As of today, Seattle just became a little bit more magical. That’s because of the arrival in the city of Natali Presano, the lead character of Firebrand: The Initiation of Natali Presano, a new digital comic series centering on witchcraft both modern and ancient.
Firebrand tells the story of the eponymous Natali Presano, a witch who was abandoned by her human father and raised by her aunt in the Basque region of Spain after the tragic death of her mother; returning to Seattle in her 20s, she finds herself caught between the world of modern society and an ancient magical world that includes a threat to humanity itself.
The new series, co-created by Nerdist’s Jessica Chobot and author Erika Lewis with art by Claudia Aguirre, debuts with three chapters on the LINE Webtoon platform today, ahead of an official launch Jan. 26, 2017, and marks the beginning of a partnership between Legendary Comics — as the name suggests, an arm of Legendary Entertainment — and LINE Webtoon, with other comic titles from Legendary due to debut exclusively on the digital service in the coming months. THR talked Chobot and Lewis about creating the series, and where Natali and Firebrand in general came from.
How did Firebrand get started?
Erika: Well, Jessica and I worked together at G4, and when we were there, we talked about wanting to do something together when we left. I think we were just having breakfast together one morning, and we were like, “Let’s think of a comic that we’d want to write!” We’re both very fascinated by witches and all kinds of stuff like that — Jessica has this podcast called Bizarre States, so we totally connected on that level — and I had been doing a lot of research on Basque mythology, and I pitched her this idea and we both fell in love with it, and it started from that.
It’s interesting that you knew straight away that you wanted it to be a comic, as opposed to prose, or a screenplay…
Jessica: We had this rough idea in the back of our minds that we wanted to do some writing [together] on something, and I think we both thought that a comic would be a good way to jump into that. Not only because we were both familiar with that medium, but it would be a good way to bring across the ideas that we had in our head through the written word, but also visually.
Erika: We both read comics, and I had written a graphic novel called The 49th Key, so I had experience in that world. I think we both just saw this story very visually. We both really just wanted to do something female-skewing, bad-ass, really playing in this world of very different kind of witches, and thought comics fit really well.
You’re both talking about this as a visual series, but there’s a lot of worldbuilding at play, as well — not just in terms of who Natali Presano is as a character, but also the mythology of witchcraft that surrounds her, and appears throughout the series.
Jessica: Erika’s an excellent researcher and this is something that she’d been thinking about for a long, long time. She actually pitched to me with a huge diary of everything that she’d been looking into. I love history, I love mythology, I love — this sounds odd, but I love witches [Laughs], but my research into witches and the paranormal had shown that, a lot of times, in the media, you only come across the Western idea of the witch: your typical Salem witch trials kind of thing. So when she brought up the Basque mythology as a possibility, I was really intrigued by that. I wasn’t familiar with it at all, but I thought it could be a really fascinating way to deal with the genre and keep it fresh and new, and include other [cultures] as well. There’s witchcraft in all mythologies all around the globe. It’s nice to focus on something outside of what we’re more familiar with.
Erika: With Natali in particular, we wanted to tap into someone who, in a world where everyone around her doesn’t understand who she is, especially in her younger years [goes through] the thing that everyone in high school feels, from my perspective, of not really fitting in anywhere and eventually finding that one place where you do… only to have the rug pulled out from under you, which is certainly going to happen to her during the course of the series. She’s someone who had a family connection, and that’s something she’s always striving for: to create her own family connection, which she’ll find in Seattle, with a bunch of misfits who’ve come together.
When we started talking about the character, there was a lot of discussion: ‘Well, she’s got to be like this, and she’s got to be like this!’ There was a huge argument we had over whether she was a virgin or not [laughs]. We’ll tell you the outcome of that when you read the comics. Her aunt, as well, was another character we really spent a lot of time getting into. It was important to have strong female characters. Not that there’s not strong male characters — it’s not just one-sided — but we wanted to put forward a lot of strong female characters.
At what point did Legendary come into the picture? And why them? Obviously, Jessica, you have a history with the company through your work with Nerdist…
Jessica: That’s part of it, sure. I’ve worked with them for a long time, and continue to do so. I’ve just always been treated really well there, and I’ve seen that the projects they work on have a lot of heart behind them, so it just seemed to fit to take it to them first and let them check it out. When we went over there, and listened to their vision of what Firebrand could be, it made sense.
Erika: They totally jumped on board the idea and had some brilliant suggestions on how to really bring out what we wanted to do. I don’t think we could ask for better partners.
Jessica: A lot of people, as writers or artists, there seems to be this kind of struggle about bringing companies into the group, but it has been an absolute joy working with Legendary across the board. I’m not just saying that because I work there on the Nerdist side of things, it’s really just worked out well. Every time we’ve met with them, there’s been a lot of ideas being thrown about across the room, and everybody’s open to suggestions and, some suggestions make it and some don’t, and nobody takes it personally if it doesn’t work out. I’ve been really surprised at how well the process has gone.
Was Legendary responsible for bringing Claudia Aguirre on board as artist? Her work looks amazing. How did you find her?
Erika: We all kind of brought Claudia on board. I think that I had been doing some searching for different artists online, and I know Claudia had worked with Boom! Studios before. Someone had mentioned her name to me, and I did some research and showed her work to Jessica, and we’d sent over a list of people to Legendary and they decided she was the one that they wanted. It was all very collaborative. Honestly, her being in Mexico City and having someone who understood a Spanish flare — she’s not from Spain, but she can bring that to the art, she totally gets that. She’s just been amazing.
Jessica: Not only just for the art style, but also attitude. We wanted someone who was as excited about the story as we were, and she just totally fit the bill. She was completely on-board, super excited — we actually got to meet her at San Diego Comic-Con this year, it was like, “Of course, this is perfect.” It made total sense that she was onboard. It was lightning in the bottle finding her. It’s the perfect mix.
Erika: We were really excited about having an all-female team on the series. It was important to us, we wanted to push hard and see if we could make it a three-woman team.
Jessica: We’ve got our own little coven! [Laughs]
Erika: Having three women’s input, it’s just nice. it gels together well. We feel like it’s a selling point, in one sense, but we also just feel lucky we got to do that.
Jessica: We didn’t go into it as some kind of marketing thing, to have a three-woman team, we definitely wanted the best artist for the series. It just happened that Claudia was the best choice — we considered it a blessing in disguise that it worked out that way. it is fun being a coven. All of my high school, “I wish I was a witch” dreams are coming true for this! [Laughs]