Kevin Costner took a break from Hollywood and ventured to Washington, D.C. last week on a book tour to promote his new graphics adventure novel, “The Explorers Guild: Volume One: A Passage to Shambhala.” Co-author Jon Baird and illustrator Rick Ross joined him at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to talk about the book and their collaboration.
Costner, the Academy Award winning director and star of “Dancing with Wolves,” and writer Baird had tried to pitch the East meets West adventure set in the timeframe of World War I as an animation.
However, “Hollywood didn’t understand this story,” according to Costner. Baird described the story as about a secret society of explorers seeking out hidden parts of the world and secret histories.
The 781-page, hardbound tome is actually a graphics novel filled with early 20th century style comic strips. The novel attempts to bring classic adventure stories to a modern audience, while spanning old and new techniques of storytelling. The book is designed to be appreciated and passed down for generations, as books were in the past.
Early 20th century style graphics by Ross are intended to bring a handmade feeling and visuals to the book. The hardback cover has a paper leaflet covering it. The concept is for the book to look and feel like one from the last few centuries that is intended to sit on the bookshelf and be read over and over. Costner and Baird also discussed how no one sits still anymore, especially to read or tell stories like they did in the good ol’ days of book reading. The idea is to keep readers of all ages in place while reading the book.
Costner and Baird said they found and hired the book’s illustrator Rick Ross by posting to Craigslist.
Costner and Baird worked as a writing team, with Baird improving Costner’s writing. “It made me seem much smarter,” joked the Academy Award winning star and director.
Costner said he loved the physicality of heroes that used their wits and resources to get themselves out of trouble. The setting of World War I worked because people at the time “felt the world was at the brink,” and “the world was so much in doubt and much more than people want to look back on.” Costner said he was comfortable operating in that world with his characters.
‘High mark for me’
What started off as a series of ideas for a fantasy story brought to Costner by writer Baird ended up taking nearly four years to turn into a book.
The book is “a high mark for me, but a very private one,” Costner said.
“I have found that some of the things I have loved the most, I have had to pay for,” Costner said, referring to the personal funding of this project as well as several of his movies. “The things that I loved have been really hard, but they have also propped me up,” he said.
Baird praised the “craftsmanship” that Costner brought to the text, saying that he really had to “up his game” in order to match Costner’s work on the book.
Baird described what he had seen of Costner’s sub-conscious process of building the characters, at times even talking to them and envisioning precise details of what they would or would not do.
Baird said that Costner “grounds everything into a deep humanity,” and by fleshing out the characters, Costner brought Baird’s story to life.
For the book tour, the team declined approximately 20 shows, Costner said, because the hosts wanted only Costner’s appearance without his co-author and illustrator. The adventure novel is the work of all three collaborators.