You don’t necessarily think of Saskatchewan as the home for a comic book based on dinosaurs yet that is exactly the case thanks to writer Brayden Martens.
Originally from Warman, and now based out of Martensville, Martens is the man behind Prehistoria: Age of Dinosaurs as writer amid a rather hectic work schedule. He notes he currently wears a few different hats including as a part-time youth pastor at Bay Park Baptist church in Saskatoon, and also working for a home builder in Warman.
But Martens said he still manages to find time to dedicate to the comic book and trading card series.
“The idea for Prehistoria: Age of Dinosaurs came from my deep love of the movie Jurassic Park,” he told Yorkton This Week. “I had been spending a lot of time dwelling in the different ideas that I had created for other comic books and games. I started to become incredibly depressed, and took a break to watch my favorite movies. It was like the mist in my mind had lifted and the idea became solid. It wasn’t the first idea I had for a comic book series, but it was the first one that really felt right for me in this time.”
But, why did you think the book was worth writing?
“In my lifetime I had always wanted to see a comic book that was dinosaurs, just dinosaurs,” said Martens. “I know that there were those before who had some great comics about dinosaurs, but sadly being in small town Saskatchewan it was difficult to procure these treasures.
“I felt it was time to offer something up a new series that could satisfy the entertainment so many craved, but also the education so many of loved.
“Also, on a personal note, it was worth writing to prove to myself that I could do what had always been told would never happen for me. Being a long-time fan of comics, and having a passion for storytelling it was an overwhelming feeling to be able to add to the hobby I have held for so long.”
Interestingly the writing of the comics has been a rather smooth process for Martens.
“For Prehistoria: Age of Dinosaurs, the writing process is actually fairly straightforward,” he said. “I find my inspiration in stories that I loved, or different scenarios I dreamed up when I was younger. It is actually quite fun figuring ways to incorporate the different dinosaurs and give them a character of their own.
“Inspiration also comes from learning about different dinosaurs. It is often in the education that inspiration comes in waves.”
Martens said he tries to think like a naturalist among the dinosaur when writing the books.
“So for Prehistoria: Age of Dinosaurs I like to attempt to put myself into the shoes of the great David Attenborough,” he said. “The book very much plays out the way a nature documentary on television would.
“Because it is a comic there are elements of the fantastical in it, such as the focus Dinosaur having a name like in our third issue the Gastonia’s name is Old Soldier.
“I try my best to stick as many real life discoveries into the story as possible, so when kids read the information they can go back into the story and see where that played out.”
Martens offered, as “an example of a story is in our first issue the focus Dinosaur is an elder T-rex called The Elderly King. The focus of the story is that he is hunting for a meal, but the chase for something as simple as a meal turns into a drastic fight for survival as things don’t go according to plan, and another hungry predator shows up.”
Martens said creating something that is educational as well as entertaining has been a goal from the outset.
“At the moment, I think the best aspect of our series is how it combines entertainment with education,” he said. “Education is something that is important to both Chris (the artist) and I, so being able to combine that into one book is incredibly satisfying. At the moment our books contain a 24-page story, and then 12 pages of information about the dinosaurs featured in the story. It is the best of both worlds.”
Not that adding the educational element is easy.
“The information I gather for the books is probably the most difficult and time consuming of the entire process,” said Martens.” Most of the information that I gather are from well credited paleontologists and their books, and I do at times look through journals online.
“The reason it is so time consuming is that you have to fact check everything! And then you have to check it again!
“With new discoveries being made all the time, information that was relevant in the 1970’s may have changed in favor of a new theory. Even when looking into where a dinosaur was located can be tricky, as there are some unverified fossils right now that may be of a same certain species in one country as we have here in Canada.
“There are still so many unknowns and new discoveries being made.
“In the end all I can do is make sure I am looking into as many avenues as possible, and attempt to find the most updated for our current period in time.”
For Martens writing the book has also built somewhat on his education.
“I attended Briercrest College in Caronport, and obtained a BA in Humanities during my time of study,” he related. “It involved a lot of history and English courses, which really helped in preparing for writing.”
For the art Martens went looking for someone to assume the role.
Chris Simmonds from Edinburgh, Scotland who studied PGDE Secondary at The University of Edinburgh was the person for the job.
“I actually reached out to Chris through a freelance service online,” said Martens. “I had spoken with some local artists about the project and sadly the majority were already busy or uninterested with taking on the book, which is understandable. Chris’s profile was the first one I looked at when I started to look abroad, and I instantly knew that he was the artist for the job.
“It’s funny, after working together on Prehistoria: Age of Dinosaurs for going on two-years now… we still have never met, nor even spoken to each other over video chat.”
Of course it was Simmonds’ art that was what caught the writer’s attention initially.
“Honestly, I could go on for a long time about Chris’s artwork,” said Martens. “I think, in terms of dinosaurs, it was his attention to detail and his ability to give character to an animal yet still give the creature its dignity. His artwork is incredibly clean, and intensely detailed.
“I had an idea for what I wanted, but when Chris first sent me some of the layouts for issue one he had blown all of expectations away.”
What is the attraction of drawing dinosaurs for the artist?
“I think for a lot of people dinosaurs are one of the first ways we develop a love of history,” said Simmonds via email. “It’s exciting to try and capture that sense of wonder, and an interesting challenge trying to convey emotion in animal characters. These animals have been reimagined so many times in pop culture and scientific studies and its always brilliant fun to bring those thoughts together on the page.”
Martens said he and Simmonds just click.
“I am unsure of the processes Chris goes through, but I am convinced that he is a mind reader,” said Martens. “I have never worked with someone who can take what is written and create the incredible illustrations he does. From step one, Chris has been able to blow my expectations out of the water, and take Prehistoria: Age of Dinosaurs to a level I could have never dreamed.”
But still, what is it like trying to stay on the same page figuratively with an artist half a world away?
“That is a good question,” said Martens. “You know, I actually have to say quite easy. From the moment Chris and I started working with one another it has almost seemed like he can read my mind. I will send a script or an idea for a trading card and he has consistently brought it to life beyond expectation.
“I think whether you are working with someone from a distance or locally, there is a great deal of humility involved. All of us have ideas, and as a team you can bring out the best of each other’s ideas. There are times where Chris or I will have an idea or a different approach and we can freely discuss that with each other, knowing that we will be heard. I really think the key to our success in working together is the creative freedom to try new things with our project as well as understanding that the book is an “ours” thing and not a “mine” thing.
“I can honestly say this book would not be what is without Chris’s incredible talent.
“To be honest, Brayden makes it really easy,” added Simmonds. “He’s a very enthusiastic and genuine guy who is open to collaboration and very understanding when it comes to deadlines so distance really doesn’t make too much of an impact.
“Brayden and I have never even met in person! I tend to work digitally when I ink pages so I don’t need to send hard copies over, which streamlines the process a great deal. It’s pretty clear that for Brayden there is just a joy in making these books, which makes working together really stress free no matter how far away we are from each other.”
Of course with any writing project there are challenges.
“I think that the most challenging aspect that I have personally faced with beginning the journey into comic writing has been patience,” said Martens. “Our world moves at such a rapid pace, and it can be quite easy to feel the need to keep up with it and be producing more than finances can handle.
“In the beginning stages of Prehistoria: Age of Dinosaurs I fell to the temptation of having lots be produced, but the old fable of ‘slow and steady’ is real thing in the indie scene.”
Has being based in Saskatchewan been an added obstacle?
“Saskatchewan is normally not the first place people think of when it comes to the comic book scene,” said Martens. “When I tell people I write comics, I am often met with a lopsided glance or a laugh.
“However, I feel this will pass. Saskatchewan has some amazing talent in the indie comic book scene and I think people’s minds will the more they explore what is out there.”
And ultimately as creator, Martens likes what he has produced.
“Overall, I am very excited with the stories we have created,” he said. “Each issue is a self-contained story, and it gives me the chance to play around with different genres.
“It is also incredibly enjoyable to be able to learn about all these magnificent creatures that once roamed the earth.
“I see this series going on for the foreseeable future, and there are plans to introduce off shoot series that explore other eras of the ancient past such as the Ice Age.
“There hopefully will be more series to come as well, but for those we will have to wait and see.”
Simmonds too likes the project’s results.
“As well as working as an illustrator I am also an art teacher, and I think one of my favourite things about the book is the emphasis Brayden places on accessing younger readers and producing a book that educates a little bit as well as entertains,” he said.
“I am also a really big fan of black and white comics where the drawing and ink work can speak for itself. I like to play with shadows and texture in my work and Brayden’s scripts always allow me to do that. I think overall each book we put out has something for everyone, and it’s a real pleasure putting something like that out into the world.”
The Issues of Prehistoria: Age of Dinosaurs are currently available at The Royal Saskatchewan Museum and Eastend T-Rex Discovery Center, they are also always available at Amazing stories in Saskatoon and Online at www.mistviewmedia.com