Jamison Stone CEO / Creative Director / Lead Writer at Apotheosis Studios was very generous with his time and allowed me to bombard him and co-creator and illustrator David Granjo with questions about The Last Amazon among other things.
Apotheosis Studios is an Indie Studio responsible for The Last Amazon a post-apocalyptic superhero graphic novel; Shadow of the Moon an illustrated novella and top-down Roguelike Action-Adventure RPG; The Chicano Movement of Colorado, a photo civil rights art book; and The Color of Compassion a diversity documentary; and Fantasy/Sci-Fi novel Rune of the Apprentice
What influenced your overall approach to The Last Amazon?
We knew we didn’t want to make a “typical” novel, comic book, or graphic novel (panel sequencing and bubble reading) but instead wanted to tell a powerfully relevant story from a completely unique, and metamodern technological point of view. We were looking to do something radically different not only in terms of how a superhero story is portrayed but also how art and text are integrated together to convey emotion.
Our initial idea was to portray a superpowered female character through articles and interviews like one might see in a regular magazine or blog, where we meet the cast of characters and the world they live in, organically, as if the reader was browsing the internet. But during our creative process, we kept being inspired by video games and other forms of interactive media, and we decided that instead of a standard internet perspective, we wanted our story to be more engaging as if the reader was actively embroiled in a situation of the highest stakes of corporate espionage, artificial intelligence, and worldwide domination conspiracy.
To achieve this, we employed a dynamic interplay of social media, computer hacking, secret government files, action scenes, emotive conversations through surveillance systems, and many other forms of user interfaces as our medium for storytelling. This allowed our book to be not only substantive but feel very deep and exciting through both the visual art and writing, too.
How did you decide upon the foundational elements and can you explain a little bit about the metamodern reading experience?
Art, from our viewpoint, is about inspiration—about inspiring the viewer to think about their life and the world in a new, and hopefully, transformative way. Our “postmodern” or contemporary culture, however, is inundated with so much entertainment, that it is easy for people to become numb to what they are viewing and how it makes them feel (or lack thereof.) To combat this, our metamodern approach is to present our art in such a way that is has a “shock and awe” factor which breaks through a contemporary viewer’s jaded defense mechanism of apathy and disinterest, thereby allowing the reader to actually be open to the message behind the art.
We have absolute sincerity regarding the ideology behind our work, however, to combat the postmodern apathy, we have chosen to present our ideas through an extravagant medium with over the top elements to break through to the reader. We juxtapose the intense themes of The Last Amazon’s very real threat of nuclear apocalypse and imminent Artificial Intelligence singularity with outlandish themes and images of materialism, hypersexualization, and social media shallowness—all things, which are very prevalent in society today and arguably the root causes of our society’s current state. Although our artistic approach may seem ironic, our characters, the choices they make, and the realizations they come to, are 100% authentic, despite their sensationalized setting. What this does is forces the reader to unexpectedly feel the emotion they would have originally felt had they taken our characters seriously from the beginning. This realization on behalf of the reader comes as a surprise, however, giving it a much deeper added value than if it had been originally expected.
Inspired by metamodern philosophy, we have used an ironic and seemingly insincere approach (hypersexualized killer robots) to communicate something absolutely serious—inequality, corruption, and the looming threat of humanity’s self-inflicted annihilation, both though nuclear weapons and/or mismanaged malevolent Artificial Intelligence. Ultimately, we wanted to create art which people originally thought was designed to numb the mind and titillate the senses, but instead, penetrates into the reader’s heart on a much deeper level than they ever thought possible—actually making them feel something. Lastly, we have attempted to use people’s hypersexualization against them; originally it seems like our story is trivial and should not be taken seriously, but when you actually read the book, the story turns out to be unexpectedly emotive and its deeper themes are then impossible to ignore.
I love that you cast real people for the main characters. How did this unique concept come about?
Among other things, we use a photorealistic art technique called photo bashing, where we use the texture information from real photos to incorporate real-life elements into our illustrations. We do this most often with faces but have many real-life elements in our story to make the art as believable as possible. We do this, in part, to combat “the uncanny valley,” a common feeling of repulsion people experience when humanoid objects closely resemble humans in many respects but are not quite convincingly realistic.
From a non-technical perspective, Danni Winters, our main character for The Last Amazon was inspired by Lauren Drain, a real-life fitness model famous on Instagram and beyond. Lauren Drain perfectly encapsulates the metamodern experience (though we have a feeling she does so intuitively versus intentionally.) When people first look at Lauren, they see her stunning figure and Instagram fame—it’s hard to miss. But beneath that, Lauren, her story, and her message are all incredibly deep and multifaceted. Therein is Lauren’s true power to affect change and why we personally believe she is so popular.
Lauren is a former member of the Westboro Baptist Church and wrote a New York Times Bestselling book called Banished, which chronicles her experiences and eventual banishment from the church for challenging its hate-filled doctrine. Additionally, after Lauren chose to leave her former bigoted community (which included her friends and family) she was a practicing nurse for 9 years while she dealt with the body image issues the church had imposed upon her during her traumatic time there.
Lauren now uses her outward appearance, that of a profoundly self-empowered fitness model, to break through people’s cynicism so they actually hear her deeper message. Her goal is to inspire and enable those she comes into contact with to be able to fully love themselves. This requires that they develop the courage to break free of the things which hold them back and keep them locked into a cycle of fear and self-loathing—exactly what she needed to do when she left the Westboro Baptist Church and then, eventually, regained her sense of self. In our opinion, this is extremely powerful stuff.
Please explain the difference between those living in the Azureus Islands versus those living in the wasteland?
In The Last Amazon, our worst nuclear nightmare has become a reality and there are only a handful of defendable pockets of civilization left on our planet. Other than Denver, the vast majority of these are island strongholds, able to defend their borders via clear-cut coastal boundaries. The strongest of which is the former Hawaiian Islands, which have been rebranded as “The Azureus Islands” by Lockbae Monstlé, a strategic corporate alliance between senior bioengineering and military weapon manufacturing executives.
Ultimately, the people from the Azureus Islands are the 1% of the world population that lives in “paradise” despite the horrible tragedy ravaging the rest of the human race. They have all the technology of our current contemporary society, with several advantages, as well. Despite this, they do not share their technology, except for renting out their military to protect all other remainings nations except for the last vestige of American Government in Denver who refuse their help, claiming Lockbae Monstlé had a hand to play in our shared nuclear holocaust. Despite their so-called aid, Lockbae Monstlé cares very little for anyone who does not live on the Azureus Islands, which is in stark contrast to the Denver Denizens who have an open door policy for whoever agrees to abide by their laws.
What can you tell me about your collaborative process with artist David Granjo and Carlos Andres' Osorio Cardona?
We are proud to say that The Last Amazon was created by an international team living on different continents. Author Jamison Stone lives in Boulder, CO and illustrator David Granjo lives in Dijon, France. Our independent creative studio, called Apotheosis Studios, uses Google Docs and the gamer chat platform Discord to work both “side by side” and “in tandem” every day. We are able to do this with Discord’s screen sharing feature and multiple chat channels dedicated to different aspects of our various projects.
This enables our team, which also includes artist Carlos Cardona, located in Colombia, and our various models, editors, writers, and other international members, to all work together despite our many different time zones. We joke that our studio is never dormant, but alive around the clock because while some of us are sleeping, others are hard at work no matter what time it is.
Is there a tie-in of The Last Amazon to that of Rune of the Apprentice?
Yes! Rune of the Apprentice, Jamison Stone’s first novel, presents us with a world of amazing mysteries and fascinating characters, but it is within The Last Amazon that we learn how that world was originally created and then evolved and morphed into the setting that so many readers have come to love. Rune of the Apprentice takes place very far in the future, in a setting where biology and technology have merged, and the few who can control Runes—the super advanced technology of that world—hold dominance over all of creation. The Last Amazon series is a prequel to The Rune Chronicles and describes how, upon the ashes of 2025’s nuclear holocaust, the fantastic technologies of “Runes” are eventually created. To learn more please visit www.RuneOfTheApprentice.com
Who are your comic/graphic novel heroes and influences and are there any current creators whose work you follow?
A substantial influence for The Last Amazon was Dan Luvisi, the creator of the book, Last Man Standing. Although we had other influences such as magazines, movies, and most importantly video games, Luvisi’s Last Man Standing was the book that told us, “Yes, you can tell a story in a completely unconventional way—and it works!” Luvisi’s art set our creativity free, and from there it was really exciting to see the story of The Last Amazon unfold into the epic journey that it is today.
What aspects of comics/graphic novel history do you find most interesting?
As a writer/illustrator team, one of the themes that we found really interesting in sequential storytelling (art books / graphic novels) is how an image can be used to augment text to enhance the reader's’ overall experience. Of course, David, the illustrator, believes that an image can be used to convey more emotion than words in a story, while Jamison, the writer, on the other hand, feels its vice versa. Luckily for our readers, by working together, David and Jamison, through a skillful combination of both narrative and visuals, have created a story which captivates a contemporary audience quite well. Future work by Apotheosis Studios will only enhance this combination and we are most excited about breaking into fully interactive media which incorporates player agency and choice.
In looking at your body of work to date, you seem to be especially drawn to heroic female characters. I'm all for this and was wondering if it is by design?
As an artist, David has always been drawn to portray strong female characters and states that his wife is his greatest influence in this regard. While this started with superheroes, as David’s artistic style evolved, it began to include the various landscapes these heroines lived in. With the influence of hypothetical high tech near-futures and post-apocalyptic settings found within our current culture of movies and games, David felt that mixing those different themes into one book about a female superhero leaving on a post-WWIII tropical Island with both amazingly beautiful and horrific landscapes would be a great combo.
In the vein of strong female main characters, our next graphic novel, entitled Shadow of the Moon, features a wonderfully complex heroine who is on a psychologically mind-bending, and battle-filled adventure. Possessing all full-page illustrations, the story is set in the contemporary timeline of Rune of the Apprentice and possesses a truly outstanding art direction that we are deeply proud of. To learn more about and support that project please go to https://www.patreon.com/ApotheosisStudios
Is there anything you would like to tell readers?
We hope that readers of The Last Amazon will be inspired to not allow our society to reach the post-apocalyptic state found in our story. Ultimately, that readers will be inspired to make different life choices so that we don’t wind up in a nuclear holocaust. Additionally, after seeing how Artificial Intelligence unfolds in our story, we hope that people treat this potential new form of life with respect and compassion so that it may develop into a healthy cohabitant on our planet and solar system—instead of the end of organic life as we know it.
From a technical storytelling perspective, we hope readers of The Last Amazon have the experience of being wowed by a totally unique and different perspective on how narrative and character development can be presented. In our case for The Last Amazon, this means moving away from the conventional methods in which books and comics tell a story, which is something we have grown very accustomed to—and in many cases, very tired of.
Lastly, we hope that readers, if they are an artist or storyteller, feel inspired to keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible in various forms of expressive art forms so that we can continue to collectively evolve the medium of storytelling at large. To learn more about our art and support our studio please visit https://www.patreon.com/ApotheosisStudios