Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the premise of your series, Rise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Don Aguillo: The premise of this story is that in a projected post-apocalypse, the American Northwest is a patchwork of a dying kingdom called Pacifica, where the parents of young aueen-to-be Zakaiah have mysteriously disappeared, throwing the kingdom, and their newly orphaned daughter, in despair. Problem is, in the midst of this grieving, she has to be groomed for the throne, which entails a journey through a series of tests called the Trials of the House of Jasser (to which she is descendant), guided by an entourage of individuals each suffering from a difficult past and clinging to the hope the duty to the throne may promise. Behind them, the kingdom is in the care of a shadow group who hold sinister agendas, and on the path ahead, beyond the shadows, an ancient enemy grows strong in wait, both laying in wait for the opportune time to usurp the throne, or lay waste to it. I've got a busy head full of ideas, some of them my own, and much of it by those I work for in my freelance life on a multitude of other projects I don't have a say in. Really, Rise is a therapeutic process to make sense of it all: the problems I have in my life, the problems I have with the world at large, and the problems I have with growing up and facing loss and responsibility. It's also a celebration of things like my Filipino cultural influences, my work with kids and observing how they approach discovery of an increasingly difficult world to live in, coming out and really understanding oneself, and ultimately, the price for all of these wonderful things.
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process given that you are serving as both writer and artist, and what have been some of your creative influences?
DA: As artist, the project gives me a blank canvas to explore storytelling in efficient, fluid, and experimental ways. Within the first issue alone, the workload demanded a different, more innovative approach that also tapped into some of my foundational training in art to allow it to be time-efficient as well as expressive. I've recently also switched programs, so the learning curve to not only acclimate to the new tools but also in developing a new style (deviating from Shards Volume One's prologue's aesthetic) was a double-whammy on my workflow. Very exciting, very time consuming, but very rewarding in the end. It gave me sound structure for workflow to build off of in the future. In terms of writing, I understand clearly that it is not my first discipline, but I've always written through the years, mostly for myself, by way of short stories, poetry, journal entries. I teach often, which allows me to work on language skills and communication, and in terms of storytelling, I've opened up to many sources of inspiration to inform what stories to tell and how to tell them. My script writing is demanding more thoughtful observation of my interactions with people, studying different voices, and really mapping out the dynamics of conversation. It's been fun and has me really listening and much more often, which sounds ridiculous, but I find it amazing just how much we don't listen to each other. The invention of character and voice is exhilarating, especially when I have all these characters (each representing different aspects of my character) all react to these crazy situations, and eventually and hopefully, the story begins to write itself. I love Scott Lobdell's run on the X-Men, Neil Gaiman's short fiction and Sandman series, and Ray Bradbury's anthologies. These are the kinds of stories I gravitate towards: a high attention to the drama of real life as it is mirrored in fiction. Joe Madureira, Simone Bianchi, Greg Tochini, Olivier Coipel, and Mike Del Mundo are my current art heroes.
BD: What do you hope that readers will take away from your work?
DA: I hope readers find a piece of themselves in the characters. I understand that that's true for most writers, but really, for this journey to mean anything, that reflection has to resonate, yeah? Hope is such a fragile thing, and that's the main drive for most of these characters, even when there's a huge lack of it. Finally, I'd like them to pay attention to the underdogs in their lives, those who aren't inclined to win, who don't usually get a say, who don't particularly stand out or aren't really seen in the world. Those people are important, and much too often, we forget that fact, and effectively don't pay attention when they have something profound to offer to the world.
BD: As it is an ongoing series, how many issues do you have planned for Rise?
DA: I currently have 24 issues. That's unrealistic, but I'm going to try my best. I know the very end, the whole purpose of this series, and it's written out. HOW we get there is going to be an ever-evolving process, which is already evident in creating issue one. I'm open to it, but I also have to be careful to stay on track, because I'm just as curious to explore this world I've birthed as I am anxious to see what happens to this little girl and her people.
BD: In addition to the release of Rise, you also have the second volume of Shards set for an upcoming launch. What can you share about the latest installation in the series?
DA: We’re so excited. The first book did really well, and we're onto a trade paperback run available through our site and the con-circuit this season! In this new anthology, six brand-new stories are introduced and grace the page from a creative team comprised of artists and writers from across the states and even two from the Philippines! The stories are hard-hitting emotional pieces as well genre-crossing so it boasts a pretty broad spectrum of styles and sensibilities. We have one that's a bit out there as it's somewhat an auto-biography but then also uses traditional art methods and tools in its imagery, we have others that come from concept art and animation, and a couple first-time writers as well. It's currently wrapping production and we'll be out of printers by early summer, to be launched at our online store, paired with a launch event in the Bay Area and also on ComiXology in digital format!
BD: Serving as Art Director and co-founder of In Hiatus Studios, what do you feel defines an In Hiatus book and sets you apart from other publishers?
DA: I think the breadth and expanse of what we're trying to do with our projects is a really big idea, as small as our company currently is and will continue to be for the time being. Full creative control and working with many projects in somewhat experimental fashion to everything from production, to marketing, to distribution, to public relations has been exhilarating but physically and emotionally exhausting. Taking this company on full-time on top of everyone's income-generating “day job” has been quite a practice in discipline and commitment, knowing full well that this endeavor is no longer a hobby. The In Hiatus Studios books brings our collective professional backgrounds that aren't grounded in graphic novels (besides our fandom growing up) to the forefront and tests them in this particular arena of storytelling. So far, though we study our predecessors, we have this unique approach to our projects to offer.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
DA: I’m actually involved in the production of one of the stories in the second anthology, Shards Volume Two, so definitely check that out this summer! Winter (my collaboration with our editor/writer Kim Moss) is debuting its first issue within a month or so, so keep your eyes peeled for that one. That's a project where I only handle art duties, so it's a freeing enterprise for me (a bit). And finally, Rise #2 is also moving along and on schedule so far.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Rise, Shards Volume 2, and In Hiatus Studios?
DA: Please check out our site, www.inhiatusstudios.com, where you can sign up for the mailing lists to get exclusive updates on all our books and projects. Follow us on Facebook (/inhiatus.studios), Instagram (@inhiatus.studios), and Twitter (@InHiatusStudios), too! Thanks so much to Fanbase Press and to all our current and future fans and readers! See you on the con circuit!