I actually finished drawing The Rainbow Orchid in October 2011 (with the cover completed the following month), and volume three was finally published in April. It was a fairly low-key launch, with the nearest event being the following month at a quiet Bristol Comics Expo, but the reaction and reviews were still very nice - the best being May's Graphic Novel of the Month in The Observer:
"... I couldn't like it more if I tried ... It is all so beautifully done: the historical references are spot on ... the dialogue is pitch perfect ... the result is one of the most satisfying comics around, whether you are a small boy, or a grown woman."
Receiving an endorsement from comedian Rhys Darby was the icing on the cake:
"... I really love your Rainbow Orchid books. They fuel my hunger for classic adventure!"
One of the nicest things has been the lovely emails I've received from readers, not to mention the in-person comments from people at various comics shows - where they can actually see me blush!
In September The Complete Rainbow Orchid came out - for me, the book that really matters, and the way I would like most people to read it. I still haven't read it all through myself yet, I'm waiting a while so I can at least have a partially fresh look at it. But Egmont did a wonderful job on the book, and I'm especially chuffed with all the extras. It even made a few best-of lists for 2012:
The Observer best Graphic Novels of 2012 - "... timeless adventure stories that fans of Tintin will adore."
Forbidden Planet Best of the Year: Zainab - "... Ewing's adventure of a search for a rare, possibly non-existent flower left me more excited than that sentence possibly can recount. I have no further words for it: it's just a fantastic comic."
Forbidden Planet Best of the Year: Rob Jackson - "... this is my best of the year, it's such a beautiful book. It was great to read the whole story all the way through in one go."
Jason Cobley - "... the pages just zing, enthralling kids and grown ups alike. Proper all-ages storytelling. ... if you're looking for something to get youngsters away from TV and reading something that also gives them visual appeal, here it is."
And a couple more from Laura Gomez and Jonathan King. There was also this very nice review from coNZervative in New Zealand. I wouldn't be aware of most of these nice mentions if it wasn't for Linda Wada, who maintains a Rainbow Orchid fan-page. Big thanks, all!
Another nice thing that happened this year was The Rainbow Orchid getting distribution in the United States, resulting in a number of positive reviews and mentions, including this one from Comics Worth Reading ("... "a great example of what "all ages" really should mean"). There was a good interview with me on US comics website The Beat back in January.
In November I published The Rainbow Orchid Supplement (Down the Tubes review and Forbidden Planet review), and the Spanish edition of RO came out, La Orquidea Arcoiris from NetCom2 Editorial. A few months earlier Silvester Strips brought all three volumes of De Regenboog Orchidee into a lovely boxed set, or cassette.
January 2012 saw the launch of The Phoenix, a brilliant weekly comic for kids that has been quite rightly receiving praise and plaudits from all quarters. Due to other work commitments I haven't been able to be a big part of it (yet!), but I was delighted to appear in the first issue with The Legend of the Golden Feather and in the middle of the year with The Bald Boy and the Dervish, both written by Mezolith author and storyteller, Ben Haggarty. It's chock full of the very best of British comic creators, so give yourself a present for 2013 and subscribe!
On a personal level the year has been a nice one, though with one low point when I lost my dear cat, Tansy, on her 14th birthday in August (you can see a photo of her in the back of The Complete Rainbow Orchid as I tried to get her to pose for the cover of volume two!). A good innings, but she's terribly missed. On the up-side, my daughter saw her first birthday and is turning into such a lovely little person - I feel very lucky.
I had a good Christmas - my comics presents were Bryan Talbot's third Grandville book (completely terrific) and the Commando: 50 Years book (have yet to explore, but looks wonderful). I got a beautiful Japanese print (which I may blog about soon) and I'm looking forward to watching Jigokumon, which i got on DVD.
So what can I say about 2013? Firstly, the French language editions of RO, L'Orchidee Arc-en-ciel will be published in February by BD Must, and I'm really looking forward to seeing those. I can also say there will be new Julius Chancer, though with no contracts signed, as yet, I'm reluctant to say any more. But even if every publisher suddenly abandoned me you'd still get new Julius Chancer - on this website. Still, the greater likelihood is that it will be in print, and I'm looking forward to getting stuck into that.
Here's hoping we all have a fabulous 2013 - happy new year!
Very little is given away about Evelyn throughout The Rainbow Orchid. The only hard fact seems to be that she works for Urkaz Grope. We can see she's resourceful, often using deceit as a weapon, though she also keeps a handgun and a pocket knife handy. That's if she even needs them - her unarmed combat skills have evidently benefitted from training, possibly karate from the style of some of her techniques.
She's a careful planner and a strong leader, as well as incredibly loyal to Grope, even going so far as to kill those who would get in her way - she doesn't seem to be too troubled by empathy. Her self-confidence knows no bounds; she's genuinely shocked when the tables get turned on her (a rare event). She's smart, classy, and probably a little vain.
Evelyn may have a blank on her character's history in the story, but I can at least offer something regarding her creation. Like Lily Lawrence her origins lie in the abandoned short comic I wrote in 1996 called Stage Fight - a story that would eventually be produced as Sword of Fate, Lily's origin tale, in The Girly Comic. Stage Fight featured a character called Evelyn Saxon, a Victorian vamp with a wine bottle in one hand and a couldn't-care-less attitude in the other (I renamed her Eleanor Saxon for Sword of Fate). You might see a future echo of her in the character of Josephine Bolan from my episode in Blank Slate's Nelson, and if you happen to know some of my much older work then you might see a more distant version of her as The Sorceress from my fantasy story Realm of the Sorceress.
Physically she is a 1920s modern woman with a straightforward yet stylish hairstyle that matches her character, inspired by some of the more self-determined figures of the silent screen: Louise Brooks, Clara Bow, Pola Negri, and a little Theda Bara for good measure. Another more recent similarity has been noted - with that of Irina Spalko, played by Cate Blanchett in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (though Evelyn predates her).
I mentioned earlier that Evelyn Crow carries a handgun and I'd like to say something about my philosophy of gun use in The Rainbow Orchid (and in my stories generally). When Evelyn fires the gun it has consequences - people get hurt, and I don't just mean cartoon-hurt (even though this is a cartoon strip). I hope you feel that Tayaut is in real danger from his bullet wound, and you can also see the effect it has on his friends and loved-ones, not to mention the death that also occurs. And, of course, Evelyn becomes a victim herself later on, again with consequences that affect characters and story.
For me, when a gun is introduced into the plot, it is not as a solution - it does not enable the hero to solve the problem of his antagonists; it is a complication. I hate films where a gun is just a toy-device that blasts people away with no effect on lives or story. I'm not against action films with guns, even fairly violent films to some degree - as long as there are consequences. It's a matter of the weapon having weight, a weight that reflects what can happen in the real world - I think that's important.
My Christmas card to you this year consists of two reader favourites from The Rainbow Orchid, the exoptable yet deadly 'dark angel', Evelyn Crow, and barfani chita - the snow leopard (click picture to see a bigger version). You can expect a blog post about Evelyn in the next couple of days!
Emma says she took quite a while to do them as a lot of old, new and rare pieces went into their making, and I think you'll agree she's done a fantastic job.
Do go and have a look at Emma's website, she has a beautiful illustration style and I especially love the look of her children's book, Reynard the Detective. And if you need a late Christmas gift (or even a post-Christmas gift) check out her Etsy shop as well.
Emma's Lego Julius Chancer and chums are going into the readers' art gallery, so do go and have a look at the full set and see some other wonderful Rainbow Orchid art there as well. Thank you so much for these, Emma!
As well as accompanying me to one of my workshops (at the Forest Row Festival) we also went through the process of making a single page comic featuring Tom's own characters, The Larrys. Here's a little interview I conducted with Tom, as well as a few pieces of his fantastic artwork, more of which you can see over at his website.
Tom, can you introduce yourself - age, interests, and what you'd like to do when you leave school?
I'm Tom V. Leighton, I'm 17. I love to draw and create my own comics, I like watching films and spending time with my friends. I am in my last year of Imberhorne Sixth Form and I am studying Art and Design as well as ICT. When I leave school I would like to go to University in America (Brigham Young University) where I will study animation and hopefully get a career at one of the large animation studios.
You recently visited me one day a week for a few weeks as part of a school project, can you give some background to this - what you had to do and what you wanted to get out of it?
I had to produce a case study of the business over a few weeks, I had to learn about the trade and gain ideas for a final piece. To begin with I learned about some basic business and the process of how you created a comic strip, which I found very interesting! We had some discussion and over a few weeks we decided to produce a full six panel comic strip starring some of my own characters, The Larrys. We also attended the Forest Row drawing workshop where I helped as an assistant. This was a new experience and I felt that I would observe to see the basis of what happens at these workshops. I learned a lot from these visits and I am very grateful for the opportunity I had in doing so!
It was good fun, and I learned some stuff too! Can you introduce us to your comic characters, The Larrys - what's it all about?
Sure, The Larrys is about a group of young boys (around 7 yrs) who get up to all sorts of adventures. There are 5 of them to begin with until they take on a new member later on! They have certain adult characteristics to them and they occasionally refer to themselves as characters in a comic strip in some way or another. The adventures are based on what I would have liked to have done as a kid. There are quite a few adventures, I haven't developed all of the stories yet but all in good time! I came up with the comic idea from a dream I had; I dreamed that my Mum bought me a t-Shirt that had The Larrys on it.
Curious! We made a little 'Larrys' comic together (well, 90% you, 10% me*) - how did you find the experience? Was it very different from the way you usually work?
I found it very fun, I learned about the processes in scanning and colouring the strip and I thought it was great that we combined our two illustration styles. The process was definitely more technical than the way I would have done it without any guidance; I would have just drawn out the boxes and characters, followed by outlining it with black ink and then colouring it using comic pens. I will definitely consider the process for the future.
Sometimes it's interesting to know how other people do things, perhaps pick up a tip or two, but we all find our own way in the end. Can you tell me when and how you got interested in comics?
When I was in year 3 [age 7-8], I had a friend who 'taught' me to draw cartoons. From there I guess I became interested in different cartoons and came across different comic books. I came across a Wallace and Gromit comic book and a Garfield annual. I then became interested in The Beano when I got an annual for Christmas. I then went to Florida in 2004 and got a Fantastic Four comic book. I guess I came across other comics and started to develop my own characters and stories.
And what comics do you read now? What are your all-time favourites?
I mainly read The Rainbow Orchid, Garfield and Marvel. I did read some Adventures of Tintin and after working with you I have gained an interest in Tintin. My all time favourites are: Marvel, Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes, The Rainbow Orchid and there are probably other comics which I can't think of right now.
So, if you had to pick one comic to take to a desert island, what would it be?
That's a tough one, hmm ... If I had to pick one comic to take to a desert Island then I would probably have to take a big book of Marvel as it would be made up of lots of different stories.
Good thinking! Is there any interest in comics amongst your friends and fellow students?
A small amount, I don't really discuss comics and such, if I do then it is usually about my own works. I don't mind this as I enjoy talking about my own ideas and it implies that people are interested in my interests and hobbies.
As a young chap looking to embark on a career in comics, how do you see the current comics scene, especially in the UK? Do you feel optimistic both as a creator and a reader?
I don't really know. To begin with I genuinely thought that I would get a lot of money straight away from my comic ideas, now I see that's a bit dumb! Ha! There are many different comic ideas and there seems to be a lot of repetition over the years. I guess it is down to personal tastes and popularity. One comic may gain a lot of interest and some may not get much interest. It would probably be different in the USA. As I plan to live there when I'm older it may help as there is a different comic culture over there. If that makes sense.
Yes, it's good to have a clear plan like that. Having something to aim for is really important! At this moment in time, what is your ambition in art, comics, or any related fields? What is your ultimate aim?
At this moment I aim to get good grades in my A levels and to get into university in the U.S. and see where it takes me. My ultimate aim is to work at Pixar in many different fields of art, animation and illustration or even start up my own successful comics company. but we shall see...
Well, it seems you're certainly setting off on the right foot, so I wish you all the best with it! Thanks very much for your time and for answering my questions, Tom.
You can visit Tom's website here.
Firstly I should say that I haven't read any Tintin in a long time. That might surprise you, but there's a reason for it. When I started The Rainbow Orchid I wanted it to be a British comic but in the mould of European classics such as Tintin, Blake and Mortimer, Freddy Lombard, Yoko Tsuno and their ilk. But being so heavily influenced from the start I wanted to find my own feet with the style and story, so I pretty much cut myself off from reading Tintin (the best-known of the influences) over the next few years. I perhaps sneaked in one or two reads in something like eight years.
In that time I was given a hugely generous 40th birthday present from Egmont - the UK publisher of Tintin (and The Rainbow Orchid) - in the form of a complete set of Tintin in hardback. In the US the Tintin books have been published since the 1970s by Little, Brown, and recently they released a series of young reader editions, sporting newly designed covers and - the best bit - fascinating bonus material at the back of each book.
The new covers are the first thing you'll notice about the books, each one enlarging an extract from one of the story's panels on a flat colour background. There have been mumblings from some Tintin fans that the original albums shouldn't be messed with, but I have to say I think, for an offshoot edition, they're good; deliciously designed and rather attractive. The next thing you'll notice is the size - these are digest books measuring roughly six by nine inches but they're mostly perfectly readable (a few of the illustrated documents and longer balloons can be a bit of a struggle for older eyes) and they double up as an ideal and portable travelling edition.
Before you reach the start of the story you'll find seven pages, each devoted to a key character from the album with a little introduction to them and the part they play in the adventure ahead. So, in Cigars of the Pharaoh we get Tintin and Snowy, Sophocles Sarcophagus ("Doctor Sarcophagus only has one thing on his mind throughout this adventure: Ancient Egyptian pharaohs!"), Rastapopoulos, Thomson and Thompson ("The world's silliest police detectives make their first appearance in this Tintin story. Right from the start their investigations are in a hopeless muddle!"), Sheik Patrash Pasha, The Fakir, and The Maharaja of Gaipajama ("The dignified Maharaja of Gaipajama welcomes Tintin into his palace, and the heroic reporter returns his kindness").
The bulk of the book is, of course, made up of the most important bit, the Tintin adventure itself. I don't think I need to go into any more detail than to say that Hergé was a master of graphic storytelling, tight and exciting plots, wonderful characters, and sublime clear-line drawing ... do I? There's a very good reason the Tintin books are still selling in their hundreds of thousands to this day. There are currently ten titles in the Little, Brown young reader series; in order of publication: The Secret of the Unicorn, Red Rackham's Treasure, Cigars of the Pharaoh, The Blue Lotus, Tintin in America, The Broken Ear, The Black Island, King Ottokar's Sceptre (all 2011), The Crab with the Golden Claws, and The Shooting Star (2012). In the UK Egmont have so far published The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure in this format, with further titles to follow in 2013.
The most interesting unique feature of these young reader editions is the bonus material at the back of each book. Entitled 'The Real-Life Inspiration Behind Tintin's Adventures', this section provides twenty-two pages of behind-the-scenes notes, research, facts and figures relating to the story, and sketches and photos to help provide context. All this has been put together by Stuart Tett, working directly out of the Moulinsart vault with access to the entire Hergé archives, and he's done a terrific job. There's no doubt these are written with a junior audience in mind, but - even with my own well-stocked library of books about the making of Tintin - I found them fascinating and informative.
Let's take a look in more detail at one particular volume, one of my favourites, The Black Island ... First of all you get a Hergé timeline, from birth to death, placing the volume in the chronology. The main text kicks off with Hergé's connection and interest in England and then moves on to a bit about Tintin's role in the story as he takes on the guise of detective. Next we learn about the book's publication history and the vital part played by Bob De Moor in the final updated version, including some of the reference photos he took on location and a postcard he sent to the Hergé Studio from Dover. We then come to a section common to all the books, 'Explore and Discover', where particular scenes from the story are looked at in detail with the research that informed them and connected trivia: the model of trains used in different editions, Dr Müller's country house, Craig Dhui Castle, a bit of cryptozoology, the real-life Dr Müller, and aerobatics. We end off with six post-it notes of trivia - all interesting stuff. All of this is profusely illustrated with gorgeous Hergé art and related photographs.
These Little, Brown and Egmont young reader editions will be a nice addition to any Tintin collection, no matter the age of the reader, but for children in particular they will really help to give some idea of the work put into these comics, and a new dimension is added with the very well constructed and written supporting material from Stuart Tett. I highly recommend them!
If you'd like to know a little more about the work behind these new editions, there's an interesting interview with Stuart over at The Compulsive Reader. And, if you're on Facebook, do check out the Tintin Facebook page.