What was the original spark that ignited the ideas for LUMINAE?
Bengal: Well, back then I was just done with drawing the Naja series, and in the meantime I thought I wanted to learn more about the construction of a scenario, by experimenting by myself. I had in the bag 2 projects : a long time favorite personal SF project, and this idea for a fantasy book that could last as long as I want, in the spirit of Shounen manga. I eventually chose to go with the fantasy one. First because the pace I had in mind for it, and all the possible developments, made me very excited to do it. Second, because my SF project would demand a huge preparation and design work and I was simply not ready to launch it at the time.
This is your first long-form project as both illustrator and author – did that make the creative process simpler or more challenging?
B: It made it simpler… or at least that’s how it felt. But now, after a couple years since I finished it, I realize it felt easier because, well, I could take shortcuts, confident that since the story was in my head, I wouldn’t need to prepare too much. Big mistake! Now I see ways the book could have been made clearer, maybe with less characters. Writer is a real job!
The visual direction of the world, characters, and creatures is a fresh mix of both classic medieval and high fantasy, with elements borrowed from both East and West. What were your biggest influences when designing this universe?
B: I more or less went with memories I had from fantasy-ish series I loved when I was a kid (Record of Lodoss War, Bastard!, Dungeons & Dragons, also awesome movies like Ninja Scroll… and even Samurai Pizza Cats), and the intention to have characters leveling up just like in a good old RPG, like Final Fantasy 6! Flavor this all up with a Shounen type of storytelling (which, within the format of a European book, is not the easiest, sadly). Shake, serve.
The structure of this story is quite unique in that it introduces the world and cast of characters in the midst of dilemma, recovering from an attack the night before and the disappearance of one of their own. Did you have a larger story in mind with events you wanted to tell before page one, or was this starting point part of your original inspiration?
B: There is a MUCH MUCH larger plot at work, and this first story was supposed to be an introduction – in the spirit of a manga series, it was agreed with the publisher that I could dare take a lot of pages for a simple introduction. Sadly, I was cut off right at the end of it. The actual bad guy, the arch nemesis, the big boss appears only… in the very last panel.
But aside from that, I chose to carefully set the reader loose right from the start. Beginning the story in the middle of a conflict, with several characters, with events unexplained: I wanted to let the readers be a bit confused, as my heroines are. Lost, weakened, in need to learn more: that’s where the characters are at when we start, and so I wanted the readers to be there too. The idea was to ‘help’ everyone (heroines & readers) understand more as the story goes. It was tricky, I’ll acknowledge that, plus I’m not a seasoned writer, so I know some people may find it confusing at first. But it was fun to do, and I had to try that rather than a lukewarm linear plot.
The guardians of Luminae are a very diverse, yet very-well personified, collection of female warriors. They are not only quite distinct from each other visually, but their personalities are quite complementary as well. Did you have particular archetypes or references in mind when developing this cast?
B: Well, as mentioned above, I wanted it to be along the lines of the fantasy stuff I watched as a kid. I wanted to have a warrior, a wizard, an archer, a healer, etc — not to pretend to do traditional heroic fantasy (which Luminae isn’t), but because it’s a synergy that just works well. It allows you to alternate the importance of the characters, it gives diversity to the story — and as I had planned to make them all ‘level up’ (gaining new powers, new transformations, new weapons, etc), I knew I would have played with the balance (or lack thereof sometimes) between the girls all along the series. That much was very clear in my mind.
Despite its length of 160 pages (originally released as two 80 page volumes), there is clearly a much larger world left for these characters to explore, and the introduction of a new guardian at the end begs the question: will there be more tales set in this universe someday?
B: There was going to be. Books 3 and 4 were almost already written and I was ready to start. Now, even though it was originally cancelled a while ago and I had to turn towards other jobs, I would happily consider writing more if a motivated and capable artist wanted to draw the rest!