Friday, December 14, 2012

Crystal Fractals Q&A: Dino Caruso

Dino Caruso (left) meets former collaborator Kieron O'Gorman
Dino Caruso has almost become synonymous with the Crystal Fractal Universe over the years, having written nearly a half-dozen stories for the company's Crossing series. A veteran of many independent comic projects, Dino recently took the time to chat and answer a few questions about his work, Crystal Fractals' Indiegogo campaign, crowdfunding, his work on The Crossing in addition to what  else he was planned for future issues of the series.

Andrew Ardizzi: Some people might still be unfamiliar with you and your work, despite having your comics appear in a number of great anthologies such as Acts of Violence and Survival Stories, not to mention your work on Against the Wall and with Crystal Fractal Comics. Can you talk a little about your work in comics to this point? 

Dino Caruso: So, my first few experiences with getting my stories "out there" was via self-publishing. I wrote a few stories that were small-scale, personal tales and found some local artists to illustrate them. Those first three comics were Olga, Crossroads and A Cautionary Tale. Then I moved on to a more ambitious project, which was an 80-pager called Against the Wall, illustrated by Shawn Richison.

I then became enamoured with short stories and anthology projects. I had a whole slew of them appear in indie anthologies, published by a variety of publishers. I love all of my anthology stories, because I got to meet a lot of wonderful artists, editors and publishers. I highly recommend anthologies as a way for creators to break into the indie comics scene. Most recently, I've been working on pitches and submissions for creator-owned projects.

AA: What sort of stories do you like to tell, and stylistically how do you construct your stories? Do you have any influences within the industry?
The cover to Caruso's 'Against the Wall.'

DC: The kinds of stories I like to tell? Hmmm...good question, and one I'm having a hard time coming up with an answer for. I like crime stories a lot, and I also like "slice of life" tales that don't have any elements of the strange and fantastic. I like comedy. I love a good superhero story. Science fiction rocks! Romance and straight drama is awesome.

Stylistically, I'm fond of flashbacks and non-linear storytelling. I'm not sure if that's a weakness or not, but I find it such an appealing tool to use. I recently had another writer read an outline of mine, and the advice he gave me was to drop the flashbacks and do it in a linear fashion. It was so non-intuitive for me to approach it like that, but I'm thinking maybe I should try it more often, as it was a very effective way to build up the drama. It's always good to step outside of your comfort zone every now and again I suppose.

I try not to pigeon-hole myself into sticking with any one genre. I suppose, ultimately, I want to tell the kinds of stories that I'd like to read.

AA: Do you have any themes you like to try and explore? What sorts of stories do you try to write?

DC: That's an interesting question and one I was just reflecting on recently. In his book, Story, Robert McKee says that writers often have a theme that they return to again and again over the course of their career. I realize that my projects hardly encompass a "career," but I think there's some validity to McKee's statement when I look at my own stuff.

I tend to write a lot of characters who have difficulty admitting that they need help to achieve a goal. Maybe somewhere deep down in my psyche, I must believe that if you have to ask for help, you're not "good enough." In two of my longer projects, Courage and Against the Wall, the redemption of the main characters involves them acknowledging that they need an assist from a friend (or friends) to achieve their goals.

I also rely on sports as a component of a lot of my stories. I don't think there's any deep message behind that, other than I just happen to like sports a lot, particularly baseball. However, there is much drama to be found in the pursuit of athletic excellence.
Caruso contributed "The Six O'clock Noose"

AA: For the last month, as you know, we've been working on our Indiegogo campaign to complete our Redorik story, a campaign you've been so kind as to donate a collection of your comic work toward. Can you talk a little about the pack itself and what you hope happy donors take away from reading your work?

DC: I was very happy to contribute some comics, and I hope the incentive pack is useful in getting some attention for the fundraiser. The collection contains a variety of projects that I've worked on over the past few years. If you claim this perk, you'll receive Olga, A Cautionary Tale and Crossroads. These are all 20-page comics that I wrote. I've also included Against the Wall, an 80-page original graphic novel by myself and Shawn Richison. And lastly, there's Acts of Violence, an anthology project that features stories by Canadian writers including myself and Ed Brisson (of Comeback fame). And hopefully, readers will be able to see how my writing had progressed from my earliest efforts to Acts of Violence. There's a nice mix of content there, everything from romance to baseball to gritty crime drama. In other words, a little bit of something for everyone!

AA: Well the first of the two comic packs was certainly scooped up quickly! Thank you again for donating a second pack, Dino. As I mentioned though, we're working on our own crowdfunding project. What are your thoughts on crowdfunding as an avenue for indie comics? Is this kind of where the future is heading, and as a creator do you feel that's a positive or negative aspect of the comic book scene moving forward?

DC: I think that crowdfunding is becoming a much more accepted practice, and I definitely see it playing a major role in creative endeavors in the future. Many well known names in comics and film are using it as a means of obtaining money to fund projects -- it's not just a "fringe" thing anymore. I think that any way of getting projects out there that creators are passionate about is a very good thing!

AA: Granted you're not attached to the project, and we've been fairly closely guarded about how much information we disclose as to Redorik/Justin Henderson's role in the greater Crystal Fractal Universe (CFU), but what are your impressions of the first issue and what opportunities do you feel the greater story arc presents?

DC: I think that Howard, Pedro and the editorial team have put together a very strong first issue. There's drama, tension and moments of action and smiles too. I think the mystery aspect of the story is the main appeal. Any time you've got strong creators working on a strong concept, there's bound to be tons of potential to surprise and entertain people. And I can't forget to mention that black and white version of the cover that you guys released on the blog recently. That is truly an awesome piece of work!

I think the main opportunity here is to show how interconnected and intricately-planned the CFU really is. It spans centuries and the connections and degrees-of-separation are really going to be epic when it's all said and done. I think readers deserve the opportunity to see where it's all going.
"The Crossing #1" cover by Alisson Borges

AA: With that in mind, much of where Justin's story is headed hinges on where the rest of the characters that will surround him have been. That's really where you come into the picture with your work on the prequel stories contained inside the "Crossing" books. What can you tell readers about your work inside the first two issues of The Crossing?

DC: Well, the main thing I can tell the readers is that it was a whole lot of fun to work on the first two issues of The Crossing. I had opportunities to play in this amazing sandbox which is the CFU. It's been a ton of fun for me to depict these characters in the younger years and drop some hints and clues about where they're going. I've gotten to write a bit of a mystery story, and some action-y stuff as well. It's been very instructive for me to see how collaborative Derrek is with his creation. He welcomes new ideas and new characters and is incredibly enthusiastic about the CFU. It's really contagious. I kind of think of The Crossing, and its short stories as some amazing snacks that you can have in-between the filling meals which are the longer form stories, such as Redorik and the main Dr. Twilight book. Everyone likes snacks, right? And these particular snacks will go a long way to fleshing out your knowledge of the CFU.   

AA: While you've written a few stories set closer to the 1596 "Crossing" date, where many of the key players have matured, you've also been writing the Magic stories set during the formative years of the universe's major characters, such as Doctor Twilight and Domenico from the Entropy series. What do you enjoy about writing characters like those two figures when they're still developing their powers?

DC: I think the most fun for me is to show that these characters have changed a lot over the years. Their personalities have evolved because of specific events, and it's an amazing opportunity to get to show what those events were. It's not always a straight line of causality when you're talking about a character's motivations. There are twists and turns and emotional conflicts and all kinds of good stuff. And just because a character acts one way when he's an adult, doesn't mean he'll act that same way as a kid. It's kind of like when River Phoenix portrayed Indiana Jones as a young man. There were some inconsistencies there, but that's what made it so delightful. I'm hoping that the same thing applies here. 

AA: What intrigues you about establishing that part of the universe's continuity? 

DC: I'm honoured to have the chance to make my mark. It's a great privilege to be given the keys to someone else's kingdom, and I try really hard to be faithful to the characters. Luckily I've got great collaborators like you and Derrek to set me straight if I veer off course.
Kieron O'Gorman, Dino Caruso, Shawn Smith, Shawn Richison, Derrek Lennox, Andrew Uys, Andrew Ardizzi
AA: You've been a part of Crystal Fractal Comics almost since the beginning. How did you first get involved with the company and with Derrek?

DC: Some years ago I heard that Sam Agro, a good friend and frequent collaborator, was doing some work for a new company called Crystal Fractal Comics. I did a quick search and got in touch with Derrek. I dropped off some copies of my earliest stories to him while he was manning the booth at a comic convention. He responded favourably to a little project I'd written called A Cautionary Tale, and asked if I'd pitch some ideas for short stories set in the CFU. Needless to say, I was thrilled and honoured, and I've been fortunate enough to have a bunch of my stories featured in Dr. Twilight: The Crossing.

AA: What have you enjoyed most about writing inside the CFU?

DC: It's always a pleasure to work with interesting characters and concepts, and the CFU definitely has those! But also, I've found  working with editors to be a very instructive process. I love getting notes back about my stories, because notes can often be the springboard to new ideas and directions. Last summer, I was honoured to be invited to a mini-summit where the future course of the CFU was charted. That was awesome! I love knowing "behind-the-scenes" secrets about the characters and the worlds that only a handful of people know. And it's been a blast hanging out with the Crystal Fractals crew at conventions. I've learned a lot about many aspects of the industry that I never knew before.

AA: Who has been your favourite character to write, and who would you like to write in the future?

DC: Favourite character? Hmmm...I like them all, but at this point, I'd have to say Natanael, especially the young version of him that I tend to work on. He's such a conflicted and multidimensional character.

"The Crossing #2" cover by Jae Korim and Jessie Lam
The character I want to write, and I think I'm going to get my chance before too long, is a fellow that's only appeared in a few panels so far. His name is Shiv (from Alder's Last Call), and he may appear to be a simple thug, but he's actually -- oh, right...I'm not supposed to talk about that yet. Oops.

AA: While much of our focus has been on Redorik as of late, we've gradually also been revealing Daniel Panero Bertucci's artwork for your next installments in the Magic story set to appear in The Crossing #3. What have you been working on, and for readers of your past Crystal Fractals work, what can we expect in next issue of The Crossing?

DC: Well, I've been very busy in my little corner of the CFU. The next issue of The Crossing will contain two stories that I wrote. The first one concludes the tale started in The Crossing #1 (Magic 101) and continued in The Crossing #2 (Magic 001). We get to revisit our friends during their school days and find out how the threat of Father Jorge is resolved. The next story takes place shortly after that first one I just mentioned. It's an action-packed story in which our young heroes do battle with a supernatural threat. We witness the first meeting of Natanael and someone who will turn out to be a major influence in his life, and we also see the beginnings of some tension between the students. I'm really happy with this one. I think it's got a little bit of everything and that CFC fans old and new will really dig it.

AA: Reading the scripts and seeing the art as it comes in has been a real treat and I'm looking forward to the finished comic. Speaking of Daniel though, most of your stories that have appeared inside the pages of The Crossing have been drawn by him. What's it like collaborating with Daniel, and what's it like to see your script come to life in his artwork?

DC: I think that Daniel is a dynamite talent and I feel honoured that I get to have my words brought to life by his artwork. I feel that Daniel improves exponentially with every project that he works on. He's so skilled at showing body language, facial expressions and dynamic action. Daniel is a professional, through and through, and he's also a heck of a nice guy. I had the pleasure of interviewing him for one of my "One Page At A Time" interviews and I got to know him a lot better. I sincerely hope that my association with him continues for a very long time.

Daniel and I have also done some work outside of the Crystal Fractal Universe. Recently, I pitched a bunch of story concepts to Skipper Martin, creator of Bizarre New World, when he was looking for short stories for his anthology series. Skipper was kind enough to greenlight one of my pitches, and Daniel was tapped to illustrate it. Daniel really did a great job on that one. It's called Soar Spot, and there's a preview of it online that you can check out here. Scroll down a bit and you'll find it.
Daniel also provided a pinup for a new project I've (hopefully) got coming out soon. It's called Courage, and believe me, Daniel's contribution was stunning!
Daniel Panero Bertucci's work in "The Crossing #3"

AA: Looking forward, what can Crystal Fractal Comics fans expect inside the pages of The Crossing?

DC: I know I'm biased, but The Crossing is my favourite CFU comic. I love non-linear storytelling, and The Crossing is a place where we get to look into the nooks and crannies of the CFU for brief glimpses that allow for a greater understanding of the big picture. I once referred to it as an anthology book, but Derrek quickly corrected me. It's not a true anthology because the stories contained within aren't at all separate and disparate. They're all parts of the spectrum, but it's being revealed out of order.

I know that's kind of a cryptic answer, but hey...The Crossing is a cryptic kind of book. It's perfect for people who love puzzles and solving them one piece at a time. No spoilers allowed!

AA: Outside your CFC work, what else are you working on? Do you have any releases on the horizon?

DC: Like all comic creators, I have a bunch of projects in various stages of completion, and I love them all. I'm having a lot of fun working with my various collaborators.
Just last month, my first project with Markosia was released. It's a crime/action book called Dark Lies, Darker Truths. The line art is by the amazing Sami Kivela. It's been my very good fortune to partner up with Sami on several projects. He really did an amazing job on this one. I've also got a project called Brunt, that I've dropped a few hints about on my blog on the go. There's some really REALLY good news coming soon about that one.

I've got two completed projects, the aforementioned Courage, and another called Gryfalcon, that are currently being shown to a potential publisher. I'll post any updates about those ones on my blog as soon as it's appropriate.
The cover of "Dark Lies, Darker Truths."
I've got several new projects currently underway. Two of which that I've co-written with my good pal Shawn Richison, and another very personal one that's being illustrated by Cecilia Latella. She's a wonderful Italian artist who's the perfect fit for the content. I'm also putting something together with Wes Bernick, a fine gentleman who illustrated the story I wrote which appeared in Zombies 2 by Accent UK.

The webcomic I co-create with Simon Fernandes has been on a bit of a hiatus lately, but there's more coming soon. And I also contribute interviews to the site I've got a couple coming up soon. One with Sami, and one with my good pal, artist and podcaster Paul Quinn.
There are, of course, some short anthology stories that should be coming out soon, and I'm always working on new material, making notes and trying to come up with something fun!

AA: Is there anything you'd like to say to fans of your work, or to any comic fans out there?

DC: Ummm...sure! I'm very appreciative of the support. It truly means a lot to me, and I encourage everyone to support indie comics at conventionss, on the net,and on the shelves every Wednesday.
We just wanted to say thanks to Dino for taking the time to chat. He's a great writer and you should definitely treat yourself to his work whenever possible. You can find out all you could ever need to know about Mr. Caruso at his website,, and you can also follow him on Twitter. Thanks for checking us out this week, and stay tuned for another Crystal Fractals Q&A next week!

Also, if you'd like to read up on our Indiegogo campaign, or perhaps pick up Dino's comic pack in support of the 96-page graphic novel, Redorik, follow this link to our Indiegogo campaign page. 


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