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Star Trek 'Stars Cry' and the evolution of the Cool Story Bro studio: from a Ukrainian startup to international recognition

, 00:10, 05.01.2024
Estimated reading time: 30 minutes 2311

Dnipro studio Cool Story Bro: the first Ukrainian comic in the style of the space opera Stars Cry. In an interview, the author Ihor Yashchenko.

The comic Stars Cry and Cool Story Bro: the first in Ukraine
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We have something to be proud of! ! We already wrote about that the star of the world's best-selling games will appear in the Ukrainian comic "Stars Cry" and promised an exclusive interview that talks about the development of the fantastic franchise - Ukrainian space opera Stars Cry, developed by the Dnipro studio Cool Story Bro for 20 years. Changing the style of the comic from Japanese anime/manga-like to American geek, reworking content to maintain canonicality, and working on new arcs and spin-offs, and further plans for a film adaptation of the comic.

As promised, we will also tell about the personal history of the author, whose name is Ihor Yashchenko, which influenced the creation of characters and a plot that combines the future, space, a complex choice of characters and the politics of a world that has long gone beyond Earth.

History of the studio: let's start with a question about the history of the studio. About the year of establishment, how did it all begin, what were the main goals and achievements over the years?

First, let's talk about our visuals, at first our style changed, our style changed systematically, and it took quite a lot of time, despite the fact that we presented the first two issues at Comic Con Ukraine 2021.

Over time, we moved away from the style that it was in the first issues, and went to the optimal, mixture, synergy, between the classic Japanese anime style and the American style. But exactly "American anime", i.e. without excessive enlargement or emphasized eyes, small mouth, etc.

The studio itself started here in Dnipro. I have been working on this project for almost 20 years. Precisely for this franchise.

And how many years has the "Stars Cry" franchise been presented in Ukraine, and when did it appear on the foreign market?

The studio has been in existence for three years. And the old version of the comic was seen by about one and a half million people around the world. But we redid everything, improved it, returned to the "canons". This is due to the fact that it was difficult to find the right people and team, so we decided to redo everything and execute everything as it was planned from the beginning.

Now we have just completed the final version, and now we are working with the publisher on how to break the comic into five parts, or release it in its complete form. There, in the first book, there is only a part, namely the first "arc", and in general the comic will consist of 18 such "arcs".

Currently, the first arc is fully completed and ready for release, and work is underway on the second arc, as well as three spin-offs: "Stars Cry: The Voice",  "Stars Cry: Etan" and "Stars Cry: legends".

When will be the second arc (part), well at least approximately?

In the next year. Full-fledged "arcs" will be released once a year, because this, the first, consists of five parts, and in general, the story arc can consist of five to ten parts.

That is, it will not be the format of a monthly publication of a part of the comic, but something more?

We're also currently considering a monthly comic to break it up into parts that can't be published every month.

It is possible that "Stars Cry: legends" will be released every week. After all, it will be a collection of short stories of six pages on average. It's an "OVA" in simple anime parlance. These are characters who met in the main plot.

A simple example - the main character Mark, sees as "grelogs" - space aliens who attacked the Earth, engaged in a battle with the police. This is a very large-scale terrorist attack, but it is all the result of political intrigues, not the first contact. And in the end, the Earth was attacked in order to get certain profits.

During the fighting, which Mark witnesses, one of the policemen is mortally wounded, he falls next to Mark and the gun falls out of his hands.

How does real life influence the creation of comic book characters and stories?

Here is an interesting character, Raya, both in the old version and in the new one. I came up with this character in the 14th year, but for many years I could not come up with the image of the character. The story of the character, his adventures were worked out, but I faced the fact that I cannot come up with the appearance of the character at all.

In the 17th year, a friend took me out to eat in an establishment owned by two sisters. And when I saw one of them, she came up to say hello and went off to do other things. But her image touched me so much that in the evening, when I returned home, I drew her. This is how the character got his appearance, finally.

Three years later, when I was the manager of the shopping center, these sisters came to meet us. And so it turned out that the character, who according to the plot is the love of the main character, is now my wife in real life.

Yes, we met then, started talking and got married. That's how I met a girl who, after drawing, gave her the appearance of a character, the beloved of the main character, whom I drew from my fifteen-year-old self. This is how the story of characters from history and us, from real life, turned out.

Regarding the Ukrainian language, was the comic published in Ukrainian from the very beginning?

From the very beginning, as a Russian-speaking person, I wrote in Russian. But when the studio was launched, a test version of the comic was released in Russian. But the first circulations and releases were exclusively in Ukrainian. That is, when we went to Comic Con Ukraine, we already went with a full edition of the comic in Ukrainian. And from the very beginning, we positioned it as the first Ukrainian space opera, and promoted it as a Ukrainian product, made by Ukrainians. In fact, all events take place in Ukraine.

And we didn't want to do some kind of "sharovarschyna", so we carefully worked out everything. The events take place in the year 2325, when the Earth has already made contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence, if you read.

Were you inspired by Star Trek, Star Wars or any other franchises?

When I wrote комікс Stars Cry first of all, it was still called "Battle for Rognaria", so the first thing that inspired me was probably from the cartoon "Transformers" of 1986. At that time, I really wanted a story of my own, about space adventures and the like, because I loved comics from childhood.

First were the drawings, or the story, or how did it later merge into the comic?

I have been drawing since the age of three, the first characters I drew, and which are still "alive" appeared to me when I was six years old. Of course, they were then transformed, reinterpreted and thus turned into final images. In the fantasy universe, there is a character "Regnar" that I invented at the age of 11, because my friends and I made a board game, and I invented him then. In general, as a child, I always liked to "create" - I drew, did sculpting...

And it so organically turned out that several skills were combined into a comic?

Well, here, rather, the process itself - the creation of worlds and stories, did it start from what? I was sick a lot as a child, and even as a child I was vaccinated, which I was not allowed to do, and I almost "died". It turns out that I was born a healthy child, but after "death", I had a bunch of pathologies, with blood vessels. They took me out of that world, it happened four more times later.

Because of this, I spent the first 13 years of my life in a hospital bed, I was very often sick, I had to stay at home, I suffered from severe headaches, etc.

And due to the fact that I was forced to spend a lot of time alone, where I did not want to be, I created distractions for myself. I always dreamed of traveling, I was always drawn somewhere, attracted to space and fantasy worlds. And if you look at our history of the franchise, you can see many references to old action movies or films from the 80s and 90s.

It is possible to notice a reference to Schwarzenegger's character from the movie "Predator" in the images of some characters, there are Easter symbols and references to certain famous heroes.

I put into this story what I loved, what got me high, and what I dreamed about. The whole story is imbued with real events, the main character participates in races, and I once participated in races. There are political undertones there, and they are also based on real political vicissitudes in which I participated.

Are there any elements of cyberpunk in your story, and did something from cyberpunk influence your work?

If you look at it correctly, it is essentially a cyberpunk design style: cars, images, surroundings, they were more "neon", bright. There was history, racing cars, they were cars from the old world, with new technologies.

In the first version, Mark was supposed to drive a Corvette from the 80s. It so happened that the universe was worked out, but when the game "Cyberpunk" was released, and although our first drawings are older than the game "Cyberpunk" by five years, the image of Mark, the final one, was ready three years later, before the release of the first trailers "Cyberpunk 2077".

Well, the game "Cyberpunk" is the quintessence of everything in the cyberpunk genre, and everything is borrowed from all previous works, except for characters like Panam, etc.

Well, the game "Cyberpunk" is the quintessence of everything in the cyberpunk genre, and everything is borrowed from all previous works, except for characters like Panam, etc.

We haven't played the Cyberpunk game at all, although we've heard and seen a lot of it. For us, Cyberpunk 2077 became something like when you came up with a joke, and after telling it to someone, they tell you "well, that's what it is."

So many moments had to be finished. I can't say in which style everything was primarily imagined, it's like Blade Runner, but it's more like Neo Tokyo, because everything is saturated with "neon", a lot of signs, futurism. I got a kick out of it myself. If you walk into our meeting room in the studio, it's the room of my dreams. Everything glows, everything in the style of retro-futurism, this can be seen in "First Player Get Ready".

In our history, there are many moments, such signs of recognition, Star Trek, Star Wars, even the classic anime "Akira", etc.

And the characters who have, well, we can say "psychological prototypes", which refer us to some political or even historical figures.

Where is your comic more appreciated now, more in Ukraine or abroad?

Well, it's not a simple story here, for example, when we were at Komi Con Ukraine, many people took our comic, said: "well, of course, I'll take the first part, I'll look at it, because it's interesting, and if I like it, I'll come back again." And after some time, the person returned and bought 6 copies of the first and second issue each! Despite the fact that it was an old version, with an old picture, which we didn't really like, but it was already there then. And we already did the processing during the war.

Of the moments for which it is very unfortunate, it is February 25, the 22nd, when we finally had to shake hands and receive a rather large investment to prepare the presentation of our comic for Hollywood.

It was supposed to be a very big job, with serious specialists, the development of the teaser. And in the future, perhaps, an animated film or series, to conduct marketing work on the Internet. We were given very specific requirements regarding the completion of each story ready for the screen adaptation. That is why we moved to the "arch" structure, because each arch is essentially a ready-made independent material for a film or series.

And even in the frames, you can see that the "storyboard" is no longer comic, but as if for a movie. You can say that this will be our ultimate goal, because all the goals we set, we realized in the end.

While working on the project, we gained many connections and contacts, "Lady Dimitrescu" from Resident Evil, whom we met at Comic Con Ukraine, and then got in touch with, fell in love with our comic. And now she is our fully official partner and character. Hardly in Ukraine, you can currently find many comics studios with such contacts. For example, the guys who are engaged in the Volya comic, for example, they are well done, but all their work is focused on Ukraine, the enemy is "Russia" and everything revolves around this.

This is correct, but we currently live in this way, and besides this, I would like to create my own Ukrainian fiction, superheroes, original and not as "Ukrmen".

But once the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Spider-Man were created as meme characters.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was created by Kevin Eastman and John Lloyd. First of all, there was one fat turtle with nunchucks, but then they had an idea and a story, "twisting" the then action movies and movies with Bruce Lee. Yes, the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic was released. And people liked it, because he was originally cool, albeit tough.

Then what is the age rating of the "Stars Cry" franchise for you?

In general, this is a 16+ rating, but we want, first of all, not to show violent footage, but to prove that war is scary, that monsters are killers, and that death is death. But we try not to overdo it, in certain moments, so as not to jump into a comic like "The Boys", but rather a decent family story, but with some rather cruel characters.

At which audience is the comic aimed more: girls or boys, what age?

Surprisingly, there are more connoisseurs, the largest audience is people over 40, because they see our work as more than just history. After all, it is divided into several lines. The main and clear line, more aimed at a teenage audience, a lot of humor, adventure, action, and does not let you get bored.

The second line is undercover games, that is, there are certain lines and elements that are attractive to more experienced people who want something more than action, and they see that everything is not as it is "in real life" and seek to see the second, hidden layer .

The third line, it is more focused on deep understanding, relationships between characters, political forces, the nature of the formation of heroes and thieves. The most pleasant thing was when people came who, after buying the first comic book, then came and said "oh, I know, this is a thief", but we are not. And they then "then this one is definitely a thief!", - no, - we answered.

There is a detective element here, the comic is not built on a good-evil scheme. Here, everyone pursues their own goals, and the reader himself, looking at how close the character's worldview is to him, or the character's vision of the world and actions, decides for himself who is "good", closer, and who is a "thief".

After all, there will be controversial moments, and everyone, all the characters will face it. Just as there will be positive moments for everyone.

I will reveal a small detail, in the story there is a "main antagonist" with whom the entire Galaxy will face, but again, he will have to be "found", he is not presented "head on" with the motivation of this character, taking into account all the time of working on the comic, almost six years. In this story, there will be many unexpected turns, things and events that will lead you "wrong". And readers are in for a lot of surprises, and moments when they, at first imagining everything in one light, will suddenly see everything from a completely different angle.

What other and future projects do you have: for example, regarding work and a recording studio?

At some point, we stopped being just a comic studio, we became a geek industry. At the time of the last interview, we didn't have a cinematic or a Cool Story Con yet. This was our first event where we show all our achievements. In the future, it will be an annual event. And on the Internet, we will present our works, plans, ideas. So far, the video has been posted, 24 minutes, where we showed everything, our music, history, characters, YouTube channel. At the time of the first interview, there was no such thing, YouTube channel, music in general.

Olena Mankovska had not yet been released as a character at that time, and we did not announce to anyone that we were working with her. Now she openly says that she is in our team.

At the beginning, no publication wrote about the fact that the star and cult character, the actress from Capcom's game "Resident Evil", is part of our team, Dnipro Studio. And now we can talk about it openly.

What future events will you be or would you like to be at?

We have already been invited to Comic Con in Italy, next year, also to London, and to a number of other countries for events. We have already performed in Poland at Comicon, and in Slovenia, unfortunately, we did not manage to perform in person, but the guys presented our material there, collected some feedback, which was then given to us. Since we obviously can't leave now, we've prepared Cool Story Con as our business card that we can send out.

The main languages of "Stars Kray" are Ukrainian and English, but we plan to make translations into all languages with which contracts will be concluded. But there will be no Russian, under no circumstances and never. This was our position even before the 24th when we were still at the Ukrainian Cpmic Con.

Tell us more about the history of the studio: for example, the year it was founded, how it all started, what were the main goals and achievements over the years?

Cool Story Bro is an association of creative people, that is, we don't care about a person's skills or what experience he has, the main thing is that a person's eyes and heart burn. We will teach as needed, we are interested in the development of creative people, regardless of their field of activity or genre. We are creating this studio as a union, this geek industry as a push, for everyone.

This is what is important for us, and if we have competitors who will do the same, we will only be satisfied! If there are those who say "we are also launching a space opera", yes, please.

Even if it will be similar to ours, because there have already been several where people, inspired by our work, invested money in something similar, but then they disappeared somewhere. Because we put our whole lives into this story. This is not just a commercial project, I have been living it for twenty years. And it is very difficult to look at it and say to others: give me money, I will write the same now.

The bottom line is that we want to cooperate, help and make friends in the creative space with everyone who is willing. So that in Ukraine, creative people could develop and realize themselves. Because it opens unprecedented opportunities for everyone. It is in demand all over the world.

From this begins cinema, cartoons, music, various movements begin, from this begins some "alternative" to everything that is happening around.

Over the past 20 years, how do you feel interest is increasing? Is your audience growing?

When I got my first comics, in my childhood they were Star Wars comics, there were no comics based on the original films yet. And at the moment, when I came to someone with comics, people had a question: "what is it anyway?". This is the 90s. At that time, no one here understood what it was. At that time, even encyclopedias on drawing comics were already published, based on the works of Stan Lee, Alex Ross, etc., but the flowering of comics in Ukraine, in my opinion, happened only after the release of the movie Spider-Man.

This is approximately 2001, when comics about him first appeared on the shelves, then about the rest of the characters from the Marvel universe.

In 2002, I drew 24 issues of the comic "Spider Man" on 12-16 pages by myself with felt-tip pens. This was my original story, and they were then distributed among acquaintances, and were valued more than the comics on store shelves. At the same time, I made all kinds of monsters from improvised means, I was always creating something. And regarding recent years and popularity, despite the war, it seems to me that some passions have only become more active in people.

The first wave of increase in readers took place during the quarantine, but still more abroad than in our country. During this time, streaming platforms and online comics also developed well, and we have plans for such activities. Now we have made the first two issues from the first arc freely available.

Next, advertising companies will start now, while we were engaged in repairing and equipping the studio, but for now we can start conducting streamer activities, communication. We have already prepared an exhibition for those who want to come and get acquainted. We are currently working on calculating the budget for the release of individual chapters and the entire plot, and we will move forward.

Of course, the war greatly reduced our capabilities, and made a lot of changes, there were a lot of outsourcing contracts, with game developers, etc., now everything is much more difficult. We work with the same enthusiasm.

At the same time, more than two hundred people are involved in the work of "Cool Story Bro" all over the world. Many specialists are from America, Germany, other European and even African countries. We all worked for our project, a lot of work has been done and a lot is still to come, but we are ready for a loud start.

At the beginning of the reprint of the comic, will there be an emphasis on the English-speaking audience or on the Ukrainian market?

My dream is to develop our Ukrainian market and spread interest in the project among Ukrainians. For the future, we are leaving our office and headquarters in Ukraine and will develop our Ukrainian brand worldwide.

And there must be a demand for it, because all over the world, you pick up a comic book, it says "Marvel" on the cover, and the cover was actually drawn by a certain Denis from Kyiv, the same story with world video games. Developers and many other things are done in Ukraine by Ukrainians, but they don't advertise it, but we can make high-quality content and let people know about us. And our goal is precisely the promotion of a product made in Ukraine to the Western and Eastern market and audience.

Well, wherever the work finds a response, we will increase the work in those countries, this will lead to the popularization of the Ukrainian product, and investments, which will increase our opportunities and will come primarily to Ukraine.

Unfortunately, the reality now is that a Ukrainian product must first become popular in America, and then spread all over the world. In our reality, first you need to become popular abroad, so that later Ukrainians themselves pay attention and notice that they have such a cool product. Even at the beginning, at Komi Con Ukraine, many people thought that the comic was not Ukrainian, although it aroused great interest. But all the same, money for us is not a goal, but a resource. We have a certain mission, and we follow the path to its realization.

Our motto is: "Don't be a part of history, create it!" We believe that inside each of us, there is a story, each of us is a creator, but not everyone is ready to accept and realize this, and start moving in this direction.

Everyone can do the same thing as us, it just takes a dream and some effort. And we want to encourage people, to start moving in this direction! For those who want to, but are afraid or hesitant. Show that everything is possible!

Is it like in your childhood, to get an impetus for action and realization?

Yes, before that. when comics became popular in our country, it was our own initiative. And only later, people who looked at it with a smile, stopped seeing it as some kind of nonsense and realized that all this is a serious matter. At the beginning of our journey, everyone looked at us with a smile, only my wife supported me when Oleksiy saw my works.

Then a few more people joined, but we had to go through many trials and misunderstandings about our work. And all this, to begin with, to become "something", and not a fool.

Is there a feeling within your team now that you have succeeded?

And what is success? If we consider the sequence of intermediate achievements, to the big goal, what we set as a "dream" three years ago, it would be cool to achieve something. At first, we dreamed that it would be cool to have our own place to work, meeting room, merch, toys, equipment.

And in a few months, we found premises and equipped the first studio, an office, less than a year later we got to Comic Con Ukraine, although before that we dreamed of performing there and getting some star in the team, and it came true!

Moreover, we were invited, and we did not fight our way. Our video was played both in the "partners" and "trailers" positions.

We have our music, which is currently on 40 platforms, including youtube, sound cloud, we have our own toys, a collector's edition. All that we talked about as a dream, now it has been achieved. We have several areas of development, music, toys, comics publishing, even at a very early stage of development, but there is a project called "Cool Story Games", a computer game based on the comic franchise. And no one gave us money for this, it is the result of our joint work.

Where can you now buy your comic "Stars Cry" in Ukraine and in the world?

In Ukraine, now, as soon as all the points regarding the circulation have passed, with the publishing house here, there is a whole network of partner shops and platforms. Such as Aquarel, Knygoland and a number of other networks, it is in them that the comic will be presented. At the same time, you can read the comic in English on Webtoon and on Tabaz for free, the first two chapters.

Also, when replication is launched, it will be possible to buy through our Instagram and our website, and other social networks. We are currently running a crowdfunding campaign, for a comic, it costs a lot of money to get a print run. It takes $20,000 to print 3,000 comics like the one I'm holding now.

So we will look at economically developed markets, because no one has cleared the economic issue, if we do not get certain working capital, we simply cannot develop it.

Publishing and promotion require certain costs. If we didn't do all this on our own, but had some budgets, investments or financing, so that we didn't have to accumulate funds and collect for the banal launch of this or that stage of the publishing house. It is clear that then we would have achieved much more quickly.

After all, we were able to do in one year without funds what other studios or projects do with funding for 3-5 years. So with the involvement of funding, we could achieve more, and in a fairly quick time frame, not a few years, but a year, or even less.

What can you recommend to people to read, to those who have already read your comic, and who are not yet familiar with the universe of the franchise?

I would advise you to familiarize yourself with our franchise, with our universe, check out Cool Story Con, there's a great intro to tell people what this universe is and what it's all about. And when there is an interest and an understanding of what kind of universe this is, an understanding of the scale of the story, its multi-layeredness, and that's when you get to know the comic itself.

It will be a cool adventure, despite the fact that the story itself is not about adventures at all, but primarily about the characters. About feelings, experiences, and how diverse our world is, and how people live in the unknown.

It even resonates with our life now in Ukraine, the events described in the comic, about war and destruction, were written ten years ago, and appeared long before the events of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. But the most important thing is not that, here everyone will find a character close to his heart, and will live with him a lot of adventures, experiences, and emotional events.

Because all the characters are "alive" with their pros and cons, and they will have many unpredictable events and trials. And you will see the main character of this story, and in general, the main character is the whole world in which these events take place, and they change it. Everyone will see this world through the eyes of the character who is closest to you.

Are there any events in the comic, are the characters inclusive, and how are they revealed?

Of course there is, because there are key characters who, for example, have prostheses, there are soldiers, there are main characters who have certain defects. There is an orphan character, there are characters who lost their mother or father. It will be possible to meet both rich and poor people who survived the war, etc.

The technologies of that world advanced significantly, including medicine, so the life expectancy of people increased a lot, up to 400 years.

It is possible that this is a spoiler, or an insider, but - Neopolis, where could it be located, on the territory of modern Ukraine?

Neopolis is Ukraine, because in the times, 300 years later, the world became globalized and the borders, in fact, were erased. And humanity came to unity and became one nation, one species -  man.

Having reached the intergalactic level, and contact with extraterrestrial species, greatly affected humanity. Mankind learned that they did not originate on Earth, they got to the planet and were constantly being watched. According to the lore of the comic, many thousands of years ago, a human ship crashed on what is now our planet, and with that, there will also be several plot twists.

And in the future, humanity on Earth has inhabited the entire surface, essentially lives in huge polises, there is a council of the Pantheon, a Galactic Government, in which there are elders who rule it. And these factors greatly influenced people, for the future, according to the timeline of the comic, and the past.

If humanity did not originate on Earth, and we fell here, this in no way contradicts the fact that God created humanity, just not on this planet. If our Earth were bigger or smaller, farther or closer to the sun, we would be different, but we would remain human. This does not contradict other trends or opinions, it is simply physics and biology.

In a comic, it's more of a topic for reflection, not an attempt to take someone's side, or make fun of some and take the position of others, everyone can take their side or think about the facts.

Of course. And another, important question, if it is possible to reveal some secret to the readers, have people found the answer to the question of who created them, and where did they come from?

Oh, and we have yet to find out about that. After all, when the Galactic world found out about the people who "fell" to the earth, that is, about the "people", they found out in general only from the moment when the ship with them began its fall and suffered a disaster in the solar system.

That is, humanity will still be in the process of finding itself and its homeland according to the plot?

There will be a lot of interesting points related to this important issue, and it still needs to be discovered by readers. In future.

This interview about the Ukrainian comic book Stars Cry in Ukrainian is at this link to read and share with friends from Ukraine.