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[DISPATCH] Molly Mahan Talks THE VALLARS BOOK ONE Finale
3W/3M's Editrix Maxima talks about BOOK ONE of THE VALLARS, its unique release, and looks ahead to BOOK TWO.
Welcome back to the [DISPATCH], a weekly direct report from us to you, with news, recaps, exclusive content and more.
Last week was a big one, with THE VALLARS wrapping up BOOK ONE with Episode 17. Below, we speak with Molly Mahan, the Editrix Maxima of 3 World / 3 Moons, about the series as a whole, what just happened, and what’s next in BOOK TWO.
If you’re not caught up on THE VALLARS, now is the perfect time to do so. Remember, we made the series available completely FREE, to everyone, right from the start. All we ask is that you tell some friends about the series and our growing concept universe. Paid subscribers will also get exclusive access to the full-length digital collection of THE VALLARS BOOK ONE.
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And now, let’s sit down with Molly for a chat about THE VALLARS, its multi-format release, the future of the Vallar family, and get a sneak peek at some never-before-seen art from BOOK TWO.
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3W/3M: Molly, thanks for taking the time. There’s a lot that I’m sure readers would love to know about the future of THE VALLARS, but I wanted to talk about the decisions around the release and production of the series. First, why was this book released entirely for free rather than being limited to paid subscribers like the stories from the Sourcebooks?
Molly Mahan: If we could, we’d release all our content for free, but then we’d all need to keep day jobs, turning 3W/3M into a hobby rather than the job itself, which would mean a lot less content would be developed and released overall.
As to why this story and not the short stories? Our shorter content is developed largely to better explain or express specific elements and ideas in our world-building, which is a cornerstone of our creative thesis, but may not be as grokable without all the additional context that comes in our [PROCESS] and world-building posts. Whereas THE VALLARS is a wonderful adventure story about a family set in a sci-fi universe that anyone can plug into, understand, and enjoy.
There’s of course some hope that, after reading THE VALLARS, enough readers’ interest is piqued to want to learn more about the universe, take part in building our concept universe, and pay for a subscription, if only so we can keep building and telling stories in this world for years to come.
Did the fact that it was being offered for free play into the idea of serializing it in weekly episodes, or where did that cadence come from?
Last year, we did a poll asking subscribers how they’d like to get the story: in more traditional 20-page issues, or smaller chunks released weekly. The results skewed heavily to the 20-page chapters, but a lot of things changed between July 2022 and our eventual release. For one, the story was believed to be about 60-some odd pages, but as it continued to develop, we realized that there was much more to this first book than originally imagined (it’s over 100 pages in its final form!). We also realized that 20-page stories, when read in vertical conversion, could be a bit tiresome, whereas reading four shorter episodes that math out to about 20 pages can be a breeze. I don’t know what it is, but I imagine there’s a similar psychology to how a person can spend a day binging a TV show in a single sitting, but a 4-hour movie can feel daunting. There’s something comforting about knowing a break is coming, and you can pause or persist at your leisure.
I wouldn’t typically recommend going against the decision of a poll – everything we’re doing is built on the back of our community and their support – but I do think the ultimate decision was the right one.
And as the editor, how exactly do you determine the right start and end to each episode?
The primary factors are finding a clear narrative break or transition, while being mindful of length. Typically, I try to hover around 5-7 pages for each episode (which typically translates to about two scenes or one sequence), but sometimes an episode will run long or fall short of that goal, depending on where the scene or act breaks. Narrative trumps pretty much everything, so if we have 15 pages that need to be broken up into three episodes, it may be an even 5-5-5 or something more varied like 6-4-7 (which, incidentally, is how the last three episodes broke down).
Another interesting thing is that there are three ways to read THE VALLARS – it’s released as a CBZ file, a PDF, and in a mobile-optimized vertical scroll format. What’s the thinking behind offering each different format?
We want people to be able to read and enjoy the comics in their preferred format, as well as in the format that best fits whatever device they’re using at the time. If you’re reading through the Substack app on your phone, depending on the size of your screen, it may not be a great experience to read a comic at the full comic page aspect ratio. So, we convert it to the vertical format for folks who not only prefer to read on their phone, but also for those who may be out and about and don’t want to wait to read the latest episode on another device with a larger screen.
As a general philosophy, I think it’s important to meet people where they already are and exercising greater flexibility on our part, than trying to force someone to change their preferences and patterns to meet our needs.
Since the pages are created in a traditional print comic book page format, can you also talk a bit about how the vertical conversion works? Are there any things that provided unique or unforeseen challenges, or things you have to keep in mind when Jason delivers his layouts?
I am always impressed with the work done by our partners at Rocketship, as there are some days I’m reviewing their work and think that maybe this comic was made vertically first. It’s not as simple as stacking panels one on top of the other. Legibility and pacing are paramount to reading comics, so often panels are blown up – even if they are more or less the same dimensions as the average phone screen – word balloons are magnified, and spacing is added between panels to aid the tempo of the readthrough, all of which Rocketship handles with flair. Sometimes it can be pretty tricky, even on pages that feel rather straightforward. Splash images, for example, may seem simple – it’s just one giant image, after all – but depending on the level of detail or information in it, it may become two or even three panels in the vertical version. And even then, sometimes choices need to be made about what gets cut or can be repurposed in a clever way in the space between panels in the scroll.
Even so, it’s necessary to remember that these stories are intended for print, so while it is incredibly valuable to have a vertical version of the comic, it’s key that the comics page work as a unit in and of itself first and foremost. So no matter how cognizant and mindful Jason or myself may be about the conversion process, the 11” x 17” page by its nature of being a finite space brings a level of complication to the process. Nevertheless, I think that’s better than going from vertical first to print, which can lead to a lot of strange cuts or negative space that don’t quite work in print media, which can be a much more unforgiving experience.
I agree completely. Now, before we get to what’s next, I have a few questions about the recently completed THE VALLARS BOOK ONE. Let’s start off with a hardball question – the Vallars are currently aboard a wingbill, headed to Ordo. Where did the idea for that transport’s design come from, and who’s responsible for the actual visual?
The script called for a “giant winged transport creature,” but the ultimate design was done by Mike del Mundo. Readers may notice our mix of organic and mechanical designs throughout the world, especially when it comes to transportation. Sometimes it’s a real creature – like how the assessor travels in ASSESSMENT, or the taxis on Heir, and let us not forget the Vojoganto – other times, it’s a somewhat more traditional rocket or other design. With the Wingbill we get what I think is a perfect marriage of the two concepts – animal design, with hard science sensibility. It’s not the only one of its kind, but they are rare enough to excite young Tajo when that’s the mode of transportation the family acquires to head to Ordo.
Episode 17 doesn’t feature the Vallar family at all, but does have the return of Erman, the Institute scientist who wants to save Kaoso – even if it costs Arlo and his family their lives – and the introduction of the Heretic he’s in league with. Given how that final chapter plays out, do Erman’s and the Heretic’s goals align at all, or does she represent yet another faction with their own endgame?
Their goals align in so far as she and Erman both want Kaoso to persist in its existence and not experience the granda purigado that was warned about in Episode 6. Neither particularly trusts the Institute in its current state, but as we can see in Episode 17, their relationship of convenience may have met its end, and unfortunately for Erman, it doesn’t seem that she lived up to her end of the bargain.
That’s a very diplomatic way of putting it. That sequence ends with Erman being swallowed up by the same creature (or plant?) we saw threaten Arlo while he was in the Simulado Sekuri back in Episode 6. I’m assuming this is something Arlo and Erman encountered on a Kaoso expedition, but is there anything else you can tell us about it?
The beast enjoys direct sunlight, the dulcet tunes of Hall and Oates, and as far as I can tell is nigh is insatiable.
Based on her final words to Erman, the Heretic implies that he’s actually in the Simulado Sekuri when this devouring occurs. We know this is “only as real as you can stand it to be,” but can people die while experiencing it if their minds tell them what they’re experiencing is real?
A philosophical question for the ages! Mind over matter. I certainly believe that it’s possible, otherwise what’s the real threat or benefit, beyond some momentary discomfort on your opponent and potential fake outs in the narrative?
Turning to BOOK TWO, I’d love to discuss the family dynamic. Tajo is our focus character at the start, and in fairly quick succession we meet his father, Arlo, his mother, Dess, and his sister, Ethina. We see everyone interact with Tajo, and a lot of the Arlo-Dess dynamic, but not much as a complete family unit. Will that change as they head to Ordo together in BOOK TWO?
Certainly, but there will be plenty of solo adventures, as well. Dess and Arlo have their own motives for going to Ordo aside from Ethina’s project, and we can’t expect Tajo to not go on some (mis)adventures while he’s in this new, exciting location, no matter how dangerous it may be.
There’s been a lot of focus on locations this year given the impending release of [MAPS]. With that in mind, what can readers expect from their time on Ordo when the Vallars arrive there a generation before anything else they’ve read?
Readers may be shocked at how much a moon can change in the course of one generation!
Since Arlo destroyed Tajo’s custom-built postrancilo in Episode 2, we have’t actually seen Tajo invent anything. Can we expect him to cook up some cool new tech in BOOK TWO?
I have a feeling that Ethina’s project for the Moon’s Fair will light a little competitive fire under Tajo, in addition to being surrounded by some of the Institute’s greatest minds of this generation, he won’t be able to help himself from being inspired to create something of his own.
Kato underwent quite the transformation thanks to Tajo’s ingenuity and the Essence of Lumina during the fight with Arigosto. Will Kato continue to evolve and surprise us, or was Y. Lu correct in the comments of Episode 14 that Kato “ends up becoming everyone’s favorite shitty robot, Alpha Robot”?
To underestimate Kato would be to underestimate Ethina, and that’s not a stance I am willing to take.
Fair enough. Going back to the very beginning, this whole story kicked off with Tajo entering the Salon de Giganto and taking the Essence of Lumina. Now that the Vallar family is headed to the Institute’s home base, how worried should we be about the Lumina winding up in Institute hands?
Considering the damage that was done with it in the hands of someone as innocent and well-meaning as Tajo, I’d personally be very concerned if it finds its way into the hands of someone more conniving and understanding of its power and how to use it.
Once they arrive on Ordo, we know that the Vallars will have to contend with the Judge, the combined forces of the Institute, the Groundsman currently piloting their wingbill, aka the Council’s “eyes,” presumably the Heretic and her forces, and maybe Erman (if he survived). Is there anyone else readers should keep their eyes on in BOOK TWO?
Let’s not forget the Vallars themselves. While they are a tight knit family, it is called out explicitly that there are secrets that they’ve kept from each other. While some of those are known – as you mentioned – there’s still much we don’t know about their respective pasts and ambitions, and who knows what kind of drama and tumult that could create!
Finally, you joined 3W/3M while BOOK ONE was in production. Did you discover anything while getting up to speed and closing out BOOK ONE that changed your approach to BOOK TWO?
Creating a more robust organization system, for one. Stephen [Wacker]’s system is great – I definitely had everything I needed to keep BOOK ONE on track once he left – but I’ve learned that there are some things that I need to have written down in case I forget. I don’t trust myself enough to not have spreadsheets and documents full of cross-referenced data, especially when we have a lot of new, in-world vocabulary, which can easily get forgotten or inconsistently spelled if you’re not careful.
Also, since I’m six months pregnant and will need to have someone cover me while I’m on maternity leave, I have to try and make it as grokable as possible, minimizing my shorthand or anything else I may just take for granted if I was doing editorial all by myself through the end of the next book. Of course, no system is entirely foolproof or perfect, so fingers crossed it works for that lucky soul!
Thanks to Molly Mahan for taking the time to chat with us and bring along some brand-new Jason Howard art for us to check out.
Now, let’s take a look at the week that was…
[DISPATCH] We teased some beautiful art from an upcoming [MAPS] story by Brent Schoonover, Rafael Pérez Granados, and Chris Sotomayor. If you’re a fan of seeing everything in progress from layouts through colors, be sure to give those a look.
[REWARDS] The sixth and final print from the Year 2 Deluxe Print Set from Mike del Mundo & Mike Huddleston was revealed. Be sure to take a trip to ALTA STATION, courtesy of Mike Huddleston.
[COMICS] THE VALLARS BOOK ONE concluded with Episode 17. The family is united, and headed to the moon of Ordo, but there are plenty of signs and portents that their trip may not be the cheery vacation at the Moon’s Fair that Ethina and Tajo were originally hoping for. BOOK TWO will begin after a brief hiatus, and we promise there’s plenty more to come with the Original Adventuring Family!
We have more headed your way this week, so stay tuned!