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Interview with James Leong and Dorothy Ding, creators of Perfect World Saga comics

James Leong and Dorothy Ding (a.k.a Franken Doll) are going full-steam on a dystopian science fiction comic-book project called Perfect World Saga, which is being crowdfunded at www.pozible.com/pws1. We catch up with the two creators on their progress.

11 November 2015
JF Koh

Perfect World Saga

Please tell us about the forthcoming Perfect World Saga graphic novel. What is the story about? What was your inspiration? Who are the main characters?

During one of our brainstorming sessions in preparation for the 24-Hour Comics Day in 2013, the story of the "Perfect Son" was born.

We ended up completing a different story for 24HCD, but out of the "Perfect Son", seven more mini-stories were born, about the perfection we desire in various aspects of our lives, leading to the creation of "Perfect World Today", a 48-page comic-book containing a series of teasers for the upcoming graphic novel Perfect World Saga.

"Perfect World Today" shows us glimpses of the perfect world that is to collapse, when the real world breaks in. In the first chapter of Perfect World Saga, Max, our 17-year-old protagonist goes on a perfect day out to the park with his family. At an age when he is trying to find his place in the world, Max has become quite a rebel, while his younger brother has taken the place of the favourite son of the family. When Max is separated from his parents and siblings as his world collapses, his resolve to get back to his family makes this young man become the leader amongst a pack of lost teenagers in a brave new world.

Perfect World Saga

Any bad guys in the story? What is their evil plan?

Of course! There are bad guys, bad gals, bad bots and bad asses as well. The usual favourite on the menu of evil plans is "world domination", but I'm afraid there's not much of a world left to dominate in this one. The perfect world is broken and both the good guys and the bad guys are fighting to survive.

Perfect World Saga

You have produced the mini comic-book "Perfect World Today" as publicity for Perfect World Saga. What are some of the comments from advance readers?

"... an amazing vision of a possible future utopia world ... or it is a dystopia world?" That's Kelly Bender's comments on "Perfect World Today" and we think it sums up the response we have had on the mini comic-book rather well – although we thank Kelly for calling it "amazing".

It's amazing to us in a different way – we didn't envision that we could produce a more than decent book out of something that was started on a whim two years ago.

Perfect World Saga

You have decided to crowdfund this project. How will the funding be used?

We have structured this crowdfunding differently from most others. Usually, such campaigns for comics aim to raise funds to print the book. But it takes time to develop the story and produce the art.

We don't want to start crowdfunding only when we are close to printing. We want to start it now and get backers on the project as early as possible.

But crowdfunding is new to us and we don't know for sure what would work. So the entire process of getting the campaign together and putting it out there has been enlightening. It has helped us give shape to our ideas, sort out the great from the good, and in general, forced us to sharpen our focus.

The target amount is a very humble SGD1,000, which is perplexing to those who are accustomed to crowdfunding. But with a per pledge amount as low as SGD5 with no rewards promised, if we manage to hit our target, we are looking at 200 people who are willing to part with their cash to show faith in our project, and that, to us, is a true test of the appeal of Perfect World Saga.

What surprised us is the number of SGD50 and SGD100 pledges we received. We did offer original hand-drawn postcards and personalised caricatures respectively for these amounts, but some of the backers chose not to receive any rewards. This is pure encouragement and it has actually made us even more committed to deliver an awesome graphic novel.

Perfect World Saga

What do your backers find attractive about this project?

In general, sci-fi action is a popular genre. With the publication of "Perfect World Today", our backers are probably assured of our ability to deliver. But I think the most attractive thing about this project is the promise. We have already hinted that Perfect World Saga is going to take a different turn from "Perfect World Today", so we hope this means that our backers are keen to learn what happens after.

What are the incentives for those who back this project?

We wanted to keep it simple and offered 4 reward tiers. Well, 3 rewards to be accurate, because the first tier of SGD5 is pure donation with no rewards promised.

A pledge of SGD10 offers the first 2 chapters of "Prefect World Saga" in digital format plus the 3-chapter backstory "White Nights", also in digital format.

As mentioned earlier, the SGD50 pledge gets an original hand-drawn postcard, on top of the digital comics; and the SGD100 pledge get a personalised caricature, on top of the digital comics.

In addition, if the pledgers are in Singapore, we are giving them the printed copy of "Perfect World Today" as a token of our gratitude for their support!

What are your respective roles in the creative production?

James is the artist, while Franken Doll cannot even doodle to save her life. Franken Doll, on the other hand, can put words together in grammatically correct and yet interesting sentences. So that's the basic division in labour.

The story is developed collaboratively in brainstorming sessions. James is the action dude, while Franken Doll is a sci-fi geek at heart. Both love robots and the Terminator series, but Perfect World Saga is definitely not Skynet 2.

Any challenges you faced during this journey?

Are you kidding? Yes! Many! And that's the joy of it. Meeting challenges and overcoming them is like the sharpening of knives. It will help us to deliver a sharper end product that our backers would hopefully enjoy.

What is this project leading to in the future? What can readers expect?

The schedule we have set for ourselves is to deliver 2 chapters per quarter starting from 2016, with a total of 12 chapters to complete Perfect World Saga.

As you can understand, this is not our rice-bowl. We have day jobs, and so we want to set realistic timelines. We also want to make sure that enough time is given to story development and art production. Though not too much that the project gets stuck in development hell.

The crowdfunding backers help to keep us in check, in that our promise to them to deliver keeps us focused.

If we can help it, our usual brainstorming sessions always result in small side stories that sometimes spin into something bigger. In fact, "Perfect World Today" started out as a small side story spun during one such session.

So what will this project lead to? Hopefully, something unexpected, exciting and fun!