Mind Meld With Pilgrim’s Dirge’s Toben Racicot!

He’s not just a letterer, but also a writer as well and today Toben Racicot comes to the Mind Meld to talk about his upcoming project, Pilgrim’s Dirge!

1. Hello there, and welcome to the Mind Meld here at IndieComiX! For those who may not be aware of you and what it is you do, could you tell us a bit about what it is you do?

Of course! Most comic readers would mostly likely have seen me as a letterer on titles like Beastlands, Slightly Exaggerated, Sidequest, Leaders of the Free World, and many others. Aside from lettering, I write Crown & Anchor, a Sci-Fi Maritime adventure comic that my wife, Alaire, illustrates. This year I ran a campaign for Emulator #1, a family drama comic that explores nostalgia through video games.

2. How’s the reception been towards Emulator given the audience its aimed at?

I’ll be honest, I was a bit disheartened at the Kickstarter results. I was hoping for at least double that many backers, so closer to one hundred. That being said, it’s funded. It’s real. It’s at the printers now, so at the end of the day that’s all I can really hope for—for the thing that I’ve created to get into the hands of someone. Hopefully this issue brings in some more readers and issue two has better results. As for those who have read it, the response has been positive. There’s a scene where Calvin finishes eating his dinner and instead of watching the rest of the ballgame with his dad, Victor, he asks to continue playing games with his friends. After Calvin leaves his dad slumps on the sofa and lets out a saddened expression about how distant the two have become. An advance reader, who is a father, read it and messaged me expressing how much reading that panel hurt him.

And so much of the credit is due to Emiliana Pinna and Tankitha Joy. The way Emiliana framed Victor in the panel and Tank’s sombre colors, it’s perfect. Masterful comic creators I’m working with. I’m excited to hear back from more readers when they get issue one in their hands.

3. Speaking of campaigns, you’ve got a new one coming up for a title of yours called Pilgrim’s Dirge, what can you tell us about that?

Of course! Pilgrim’s Dirge has been really fun to put together and I’m really excited for the Kickstarter. It’s more Science Fiction, you could say Emulator is Science Fiction, but it was actually written with superhero archetypes in mind, Pilgrim’s Dirge has been space-entered from the get-go. The story came from a time when I took a semester off from university and gave up playing Destiny, so I was really craving some Science Fiction content. And, in similar cases, I just create the thing that I want. During many chats with Alaire, we weren’t married yet, but we’d do work calls and such, we put together this broken solar system. I grew up in Canada where Winter lasted from October to May every year. The cold does something to you mentally, so that’s where I wanted to start the series and then go planet hopping and adventuring around.

Pilgrim’s Dirge is about Orin Daniels, a deserter from C.O.R.E. (Celestial Orbit Reparation Effort) whose stranded on Earth, collecting scrap to cash in for enough money to get back to his family on Ganymede. During his adventure I explore themes of loneliness, fear, and responsibility. He meets some fun aliens—space frost-crabs—and what I’m most excited for, Matteo Leoni, who is a powerhouse of an artist, to draw are the forthcoming mech fights. Stay tuned for that.

Despite the genre, the heart of the story is a quest, akin to Arthurian Legend, there’s a sprinkle of Treasure Planet also, readers of issue one will see that. What I like about quests is that no matter the outward goal, the characters learn and develop something about themselves internally. Orin has to learn something about Orin, something that 3 years on a frozen Earth hasn’t taught him yet. And the irony of him unable to flee from the site of what happened with C.O.R.E. has completely stunted his emotional development and running away, or escaping, however you look at it, actually frees him to confront what happened and deal with it. Pilgrim’s Dirge is five issues, beginning, middle, and end. I hope readers take a chance on it and come along for the ride.

4. And will it be going through a publisher or self-published?

Pilgrim’s Dirge, like all my books will be self-published. When a few more issues of Emulator and Pilgrim’s Dirge are out, I’ll reach out to some publishers. For now, Kickstarter works great for what I need, which is to build readership and my audience.

5. Aside from yourself as the writer/letterer and artist Matteo Leoni, who else is involved in the creation of Pilgrim’s Dirge and how did that come to be?

Twitter was what I used to find Matteo for Pilgrim’s Dirge and Emiliana on Emulator. Both amazing artists. The colorist I have on Pilgrim’s Dirge is Martina Bonanni who colors a bunch of stuff, but I know her because she colors Sidequest, which I letter. She is a fantastic colorist, she’s super easy to work with, and she goes above and beyond on the pages.

6. C.O.R.E. is hinted at in the first issue as not exactly being on the side of the Angels, what can you tell us about them? Or is that something you intend for readers to find out through out the story’s run?

Great question. C.O.R.E.’s mission is trying to restore the standard planetary orbits which were all messed up because of the cataclysm—you will learn more about that in later issues. C.O.R.E. overall is a good organization, well intentioned, the reason they are oppositional or antagonistic in issue one is because of what happened between then and Orin to cause him to desert from the military side of things—and readers will learn exactly what happened as the story goes along.

7. Speaking of runs, how far do you intend to take Pilgrim’s Dirge?

Pilgrim’s Dirge is a full five issue story. We will Kickstart each issue and hopefully get through all of them to do a nice collected edition, maybe a hardcover, that’d be snazzy on the shelf!

8. As we see in the beginning pages of Pilgrim’s Dirge, Orin’s dealing with a few hairy problems out in the cold wilderness, are they your take on the Wendigo Legend? As thanks to Marvel’s take on the Legend, I’m honestly reminded a lot of them.

I love this interpretation of these creatures and I’m sad I have to answer and ruin your vision of them because I love it. The design philosophy of the Exsords was basically “Space Vampire”. I was reading Rasputin from Image Comics and loved the imagery of a long hair man in like a fur coat but from space on a frozen Earth. Collaborating with Matteo Leoni, he took it more into the realm of Halo where they almost look a bit like Covenant Elites, which I love. And what’s important to notice is that in issue one, they do speak, but Orin cannot understand them. So they aren’t just mindless beasts, they have culture, language, and identity, but I play with the idea of Ender’s Game where, and this is paraphrasing, “if we can’t understand what they say how are we sure they aren’t trying to kill us”.

So, sorry, it’s not based in legend, but I do love that interpretation, and if you want to hold that as valid, please do! That’s why I love stories, I’m offering up a perspective, but readers place their own onto it.

9. Hey, no worries, you haven’t ruined anything! There’s clearly a few influences that helped shape Pilgrim’s Dirge, do you think those will help readers enjoy the story more?

That’s a great question. Much of what influenced the story came from being in Sci-Fi video game worlds like Mass Effect, Destiny, and Halo. What I take into Pilgrim’s Dirge is unique takes on alien races, giving the planets some new personality, and the feeling of being in a cold and lonely place, which I feel is common in Halo and Destiny (even though Destiny is more MMO, it still felt lonely sometimes). Hopefully people who’ve played those games will recognize some of the points of immersion I’m trying to match, but beyond that, the story isn’t really influenced by the narratives of those games.

10. Orin’s flippant attitude on the outside, at least when dealing with Exsords, is a stark contrast to his internal attitude, which is a lot more serious. Would you say that’s perhaps inspired by Spider-Man or completely not the case?

That’s a great analysis. I don’t think I ever had that thought when creating that side of his personality, but I agree that it’s very much in that same vein. Orin uses his humour as a coping mechanism. I wouldn’t call it optimism, but a joviality that comes form isolation. He doesn’t really talk to people, so in his head he’s created an understanding of Exsords and how they work. So he’s talking, not to monsters, but almost to neighbours that he’s seen but doesn’t know their names. It’s a way to personalize them, which reduces their threat… Even though it doesn’t really work.

11. For you, personally, how has the Pandemic effected you? And what do you think could have been done differently to handle the situation?

Honestly, and I feel bad about this sometimes, the pandemic really hasn’t affect me. Working from home, as a writer and letterer, was already the main activity. We had a decent food storage that got us through the beginning craziness, but it really wasn’t too bad. We could go for walks, I wrote a lot last year, and finished some video games: Divinity Original Sin 2, Borderlands 3, Pillars of Eternity—I know, I’m playing like 3 year old games, more for Pillars, but these games are HUGE! Early on, Alaire and I tried learning Japanese, that dropped off fast and then we moved onto other hobbies. I’ve started cooking more new recipes, and baking new things too, I found an AMAZING chocolate chip cookie recipe, and as someone who doesn’t really like chocolate, that’s saying a lot.

To better prepare…I guess just having in my head that it would actually take this long. So the early lockdowns and stuff were hard to hear, but I thought this would be over in a month or two, having never experienced a pandemic before. Glad to see that we’re on the up and up though.

12. Print vs. Digital, which is more your preference when it comes to comics?

I go back and forth. I really like trade paperbacks, especially the production quality of Image Comics. But I do end up reading most digitally because it’s so easy and accessible. I also find that I don’t have a good enough lamp or lighting or read physicals. The last big read I did was of Fullmetal Alchemist and I read that beside my big living room window. That was perfect. I’m also really protective of my print books, like I have hardcovers that I don’t even open because I don’t want them ruined, so realizing that, it’s easier to just read digital—takes up less space and won’t get all cheese or whatever.

13. Are there any future plans for Pilgrim’s Dirge beyond the 5 issue series?

Nothing at the moment. It’s intended for five issues and hopefully with successful Kickstarters we can make it there.

14. As for my final question, what advice would you give to those looking to get into the Industry?

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the person to ask about this, and what thoughts I have are not so much about getting into the industry, more just a work ethic: comics are a collaborative art form. Realize that working with others means they are going to bring their vision to a project as well, that’s the beauty of comics. Enjoy that process and roll with the punches. Writers, take a look at your script when the artwork comes in before sending the script to the letterer. What does the art say that can be taken out of the lettering. Also, writers, when writing SFX for the letterers use a tag like: SFX [Glass}: KRRSH! to give the letterer an original and intention for the sound. They will be very grateful for this. And that’s all I have for you.

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me!

Editor’s Note: It was my absolute pleasure! Folks, stay tuned to PilgrimsDirge.com for the Kickstarter coming soon to a screen near you!