Meet Garen Ewing, comic writer and man behind the Rainbow Orchid series
Garen Ewing is a long term resident of East Grinstead and author of a series of comic books, surrounding the retro adventures of Julius Chancer, called The Rainbow Orchid. The stories are collected as graphic novels and published in the UK and several other countries. His work is reminiscent of the ‘ligne claire’ style used by Hergé in the famous Tintin books and adopts a historic adventure theme, with a touch of Indiana Jones. Garen is a winner of the British Comic Awards 2013 and Young People’s Comic Award.
East Grinstead Online’s Barney Durrant asked Garen a few questions about his work, inspiration, background and views on the British comic book scene – and of course hometown East Grinstead.
The original of this interview is no longer available online so is now hosted here. Internet Archive version here.
What was the inspiration behind the Rainbow Orchid and how conscious were you of inevitable comparisons for UK readers with Tintin?
The main inspiration for doing The Rainbow Orchid was just wanting to write and draw a comic that I would enjoy. Comics are such a lot of work, and it's impossible to please everyone, so I thought I should just aim to please myself - hoping, of course, that there'd be at least a few others out there with similar tastes.
I was very conscious of the Tintin comparisons. Ever since I was a young kid I've loved Tintin and have followed up that enthusiasm by seeking out many other European comics in a similar style - by creators such as Edgar P. Jacobs, Yves Chaland, Roger Leloup, Willy Vandersteen, Joost Swarte etc. - they're much more prevalent and well-known on the continent. I wanted to enrol myself in that school of art as well. I ended up being published in the UK by Egmont, who also publish the Tintin books here.
Have you drawn / written stories all your life and when did you realise it might be possible to publish your own illustrated stories?
Yes, as far back as I can remember I've been making up stories and characters and drawing their adventures in one way or another. I think I was probably about 8 or 9 when I realised that drawing comics was an actual job (seeing the creators credited in 2000AD), and I was 15 when I had my first illustration published in a fanzine, which set me on the road to being more widely published and eventually - many years later - earning a living with my pen.
Who are your literary and or comic book heroes either characters or writers?
Asterix and Tintin were my earliest loves and have been a mainstay, so I have to put Goscinny and Uderzo and Hergé at the top of the list. I mentioned some of the other European clear-line creators above - all favourites - and I'd add some of the Japanese manga artists too - Osamu Tezuka and Hayao Miyazaki in particular. I also love the work of Tardi and Lewis Trondheim.
Which do you find harder either technically or in terms of inspiration - the drawing or the writing?
At the moment I'm plotting the next Julius Chancer adventure and I'm finding tying up the big arcs of the story quite hard - but they're falling into place at last. When I get to writing the actual script, breaking the story down into panels and writing the dialogue, I'll probably find that quite hard. And then I'll have to draw what I've written, and that is always a challenge! The only time I think I can sit back, to some degree, is when I'm inking the drawings and then colouring them - by then most of the hard graft's been done.
What do younger readers normally ask you about Julius Chancer?
I keep getting asked how I came up with his name and my answer is always disappointing, because I can't remember! In general, I get asked if I'm rich (I wish!), what training I've done (none, but I always advise it's a good idea as I know I have gaps in my skill set), and how long it takes to draw a page (which depends … my page depicting the Natural History Museum took over a week, but on average it's about three days per page).
Has the resurgence of interest in Tintin, because of the Spielberg film, helped to draw audiences to your books?
I have no real idea what affect the film had on my book sales, but I think it was negligible. In fact, I don't think the film was as successful as the publishers hoped in regard to driving vast numbers of new readers to the Tintin books themselves. Hergé never really cracked America, and I don't think the film has changed that. Comics are a difficult market, though there is slow progress.
Do you think Julius Chancer might make it to the big or small screen in the future?
I very much doubt it. I think it's too similar to Tintin and Indiana Jones as a concept, but you never know. It works better as a book where the differences stand out - a bit more cerebral than Tintin, and a bit more detailed in plot than Indiana Jones.
How long have you lived in East Grinstead and what do you like (or dislike) about the town?
After I was born (in 1969) my parents lived in Dormansland for a bit, then, after a year or two in Reading, to East Grinstead when I was about 3, and I've been here ever since. I love the town, especially its history, but also the close proximity to plenty of countryside and ease of access to London, if I need it. I can't really think of anything I don't like … not worth saying, anyway!
How healthy is the British comic scene - does the constant diet of Marvel/DC superhero films have a positive or negative impact on comics here or in fact generally?
I don't think I'm sitting at a high-enough table to see clearly how the UK comics scene is doing, but from my little corner of things I do see a definite upward trend. The British Library is currently hosting a huge comics exhibit, and there is a greater variety of home-grown comics titles and publishers than ever before. The market hasn't quite caught up with the creative output yet - comics are still a tough sell in the mainstream, but there are now a huge number of annual comic events, from small-press, to massive expos, and academic conferences.
I do think the superhero blockbusters have helped a bit - certainly when I go into schools to do talks and comics workshops, more and more children are aware of the characters and the comics they come from - very different from even 3 or 4 years ago.
What are you working on right now and when can we expect a new Julius Chancer book?
I'm working on the next Julius Chancer adventure, which East Grinstead-ians (?) might be interested to know involves a well-known local landmark as part of the story. It's going to be a little while before it sees publication - at least two years to draw it and then maybe another year or two before it's available as a book - but I'm very excited about this next adventure.