The latest in our series of author interviews.
Our intrepid reporters in Year 6 have already asked some brilliant questions in their interviews with John & Patrice Aggs (The Boss interview), James Turner (Super Animal Adventure Squad interview), the Etherington Brothers (Baggage interview), and when they were in Year 5 the same group of pupils interviewed best-selling authors Garth Nix and Sean Williams (Trouble Twisters interview).
Now it’s the turn of the writer of graphic novel Mirabilis to face the questions! Mirabilis is a graphic novel series written by Dave Morris and drawn by Leo Hartas. It’s been very popular in the school library, and received two very good reviews from the two James in Year 6 (reviews here and here).
And both James – we’ll call them James #1 and James #2 here – have teamed up with Dylan to fire the questions this time….
Where did you get the idea for Mirabilis?
How many books will there be altogether in Mirabilis?
How long have you been writing for?
Hello all at Wilberfoss School!
I do apologize for taking a while to answer these questions – I have been completely buried in the deadline for my Frankenstein choose-your-own-adventure type book as well as getting Mirabilis Book 3 ready for printing. Both of which are lousy excuses when the children were kind enough to ask some really great questions, so I’ll get right onto answering those:
Lets start with James (James #1)….
To begin with, the idea for Mirabilis was an image that came to me of Trafalgar Square with people in top hats and long dresses, and overhead a huge green comet filling the sky. Leo and I were talking about it and we started imagining where this comet had come from and why it was so big. We decided it actually passes between the Earth and the Moon on midsummer night, and that it causes everything imaginary to become real. I’ve always loved mythology (especially the Norse gods like Thor and Loki) and science fiction, and astronomy in fact, so I suppose I just mixed that all up and got Mirabilis.
Now you may well ask, “Why is it set in Edwardian times?” And I’m not really sure – that just felt right! It may have something to do with the H G Wells stories that I loved to read as a child, which were mostly set in those days.
We are planning at least eight books in the series. We are breaking the story down into seasons: Winter, Spring, etc. And each season is a self-contained story, but with an ongoing storyline across the whole series that involves what the Kind Gentleman has got planned. (Hint: it’s not good.) Anyway, each season will be at least two volumes, so that’s eight books in all.
I have been writing for nearly 25 years. My first book was called Crypt of the Vampire, and it was illustrated by Leo Hartas, who is the artist on Mirabilis. Leo and I have been friends for a very long time, and his younger son Inigo is my godson.
(Layouts from Mirabilis by Dave Morris – see his answers to Dylan’s questions for details)
(Compare those layouts to the finished page by Leo Hartas)
How was Mirabilis written and drawn – do you work together to write and draw it or is the writing done first and passed onto Leo?
And does Leo make his artwork with paper and pens or is it done on computer?
When you were younger were you into magic and monsters?
And did that influence the characters in Mirabilis?
What sort of books do you think I’d/we’d like if we really enjoyed Mirabilis?
I write the scripts and do layouts – those are rough sketches of what goes in each panel. (I’m attaching one so you can see what I mean.) Prior to that, Leo and I will have talked about the story, but mostly I decide what’s going to happen. Occasionally he’ll suggest something fantastic that could go into a story – the giant baby Gagantua was his idea, and I liked that because it’s the start of Jack seeing the world with new eyes. He’s setting out on a journey and so he is “reborn” in that sense. Leo has very imaginative ideas like that but he leaves the details of the story to me.
Leo starts out drawing in pencil. Then I’ll make comments, such as whether we need to see a character’s expression, and Leo tidies up the pencils based on that feedback. Then he scans it and the inking stage is done on a Wacom tablet. We still call it inking because comics used to go through a pencils and inks stage, but this is digital “ink”, of course :) Then the Photoshop files go off to Nikos, our colourist, who lives in Athens, and he colours everything digitally. At each stage we have a feedback document where I can tell Leo or Nikos if anything needs changing. Leo lives in Somerset, I live in London, and Nikos in Greece, so we need a very tight process to make sure everything is done right.
As I said before, I have always loved mythology, folktales, horror stories, science fiction – all those things. One of the first books I read was Dracula. I was also hugely influenced by Dr Who. When the Dalek movie came out (this is about 45 years ago) I got my Dad to take me to see it four times in one week – and he also took me to the BBC, where he was doing some electronics design work, so I could see the first Dalek they made. (I wrote about that on the Mirabilis blog if you’re interested.)
All of these things have fed into Mirabilis. Well not so much Dr Who, perhaps, because that’s a very specific story, but I think the flavour of Dr Who is there a little bit. I often think of the story as being like a TV show, anyway, partly because we talk about “seasons”. The mythology and fantasy that I love reading certainly inspires the story, though. The only difference I would say is that the characters in Mirabilis aren’t larger-than-life. I wanted Jack to just be an ordinary boy. He isn’t the son of a prince or a demigod or anything. He doesn’t have magic powers. All he has going for him is that he’s plucky and he’s quite smart. So he could be you or me. (He also has a bit of a chip on his shoulder, by the way, which is something I like about him. Being poor in Edwardian times was no fun at all.)
Books you might like… I enjoy all of Marcus Sedgwick’s books (Blood Red Snow White and Revolver especially). Also Wheels of War by Sally Prue, and City of Ember (nothing to do with Jack!) and Mortal Engines, which you’ve probably heard of already. Some older books, if you’re into fantasy, are Jack Vance’s Lyonesse trilogy and Kevin Crossley-Holland’s The Norse Myths. I could probably list about a hundred more books if you like those.
How long does each book take to write and then draw?
Can you tell me a little about what’s going to happen in the rest of the series; will Jack survive?
What’s going to happen to the Devil?
Hello the other James!
We figure on about 7-8 weeks to do a “batch” (which is 25 pages, roughly one chapter). So if we could work on Mirabilis full-time, which is what I’d love to do, then we could do a complete book, ie half a season, in about 8 months. The snag is that Leo has a lot of other books to work on, and I don’t want to write too far ahead as it is important that I discuss my ideas with him and get his feedback. So I think we’re likely to only get one more volume done this year – that’s the first part of the Spring season, which we’re aiming to have out in time for Christmas. But we have already done the second half of Winter, of course, which will be out in a month or two – they have been printed (our printer is in Bosnia) and I’m waiting to see an advance copy any day now. So there will be two Mirabilis books this year, but probably only one next year – unless I can get Leo to speed up.
As for what’s going to happen… You like spoilers, huh? Well, Jack will survive. He’s the hero, we can’t kill him! We like him so much we might even have two of him ;-) And the Kind Gentleman – well, you’re the first person to call him by that other name that he doesn’t like using, well spotted. He has a massive plan that will unfold over all four seasons, something so dark and momentous that it makes Voldemort look like a guy who drops litter and walks on the grass in parks. I can’t tell you the details, it would feel too much like giving the game away, but I can say that we’ll be dropping some hints as the story progresses. And if you look at what Gus tells Jack on top of the train, there are some pretty broad clues there too.
(Mirabilis – Winter Volume 2, out very, very soon!)
I’d like to thank you guys for some very interesting questions.
And now it’s my turn for a question. I think a lot of other Mirabilis readers could be interested in the points you raised, so would you mind if I run your questions and the answers on the blog at some point in the future?
Also to James: thanks again for your review, and your note to me. I put a comment on the Wilberfoss website, so I hope that showed up? (editor note – yes it did – here in fact)
Thanks as usual to Year 6 for asking some great questions, and thanks of course to Dave for agreeing to answer them!
Mirabilis Book 2 is due out very soon, and hopefully we’ll get some preview copies for the library before publication, although something tells me that James, Dylan, and James may well want to read them first!!!