FiXT is primarily a record label dedicated to bringing cutting edge Hybrid music to the ears of listeners worldwide. However, recently we have embarked on a different undertaking by publishing a book: The Bane of Yoto. More than just a book, however, The Bane of Yoto is a Science-Fantasy epic that finds further world-creation achieved via a free 3D comic app (featuring music by Celldweller), sculptures, and more. On the eve of the book’s release we bring you this interview with the book’s creator, Josh Viola. Immerse yourself in the fictional world of Yoto.
“When a mythical dagger is plunged into his chest, Yoto is transformed from a meek member of an enslaved society into a beast fit to battle the gods.”-(Josh Viola, creator)
FiXT: Let’s start with a bit of background information. Give me a quick rundown of who you are and what you do.
Viola: Sure thing. I’m a former professor of Game Art and Design and hold a bachelor’s degree in animation and a master’s in marketing. I’m also the author and creator of The Bane of Yoto as well as the Art Director for Leviathan Games. Music has always played a very important part in my life, and while I’m not a musician, I’ve tried to contribute my art to the musicians I look up to whenever possible. My work was featured by Linkin Park in 2003 and this past year I’ve been able to work with my favorite band, Celldweller, and incorporate it into The Bane of Yoto as well as a Celldweller T-Shirt and mobile App. My video game credits include Pirates of the Caribbean, Smurfs, Besieged!, TARGET: Terror, The Bane of Yoto Comic App, and much more. Based in Denver, I’m currently working on several games – and the next volume of The Bane of Yoto cycle.
FiXT: Sounds like you keep yourself quite busy. What got you onto the game art / design track?
Viola: Well, I’m a pop-culture whore. I love movies, videogames, anime – all of that. I grew up drawing and creating things at every given moment. It has always been a part of me. When I moved to Colorado, I was introduced to a local artist, Monte Moore, who was getting his work into comics. Coming from a small town in Nebraska to a city filled with professional artists melted my brain. I knew at that point I wanted to dive into the creative world as an adult. My passion has always been film, and for some time I thought I wanted to be a director, but video games came easier to me – at least for breaking into the industry. Video games have played a major role in my life. I can’t remember a time without them.
FiXT: Where did you get your degrees?
Viola: I went to Westwood College, which is where I eventually taught. A bit of a sour taste in my mouth with both experiences there. But I met the guys who now make up my art team at Leviathan Games, so it wasn’t all bad. As with any education, you get what you put into it. And while things were not perfect, I maintained my focus and achieved more than I thought I could.
FiXT: Talk about Leviathan Games, for anyone who knows nothing about it. Is it an indie developer or a larger studio, how did you come to join the company, and what exactly does your title of Art Director entail?
Viola: Leviathan Games has been around for roughly 12 years and was developed by some industry pros. We’re a small indie developer, but we’ve maintained a strong rep in the industry working on a variety of big licenses and as an exclusive Sony developer for PS3 themes (most of those you see in Home were ours). I joined Leviathan back in 2006, immediately after graduating with my bachelor’s degree. I was hired on as a Junior artist for Disney Interactive’s Pirates of the Caribbean and Konami’s Target: Terror. As time progressed I moved up the ranks and helped form our current art team, some of which were students of mine, until I was offered the director position. We work on multiple projects at a time, so I’m responsible for directing the art flow, design and ideas. Leviathan has worked on major console and PC releases, and now we mostly focus on mobile content. I also pitched and then led the development of the Celldweller 3D app.
FiXT: So that all sounds like fantastic experience for someone launching their own creation – where in this mix did The Bane of Yoto first start coming together in your head?
Viola: The Bane of Yoto has really always existed in my head, in some form or another, but I didn’t put it on paper until 2003 in a class I was taking: Character Development and Design. My goal was to develop a story, a character, and art to accompany it. This forced me to get all of my ideas out and I loved the character so much that I’ve carried it on to this point and, hopefully, beyond.
FiXT: Did focusing on the concept in that class convince you that it was an idea worth putting some time and effort into, or were you always determined, from the start, to create this character’s story some day?
Viola: Well, the concept was what stuck with me. A guy gets stabbed in the chest with a dagger and instead of dying off, he’s empowered by it. He evolves. This tiny, meek character becomes the Hulk, but even more, he becomes a titan god. That was interesting to me. I thought it would be fun to explore the character in such a situation. So I’ve always favored Yoto. I have numerous other stories I’ve developed, one that I’m currently turning into a novel and 3D comic that’s similar to TBOY, but I have a strong attachment to Yoto. It’s odd when you realize the thing you created defines you instead of the other way around. Yoto means everything to me – it consumes me. My life is Yoto 24/7.
FiXT: That sounds like a difficult balance when you’re an Art Director for a game company, among other things. How do you do it?
Viola: I’m a workaholic.
FiXT: Why does this character and his circumstances resonate with you so strongly? I get the feeling this is more than just a fantasy yarn you are trying to spin – that it holds deeper meaning for you.
Viola: Well, the themes behind the story are very personal. It’s a lot more than just a silly fantasy. Like an artist, whether you’re a painter, writer, musician, etc, you pour yourself into your work. So Yoto is my observation on this life so far. It’s a story of brotherhood. An examination of racial conflicts, betrayal, love and dealing with unexpected circumstances. The two protaganists, Yoto and Eon, are brothers and represent both myself (Yoto) and my brother (Eon). Anyone who reads the book will see our relationship. So yes, it’s very personal.
FiXT: You mentioned earlier that you are pop-culture whore – what do you think has specifically influenced or inspired your world building in the Bane of Yoto book?
Viola: Hmm, there’re so many different pieces to that puzzle. I grew up in an ultra conservative family and a lot of things were hidden from me – a lot. And while I know my family had the best intentions, it pushed me into an over-the-top exploration or curiousity of the unfamiliar. R-rated movies were never allowed. So I’d stay the night at friends’ houses and we’d watch what I wasn’t allowed to at home and I became obsessed. My first R-rated film was Terminator 2. I was moved. Not just because it was a peek inside what defines an adult film, but I genuinely cared about those characters, more than I ever had in any film before. To this day, T2 is my favorite flick, with Aliens coming in at a close second. From there I got my hands on anything I could, from comics to anime to video games and music. Everything I love has inspired me, from the films mentioned above, to anime like Akira and monster movies like Gamera and video games like The Legend of Zelda and Deus Ex. As I said before, music always played a big role too. Through most of the writing process of the Yoto novel I’d play Celldweller, namely “Aurora Borealis”, looping in the background. That’s Yoto’s theme song to me, precisely why it was the first track licensed for the Yoto 3D comic app. These elements have influenced Yoto in a variety of ways, from the characters, their world, the situations they face, the art style, etc. Whether Klayton knows it or not, he’s one of the ingredients of Yoto, which is why I’m happy his company published it.
Viola: Oh yeah, definitely! Of all the art forms out there, I think music defines its fans the most. People attach themselves to it. If you diss somebody’s favorite band, you’re going to pay. Though I do think that music-specific games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band are declining.
I define The Bane of Yoto as a transmedia experience. It’s not just one thing. All of the art forms lend themselves to the universe of Yoto to help define what it is to me. The novel will allow people to connect to the characters better than any of the other forms. But the 3D comic app defines the art style, the look and feel, and because we’re using the revolutionary Dreamotion tech (that I helped develop), you’re able to look at his world in 3D via your mobile device in real time. It connects to people in an organic way, similar to video games, but also a very new way. I’ve also got a Yoto audio book in production, which will feature Celldweller audio, as well as other things coming this year. All of these pieces (the novel, comic, posters, PS3 themes, sculptures, etc.) are there to help people connect with Yoto’s world. I’d love to eventually do a Yoto soundtrack with Klayton. A soundtrack for a novel or comic…I haven’t seen that before. That’d be great. To a certain extent, we’ve already done that – the audio in the 3D comic plays a very important role. We orginally were not going to have any sounds in the comic, but I’m glad I approached you guys.
FiXT: Tell me more about the art direction of The Bane of Yoto. How did you go about defining the look of this fictional world, and how did you get ahold of Nick Runge to do this artwork?
Viola: The art of Yoto is very collaborative. It started with me, as an art student, wanting to define the look of the world in a very anime-influenced way. So the original look was very different. I then enlisted the help of my friend/former art teacher, Branden Bendert, and he helped me define a more gritty look. As time went on, I wanted to include as many artists as possible. Nick Runge lives here in Denver and I found out about him through a friend and it was really that simple. Nick’s work is inspired by Drew Struzan (Star Wars, Indiana Jones). Nick loved the character and has since done quite a few pieces. Nick does most of IDW’s covers. I’ve also had Steve Scott (a DC Batman artist), Tyler Kirkham (a DC Green Lantern artist), and Monte Moore (a Lucasfilm artist) contribute their talents, as well as equally good (but lesser known) artists such as Aaron Lovett, Mike McKibben, Matt Van Scoyk, and Louis Heitfeld, to name a few.
FiXT: Now you’ve mentioned movies, games, anime, and music, but The Bane of Yoto is, at heart, a novel. Was there literature that inspired you? Any science fiction or fantasy that made you think “I need to form my narrative thus”?
Viola: Yes, there’s a wide array of novels that inspired me, but I tried to break away from their genre definitions. I’m a fan of Harry Potter and I’m a fan of Ender’s Game – two very specific genres: one fantasy, the other SciFi. But Yoto is Science-Fantasy. It borrows from both genres in a differnt way and the outcome is something fresh and orginal (I hope). I myself prefer SciFi, Fantasy and Adventure novels (I’ve got to admit – I love Young Adult literature). They’re fun and I appreciate the creativity. I worked closely with New York Times bestseller Steve Alten for awhile. And while Yoto isn’t written in a style similar to his, I always appreciated his pacing and entertainment value. I’m a big fan of Neil Gaiman and my friends and fellow authors JC Hutchins and Keith Ferrell. I’m currently reading through Joseph Delaney’s “The Last Apprentice” series and absolutely love it.
FiXT: And I recall hearing that this book is not the entire story – you have more to come, correct?
Viola: Yes, I’ve prepared this as a trilogy and have already begun writing the second one with an outline for the third. I also have some other authors writing some novellas that are attached to the Yoto universe. The first one, by Keith Ferrell, will be available later this summer and is a prequel that focuses on the primary antagonist in my novel, Vega. It’ll be titled The Bane of Yoto: Blood Moon.
FiXT: Any further plans after that, or is it too far out to tell?
Viola: The big goals I have for Yoto are to get a video game out and then a movie. I’m currently working on another story that will come out as both a novel and 3D comic and it’s titled Witcheater. Its a very Halloween-inspired story (my favorite holiday). I’m also planning on working closely with FiXT on a few projects this summer that I can’t wait to get started on.
FiXT: It sounds like you have more than enough ambition to keep yourself busy! Any final comments?
Viola: I’ve got my fingers crossed. I’d like to thank everyone who made it this far.
My book will be available June 5 in the FiXT store and through all eBook stores. Find more information in the following places: