Have you been looking for a new fantasy epic in your life? Look no further than THE LAST GOD by writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson, artist Riccardo Federici, colorist Dean White, and letterer Tom Napolitano.
Launching this October from DC's Black Label, this is amature-readers story of "a cross-generational quest to kill an evil tyrant king—also known as the Last God—as he seeks to destroy the land of Cain Anuun."
PKJ was kind enough to do this in-depth interview to talk a little bit about the series, his influences and past projects.
This project is sure to excite fans of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, so make sure you check out the book when it comes out, hope you guys enjoy this chat I shared with PKJ.
COMIC LOUNGE: First off can you talk a little about how you first got into comics as a kid?
PHILLIP KENNEDY JOHNSON: When I was little, my parents were always going to flea markets and garage sales, and sometimes they would bring home a box of second-hand comics that probably cost a dollar or something. The collection grew pretty steadily for a few years, and I ended up with a lot of old Batman, Superman, Spider-Man team-ups, a bunch of other superhero stuff mixed in. There were also a ton of old Gold Key, Whitman and later Gladstone comics, young-readers stuff that included Scrooge McDuck, Huey Dewey and Louie, the Beagle Boys, all the pre-Ducktales stuff. I straight-up taught myself to read with those comics, and I read them to pieces. By the time I started kindergarten I was practically reading like an adult, and it was mostly because of those boxes of ripped-up comics.
COMIC LOUNGE: What were some of your favorite books growing up?
PKJ: My dad read to me a good bit early on, but not the kind of stuff other kids got. Before kindergarten, I remember listening to Mark Twain, Shakespeare, Civil War histories, something about European castle architecture… I think Huckleberry Finn was my favorite back then. When I was old enough to choose my OWN books, I went through a lot of phases: Greek mythology, The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Wars novels, Sherlock Holmes, Poe, Stephen King… a high fantasy phase that included Margaret Weis/Tracy Hickman, Terry Brooks, Ursula K Le Guin, and finally all the Tolkien I could find. I don’t know why it took me so long to discover The Lord of the Rings, but when I finally did, it made a profound impression on me. The Frank Herbert Dune books were in there somewhere too, which remain very important to me.
COMIC LOUNGE: What was your first published comic book?
PKJ: My first printed comic with a comics publisher was LAST SONS OF AMERICA #1 with BOOM! Studios, which hit shelves November 2015. But by then, I’d been self-publishing a weekly webcomic on my website for months, a period horror piece called The Lost Boys of the U-Boat Bremen that I made with horror illustration savant Steve Beach. When I was trying to break into the comics industry, pitching stories to publishers and editors, already having a comic with professional-level art gave me a ton of legitimacy I wouldn’t have had if I had never made a comic before.
COMIC LOUNGE: It was announced recently that you have a new book coming out at DC's Black Label, THE LAST GOD. It's described as a "dark high fantasy", can you talk a little more about it?
PKJ: THE LAST GOD is a comic series I’ve wanted to read for a long, long time: a story that’s equal parts epic fantasy and horror, that goes all-in on both genres. It follows two parallel stories of two fellowships living thirty years apart, both fighting the undead hordes of the God in the Void, the second fellowship forced to redeem the mistakes of the first. Every issue has epic sword-and-sorcery badassery, undead apocalypse survival horror, beautiful Tolkien-esque fantasy worldbuilding, and full-on body horror. The artist is a genius named Riccardo Federici, recently of AQUAMAN and DARK KNIGHTS: METAL, and when readers see what he’s doing on THE LAST GOD, they seriously will not believe a comic can look this good. It is mind-blowing-ly beautiful work, the best of his career.
As a bonus for the lorehounds (like myself) and fantasy fanatics, every issue of THE LAST GOD will contain four to six pages of supplemental material: in-world folktales and histories, maps, poetry, sheet music, anything the hardcore fans could want. Just for the hell of it, I’ve written and recorded original, in-world music that we’ll be posting online in the form of teasers and trailers. The DC offices have their share of D&D superfans, and we know there will be a lot of tabletop gamers reading the book; we want THE LAST GOD to be a dream-come-true for those readers, and for them to have everything they need to build their own campaigns in our world if they want to.
COMIC LOUNGE: Are there any stories that you have used as inspiration for the story?
PKJ: The book I’ve drawn from the most for THE LAST GOD is undoubtedly The Silmarillion. To me, that book is the Old Testament of fantasy worldbuilding, and as I’ve fleshed out the backstory behind the world of Cain Anuun—creation myths, geography, histories and cultures of the races, etc—it’s been at the forefront of my mind. Tolkien’s other Middle Earth books were also hugely influential, the way the different cultures and languages weave together, and the way he incorporates original songs and poems into the narrative. That’s something we’re doing with THE LAST GOD also.
A Song of Ice and Fire was also very inspirational while working on THE LAST GOD… the incredibly realistic, grounded and respectful way Martin treats his fantasy world, the way he incorporates horror elements into it, and his incredibly character-driven storytelling. To me, Tolkien and Martin take the two top spots for the sheer depth of world-building, and I’m pouring the hours into THE LAST GOD making sure the world of Cain Anuun feels as authentic and as rich as Middle Earth and Westeros.
COMIC LOUNGE: Of all genres what drew you to write a fantasy book?
PKJ: Fantasy and horror have always been two of my favorite genres to read or watch, and two genres I’ve always felt should be mashed-up more often. Since breaking into comics, I’ve fantasized (heh) about doing a dark epic fantasy comic series, and I’ve had ideas for what a story like that might look like, but they always felt so incredibly ambitious, I assumed no publisher would ever consider giving me a shot at them. Luckily I found a like-minded editor at DC, Amedeo Turturro, whose love for fantasy literature is unmatched, and who had equally ambitious ideas in mind. I have him to thank for bringing Riccardo Federici on-board as the artist, which completely transformed the project, and his impeccable fantasy-fan and tabletop-gamer cred make his input on the series invaluable.
COMIC LOUNGE: Do you see this having a definitive end at issue 12 or is there room for the story to grow past this initial series?
PKJ: The story we’re telling in The LAST GOD is currently slated for 12 issues, and those 12 issues have a definitive ending, BUT, THE LAST GOD is part of an infinitely larger story called The Fellspyre Chronicles that stretches far into Cain Anuun’s past and future. There are already several arcs that weave through the backstory that could easily become their own series, and more are popping up all the time. If fans want more, believe me, more will come.
COMIC LUNGE: One of your creations, LAST SONS OF AMERICA is being developed over at Netflix. Can you talk a little about that book and what it's like to have one of your books adapted?
PKJ: LAST SONS OF AMERICA is an incredibly personal story to me, and not just because it’s my first published work. It’s a story about infertility and adoption, about human trafficking, about two brothers making up for each other’s inadequacies, told in the style of an Elmore Leonard crime novel. Watching it get developed for film by some insanely talented people—Peter Dinklage starring, Matt Reeves producing, Josh Mond adapting and directing—is about as exciting as it gets, and they’ve been great about keeping me in the loop and asking for input. Anytime your story gets adapted for a different medium, you can expect that story to go through some changes… I try to offer insight into the characters and setting, without getting too precious with every little detail, and they’ve shown a lot of respect for the source material. It’s been a terrific process so far, and I can’t wait to see LAST SONS OF AMERICA brought to life.
COMIC LOUNGE: Are there any other projects you're currently working on that you can talk about?
PKJ: I’m also writing MARVEL ZOMBIES RESPAWN, which should debut the same day as THE LAST GOD#1! My horror muscles are getting a lot of flex these days, and I am loving it. I’m also co-writing an exciting and meaningful comic series with my friend Steve Orlando, which we hope to talk more about later this year, and I’m collaborating with my friend and illustrator Dustin Fearon Mollick on my first children’s book, which should be finished next year. I’m also working on a licensed property I’m really excited about but that hasn’t been announced, so stay tuned for more news coming soon!
COMIC LOUNGE: What do you find most rewarding about writing?
PKJ: Writing gives permanence to my thoughts, beliefs, and emotions that I want to survive when I’m gone. I put a lot of myself and the people I love in my work… I write with the hope that those same people see themselves in my stories, and that they and others take something meaningful from them.