Somewhere over the Rainbow (Orchid) – Garen Ewing talks to Pádraig
Regular readers will know that we’ve been following Garen Ewing‘s delightful Rainbow Orchid series with great pleasure for some years, in limited print versions and online and we’ve kept up with Garen as it progressed, so it seemed right that now Egmont have published the first Rainbow Orchid book (I’m tempted to use the European description album, it seems more appropriate somehow) we should catch up with him once more; over to Pádraig and Garen :
(cover to the first part of the Rainbow Orchid by and (c) Garen Ewing, published Egmont)
Pádraig Ó Méalóid: Can you give us a very brief description of what Rainbow Orchid is about for those who haven’t come across it yet?
Garen Ewing: The story is set towards the end of the 1920s and concerns a gentleman’s bet over who will win first prize in a botanical exhibition. When one of the contenders hears about a legendary orchid mentioned in an ancient Greek text, he sees it as his only chance to win. That’s a very simplistic overview – it has quite a few subplots. The main characters are Julius Chancer, assistant to alternative historian Sir Alfred Catesby-Grey, and Lily Lawrence, silent-film star. When my agent, Oli, first saw it, he described it as ‘like Tintin, but more cerebral’, which I’m comfortable with and flattered by. He’s biased, of course. Each volume is about 40 pages, so somewhere around 120 pages in all.
PÓM: When did you start working on Rainbow Orchid?
GE: The idea first emerged at the end of 1996 and I developed it in the first few months of 1997. By June I had the first three pages done, and then I didn’t really pick it up again until 2002 when it began serialisation in Bulldog Adventure Magazine (BAM!).
PÓM: So it originally appeared in print? At what point did it become an online comic?
GE: After BAM! I collected part one in a self-published version which sold out quite quickly. As I didn’t want to reprint it, and was about to start part two, I thought I’d make part one available online for anyone to read. From there it just seemed sensible to keep publishing it on the web – I could go full-colour and got a far bigger audience, far more cheaply as well.
PÓM: Those original copies sell for quite a bit on eBay these days, don’t they?
GE: Well, I’ve only seen two. I sold my last copy on eBay and it went for £79, though I did include some original sketches with it. More recently a copy came up for sale and I think it eventually went for £12.
PÓM: Were you surprised by the publishers showing an interest in it, from seeing it online?
GE: Yes, it came out of the blue as I’d never sent it to anyone – but it led to me accidentally getting an agent. I was pretty much set on self-publishing, but after putting it up on the web I attracted interest from a couple of UK book publishers, and that led to me asking a friend of my wife’s for some advice. This friend was a literary agent for A. P. Watt in London, and the next thing I knew, I was in their offices and being asked if they could represent me. Everything went up a couple of notches after that.
But it’s gratifying to know that the big publishers are actually aware of what’s going on in the independent comics scene, and to further know that my own comic was recognised as being commercially viable was a confidence boost. It’s nice it happened that way, because I feel the work got there on its own merits – I didn’t push it under anyone’s nose or hype it up – not that there’s anything wrong with doing that!
PÓM: At what point did you start talking to Egmont about publishing Rainbow Orchid as an actual print book?
GE: Egmont were already aware of Rainbow Orchid as well, before my agent sent it to them. He’d sent Orchid out to ten publishers and I met with Egmont a couple of times before we decided to go with them. That would have been sometime around November 2007. I signed the contract with Egmont in July 2008, I think.
PÓM: Was there a lot of extra work involved in getting the material ready for print?
GE: Yes! It was mainly re-lettering the thing, which involved re-doing all the speech balloons and a bit of what I call ‘art surgery’, shifting characters round a bit so the new size text fitted okay. I also took the opportunity to re-draw the odd panel here and there, little bits that really bugged me every time I looked at them, and I also added two brand new pages, just to extend a couple of the action sequences slightly. I’d always been unhappy with the end of volume one as I rushed it before I went on holiday to get it sent to the printer in time. With the Egmont edition I had the opportunity to do it how I’d originally wanted – it’s so much better.
PÓM: After all this time its now moved out into the wide world of print – are you nervous about it?
GE: You’ve asked exactly the right question – most people ask if I’m excited. I tend not to get excited about things, but I am definitely slightly nervous about my comic, in which I’ve invested so much of myself, going off into the big wide world. I know some people won’t like it, and that’s totally fine, but you can’t help letting these things go to heart. There’ll be nice things said too, which I’ll try and concentrate on.
PÓM: You would have seen copies of the finished book in advance of the release, I imagine. Are you happy with how it’s turned out?
GE: Yes, I am. It’s a very nice production, I think, and the colours have come out just as I’d hoped. It’s not a brightly coloured book! Years ago Bryan Talbot offered to do a quote for the back cover, so I was at last able to call him in on that, and I’ve also got some lovely quotes from Neill Cameron and Sarah McIntyre – I’m really lucky.
PÓM: Do you have any idea what sort of pre-orders Egmont took for this, or is it too early to say?
GE: I’ve no idea – I’m not entirely sure I want to know! I do sometimes peek at the sales ranking on Amazon, where it seems to vary wildly between 250,000 and 8,000 on a day-to-day basis. I’ve no idea what that means exactly, other than there must at least be some pre-orders, so that’s a relief.
PÓM: I imagine it must be useful being with Egmont, the same company who publish Tintin?
GE: It is nice, definitely, and I’ll be interested to see how it works out when the book goes on sale. Egmont are the UK’s leading children’s publisher, but I’ve never seen The Rainbow Orchid as specifically a children’s book. I wanted it to be safe for kids to read, certainly – so no extreme violence or sexual content – but I haven’t consciously directed the story at a particular age group.
And the Tintin thing has its advantages and drawbacks too. Comparison with Tintin is a given, of course, and I openly acknowledge its obvious influence as far as the art goes. Actually I think I’m closer to artists such as Edgar P. Jacobs and Floc’h, a bit less cartoony and more detailed than Hergé, but people in the UK only really know Tintin for comparison, and that’s fine. It’s been a very interesting experience working with Egmont, but they’ve been brilliant throughout.
PÓM: How many volumes are there going to be in Rainbow Orchid altogether?
GE: The story is split into three volumes. Volume one mainly takes place in England and France; volume two is in India (1920s India, Pakistan today), and volume three is off into the unknown!
PÓM: Have you any plans for anything else besides Rainbow Orchid?
GE: I haven’t allowed myself to have any other plans! After The Rainbow Orchid is completed I’d really like to start work on a brand new Julius Chancer adventure, for which I have some ideas. I do owe my wife a very big holiday first, though.
(a lovely looking bit of artwork for the second volume of the Rainbow Orchid Garen was kind enough to share with us, by and (c) Garen Ewing; click to see the larger version)
PÓM: And what of the next volumes of the Rainbow Orchid? Do you know when they are due to be published?
GE: The second volume is scheduled to be out in April 2010, and volume three later in the year (October, I think).
PÓM: Garen, thanks very much for taking the time to do this interview with me. I’ve been looking forward to finally seeing a copy of the book, ever since I first saw your work on this, years back, and I look forward to seeing many volumes after this one!
GE: Thanks, Pádraig – I really appreciate your support.
FPI would like to thank to thank Garen and Pádraig for their time and thoughts; the first part of the Rainbow Orchid is out now and, as regular readers will already know, we have been big fans for years and can’t recommend it enough for adults and younger readers alike. Richard’s recent review can be found here and for a peek back in time you can read Matt Badham’s talk with Garen here.