This October, IDW launch the second volume of Eternal Descent, the epic fantasy saga that portrays the classic battle between heaven and hell with a unique twist: rather than spandex clad superheroes, the characters in Eternal Descent originate from the world of heavy metal, and instead of web shooters or adamantium claws they wield guitars that are capable of unleashing devastating energy. Dean Threadgold got a chance to chat with series creator Llexi Leon about the book, the fusion of metal and comics and his plans to turn Eternal Descent into a multimedia property.Eternal Descent might not have Superman and Batman in it but, in their place, it has something that is equally iconic. The series features cameos from famous metal guitarists such as Wayne Static (Static X), Gus G (Firewind, Ozzy Ozbourne), Dan Jacobs (Atreyu) and Jon Donais (Shadows Fall), with some of them appearing as brave heroes while others are villains allied with the twisted demon Loki. Its a world where heavy metal could be the key to our salvation, or, if our heroes Lyra and Syrian cant do anything about it, then the gateway to our destruction. As crazy as the concept may sound its an utter blast to read, proving a welcome change from DC and Marvels primary coloured universes. However bizarre the concept may initially seem, as guitarist turned writer Llexi Leon seems keen to discuss, the fusion of these two mediums- heavy metal and comics- is a perfectly natural fit. Its hard to pinpoint an exact origin for their convergence, but certainly the two mediums go hand in hand, Leon tells me, as we chat over a coffee in a swanky North West London café. He is clearly passionate about both in equal measure, and speaks candidly about his ambition to create a multimedia property that would unite the worlds of metal and comics. Metal and comic books are very much honest mediums- like metal music, people who write comics dont really pull their punches, they say what they mean- they just do it through their characters (rather than with a guitar). Theyve always been alternative mediums- it all falls in line with people who feel like outcasts in society and are fighting to make themselves heard. Leon felt that there were a lot of people who listened to metal that would really respond to comics, but they just werent necessarily aware of the various books out there. I created it as a comic book that could get more heavy metal fans and guitar fans into comics, because its a medium I know and love, and I know a lot of them (heavy metal fans) would enjoy it also. Its become a gateway for the world of heavy metal to get involved with the world of comics, which Im quite proud of. When the project started out there was no intention of including guitarist cameos, with the original outline solely focusing on Lyra, a former rock star undergoing a demonic transformation, and Syrian, a fallen angel with a troubled past, as they both battled the evil Loki. However, Leon wanted the characters instruments to be based on the designs of ESP guitars. They have this one, called the Forest, which has this sweeping, curvy, feminine form- accented by these aggressive pointed edges. When I was creating Lyra, and thinking about the form she would become, the Forest guitar just seemed perfect for visually representing her characteristics. When Leon contacted ESP to obtain permission to use their instruments likenesses the series ended up being steered in an interesting new direction that would come to define the franchise. It turned out that the guy who was the head of artists relations, Allen Steelgrave, was a bit of a comic nut. He was like this is the coolest thing, wed love to get involved with this and told me to absolutely do what I like with all of the ESP stuff. A few weeks passed, and I sent them some new artwork with the ESP designs incorporated into it all, and they asked if Id have thought about having some of the musicians that play ESPs guitars actually appear in the comic. It all started from there really. Leons relationship with ESP has been a huge part of the success of Eternal Descent, and theres already been a limited edition range of ESP guitars featuring the characters. Judging by the way Leon gushes about them in great detail, hes clearly enormously proud of them. Some companies would just slap a graphic on a guitar- theres no artistry to it- whereas we source all the wood and all the metal with the graphic in mind. Theyre all handmade, and theres only fifty of each one. They look fantastic. Once ESP set the ball rolling by suggesting their guitarists appear in the story, Leon suddenly started to think about the saga in a whole new way and started to assemble a wish list of musicians he wanted to feature. Gus G was the first to come on board- I already knew him anyway, from doing shows and stuff, and ESP helped me get in touch with Wayne Static, the guys from Atreyu and Jon Donais. Leon tells me that he is always very conscious of things not being a gimmick, and insists that everything within Eternal Descent- from the plot elements, to how specific cameos will work- is the result of endless discussion between himself, his editors, the artists and even the guitarists doing the cameo. I wanted their involvement- I didnt want it to have the same setbacks that other metal related comics had, which were often farcical with no real involvement from the band themselves. I wanted to invoke their personality a little more, so I tried to create a synergy in which I was being inspired by their lyrics, and their imagery, and trying to incorporate that inspiration into something tangible in the comics. I would have ideas and would go to the artists and ask them- do you want to be a hero or a villain? Do you want to fight and be in action sequences, or do you just want to be playing your music. The answers Leon got surprised him. Jon Donais, from Shadows Fall, basically said make me an arsehole, which is why hes such a nasty piece of work in the book. The cameos in Eternal Descent are there for more than just cheap thrills though, and in a lot of cases a song, or even a specific lyric, by the artist doing the cameo ends up inspiring the plot direction. In Volume 1, When Lyra and Syrian face off against Wayne Static, its almost like a comic book music video- with Static Xs lyrics narrating the sequence. Its a device that works incredibly well, with Leon using song verses in a similar fashion to how other writers use caption boxes. They often provide some kind of commentary on the story, or they parallel the events in interesting ways. The use of music in this way, as well as the appearances of the artists themselves, is something that both metal and comic fans have responded to enormously. Leon hopes to continue this trend in Volume 2, though he plans to make them reoccurring characters rather than building single issues around mere cameos. I hope to make them a little more three-dimensional in the new volume. Im allowing myself more time to set up the cameos in advance, the way we did with Jon Donais in the first volume. The fact that we were building towards that confrontation allowed us to make his character a lot more in-depth than some of the other featured artists. So after witnessing Jon Donais try to destroy all of reality, what can we expect in Volume 2? First, we have to resolve the huge cliff-hanger that we ended on! Well see Gus G return, and Im hoping to do a lot more with his character- this time its Syrian and Lyra that need his help rather than the other way around. Theres one big name appearing that I cant talk about just yet, but its huge. Misha Manshoor from Periphery will be appearing, as will Arch Enemys Angela Gossow and Michael Ammott. As Leon explains, the different musical style of these artists has helped shift the series in a slightly different direction. Whereas before the book was a hybrid of fantasy and horror, featuring demons and the classic battle between heaven and hell, the book will now take a slight turn into the realm of science-fiction. Its not so much writing for the cameos, as weve been building towards this game-changing event from the start, regardless of who would feature. So really, its about picking the right cameos for the direction I want to head in. Their music is a bit more technologically orientated- their songs invoke a post apocalyptic vibe rather than images of heaven and hell, so its helped me take it in this slightly different direction that I wanted to explore. The music of Eternal Descent is something that Leon takes very seriously- in fact the genesis of the whole saga, from its cast to the unique locations, is heavily indebted to Leons song writing. I really like music that can invoke a mood or inspire something in your mind- music that creates character, or a scene, or a landscape- music that takes you places. Certainly the music inspired the story and the characters- I had visions of these characters and it was very vague at first but I would create some kind of epic score with an orchestra, a choir and harmonized guitars and it would all be very heraldic, very angelic, and with something like that you cant help but be transported to a place in your mind that is heavenly and populated by angels, and if youve got angels then naturally you have demons, and then you bring electric guitars into the mix and it just adds a unique twist to it all. The world that I began to envisage the characters, landscape and architecture that I saw in my head- that was the nucleus of what would become Eternal Descent. So the music inspired the imagery, and the fact that its such a fusion comes from all the comics and cartoons that Ive seen over the years. http://youtu.be/193k_0-TNNk The trade paperback that collects the first volume of Eternal Descent comes with a limited edition guitar pick as well as a unique Scratch and Riff download code that allows the reader to listen to what is essentially Syrians theme, entitled Syrians Overture. Though its not specifically intended for this, if you read the comic while listening to the music the experience is unrivalled. Some of it directly relates to what happens in the comics, Leon explains, and if you have the story in mind when you listen to it a lot of people will be able to pick out exactly what each section refers to. Its an unusual hybrid, operatic in its scope, and it does indeed transport the listener. The response to the music has been so strong that Leon has teamed up with Digitech to release the Digitech Lyra effects pedal, which allows guitarists to create their own music out of the unique sonic landscape that Leon has invented. Its the first electric guitar pedal inspired by a character, he tells me, before going into great detail about the full length studio album that he is hard at work on, intended to accompany the series and created almost solely using this limited edition stompbox. As we get further into it, Id like to do two versions- a music only one, and one thats more like an audio book with actors taking on the role of the various characters. I had the audio book of the Batman: Knightfall saga, done by the BBC of all people, and it brings the story to life in a whole other way. Im lucky to have my producer, Eddie Kramer (Kiss, Jimi Hendrix), who has a wealth of experience- hes a legend in his field and a very inspirational figure to me. Eternal Descent has given Leon the chance to work with many of his heroes and when he made the decision to adapt the series into animation he ended up working with another veteran that was extremely inspiring to him. I was looking for writers to adapt the story into a 22 minute pilot and I got put in touch with Sean McLaughlin. Hes worked on over 400 episodes of animation- things like Animaniacs, Justice League and Batman Beyond- which is one of my all time favourites. He has a wealth of advice from his huge amount of experience- hopefully we can get it picked up, as animation just makes so much sense to me as we can bring the visuals and the actual sound- the music- together, as one. With this animation Leon and Sean wanted to revisit the origins of some of these characters, seeing the medium as a chance to flesh everybody out a little more as opposed to the way the comic drops the reader right in the middle of the action. However, Leon insists that the two versions wont be contradictory, and that the continuity will match up seamlessly. This should be something that excites the fans rather than dismisses everything they thought they knew. http://youtu.be/Ped_sijmC8c While the legal issues around the animation were being sorted out, Leon and Sean decided to team up and co-write some of the comic book issues for the upcoming volume. We realised we could tie it together even more, and really set the stage for the future of both the comic and the animation. Beyond that, Ill also be working with a Justin Peniston, who is a very cool writer that has done some DC work, some Blue Beetle and some cool, wacky horror stuff. He has a very dark edge- hes great at building suspense and making the reveals very impactful. And how has Leon, who created this universe completely on his own, found the switch to co-writing? For me, working with these two, I was like a kid in a candy store- a we are not worthy! sort of thing. It really is co-writing- us hammering the script back and forth between each other, because at this moment theres no way I can keep on top of everything- I basically run the company, so even without all these multimedia aspects its a lot to think about! The pilot is already into the production stages and, if it gets picked up, Leon would love to adapt the character designs into full CGI, in a similar style to the Star Wars: Clone Wars cartoons, but actually make them fully 3-D. As Leon is aware, 3-D is often seen as gimmicky, but he assures me that when its done correctly, viewed on a 3-D HD TV, the result is a level of immersion that is unparalleled. Beyond that, Leon even envisions a videogame adaptation. Theres a genre of music gaming- guitar hero, rock band etc, but also a great genre of action and fantasy- and we have both of those worlds to play with, so it became clear that this could be an interactive thing. However, first on the agenda is to complete the new volume and get it on shelves and in to the hands of readers. The first issue hit stores in late October, and from then onwards it will be bi-monthly. A lot has changed since the first volume, with a new artist now on board. Im working with Ivan Fernandez, who is kind of like a hybrid between Jason Metcalf and Gabriel Guzman (the two main artists from the first volume). He has the same level of detail, and whilst Metcalf was invoking that Jim Lee style, Fernandez is a bit softer with his line work- its less straight and angular- and the characters look a little less superhero and a lot more human. There will also now be a four page back-up story that will amount, over the course of six issues, into the origin of a brand new character. Thats a new thing that I have in mind for the next few volumes- to introduce a new character, giving them their own origins on the sidelines, and then that whole backstory ends up converging with the main storyline. As always, Leons mind is looking towards the future. Its quite fitting that, for a series which heavily revolves around the creation of the cosmos, he clearly has a passion for world building. Judging by Leons ambition and the scope of his ideas, like the universe itself, the world of Eternal Descent will forever be expanding Eternal Descent Vol. 2 # 1 is published by IDW and is out on 26th October 2011. It is available via the IDW app and through the Direct Market on order number SKU: AUG110392. Eternal Descent Vol. 1 is available at all good bookstores and online retailers. For more on Eternal Descent visit the official website at www.eternaldescent.com.