Discover the creator of Children of Xaphan, a man that makes Comic books come ALIVE! GSG Podcast 2022

We chat about the Children of Xaphan, the process of making the comic book come Alive , what's next and so much more. Gsg Video Podcast

Children of Xaphan By Damien Tomaselli, A South African Artist Who Makes Comic Books Come Alive!

GSG PODCAST We sit down with Damien Tomaselli , the man that makes comic books come alive!

We chat about the Children of Xaphan, the process of making the comic book , what’s next and so much more.

What is Children of Xaphan all about?

The comic is a twist on an origin story. The Judaic Christian versions of the origin story as presented in the book of Genesis, is told with absolute certainty and often recounted in a hierarchal and sequential manner that leaves little space for ambiguity, doubt and ethical questions.

Children of Xaphan, approaches the story from a more universal perspective that emphasises the essential humanity of people.

The idea is that scrolls and books which could have been part of Genesis as we know them may have been lost or hidden. In Children of Xaphan, these stories are brought to the surface. The core idea of the first issue centres on the shoulders of the angel of judgement, Archangel Dominic.

Dominic has to navigate the ideological implications of administering divine judgement amidst the natural imperfections of humanity.  The core premise of the story tackles what it means to be human. Dominic starts to learn that ideological doctrine is easier to understand than it is to enact.


The Difference between your work and a general Comic Book

Probably the most obvious answer is that it’s not traditionally illustrated. I used photo manipulation techniques, mostly using Photoshop. Based on the feedback of readers at Comic-Con Africa, 2022 the comics look and feel comes across as a hybrid mash with parallels drawn between video games, photography and someone even mentioned the images look as if they were shot using miniatures. Some also noticed the references to renaissance art and made links to Louis Royo, Julie Bell and Boris Vajello, which is most pleasing to me.

A lot of people don’t understand that it’s a comic book at first glance. The way it is presented and illustrated sets it apart visually. There are no names on the front cover, i.e writer/artist. There is a small logo of Astrolabe Studios and that’s about it. I didn’t want the cover to separate too much from the story. I want the cover to almost act as the first glance of the story in motion. So it doesn’t look or read even as a typical comic. There is also a ton of easter eggs and in general the reader has to work pretty hard to figure things out.

In terms of process some stock was generated using artificial intelligence generators where I did not have adequate photos. I also experimented with AI generator Sudowrite as a soundboard for the writing style. There is also the use of augmented reality as can overlay. this offers and extra depth layer to the fictional world.

In terms of the story itself one point where Children of Xaphan stands apart is to blur the general populist ideas of what is considered as heaven and hell and subsequently the concepts of right and wrong. So much of that typical philosophy and imagery is linked to works such as Dante’s inferno that I feel there may be room for a fresh take on all of it.


What inspired you to create Children of Xaphan?

Ultimately it was the need to be creative. I studied Drama and performance to honours which focused on writing, directing and acting. I then studied video production and I also have a bodybuilding background and was heavily influenced by the fantasy genre as a youth. I also enjoy testing the boundaries of how stories can be told. Children of Xaphan was a way to bring all of the above together in one production.

However to rewind a bit, after studying I took a detour from working as a creative and in order to pay my bills I ended up doing various gigs to pay the rent which all came at the cost of being a creative as this took up all my time and energy. It all came to a head where one morning at 3 am I woke up with this using anxiety that life was passing me by while my creative side was dying. So I sat at my computer for a few hours writing whatever I could on my keyboard in hopes of spilling some sort of story seed. It was less important to me that what I wrote was any good, I just needed to get it out of me.

After many re-workings of those original rambles I eventually ended up with the seed of what would become the Children of Xaphan.

Story-wise I was browsing DeviantArt in about 2005 or so and came across a sketch of an angel dragging a sword through a meadow looking at the mountains beyond. I can’t remember if I made this up or if it was the actual name of the picture but in my head at least, it said, ‘The Last Angel’. I felt that I needed to figure out what that story was.


How long did it take to develop Children of Xaphan?

It’s difficult to answer that because it’s been such an on and off project for so long. The original seed was in 2010. I worked on the original series for the better part of two years scripting and storyboarding before taking the initial photos. Ironically last year when I imported some of the photos for the first time the metadata indicated they were shot exactly ten years ago to the day.

But since being part of VIAD I have been able to focus on the project I’d say about six months of work to get the first issue up. I will have to figure out a new strategy going forward if I am ever going to finish the series.

The process you go through to develop Children of Xaphan?

Firstly it is to find the general idea of a the story. Explore compelling characters which may fit into the universe. Rotate through all of the above until I find a strand that sticks. In this way I don’t choose the story the story choses me. The last question  I ask there is if the story makes me as a creator feel vulnerable. If the answer is no I continue searching.

After that it’s script -storyboard – casting – photography – photoshop – layout. I find that even in the later phases, i.e., Photoshop and layout I am still reworking story elements. From there I work the assets into augmented reality.

Then comes all the fun stuff like paying the printing bill and rushing to get marketing elements for Comic Con.


What can we expect in the future for Children of Xaphan ?

. Comic con was very reassuring to me that is a market for Children of Xaphan and that there are people who want this. I fear the density and complexity of the process may make it difficult to do alone. In terms of story however – it’s just warming up. As Dominic and Layla spend times with humans they start to experience the intricacies of humanity. This does not bode well with some of the other angels. There will be blood

Do you feel like your work could help pave the way or assist newer or for more artist who would like to get into the field.

I never really thought of that before. I have only recently released this work to the broader public and wasn’t sure it would be accepted at all. If Children of Xaphan does inspire new artists and if people are receptive to their work that would be amazing. It would show that there is a landscape for this kind of work.


Can you give us an example or a few examples you faced or still face during the process of developing Children of Xaphan?.

The first one is how long everything takes. When I started this idea of using photo manipulation it was fresh and novel concept. While I think that still holds, so much has changed in the visual effects landscape, which is constantly evolving. In turn the audience becomes more discerning with what they will accept in terms of visual quality.

So keeping up with the technology is challenging. In the past few years I have worked with augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence. None of which was readily available when I started the project.

Another point is working with actors. This is not so easy. Acting for camera still is still very much acting. I can pop and relight any image as much as I want and the actors can be bodybuilding champions but if that pose doesn’t tell a story and speak to the reader on an intimate human level, it just doesn’t land.

So that part takes me right back to my days in theatre. Unlike theatre or film however, you literally only have one frame to stand for a much larger story window. All that emotion and meaning is boiled down into one shot.

what challenges do artist in this industry face being in South Africa and what would you do or what do you think the solutions are to this?

I think the most obvious point is the market. If there is no market we cannot exist. There is a ton of talent in this country but it’s not always given oxygen to breathe.

Furthermore, in the same way that Hollywood dominates the film market DC/Marvel and Image dominate the comic market. I think the word ‘comic’ has become synonymous with superhero because of this. While we all love the classics it doesn’t mean there isn’t other great local produced work around. When South Africans really put their mind to something they stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the world.

That’s why our rugby team keeps winning world cups. Because we unite as a country and get behind them. Rugby is picked up in school from young ages and becomes a cultural edifice. Yet when it comes to comics, storytelling and art we often let overseas take the lead on these. We even go so far as to let American films and comics tell our own stories back to us. We should be feeding stories to them. So perhaps the solution is for kids to start picking up pencils taking them to paper and tell the stories that only they can tell. The rest of the world is waiting to hear them.


Do you feel that South Africa is on the raise in terms of the gaming industry as a whole.

I think that there is a worldwide movement gearing towards this. If you look at Comic Con Africa, its growing every year. The recent ComicCon Africa at Johannesburg Expo Centre saw Saturday sell out the venue.

I was involved in San Diego Comic Comic-Con in years 2014-2016 and they have to go so far as to entering new tickets into a lottery as they as always booked to capacity. So there is definitely a need for the industry and all these platforms need an outlet and I think this is why geek culture is on the rise. I have also been involved with a company called POP-C based in the UAE that is focused on doing the same thing in Dubai and surrounding areas. So I think this isn’t just South Africa, it’s a worldwide trend.


Any advice for people looking to get into the field you’re in ?

There is a lot I could say but in the interest of time all I will say that some of us are cursed with the need to work in the creative-tech sector. If you are one of those people then make sure this is really what you want.

It’s not always glamorous and in my experience you need to be prepared to work long hours alone in a dark room with a lack of a social life. Along the way you will be constantly humbled with stretches of couch surfing and plenty of rejection, which is very difficult not to take personally. Your passion for what you do needs to be strong enough to get you through all of that. If you do come out of the side though- there are few better feelings.

Lastly, what is your favourite Games or the game you have spent the most time on?

I go way back with games. I go as far back as the Atari days. If I have to name a few I would say, Myst (PC), Street Fighter 2, Most of the Mortal Kombat franchise. More recently The Batman games, God of War and I am also a fan of the Darksiders franchise.

The Last of Us comprises a charter in my Doctor’s thesis, so I spent a lot of time combing through that one.  I will throw a shoutout to the locally developed Boet Fighter. However, the single greatest game of all time is and will always be Super Mario Brothers 3.

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