“It’s “Game of Thrones” meets Rocky with boxing dragons!” in Neil Kleid’s fantasy fighting series Kings and Canvas

Kings and Canvas 3Just when you think you’ve seen it in all in the world of fantasy comics, then MonkeyBrain Comics manage to throw you a sneaky left hook with the delightfully weird Kings and Canvas. Mixing classic fantasy adventure with an enigmatic loner hero, but throwing in duels fought in boxing rings against diabolical dragons and rhinoceros mounted kings just to keep things interestomg! Pitched as Game of Thrones meets Rocky we caught up with master of ceremonies Neil Kleid to find out more.

Kings and Canvas 1Pitch Kings and Canvas to us – why should we check it out?

NK: “Game of Thrones” meets Rocky. Boxing dragons. Sea dwarves and pirate referees. Redemption, revenge, rebirth. Sulfur-smoking polar bears and rhinoceros-mounted kings. Dynasties, honor, fists and wits. Comedy. Tragedy. Triump and defeat. A country in which monarchs vanquish their enemies and govern their kingdoms with nothing more than gloves and regulations, molding themselves into champions with the will to protect and the strength to rule. A new age, an age of rebirth in which champions grace a national battlefield, and as sides are chosen and armies gather each man, beast or champion must prepare themselves to face their opponent and either raise their gloves in triumph or taste the canvas in defeat. Years ago, a champion named Mammoth was exiled and imprisoned. Now, a decade later, he is ready to return to the family, title and country he’d left behind. But before he can return, he has to escape…and then find his place in a world that may have passed him by. Every escape has a story. This, then, is the beginning of that story.

Not to mention stunning visuals by Jake Allen, with whom I collaborated on Brownsville by NBM Publishing, and amazing colors by Frank Reynoso — both of whom will soon be too famous for me to work with ever again.

What were your inspirations for the series? Where did the initial ideas come from and how did they evolve?

NK: Generally, I start with an idea, a hook or place or line or in this case, a visual that inspires. For Kings and Canvas, the world began with an image. Someone, somewhere tossed out two words onto the interweb in tangential relation to one another: “Frank Miller” and “dinosaur.” I believe it was in discussion of The Dark Knight Strikes Again, the graphic novel in which the Atom fights a dinosaur. Those two phrases made me think of “Frank Miller’s Dinosaur,” as a story concept which immediately put me in in the mind of an aging brawler, past his prime, bandaged and bruised with hands like cinderblocks and lonely, wounded eyes. That was my first-ever picture of Mammoth, the lead character in Kings and Canvas, and simply typing out a character description led to my winding an entire world and history around his desperate, despairing, yet-to-be-molded form.

Kings and Canvas 2At the time, I was also going through a bit of a job search crisis, debating whether or not I had picked the wrong path in life — maybe I should go back to school and be a lawyer?—and a lot of friends and colleagues were out of work. You saw a ton of art directors in their forties and fifties vying for junior design positions because the jobs simply weren’t there, and my question was what lengths would a man go to find purpose and attain change after discovering his life and profession have passed him by? Definitely a theme relatable to the job market at the time…and perhaps even today as the economy continues to bounce back. But what intrigued me was seeing it through the eyes of a man returning to a society that has passed him by, as well…how do you reintegrate into society after being away for ten years? Are your skills even marketable, and how much catch up do you need to play? More importantly, how do you reintegrate into a family and community you once knew, and is there even a place in it anymore?

How did you and Jake and Frank come to work together? Have you worked together before and what’s the working relationship like?

NK: Jake and I did a graphic novel together called Brownsville for NBM Publishing — it’s the story of Murder, Incorporated, the Jewish hit operation that worked for Lansky and Albert Anastasia in the Thirties. It was the book we cut our teeth on, to be frank, and you can definitely see it as the product of two newer, still learning creators. Since then, Jake and I had been looking for a project on which to reteam, and we knew that we wanted to do something very different—something original and completely out there. As a fan of epics like Game of Thrones and the Lord of the Rings saga, I’ve always wanted to explore building a fantasy world of my own…and thankfully, Jake was completely in tune. His linework has taken a huge leap forward and he’s a more mature storyteller, to be sure — the work he’s turning out for K&C is lightyears beyond what we were doing back in 2006.

Kings and Canvas 3Frank, meanwhile, was recommended to us by friend in Brooklyn after we had to part ways with our original colorist. And just looking at his tones, shades and vast palette of kickassery, you can tell he’s been gifted with A Very Special Paintbrush. Jake and Frank are seamless — I get linework in my email? Jaw drops. Then the colors follow? Tongue drools. I’m simply privileged and thrilled to be building the world of Kings and Canvas with these two fantastic, professional, stellar partners.

You don’t get a lot of boxing/fantasy series, are you a big boxing fan? And who would win if you and the other creators got into a ring together?

NK: Wouldn’t say I was a devotee or anything — not in the sense that I follow the circuit and watch it all the time. I’m actually more a fan of the practice—I boxed for a bit, mostly for exercise, and fell in love with the concepts, history and rules of the sport. It felt very old-world, and there was a natural parallel between boxing and jousting, one I wanted to explore.

As to who would prevail in the ring? I may have the weight on Jake and Frank, but I’m a uniter, not a fighter. My money’s on Frank—he’s got a way of extracting blood from the page…

Where can we get it from and how long is it running for?

NK: Kings and Canvas is an ongoing, monthly digital series from Jake Allen, Frank Reynoso and yours truly, published by Monkeybrain Comics and available here on Comixology. Issue #3 was just released, and we’re looking to have #4 out toward the end of February. We’ll be running as long as there’s call for more stories and they allow us to keep telling our tale.  If so inclined, feel free to follow us on Tumblr and Twitter

You can purchase Kings and Canvas #1-3 for £0.69 per issue from ComiXology