Lorenzo De Felici is an immensely talented Italian writer, comic artist, and colorist, and due to this, he made quite a name for himself in the world of comics. After honing his skills at the prestigious Comics School of Rome, he embarked on an exciting journey that led him to collaborate with renowned publishers and co-create exciting series.
Notably, Lorenzo has made significant contributions to Sergio Bonelli Editore, where he showcased his exceptional coloring abilities in projects like the mini-series ‘Caravan’ and the series ‘Orfani.’ However, his artistic prowess and imaginative vision truly shone through when he joined forces with Skybound Entertainment and Image Comics in 2015. As the artist and co-creator of the captivating series ‘Oblivion Song,’ along with Robert Kirkman, most recently, Felici’s work has been praised due to the success of ‘Void Rivals,’ but today’s interview will not be about that. It will focus on Lorenzo’s second hit work this year, ‘Kroma.’
‘Kroma’ is a bizarre journey through the world where colors are resented and offer nothing but primal fear, while the simplicity and safety of ‘Black & White’ are embraced and worshiped. What started as a regular run-of-the-mill story about a monster quickly turned into a journey of false gods, lizards, childlike monsters, and the rejection of systemic lies.
Comic Basics: So, at first, I wanted to discuss ‘Void Rivals,’ but after checking out ‘Kroma,’ I was left speechless and decided to switch all my questions. Now before we delve into the philosophical musings of the work, I would like to ask several lore-related questions. First, it turned out that the “King of Colors” was actually just a crystal. Was he a real “entity” or a humanoid being at any point in the past?
Lorenzo De Felici: Actually, no. The whole thing has an explanation in my mind, which means that the King of Color religion was born out of misconception and out of a need for humanity to have something higher to either hate or aspire to or blame for anything bad that happened to humanity.
In a way, this is the same thing that happened to us and still happens to us. And how every religion is formed when humans try to explain things with something higher than them. But then, in the end, I didn’t want it to be anything real because, for me, the less the king is real, the more powerful the message is.
The whole story revolves around humanity; there is nothing else. The comic emphasizes the importance of communication between humans and the need to get along without putting something else in the mix.
If the King of Colors was a real person, it would mean that they were justified in doing all of those horrific deeds in the first place, but then this leads me to question whether the appearance of the lizards was just a random thing or truly a divine punishment of some sort?
It’s not random. Again, I have a scientific explanation for everything, so I don’t want to reveal it because if I ever continue this story, I want to use that information.
So no spoilers?
No spoilers. In the lore, they say there was a time when they got along with the King of Colors, and then there was a guy that tried to add one more color, which the King of Colors didn’t create, and that was when he got mad. Again I would have a scientific explanation for that, so it’s related to that first act of defiance.
So related to that banishment and the creation of additional color, at one point, it’s mentioned that the Pale City is the last bulwark of the human race and society. So is this true? Are there more humans? Did they face the same fate as the residents of Pale City?
As far as they know, they are the last ones, but I don’t think they are the last. It’s almost like if you ask me, do you believe in aliens? There is no scientific proof about aliens, but statistically, there should be something out there somewhere.
The residents of Pale City must believe that they are just them, but from our point of view, the readers, they are probably not the last ones.
The scientific probability of them being alone is far lesser than the probability of them having company. I understand it completely. So, one more lore-related, why did you decide to kill Zet so early in the story?
So from the beginning, when I was writing ‘Kroma,’ I knew that the whole comic should have been about her and her voyage into the forest, which is, of course, like a metaphorical voyage but also a very real one.
And so I wanted her to be alone, but at the same time, I needed somebody to speak with her because otherwise, it would have been like a silent comic, or she would have been put into a situation where she talked to herself, which is something that I do not like. I don’t buy it when I see it in movies or comics.
And so I needed somebody else to be there. When I was pitching this, I came up with the idea a long time ago when I was working for the French market, and I wanted to get the comic approved for the French market, but the target age was a little bit lower than eight or so years. So the companion to Kroma was some kind of anthropomorphic mole, like some weird animal.
But then. When I reached out to the American market, I wanted to raise the age slightly, and that weird animal didn’t work anymore. And so I was like, OK, I need someone to follow her. And in the first version, Zet was present but stayed in the city.
But now that I needed somebody to talk with Kroma throughout the comic, I was like, OK, I can make them escape together, which was a possibility, but it would kind of take from the gravity of the situation.
Yes, the escape would have been far less shocking and serious if both Kroma and Zet made it out alive.
The most important thing for me was that Kroma was alone on the journey. But Zet’s death allowed me to also play with the concept that he is the seed in her head that allows her to break free from all the misconceptions and all the things that people hammered into her head and things like that.
I don’t know if you saw Psycho from Alfred Hitchcock the movie. So, in the beginning. You start following a character, and then that character you think will be the movie’s protagonist is killed off, and you switch to another character.
And I always love that because it’s something you are not used to in a story. And if you start to grow fond of the character and then immediately, and they take it away from you it’s so painful, but in a way, you are also invested in that because you have some emotional baggage with you at that point. I decided to do it and make it as painful as possible.
You basically pulled the Game of Thrones on us. But I agree. It doesn’t make sense for Zet to continue the journey. I always had a feeling that he was going to eventually perish in one way or another. I never expected him to be killed by his own people. But it really is symbolic, isn’t it? The thing that was keeping him alive eventually ended him. But this leads me to another thing, was Makavi aware that the King of Color is just a crystal?
I wonder that too. He doesn’t know and it’s just like our religious system. I’m an atheist but I grew up in Italy, and of course, religion was always a big part of my upbringing. I had the opportunity to evaluate if it interested me or not because my parents were very free about it.
They just told me that if you want to embrace religion at one point do it freely, but we won’t force you to. And so for me, it’s always been a choice. But I see that for many people it’s not a choice. And most of all like in the past, it’s always been a way to give comfort, but also sometimes to control you, your emotions, and many people’s lives.
I don’t think the church people are the ones who believe the most, but they are the ones that need that belief the most because the whole system is built around this intangible belief.
But I think he needs to be sure that the King of Color is there because he feels free enough to come up with the story of Kroma being the King of Color’s daughter etc.
And the status quo needs to be upheld at all times. So the story is obviously biblical in nature. You have the ultimate benevolent creator, his creations. And then, due to vanity, pride, and greed, they fall from grace, face the most severe punishment possible, and are banished from Eden, banished from colors.
So what did the humans actually do to face the wrath of the King of Colors? We know that they couldn’t invent a new color. By the way, if they did invent it, what is that color anyway? So what was their original sin? What did they do?
I have some explanation for that even though it’s not completely set in stone for me. But whatever it is it’s something that symbolizes the hubris of man and the will to interfere. Especially the excessive belief in their own progress and in discovering things, in going forward without thinking about the ramification.
We are seeing it right now with artificial intelligence. We are going full speed towards some kind of wall just because we can do it and for the benefit of a few people.
I’m more a science guy than a religious guy. I believe in human rights and whatever kind of progress we can achieve, it should be achieved keeping in mind our condition and what the consequences of that progress will be for us.
So in Kroma’s world, people have been punished because of hubris.
I agree completely. With humans, there’s no middle ground. It’s either excessive backward thinking or excessive forward thinking. And we go in a span of 80 or something years from Hitler to AI ruling the world. It’s insane. Really, it’s insane. But, one more thing. So let’s assume that they did create a legitimate color. They managed to do it somehow. Since that color is not the creation of the King of Colors, who created the lizards, wouldn’t lizards be blind to that color as well?
Yeah, in a very logical sense they should be. But again creating an extra color is more symbolic of the blind run toward progress than something specifically like a new color.
Again you have to take it as any Bible story. Any religious text is pretty metaphorical or should be intended as one.
So talking about this color is metaphorical or symbolic of something, but I don’t know if it’s actually a specific color. You have to think that the religion was created around colors because they realized color was a pivotal point of their survival and was somehow tied to the lizards.
They noticed that lizards deal with colors the most, and they decided to separate themselves from the colored world and make colors the enemy, yes, but now that we’ve touched upon the lizards, one more thing interests me.
So you’re often using a bird and a lizard motif in Kroma. So it’s obvious that the lizards represent the danger of leaving your safe space, so to speak. But. What does the bird represent? Did you pick birds because they are the most colorful animals on planet Earth or there’s something else?
Not only because they’re very colorful but also because they’re in a way a symbol of freedom. Everything related to freedom is connected to the birds. For example, when she’s in the tower, she says that the only colors she’s allowed to see up there are the birds out of her window and the blood, which is another important symbol.
And so the birds were the only way to be free. The old guy in the forest dresses up as a bird because he understands that once you are outside the wall, you need to blend in with the surroundings. The best way to do that is by being colorful. That was another way to say “Being like a bird gives you freedom.”
So freedom basically, but what about the black egg when Kroma is presented to the Makavi? She hatches, so to speak, from the black egg. What does the black egg represent?
It’s an important way for the Makavi and the whole religious organization because it’s a symbolic birth every ten months, approximately one year.
You have this symbolic birth of Kroma and they beat her up. So I had the black egg as a very powerful symbol. So instead of having a big white egg in the middle of the place, I thought to make it black which is a little bit more ominous and a little bit more unexpected.
It makes sense. She is represented as a skeletal abominable bird, so it makes sense that she hatches from a black egg. So I think it was in the first or second issue that you said that you got the idea for ‘Kroma’ 15 years ago, but you didn’t really have the opportunity to work on it.
So what was the first version of the story like, and what are some major changes you’ve introduced besides the ones you already mentioned?
So the whole tone of the story was very different. It was more of a happy story. The characters were more positive. The current version of the story is targeted at young adults; the previous one was for even “younger” “adults.”
I don’t know the specific name of that age group. So the whole tone was different it was lighter and it was even more colorful. I used to use very bright colors. And I wasn’t sure about the story’s ending at the time because I always thought that the ending was too dark for that age group compared to the rest of the story.
I was thinking about making it more positive all throughout.
But I just knew that Kroma would get to the same place where she is now, in this version where she goes to look for her father and finds nothing.
So yeah, the main difference was that tone. I had the first half of the story and if I proceeded with that tone I’m not sure whether I would finish it.
Yes, I can’t imagine the current version of ‘Kroma’ being read by young girls.
It’s tough at times. I didn’t want it to be too sad or violent. But I also didn’t want it to be fake and write the characters as happy-go-lucky. I didn’t want there to be any kind of humor because I didn’t want to subtract from the gravity of it all. This is the first thing that I wrote that was longer. Usually I write short stuff mostly comical or weird stuff with a lot of humor.
And so I had to pull my brakes on that part of my writing with this because it felt almost disrespectful to do it in this story.
Yeah, writing for kids is extremely difficult because you always have to have a conflict. Let’s be honest; it’s the central point of almost every story. But on the other hand, writing for kids, you have to create an unrealistic solution to that conflict.
I work with kids a lot. And I understood from working creatively with them that they don’t want to be treated as stupid. They want to be treated honestly.
I had to be careful about the setting. If you have a light setting you can do whatever you want. But if you have a darker setting like this one, like a moodier darker setting, you can’t go positive in the end.
Because it’s just they won’t believe it. And so I needed to be realistic and dark about the whole thing.
In the earlier version, Kroma was a more positive character, like a hero or something like she was very hopeful. But when I was writing it and evaluating what she went through, I realized there’s no way she’s positive or hopeful.
She has to be deconstructed from within, destroyed from within, and look into that, find what’s important to her and start building herself up from scratch.
You cannot tell kids this, not because they won’t understand it, but because they haven’t experienced it. Because from their point of view they don’t have enough experience to understand what it means to reconstruct your old belief because they are still building them in the first place.
So you just need to help them build them in the right way. Also, I didn’t want anybody to be completely bad, like the bad guy that does things just because he’s bad.
And so that’s the reason why you have a backstory for Makavi. I didn’t put it there because I wanted the shock factor of Kroma being his daughter. After all, it’s not very important. I just wanted to show that he is very conflicted and complicated. He went through hard stuff too and as a result he grew this shell around him.
Yeah, but Makavi’s issues were self-inflicted, so it really, at least from my point of view, makes him even even more evil. I understand you wanted to add another dimension to the character, but that sort of thing, the morally grey characters, don’t really work for me.
So not that they are badly written or something, but because I have this sort of black & white perspective on it (irony detected). So the fact that he was hurt and then proceeded to hurt his daughter instead of breaking the wheel makes him even more evil.
Yeah. You don’t justify whatever he’s done. Whenever something happens and somebody does something very bad. If you dig deep enough you will see that it comes from a distorted perspective.
This awful situation he found himself in pushed him to do this awful stuff. Everything started with his love for Tara, and he didn’t know what to do and went dark with it.
And he says that he just wanted to hate and hurt her in the end. But at the same time, it was very difficult for him, which is not a justification for whatever he did.
I just didn’t want to stop on the surface and say, oh, he did that because he’s an asshole, he’s a piece of s***, and that’s it. He did these horrible things because of his experiences.
No, but that’s the key point. He wasn’t pushed into these situations. He’s basically the enforcer of the rules. So he could have easily made it legal for Kroma to live, for his love to be legal. So this is how I understood it that he had all the power in the world to make things right back then, and he didn’t choose the easier path.
In my head he didn’t because he still was part of this religious organization, and if he tried to bend the rules too much, they wouldn’t have allowed it.
So he wasn’t the first Makavi ever. The religion is thousands of years old, so he’s not the one who can change the rules. If tomorrow the Pope goes outside the norm saying “Jesus wasn’t on the cross. He was drowned.”
People wouldn’t go: “OK, yeah, you’re right. We believe this from now on.” They have to follow those rules. They were made before them and they are just arbitrary, and they try and push you to protect yourself from whatever you have around you at the cost of your will and your free choice.
Makavi pushed the rules. He wanted to kill Kroma and Kroma’s mother begged him not to kill her. He just came up with this weird thing. He couldn’t say or do anything else. This was not just the Makavi issue. It was all the people.
Makes sense. It’s a good enough explanation. But there’s one more thing that I was wondering. What was the point of Kroma’s torture and parading her every year? Makavi knew the truth all this time, and why not just keep her a secret or lock her up in the tower? What was the point in turning her into a monster and having her beaten up every year?
Because when he revealed her to the public, he had the choice to kill her off or keep her prisoner. But he and the whole religious organization chose to use her as a reminder of what happened to them and the remainder of their belief.
Because whenever they parade her around, and they do the whole egg ritual, etc., it’s just like a mass that reinforces the fear of the people.
Yes, after a while you need proof in every kind of religion. Physical proof or your belief starts to fade. This is not completely the case for Makavi because they have the lizards outside the walls and are a reminder.
But they needed something worse to remind people and reinforce their beliefs. And that’s the reason why they used Kroma in such an inhumane way. They needed Kroma to have someone to blame all their troubles on.
So they had to have the illusion of equal footing with the lizards, and they had to, basically, feel, at least at one point, that they had a chance at winning that war.
Yeah, or at least they are not completely defeated. It’s like some kind of a win for them to have her there.
So do you plan on expanding that world? And would you accept the offer that the work be adapted into live-action series or a video game? Don’t get me wrong; I think the story should stay as it is. It’s fascinating. It’s mysterious enough that you keep wondering about the small details long after you’ve done reading it. But you can’t deny that it has much potential, especially for a prequel story.
If somebody comes up to me and offers to adapt the story to other media I would love to do so. It could be like an animated movie not a series, like one movie.
The story’s structure would go very well in that direction. I play video games all the time so that would be awesome. It could be something like Hellblade.
As for expanding the story, I always think about that and have some ideas. But I really want to be “in it” to write it.
I don’t want to do it because I liked writing ‘Kroma’ or people asked for it. I want to do it for a reason and beacuse another story in that world is waiting to be told.
I wrote ‘Kroma’ because I wanted to say something very specific that you can summarize almost in the last couple of pages. If I come up with something with a message that I care about and can place in that world, I would be excited to do it.
But for the moment, I’m simply juggling some stories in my head. Who knows?
So it has to click, basically.
Yeah, it has to click and it has to be worth my effort and time because laterly I’m at a point in my career when I need to care about the project to do it.
Otherwise I can’t find the energy to do them because I’m growing up and trying to balance my life and work. And sometimes it can be very difficult in this line of work.
Now that we’ve touched upon the potential future projects, do you have any new ones you want to discuss?
So right now I’m working on ‘Void Rivals.’ I don’t know exactly when it will end but after the Rivals I will take a small break just because I need to breathe a little bit.
I’ve been working on stuff for about seven years without any breaks and I’m tired, I need to regroup.
But then I’m thinking about writing another story and drawing another story or another couple of stories I’m developing right now in my spare time.
But at the same time, I don’t know, I’m working with Robert Kirkman and he has so many things up his sleeve. He’s always calling me to some weird project, which is difficult to say no to because he’s Robert.
Also because it’s always exciting whenever he comes up with something, and he’s always full throttle ahead. We also get along well.
I don’t know what will happen after ‘Void Rivals,’ but it will either be something with Robert or myself or a third option I’m unaware of.