A Satisfying Stew – Talking With The Creators Of ‘Savage Hearts’ & ‘No Kings, No Masters’

by James Ferguson

Next month sees the debut of Savage Hearts from Dark Horse Comics, a new series from writer Aubrey Sitterson and artist Jed Dougherty that mashes up quite a few genres. It also features No Kings, No Masters, a backup story exclusive to the single issues also penned by Sitterson and illustrated by Goran Gligovic. I had a chance to catch up with the creative team about the project.

She’s a brawny barbarian bruiser with a broken heart; he’s a lonely beastman who talks to dinosaurs. What happens when they team up against an evil sorcerer? Action, comedy, and romance in this all-new jungle fantasy romcom from Aubrey Sitterson (No One Left to Fight, The Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling) and Jed Dougherty (World’s Finest, Harley Quinn, Justice League: Future’s End).

Includes the special print single issue-exclusive back-up No Kings, No Masters by Aubrey Sitterson and Goran Gligovic!

James Ferguson: Savage Hearts is described as a “jungle fantasy rom-com.” How would you define this genre mash-up?

Jed Dougherty: Rom-Crom.

Aubrey Sitterson: It’s actually pretty straightforward! Savage Hearts is very much a romantic comedy; fans of the genre – whether as manifested in slick contemporary films, older screwball ones, or even will-they-won’t-they sitcoms – will get all their itches scratched. But instead of taking place in the real world, Savage Hearts also pulls heavily from sword and sorcery fantasy and is set in what, to my mind, is the absolute best place to set any kind of story: A TROPICAL DINOSAUR JUNGLE VALLEY.

JF: This is a vast world filled with all kinds of creatures and characters, like the craziest Dungeons & Dragons game ever. How did this world come about?

JD: Aubrey’s pitch to me was: “Powerful, muscular barbarian woman; weird, wild-eyed beast-man; evil sorcerers; DINOSAURS!” I was hooked! From there, I drew a bunch of idea scraps, Aubrey pitched a bunch of creatures and settings and we winnowed it down to slightly more than we could fit into five issues. The cutting room floor contains enough skeletal warriors, dinosaur graveyards, cyclopean insects, and magical MacGuffins to fill at least another five, too!

AS: I forgot about the cyclopean insects! Jed and I are big fantasy heads. We both play a ton of D&D and love diving back into foundational fantasy prose, so it should come as no surprise that we both showed up with a ton of ideas. But when we cut material, we didn’t just lose it entirely; it simply receded into the background or even off panel. That, combined with the prodigious amount of planning and design work Jed did (we had multiple email threads about the type of flora that would be found in the jungle) created the depth that you’re responding to.

JF: How at home would you be in the world of Savage Hearts?

JD: Not at all; my grub tolerance is low, I overheat when hiking through jungles and my tree-climbing escape skills are long out of practice.

AS: I like to think that I’d be able to build up a rapport with some of the dinosaurs but, truthfully: The lies we tell ourselves are all too often the cruelest.

JF: How did the backup story, No Kings, No Masters find a home in Savage Hearts? It’s got a very different vibe.

AS: Savage Hearts and No Kings, No Masters are very different stories, to be sure, and a lot of that comes from Jed and Goran’s distinct approaches to my scripts. But despite this and their significantly different aesthetics, both Jed and Goran have a style that is rooted in European comics, especially the tradition’s fondness for and deftness with humor. And since comedy runs throughout both, since the Robin Hood myth has become a type of fantasy genre, we thought that, together, they would make for a satisfying stew. No Kings, No Masters is similar enough to Savage Hearts that readers will dig it, but different enough to still provide its own unique flavor.

JF: No Kings, No Masters puts a new spin on the Robin Hood tale. How did this come about?

Goran Gligovic: When Aubrey pitched the idea to me, it seemed like the most obvious thing a couple of lefties can make a comic about. Of course, I had to say yes. Although feudalist greed seems quaint by today’s hypercapitalist standards, I think Robin Hood can still be an inspirational resistance figure. Taking from the rich and giving back to the poor is just about the clearest, most concise definition of wealth redistribution you can find. I suppose Aubrey just wanted to make the message completely unmistakable and perhaps a bit more viscerally entertaining.

AS: I’ve always loved Robin Hood. Individual adaptations and riffs, for sure, but more than that, the way that it’s become a cycle of stories that continues to grow and evolve, with different creators across mediums and generations taking the tale’s core elements and putting them to diverse purposes. Unfortunately, more often than not, those purposes take on a hierarchical, even reactionary nature, less about people banding together to help one another survive in an unjust system, and more about a benevolent noble’s tax rebellion or personal grievances. No Kings, No Masters is our attempt to remedy this sad state of affairs, returning Robin Hood to his revolutionary roots, returning him to the people.

JF: How did the design for the characters in No Kings, No Masters come together?

GG: I like to develop a unique approach for every project I take on and the tone of this story called for something exaggerated (maybe a bit grotesque) but still undeniably charming. An adventure story should be pleasant to look at, and characters as fun and irreverent as the ones in this book have to stand out. What we ended up with is, I think, a kind of a violent storybook look. It definitely took a bit of tinkering on my part but I think we settled on the visual approach fairly quickly.

AS: My big contribution to this process was pumping my fist in the air and saying “Yes! YES! YES!!!” every time Goran sent over a new character design.

JF: What else can fans expect from Savage Hearts?

JD: Treasure hunting, dino riding, and a big dance number.

AS: Action, adventure, heartache, romance, laughs, and illustration-quality artwork that pulls from some of the best cartoonists ever, including Adams, Corben, Chaykin, and Hergé…what else could you possibly need!?

Comicon thanks Aubrey Sitterson, Jed Dougherty, and Gorgan Gligovic for speaking with us. Savage Hearts #1 from Dark Horse Comics is set for release on July 14th, 2021 at your local comic shop and digitally through ComiXology and Amazon Kindle.

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