Courtesy of Kevin Costner
Kevin P. Sullivan
October 28, 2015 AT 06:47 PM EDT

Tales of swashbuckling intrigue by greats like Robert Louis Stevenson and Rudyard Kipling instilled a love of storytelling in generations of young readers, yet somewhere along the way, those kinds of grand escapades vanished from children’s bookshelves and into thin air like genies returning to their lamps. But now three unlikely heroes are making a bold bet that ancient legends and globe-trotting good guys still have a place in kids’ hearts.

The first volume of The Explorers Guild, by Jon Baird and Kevin Costner (yes, that Kevin Costner), is a 750-page love letter to those adventures of old that follows a secret group of men and women known as the Explorers Guild as they search for the ancient lost city of Shambhala.

There’s a reason for the heft: all the pictures. It is packed with illustrated comic panels by Rick Ross (no, not that Rick Ross) and broken into five distinct books. In older yarns like Kipling’s, “somewhere in the middle of them, you’d see pictures,” Costner says. “I just remember thinking, ‘Wow, what a tease that is!’ I had to force myself not to jump to the middle of these books to see the pictures that would fire my imagination.”

Costner, who’s new to the literary world, first came aboard the project eight years ago as a sort of editorial director—providing suggestions for characters and story lines—after meeting with Baird about his original idea. Together they meant to pitch the concept as a multiplatform series that could cross over into film and possibly television, going so far as to produce a test reel of animation. Eventually they decided to focus on the story as a book, and they found Ross—who drew every illustration himself—through an ad on Craigslist.

Ignoring the movie potential for The Explorers Guild meant that Baird and Costner could tell the tale exactly as they wanted, in the vein of the traditions they missed. “We thought if we could blow a little of the dust off of those stories, people would see them the way we do and what’s really great about them: the exotic locales, the romance, the riddles, and mysteries with this overarching quest,” Baird says. “That really holds up.”

Labeling an already massive book as volume 1 carries the promise that there is even more to come, but after nearly a decade of work, Costner, Baird, and Ross are looking forward to a break. “There has to be a bit of rest,” Costner says. “And I think the wives are really glad that this s—‘s going to be out of the living room now.”

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