Thanks to the Internet, web comics are unlimited. Publishing comics has become easier, and I personally read a bunch of different series weekly. One I was introduced to recently was Æthernaut. Author Neal Skorpen contacted me through the Minnesota Comics Creators Facebook group, and I was immediately interested: astronomy is a science that I find completely enthralling because of how much we know and how much is unknown. I slowly immersed myself in Æthernaut, which is wildly different from our world. Briefly, its world accepts inaccurate theories of physics to be true. For example, Kepler’s Law (the theory of there being six planets) is true in Æthernaut. Lemuel is a destined explorer, while Denumar is a trickster, a thief, and always up to mischief. I’ll let Neal explain it from there.Mariah Kaercher (TCG): Browsing through Æthernaut, I got a Charles Dickens meets Pirates of the Caribbean space-adventure vibe. What inspired you to write this web comic?
Neal Skorpen: The world and main characters of Æthernaut were inspired by weird post-medieval art: engravings and drawings that have a dreamlike feel because linear perspective wasn’t quite figured out. The clothes are bizarre and awkward compared to the more familiar costumes of the deep Middle Ages or the 17th and 18th centuries. The first draft of the story was modeled on Gulliver’s Travels; four voyages to strange places, each one a metaphorical attack on one social injustice or another. In the years between making the first draft and beginning the current version, I’ve become less of a believer in such direct political satire, at least in my own practice. To a certain extent I can probably never get away from injecting social commentary, but a good story needs to be driven by the characters, so that’s become my focus.TCG: Personally I loved Denumar as a character along with the lunar hounds, but what was your favorite character to draw or write about?
Neal: Denumar was the first Æthernaut character I created, and he’s kind of the germ that spawned the whole thing. He’s definitely a lot of fun to write and draw. I also love strange creatures; more of those will be coming. I think the character that feels the most alive to me is Commodore DePizan. She hasn’t had a lot to do just yet, but her role will get bigger. I’ve got big plans for several characters who have been very peripheral so far.
TCG: Besides basing Æthernaut off of Kepler’s solar system, what other inaccurate laws did you include in the story?
Neal: Kepler’s solar system is the most concrete and historically accurate variation on physical laws. The concept of aether in my story is more generally lifted out of history and molded to facilitate interplanetary travel. But also, there is no gravity. Things stay on planetary surfaces due to the concept of hierarchy of place (I think from Aristotle); water runs off land, air floats above, aether above air, and so on. People and such belong on planets, so will fall toward the surface of the nearest one. At a point halfway between the earth and the moon, an Earthling would fall in a diagonal line, being pulled both toward Earth and toward Hell at the base of the aether by the weight of their sins.
TCG: Will there ever become a printed version of Æthernaut sometime soon?
Neal: I do plan to release printed books as I complete chapters of Æthernaut. It’s going to be several months before I get to the end of “The First Voyage”—being a stay-at-home dad with a toddler doesn’t allow much time to draw, unfortunately. But any progress is better than none. I work on it as I can every day.
TCG: Besides Æthernaut, how else do you spend your free time? Do you have any other comics that you write for?
Neal: Æthernaut is my only regular project currently. Before starting it in 2012 I drew two other web comics that have since been collected as graphic novels, The Introvert Manifesto and Island of the Moths. I also try to do one or two 24-hour comics each year. Links to all that and some other stuff are at nealskorpen.com.
TCG: If you could visit any planet in the solar system, which one would it be and why?
Neal: One planet? That’s a tough call. I’d love to see Saturn’s sky full of rings, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to actually walk on the surface of another world . . . so I’d go with Venus, since it’s still more mysterious than Mars or Mercury.