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Artist Boya Sun Talks Teamwork in ‘5 Worlds’ and ‘Chasma Knights’

This year’s DesignerCon serves as another reminder of how much it’s grown. Originally called Vinyl Toy Network, it now includes a wide variety of art and design, with exhibiting booths for various kinds of 3D and 2D art like sculpture, plush toys, prints, clothing, and books. Among them was Boya Sun, one of the artists behind the 5 Worlds graphic novel series. Sun’s booth featured his work in the form of small sculptures, riso prints, enamel pins, stickers, zines, and copies of 5 Worlds, as well as a slim concept book for the graphic novel series.

While at his art-filled booth, Sun took the time to chat with Goomba Stomp about his work in comics and collaborating with others.

5-Way Collaboration in 5 Worlds

Starting 5 Worlds after graduation, Sun feels that working on the series has made him better at comics.

Described as a mix of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Star Wars, 5 Worlds follows a star athlete, a boy from the slums, and a clumsy Sand Dancer Academy student while their worlds are plunged into peril.

“They have three books out right now,” Sun says. He adds that the series will contain five books in total.

With five impending volumes in a series called 5 Worlds, it’s fitting that the main creative team behind it is a 5-person band: Sun, his fellow artists (and former classmates) Xanthe Bouma and Matt Rockefeller, and writers Alexis and Mark Siegel.

Excerpt from 5 Worlds Book 3: The Red Maze.

Sun shares that 5 Worlds started with the Siegel siblings, recounting how they were looking for illustrators. They ultimately found Bouma, Rockefeller, and Sun, and then sent them the story bible. 

Describing their working relationship as a “5-way collaboration” of artists and writers, Sun is grateful for the partnership.

“It takes the stress away,” Sun says. He explains that if he’s weaker in an area, his teammates can come and help.

Unifying the Art

Sun further explains the art process behind 5 Worlds. Since the series is rooted in fantasy and worldbuilding, he and the other artists start with a few months devoted to concept art and sketches that cover aspects like different planets and new costumes. 

When designs are finalized, the art team splits the script evenly, and each of them gets a section to pencil.

“Our styles work pretty well with each other,” Sun says.

Excerpt from 5 Worlds Concept Book 3, which features development art for Book 3: The Red Maze. It’s available for purchase on Boya Sun’s website.

Sun also praises Rockefeller for inking all the pencil drawings, making them look “seamless” and more unified. Bouma and Sun handle coloring together.

While the concept art for 5 Worlds is often a mix of traditional and digital work, Sun says it’s different for pencilling, inking, and coloring. 

“The final production’s all digital,” he says. Sun adds that making a 5 Worlds book can take about 9-10 months. The team tries to create one book per year.  

5 Worlds poster by Sun. 

Refining Ideas on Chasma Knights

Sun worked on another graphic novel with a smaller team: just him and writer Kate Reed Petty. Together they made Chasma Knights, a tale about living toys that can fuse with people and grant them new powers.

For Chasma Knights, it started with Sun. He had the original idea, and tried to develop it for a TV show or a book. But at the time, Sun was busy with other projects, and he felt less experienced with writing.

Mark Siegel, also founding editorial and creative director of First Second Books, helped Sun with early development on Chasma Knights. Sun says that since they already had a working relationship through their collaboration on 5 Worlds, Mark Siegel was interested in more of his projects. (Sun remarks that while working on 5 Worlds can be time-consuming, it isn’t a full-time assignment, and he can do other projects too.) Mark Siegel ended up connecting Sun with Petty for help on writing Chasma Knights, and later First Second published it. (5 Worlds is published by Penguin Random House.)

“She was very receptive of my ideas in the collaboration,” says Sun when recalling his partnership with Petty. He adds that Chasma Knights had topics that interested both of them.

Working with a writer like Petty had been enjoyable for Sun. He says that he presented his ideas to her, and she “took them, digested them.” When he had been on his own, he found it hard to narrow down ideas. In contrast, Sun found it helpful to talk things through with a writer.

Although they finalized the plot together, Sun says much of the world of Chasma Knights was invented after the scripting stage, when it was time for him to illustrate it.

Excerpt from Chasma Knights by Boya Sun and Kate Reed Petty.

While Petty hinted on her website that she has a new project with First Second, Sun shares that he’s developing a pitch for a graphic novel that he intends to write and illustrate by himself. Of course, this is going on while he continues to work on 5 Worlds. Sun says that the fourth book of the series will launch in May 2020

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