations?" But it's a great ride, and the fans really encourage me. I really like the rapport I have with my fans. Then again . . .most of them haven't read the last few chapters yet. ^_~
I: So they have to read it is what you're
saying, right? [laugh] ^_~
LS: I consider a great chapter to be one where people finish their mail about it to me saying "More please." Then you know you've got them along for the ride. Either that or when I get mail on a very heavy chapter like "Stillness," one that really proves the emotional resonance that people have for these guys. That's when I feel like I've hit a home run.
IN THE END...:
I: Do you see yourself doing more SSL related
stuff in the future? Any future projects?
LS: Hm . . .well, given the nature of the SSL's conclusion, I can't do anymore Seven Spheres stories, but the door is always open for the saga to continue as a new saga that grows from the conclusion of this one. But if I do. . .it'll be either very small things, spread out over time, or I'll take a long rest before I go back.
I: Any more solo character stories or gaiden stories?
LS: I think I owe my fans a good Liandra story. ^_^
I: She has become a fan favorite pretty quick.
LS: A fact which is really amazing given that she was a cool character who didn't have a role at first (which, given my policy should have guaranteed her a death sentence) who was just sort of tossed in to the mix. She's the x-factor--Liandra's not really based on anyone I know, and she sort of pushed her wait into the upper echelon of the cast on the strength of her character.
I: She is a very unique character. There's nobody
quite like her. How many blind angelic vampires do you know that have fairies
LS: One, now. ^_~
I: I know that the Alpha stories didn't turn out
the way you planned them. Are you thinking about taking another shot at
LS: Well, Alpha was supposed to set up the final arc, by showing how everyone got set up to be in the position they were in at both the beginning of the SSL and the final arc. However it was executed with all the precision of a drive-by shooting on a street paved with Jell-O where the shooters were blind and used Nerf bullets. So I excised it from the SSL canon, but then stupidly kept referring to things that happen in "Alpha." So I guess, yeah, I'll have to return to it someday . . .I just make more work for myself, eh?
Part of me does want to take another trip back there, just for one long story, see if I can do an SSL story where all the main characters haven't even (in some cases) been conceived yet. All I need to do is get the pacing and the characters straight. It's a lot harder than it sounds.
I: So it's too much trouble the way you see it,
LS: To do it straight on, to continue in the veins of "Alpha" would be agonizingly bad to read and appalling to write. Worse than the first arc because I'm supposed to know better by now. The trouble is finding someone from the pre-Darken SSL I give a damn about other than as a device to get the main plot humming along. I've toyed with the idea of writing the Alpha stories from a point of view sympathetic to the villains just as a change of pace.
I Now that SSL is getting more and more recognition,
do you feel that you've accomplished something as a whole?
LS: Yeah, actually I do. I'm seeing the story through to the end in a satisfying way, and it's getting real fan response. The fame is heady, but I don't let it give me an ego . . .I just focus more on the conclusion of the story. I really feel like I owe it to everyone who has been on this wild ride with me to deliver not only a conclusion, but a good, sensible one which makes the other 3,000 or so pages they waded through seem like it was all worth it.
I: After SSL, what next?
LS: Sleep! ^_^ No, I'm working on new concepts on the side--new things that I can meld into stories like I did with Darken. So after the end of SSL, I may do that. Or I may attempt to start my second generation of Ronin stories up . . .we will see, as they say.
I: Any other final thoughts?
LS: Only these: Inspiration will come when it comes, not when you try to draw it up. When you do see it, it's like a rare butterfly, very precious, and hard to catch. When you catch it you mustn't kill it; you have to preserve it, because that inspiration will keep you going too. ^_^
I: Humble words to live by, Lewis. ^_^
LS: I'm embarrassing when I try to be profound. ^_~