A Chat with Razorfist

Exploring Nightvale

Razorfist is well known as a commentator on everything from politics, to games, to music, but recently he's entered into the world of pulp with his Nightvale series. A unique blending of noir and fantasy. You can find his full library of video content on Unauthorized, and his novels, The Long Moonlight, and Death Mask, at Amazon or Arkhaven Comics.

Below I've transcribed, and sometimes heavily paraphrased, the first portion of our discussion, as well as a bit of a closing statement from Razorfist. This is only a small slice of the interview which I encourage everyone to watch in full here or just scroll down.

Can you tell everybody, in the random chance that somebody doesn’t know who you are, can you give us a real quick intro to who you are and what you’re doing?

Yes. I am Keyser Soze...
No, I am Razorfist, commentator and sometimes backup dancer for run DMC. I have a YouTube channel, I draw, I write, I do lots and lots and lots of things. I don’t limit myself.

On your Nightvale series, I know that you said you started at a fairly young age, thinking about this world, but when did you get into writing.

I first started coming up with the idea, not even the world, it wasn’t the world I came up with, it was another story entirely. Nightvale is essentially a spinoff of another series that I never published. That’s basically it. It was going to be a proper, low-fantasy, sort of epic. It was going to be a diptych, so split into two different parts. And, rather than a trilogy, when I was tired of trilogies, and I did write a book and a half of it; almost finished it. But then, I wanted to go back, I got the bug where you wanna go back and do a new draft and that whole thing, which was one of the reasons Nightvale was so cathartic.

Years later, because this was when I was about ten years old that I wrote this and years, years, years later, always in the back of my mind ever since I was a little kid, that I loved Robin Hood and stuff like that. I always loved the rogue-ish kind of bandit like characters, even the thief-y sort of Conan stories.

So, I wanted to sort of channel that, I had this idea that okay, this world is getting bigger and bigger, and more and more detailed, and so what if I took this huge world with all this history, two-thousand years of history that I had written out, and then just went way, way, way close, grabbed that magnifying glass and went as tight and as low-level as you possibly could get. Down to the street level. I want to see what a street corner is like, in this world. And, in the back of my mind it was like, thief. It’s a thief story. And mind you, this is before Thief: the Dark Project had come out, the video game. So, it was more like a Robin Hood kind of an idea. And then when I got older and sort of codified my love of noir, pulps, and things like that, I got more and more enamored with the idea of doing a street-level crime story.

Like I always wondered, you know, watching Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings or even reading Tolkien, thinking, what would, beat cops of Minas Tirith be like? Because, the world is so detailed, but you don’t get the sense that people live here day to day. It’s very much an epic, sweeping kind of thing. So I’ve always loved the low-fantasy side of things, I’ve always loved the pulpy side of things, the sword and sorcery side.

So I just basically mixed my two loves, sword and sorcery pulps, and noir pulps. And combine them together in a package. Of course, when I got a little older, I got into the Thief games, too. And they were inspired by noir as well. So there’s a lot of crossover there.

Combining all these things that I really, really loved, into the very first story, The Long Moonlight. Which was received really well. But, if the first book was more noir, then I knew every single volume, like any good pulp, generally in the same oeuvre, but it needed to do something different every single time. So first one a little bit more noir, second one I knew, okay, we’re fantasy-noir, so this one needs to be a little more fantasy. So, that’s what I’ve done. Keeping the thick, Raymond Chandler-esque patter and atmospherics of noir, but leaning more into the sword and sorcery inspirations of the setting at the same time. So that’s really what it is. And it’s in that classic setting of sword and sandal, you know, wind-swept deserts and stuff, basically where I live. So I steered into it. I actually wrote heavily from life experience, in fact, in the desert.

What would you say your biggest inspiration for Xerdes himself, was?

Really, Robin Hood and Philip Marlowe. They’re probably the biggest. Because really, he’s a detective in every single way except for his vocation. I didn’t want to do the standard, because you get a lot of, "I’m gonna do a fantasy-noir." Then it’s hey, we’re wearing trench coats in a cobblestone, medieval street. We’ve got steampunk revolvers. It’s like they’ve watched Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and think that’s what noir is. But noir is an atmosphere and noir is a style of patter, it’s a style of dialogue, an expressionistic and romantic approach to the subject of crime.

It was more important to me that Xerdes, the main character, fit the function in terms of story. Private eyes are chosen for a specific reason, right? Dashiell Hammit, his stories were semi-autobiographical because he used to work for the Pinkerton Agency, and he’s sort of the originator of all of it. But, thereafter, private eyes became very utilitarian for noir writers of the pulp era because, if you think about it, you’re dealing with a crime story so you have two major factions that are always at war. It’s cops and robbers. Who can straddle the line between those two? Who can be wherever the story is taking place? It’s going to be a private eye.

In the context of my world, there are no private eyes and it doesn’t make sense for there to be private eyes. There could be, maybe, investigators that are hired or something, mercenaries, but it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. A thief can kind of straddle both areas because thieves have to work as informants, they have to know who all the fences are, they’re gonna know the “cops” in this world, and I do call the slang cops sometimes as a stylistic sort of embellishment. But, at the same time, they’re thieves. They can get really heavily embroiled in the darker, more violent side of whatever gangdom, the underworld.

Do you have any message for the Iron Age fans and authors who might be tuning in out there?

Look guys I think it's pretty obvious at this point that we've long sense left the post-orgasmal afterglow of superhero trends in the films and such. I said on Twitter recently that we’ve officially entered the fat Elvis phase of the superhero trend, and folks, somebody got to pick up the bit. There’s a vacuum there’s a yawning chasm where people are wanting tales of genuine heroism. Not even genuine heroism, don’t even corral yourself that far. They’re looking for direct storytelling, with not necessarily a viewpoint, but a strong moral center that has a core to it. It’s not just disposable fast-food trash. Not that there’s anything wrong with fast food fiction.

But at the end of the day that’s what they’re looking for, they’re looking for something that will grab them by the balls and say read me. This is the story that you need to know about. I feel like as important as it is to get those written, it’s arguably more important to people talking about it. To have a new media. The law of averages being what it is, not everyone can write or draw. It’s just how it is. AI art may (groans) arguably help some people in that regard, even though it’s basically taking the most vacuous elements of digital and removing that pesky thing called talent from the equation. At the end of the day, you have the opportunity to build something even better. You’re about to create a community. You’re actually ready to launch something that lasts much longer than anybody’s creation, comic, pulp, or whatever.

It’s incredibly exciting to me because this is going to happen whether I give the encouraging speech at the end of Rudy or not. It doesn’t matter. This is happening. This zeitgeist is here and it’s here to stay, and I called it the Iron Age for one simple reason. It may not have the luster of gold or silver, but we hammer it the fuck out. That goes for the people who are going talk about the stuff, be passionate about it, or cover it. I’m as excited as hell not just your website, but that there are now people who are identifying with this Iron Age movement.

I claim no ownership of it, by the way. It’s just a name. It was a phenomenon that required a label. And I’m as excited as hell that other people are smelling whats cooking in the air. And my olfactories are well attuned to the scent of fucking badass and boy it is coming. I’m excited.