Commander Rao is a woman of legend. Embittered from a decades long war, she takes it upon herself to kill the despotic Baron Klaus. Though, legends tend to be vague on the whys. The woman behind the legend is another mystery, one explored in this exciting, sci-fi dystopian action comic by Fell Hound on Kickstarter.
Fell Hound, a queer Asian-Canadian artist, brings the grim wages of war through bold line work and vibrant colors. Each page is limited in detail and letters, yet the striking simplicity mirrors the razor focus of Commander Rao’s mission. I get the distinct sense of the John Wick style of action as described in the Kickstarter: we follow Commander Rao on the battlefield to her single-minded purpose as we might follow John room to room on his ass-kicking journey.
Lettersquids contributes some truly epic word balloons and sound effect fonts to the action-centered preview pages that so mimic their environment, you don’t need to see to know exactly what’s happening. How the pair manage to communicate so much with so little on page is astounding. And these are just the preview pages.
I interviewed Fell Hound to chat inspiration, warfare, and more. Check it out below!
Malissa White: Commander Rao follows an embittered soldier who, after a decade of war, decides to kill the despotic Baron herself. Can you expand on the plot and the woman behind the legend?
Fell Hound: Commander Rao’s backstory is actually one of the core mysteries we will uncover in the book, so it’s a little hard to expand without treading onto spoiler territory, but I shall do my best!
As a rogue soldier, Rao has her own motives to pursue outside of just “winning the war”. She’s a soldier who’s been worn down by an incredible grief and embittered by the apathy of those around her. The Baron holds something she’s looking for, and so she sets out on this one-woman rampage to get the answers and peace of mind she’s been seeking all this time. At the end of the day there is only one goal that matters to Rao, and she would stop at nothing to get it, one way or another.
MW: Commander Rao is described as a “unique, cinematic action comic with a focus on flow and dynamism” inspired by fight scenes. How does the story use visual storytelling to develop Rao and her character? How do you feel limited dialogue enhances that dynamism?
FH: I wanted to keep the dialogue to a minimum because I felt having to stop and read would slow down the action. During the fight scenes, keeping the movement and kinetic energy high across the panels and the pages was my main priority. I’m not personally a fan of using heavy narration so I opted to tell the story through other cues, like newspaper articles, flashbacks, and visual motifs. While limited, all the dialogue that does exist is important. There is some dialogue when the fighting is over that ties the bow on this narrative as she comes to terms with all that’s transpired.
MW: One of the themes Commander Rao seeks to explore is the “meaningless heroism of warfare.” Can you expand on that?
FH: There’s a saying that goes “war has no winners”. Against the gains and the great, insurmountable losses of human life, is winning a war really something to be proud of?
And that’s one of the questions Commander Rao seeks to ask. In this golden age where heroism is something that’s romanticized, and people hear of Rao and her incredible feat, all they see is the spectacle of it. As Rao’s story is revealed and her motives uncovered, it becomes clear that no matter what Rao does, she has already lost. Rao’s whole journey now is just finding a way to cope with it.
MW: Dystopian settings are particularly nascent. What about dystopian themes resonates with you? Why did you choose this setting for the story?
FH: To be quite honest I decided to go with the “dystopian war” genre because I’ve always been fascinated by WW1/WW2 stories. Movies like Saving Private Ryan, 1917, Hacksaw Ridge, etc…there’s this blend of action, tragedy, camaraderie, and nostalgia which are all things I like in my stories. The only thing I wish there was more of was a female action lead.
Which is why I decided to create my own dystopian-WW2-adjacent worlds to capture all that I love about old war movies, without the worry of adhering to historical accuracy (aka so I can put women in frontline combat roles with a commanding presence).
Visually I tried to play around with the idea that this was a future world stuck to old world ideals. You have futuristic tech like 50ft mechs and rocket boots, but you also have characters dressed after colonial fashion, while the world itself seems to be stuck in a pseudo WW-2 era realm. This is a society that never learned from their terrible past, time after time, and thus the violence is doomed to repeat.
MW: Quite a few cinematic parallels were mentioned in the Kickstarter promotion. What other works, comics and otherwise, inspired Commander Rao?
FH: Commander Rao was inspired by various other characters: Lady Oscar from Rose of Versailles [ROV], Lady Maria from Bloodborne, and Marie Sanson from Innocent Rouge to name a few. Two years ago, I was really into sketching sci-fi soldiers for fun, and I had recently watched Rose of Versailles for the first time and fell in love with it. Doing that gave me the idea to try and design a sci-fi soldier modeled after colonial garb as seen in ROV.
As for the action itself, Legend of Korra and Castlevania were huge influences. There’s also an animator on twitter (@yen_bm) who posts incredibly dynamic animations. A lot of which ended up inspiring the action scenes too. Art wise, my greatest influence after the “cinematic style” was Ash aka Banished Shadow (@BS_artsss). Her art is so gorgeously rendered and stunningly cinematic, 100% art goals right there.
There’s so many other works which inspired Commander Rao. Eternal by Ryan K Lindsay, Eric Zawadzki and Dee Cunniffe is always my go-to for the perfect one-shot formula. JH Williams’ art, especially his work on Batwoman, was a major influence too.
MW: Technological warfare, and warfare using technology, has consistently changed the landscape of modern warfare throughout history for better and worse. How do we see technology used in Commander Rao?
FH: The Baron’s greatest advantage are the two giant mechs he has guarding his manor–their firepower packs a punch but ultimately, they’re also very slow. Rao’s suit is essentially a plain resistance fighter’s uniform that she outfitted with a lot of custom tech to take advantage of this. Using equipment like rocket boots and grappling hooks, she can rely on her speed to outmaneuver the enemy and catch them by surprise. That speed is also what allows her to take on a disproportionate number of enemies all by herself.
MW: Besides an action-packed thrill ride, what are you most excited to share with backers? What inspired you to begin a career in comics? How can fans follow more of your work?
FH: I think the one thing I am most excited for, and I know everyone else is too, is LetterSquids’ lettering! He did such an AMAZING job on those preview pages, not only capturing the feel of the story but also adding so much to the overall design of the book. As art extraordinaire J. Paul Schiek put it, “LetterSquids is an artist’s artist” and I’m dying to see what he will do with the rest.
I’ve always loved storytelling, and I think what drove me to comics is the incredible versatility the medium has. When you have the power of both text and visuals there’s just so much potential to take your storytelling and go nuts with it. I feel like I’m still in this phase where I want to experiment and push my art a little. Last year I made DYBIAA which was a mix of illustrated prose married with comics, Commander Rao is my foray into action storytelling, and my next comic, a one-shot prequel to Commander Rao, will also employ an experimental aspect to tell its story.
At the end of the day, I just want to try new things and see what I like. Hopefully other people will like it too!
I am most active on Twitter (@FellHound_) but if people want to see just my art, I have an Instagram (@fell.hound) and a Tumblr (that I forget to update a lot). And for those who want to read more of my work, I have a gumroad store!
Thank you, Fell Hound, for letting me pick your brain! For those interested in backing this Rao-sing comic, Commander Rao is available on Kickstarter now!
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