When Stan Lee announces a new series of illustrated novels featuring super-powered mercenaries and the mysteries of the Chinese Zodiac, you know you’re in for a wild adventure.
Created by Lee, The Zodiac Legacy series opens with Chinese-American teen Steven Lee on an educational trip to Hong Kong. A routine tour of a museum takes a turn for the magical when an ancient force is awakened, releasing 12 powers linked to the Chinese Zodiac into the world. Now Steven, transformed by the power of the Tiger, must join forces with an eclectic group of characters to defeat a villain intent on controlling their powers.
Paste caught up with The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence writer Stuart Moore and illustrator Andie Tong to discuss zodiac mythology, diversity in publishing and the infamous Stan Lee. Check out the interview below, and learn how you could win the book and art by Tong here!
Paste: What sparked the idea for this series, and how did you get involved in the creative process?
Stuart Moore: Stan [Lee] sparked the idea! It came from him, from the same well that gave us so many other heroic concepts. Disney developed it for a while and brought in Andie to do concept art. Then they hired me to flesh it out.
Andie Tong: When I was approached by [editor Nachie Marsham] and Disney, the main introduction was more or less, “Stan Lee has an idea!” And we rolled from there. Being Chinese, the Zodiac was something that I grew up with. First thing that popped into my mind after reading the email was “Why didn’t I think of this!”
After reading the basic synopsis, I was excited about taking on this project because I would be working on it with Stan “Da Man” Lee and Disney. Plus, I loved the fact that the idea was more grounded compared to all the superhero stories out there. An additional bonus was that I got to visually create this Zodiac Legacy world from the ground up.
Paste: What aspects of the Chinese Zodiac’s mythology intrigued you the most as a writer/artist?
Moore: I like the interplay of the animal signs with the characters’ own personalities. For instance, Steven was born in the year of the Tiger, which is why the Tiger power chooses him—he’s ideally suited for it. The power brings out the best and, in the case of the villains, the worst in its hosts.
Aside from that, it’s always great to play around with different mythologies. We’re hinting at a past for the Zodiac power and its wielders, which will be developed in future volumes.
Tong: I like that the Zodiac powers are so primal. When fused with the characters, the display of their powers was something I was excited to explore. It was intentional that some of the characters look like their Zodiac counterparts. I wanted to show that in some of us, the dormant Zodiac beast could be lying subtly under the shadows and, once awakened, could release the inner animal—not just spiritually but physically as well.
Paste: With the creation of #WeNeedDiverseBooks last April, there has been a push for more character diversity in publishing. Did this influence the decision to make the protagonist of The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence a Chinese-American teen?
Moore: Yes, definitely. The other members are multinational as well: Duane (Pig) is from South Africa, Roxanne (Rooster) is from France, etc. That’s at the very core of the concept—young people from different cultures coming together to help the world.
Tong: I’m sure it had an impact. When I was approached to conceptualize the characters in the Zodiac world, it had already been decided earlier on that Steven would be Chinese-American. When it came to designing the rest of the cast, it was quite natural that it would be more exciting and intriguing to have a melting pot kind of story where the characters’ different backgrounds and cultures would interact. There was quite a lot of freedom given to me to conceptualize and explore the different ethnicities and how they fitted into the story. At the end of it, I think we came up with a pretty good balance.
Paste: What can readers expect from the sequel hitting shelves this fall?
Moore: You’ll see a Zodiac team that’s a bit more experienced at working together. Unfortunately, the villain—Maxwell—has learned from his mistakes. So things go wrong pretty quickly. It’s bigger, wilder and you’ll see some of the minor characters in surprising roles.
Tong: From an artistic standpoint, I got a kick designing the characters as well as how the characters would change and grow progressively from Book 1. I love fashion, so being able to visualize the attire of the entire cast, keeping in mind their individual characters and how they would evolve one year later, really got me challenged and intrigued. I really can’t wait to unveil the new characters and (hopefully) you can picture what the characters have been through since Book 1 through the changes in their clothes and appearance. As Stuart mentioned, the protagonists are more of a team now, and through their wardrobe, I feel it reflects that also.
Paste: And now a fun question: If you could choose to receive one of the Zodiac powers, which would you pick?
Moore: Well, you’re born into them! I’m a Tiger, like Steven and Andie. That works for me: I like the combination of vitality, agility and the hidden power that’s revealed within the story, too.
Tong: Yea, I’m with Stuart! Tiger! But if I could borrow some flight powers from Dragon, it would be the icing on the cake! Imagine, a flying Tiger! PHROOAR!