Writers and Artists Collaborating

Posted by Rowena

With the way the publishing industry is evolving, writers need to diversify. Every writer would love to see their book made into a movie (I’m guessing comic artists feel the same way). From a writer’s perspective, a graphic novel is the next best thing. In a graphic novel, the writer’s story is told through the visual medium of unfolding panels. Graphic novels translate well into film because they are already in storyboard form, eg. 300, Sin City, From Hell.

Every now and then a writer gets together with an artist to realise a dream. Meet Brigitte Sutherland (artist) and Marianne de Pierres (writer) the people behind Peacemaker.

Brigitte Sutherland (artist)
Marianne de Pierres (writer)

‘Peacemaker introduces readers to park ranger, Virgin Jackson, and US cowboy, Nate Sixkiller. Dead bodies, missing spiritualists, an imaginary eagle and a wholly psychotic businessman, Joachim Spears, are just some of the things that force the two into an uneasy alliance to save Park Western from being closed. Trapped in the heart of a sprawling Australian super city, Park Western is the only piece of natural landscape left in the entire country, and Virgin will do anything to preserve it.’

Q: Since Brigitte is from Sydney (or is it UK? Web site says Sydney. Press release says UK) and Marianne is from Brisbane, how did the pair of you meet? Brigitte had you read Marianne’s books before you met? And Marianne, had you seen Brigitte’s artwork before you met in person?

M: When I first had the idea for Peacemaker I talked to some friends in the comic industry. The fabulous Nicola Scott recommended Brigitte’s work to me. As Brigitte said, the initial stages were quite slow as she is in the UK and I’m in Australia and we were both busy on other projects. Once we had the look of the main characters right, though, it was all go.

B: I hadn’t read Marianne’s work before, she got in touch with me through my friend and mentor, Nicola Scott. I checked out her website, read her script and some of the novel and I was immediately inspired to draw some preview pages for her. Who wouldn’t want to draw a strong heroine like Virgin thundering across the Aussie outback on horseback?

Q: Brigitte, I see you have your own graphic novel The Adventures of Homunculus. How long have you been working in the industry and did you study art or have you been self taught?
B: I’ve been drawing comics since childhood, only pursuing it as a career since 2008. I’ve been mostly self-taught. I did two weeks of life-drawing on a scholarship in high school and it was the most valuable thing I’ve ever done. Of course, on top of that I’ve been drawing since childhood and practising every day. I had a book called Superheroes:Joe Kubert’s Wonderful World of Comics and later The DC Comics Guide to Pencilling Comics, which were invaluable sources. I also have a Diploma in 3D Animation which included a module in traditional animation, and that injected a lot more dynamism into my work. Mostly I just read a lot of comics!

Q: Marianne, you’ve written two SF series, Parrish and Sentients of Orion, humorous crime, Tara Sharp and YA fantasy, Burn Bright. You’ve been shortlisted and won numerous awards. Why branch into graphic novels now?

M: I get the utmost pleasure from seeing words and pictures together and I think I’ve finally arrived at a point in my life where I have the confidence to try the things I’ve long-desired, without fear of failure or being seen as presumptuous. The other thing is that I grew up on a diet of Westerns and I’ve been waiting for the right moment to indulge that deep connection with my youth. When I started writing the Peacemaker novel (in progress), I knew that I wanted to see it illustrated. I also knew that my schedule was such that the novel wouldn’t get my full attention for a while. Once I started fooling around with a script, I couldn’t put it down. I had a wonderful small publisher on board for a while, but various things meant they had to withdraw. I then had to make a decision – go forward alone or let the project falter. I was way too enthusiastic and in love with it at that point to let it fall. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Q: From the time that the pair of you met, how long did this project take to come to fruition?

B: Quite a few months! I sent Marianne my first page samples around New York Comic Con last year, in October. Once the details were sorted and green light was given it moved pretty quickly. I started the sequentials in May and it was launched just over a month later!

M: Yeah, what she said.

Q: Marianne, as far as I know you haven’t written for graphic novel/comics before. Did you write this in panel form, or did you write it as a story and Brigitte worked from the manuscript?

Brigitte worked from my script which also had suggestions for page configurations and some very specific images. On other panels, she worked her own magic.

Q: Following on from that, the process of collaboration fascinates me. Could you describe the nuts and bolts of how you work together?

M: I studied how comic scripts were presented and noticed that there was a lot of variety of form. When I sent my script through, Brigitte only had to query a couple of things, so I must have been fairly comprehensible. Nicola Scott told me that fledgling comic writers tended to over explain things and not let the images tell the story. I tried to keep that in mind. I think Brigitte plugged a lot of the gaps due to my inexperience.

B: I make a bunch of thumbnails and check that everything flows and makes sense. At this point I ask Marianne to confirm details that haven’t been specified in the script or to ask about visual choices she might like to make. After her feedback I go on to A3 roughs then inking. As I’m working alone on the art I can be very loose with the pencils because I’ll know the detail to add when inking. I also place lettering at this stage then I send her the inks for approval. She tells me any changes, I make them and add colour to a finished degree. I send her another set for approval, make any final changes and voila! We have a comic!

Q: Where do you see Peacemaker going from here?

M: The first issue is only quite small – 12 pages, but issue 2 will be double that size. After that we’ll have to wait and see. Anything of quality has costs (and Brigitte has produced some quality art), so a lot will come down to reader response.

B: Hopefully to issue two at least! I’d love to see this get a cult following of fans driving it along. I don’t know what Marianne has in mind, but to me the character of Virgin Jackson could sustain a comic series for years. She’s up there with Lara Croft and there’s a dearth of adventurous women in comics, sans-spandex. I hope that as long as this comic inspires people it’ll keep going.

Q: Having come to this point as a writer and artist team, do you have another project in the pipeline?

B: Right now I want to put all my energy into Peacemaker, because we’ve only just started this story and there’s so much more to tell. In the future, who knows?

M: I’d love to be involved with Brigitte on further projects, and I have some ideas that I haven’t mentioned to her yet J. She’s easy to work with, very amenable to an exchange of ideas. On a couple of occasions we experienced some quite eerie visual sympatico. I sent her a picture of Claudia Cardinale as my idea of the main character, Virgin Jackson. She had already collected the same image in her files as a reference. Later on, when we were talking about covers I sent her the link to the Cowboy’s and Aliens poster and she’d literally just been browsing it. One thing I was very sure about in my own mind was the Virgin shouldn’t be portrayed as half nude just wearing a pair of chaps and a bra top. It would have been so easy to go the super hero/pneumatic breasts way with her. Brigitte never sent me any concept designs that looked like that. I think she captured sexy without turning Virgin into a sex object. Like I said, we were on a wavelength.

Download a free sample of Peacemaker here.

Brigitte’s Blog.

Marianne’s YA blog.

Marianne’s Crime blog.

Rowena, here. I’m a big fan of graphic novels. Is anyone else keen on this kind of story telling?

5 thoughts on “Writers and Artists Collaborating

  1. Graphic novels – I love the Starstruck series by Michale Kaluta. My favourite character is Brucilla.

    I think mixing medias is a great area for an author to stay fresh and reach new readers.

  2. I’d love to do this with some of my stuff, but like M says, got to be in the right space to try it.

    Good luck with it. You don’t see all that many credible female characters in comics, spandex or no.

    A couple of Gaiman’s very short pieces within his Sandman series will stay with me forever.

Comments are closed.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: