A few months ago, I picked up the first volume of Garen Ewing's The Rainbow Orchid. I had read about the book and heard wonderful reviews on it, but hadn't had the opportunity to read it for myself until recently. Now it has become somewhat of an obsession for me.
I have always been a fan of adventure comics and movies. I grew up with a hearty fascination of Indiana Jones that influenced me to study history and archeology later in life. In comics, I think all of us have one or two adventure stories that we'd put at the top of our list as all-time favorites.
The Rainbow Orchid is a very traditional adventure story. Julius Chancer is on a mission to find the mythical rainbow orchid in India. The villains are, of course, trying to thwart his plans using whatever means possible.
The dialogue, art, and even the size of the book seem to be something that you would have picked up to read if you were a child in the 1920's. Garen has even started his own Adventurer's Club online where you can print out an official membership card.
In a recent interview, we had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Ewing a bit more about The Rainbow Orchid:
TPB: What made you want to create comics?
Garen Ewing: "I've always wanted to create comics, though by 'always' I really mean I can't clearly remember when that desire started. I spent quite a bit of time in hospital as a very young kid and my mum provided me with comics to read and pencils and paper to draw with, so I think the logical outcome was to create my own comics, probably with the desire for some kind of escapism too."
TPB: Who would you say (if anyone) was your biggest influence in comics?
GE:"I'm most inspired by various writer-artists from both the film and comic world. From film, creators such as Akira Kurosawa, Charles Chaplin, David Lean and Woody Allen would rate highly. Most of my comic influences are European - primarily Asterix and Tintin, and more recently, in relation to The Rainbow Orchid in particular, the ligne claire creators - Herge, Jacobs, Chaland and Floc'h, to name a handful. Tezuka and Miyazaki have also had a big impact in the last few years. Acting as a base for all this, I'm sure, are all the British war and adventure comics I devoured by the bucket-load growing up in the 70s."
TPB: What comics have you written and drawn?
GE: "Quite a few little bits and pieces for various small press anthologies over the years. I did a fairly long-running fantasy-SF adventure comic called Realm of the Sorceress in the late 80s/early 90s. I did a comic strip adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest, a music/humour strip called Captain Powerchord, an SF strip called The Deep Space Man, and I was the writer on another strip called The Tower for artist David Wyatt. The Rainbow Orchid is my highest profile comic."
TPB: How did The Rainbow Orchid come to be?
GE: "After I'd finished my adaptation of The Tempest I wanted to create a character that was all my own and who I could use in a possible series of adventures. A number of factors came together - realising comics were such hard work I pretty much decided to forget about 'making it' in the industry, and just do a comic purely for my own enjoyment. I also wanted it to be okay for kids and adults to read, as so many comics were 'for mature readers' only, and I wanted an absorbing adventure story that didn't rely on sex or violence in its telling. The rest was just throwing in various things I was crazy about - lost world classic adventure, silent films and the 1920s, and ligne claire Franco-Belgian comics!"
TPB: Why did you choose an orchid? Why not a statue or the Holy Grail? It's very unique and a brilliant object to write a story around.
GE: "I started work on The Rainbow Orchid over 13 years ago, so remembering exactly how it all came together isn't easy, but I do remember I had an earlier idea about, I think, vampire hunters in Victorian India, and during my research for that I discovered that the Victorians were obsessive orchid collectors, and so I'm sure the idea had its origin in that, and then it graduated to what eventually became a quest for the ultimate orchid."
TPB: Everything about The Rainbow Orchid is a classic adventure style comic. Even the size of the book and the adventurer's club - it's like a classic radio show except in a comic - was this your intention from the start or has it grown into this?
GE: "The classic adventure vibe comes primarily from my adoration of the novels of H. Rider Haggard, the big adventure-romances, and also from his genre brethren - Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G Wells and their ilk. As for the Adventurers' Society - which I haven't fully got going yet - that comes from wanting to have something like the old 'I-Spy' club I was a member of as a child. I don't think I had the idea of the club right at the beginning (late 90s), but certainly when I got the comic on to the web in 2002."
TPB: What role has digital format played in your work?
GE: "I self published the first few chapters of The Rainbow Orchid and that quickly sold out. As I didn't want to reprint, I decided to continue the story online, and that decision really saw the comic's audience sky-rocket, from a few-hundred in the UK for the paper publication to, at its height, tens of thousands across the globe on the web. Thanks to having the comic on the web, and the buzz it was attracting, I started to get queries from mainstream book publishers which eventually lead to getting a literary agent and a book deal with Egmont, the UK's biggest publisher of children's books. So the digital aspect of the comic has played a vital role. The website also allows me to publish a lot of extra, rich content, which I really love to provide for my readers."
TPB: What can we look forward to from you in the future?
GE: "Volume three of The Rainbow Orchid, the concluding chapter, will appear from Egmont in the UK and from Silvester Strips in Holland later this year. In the meantime I plan to publish a brand new shorter story on the web, available for free, and also work on a new book with the same characters, for which the plot is already mostly worked out. I really want to stay with and grow these characters and their world now, so that's about it!"
TPB: Lastly, Spencer started a tradition this year for interviews; what questions do you have for us? Ask anything you want.
GE: "Hmm... I'd be interested to know what your favourite adventure film, novel and comic is - one of each!"
TPB: Great question. Let's see...
Cally: "My favorite adventure movie is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or Willow. I honestly don't read too many adventure comics or novels, but the closest thing to the genre that I enjoy would be Darwyn Cooke's work on The Spirit."
Ryan: "That's actually a really, really tough question. Adventure, in its generic meaning, is in most everything I enjoy. It's there in sci-fi, in fantasy, in action movies, war movies, spy movies - everywhere. There is plenty of adventure in Predator, or Conan the Barbarian, or even The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - but I wouldn't consider those "adventure" movies. The "Adventure" genre has a very specific aesthetic to me. (Jungles, caves, dangerous animals and villains, exotic locales, etc...) I'm going to cheat a little bit.
Favorite Adventure Film (I'm changing this to Favorite Adventure Show) - Jonny Quest!
Favorite Adventure Book - This is really tough. With the Doc Savage books, and the granddaddy of awesome adventure in the Tarzan books by Edgar Rice Burroughs.... but I'm going to with The Story of the Phantom, by Lee Falk. There are 12 of them in the series, and that's the first one (and the only one I've read so far). So much fun, can't wait to read the rest.
Favorite Adventure Comics - This is really tough too. 99% of Doc Savage or The Phantom comics that I have read have been pretty bad, Tarzan wins because of the insanely beautiful Joe Kubert DC stuff and the Big John Buscema stuff for Marvel.
Jim: "My favorite movie would have to be Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The first part of that movie takes place in the canyon lands of South-Eastern Utah and I've explored the same places many times. I also love The 13th Warrior and Stand By Me. I'd consider those both in the adventure genre even though they have drastically different characters.
I was obsessed with Indiana Jones as a kid and have actually read a novel or two from the Indy series written by Rob MacGregor. I'd say those are my favorite, but I also enjoyed quite a few Native American adventure novels and even some Doc Savage books thanks to Ryan.
As far as comics go, I would say The Phantom is my favorite character although I haven't really enjoyed the most recent series. I have to be honest here; The Rainbow Orchid has become one of the top adventure comics on my list and I can't wait to read more."
Special thanks to Garen for taking time out of his schedule to talk to us. For more information on The Rainbow Orchid and other works from Garen Ewing, visit his website here.