Comics – Garen Ewing: Seeking the Rainbow Orchid
Kirsten Cowie was one of the busy, busy bees who helped organise and shepherd the Stripped series of comics events at this summer’s Edinburgh International Book Festival. As part of her duties she worked with a bunch of good comics folks who contributed to the Stripped blog in the run up to and during the festival. Due to various unforseen events and that old bugbear, everyday life, getting in the way, a couple of reports on events didn’t reach Kirsten until after she had finished her run at the Festival, and with the Stripped blog now in hibernation she was kind enough to forward them over to us to run. So here’s the first one, a report on an event with a creator who has been a firm favourite with us on the blog even before he got his first publishing deal (I still count a special self-published edition of his work among my prized collection), Garen Ewing. Emma Reynolds is a creator and illustrator herself (you can check out her site and her Twitter to see some of her work) and she had complied a report on Garen’s event originally for the Stripped blog but now reproduced here:
On Sunday the 25th of August an excited audience of all ages gathered to see Garen Ewing talk about his adventure comic series ‘The Rainbow Orchid’. Set in the 1920s, the three volumes follow the epic journey of Julius Chancer, historical-research assistant to Sir Alfred Catesby Grey, as they seek out the mysterious Rainbow Orchid with the evil Urkaz Grope and the deadly Evelyn Crow hot on their heels! The three volumes have now been collected into ‘The Complete Rainbow Orchid’, which includes extra bonus pages full of Ewing’s notes, sketches and research. This year, a new Julius Chancer four part story called ‘The Secret of the Samurai’ was published in the fantastic weekly kid’s comic, ‘The Phoenix’.
Garen began the talk by introducing his work, and showing the audience a variety of different comic styles from around the world – from simple styles, Japanese manga, to fully painted super heroes. This was brilliant for introducing members of the audience to comics they might not have heard of before, whilst placing his own work in context. He explained that his comic style is ‘ligne claire’, which is French for ‘clear line’, a style most famously known from Hergé the creator of ‘Tin Tin’. Ewing said that it was after finding the book ‘The Yellow M’ by Edgar P. Jacobs in Belgium from the Blake and Mortimer series, that he knew he wanted to work in the ligne claire style.
Ewing showed us the inspiration behind his work, most prominently the 1920s, the ingenuity of storytelling in the silent film era, and classic adventure stories. ‘The wonderful thing about the 1920s is that they had one foot in the Victorian era and one foot in the modern age.’ So there was a sense of adventure and exploration still, and also an optimism after the First World War, with the cars and aeroplanes of the time that he loves.
It was fascinating seeing his character research next to his initial character sketches and how these have developed over time. He explained how photos of silent film stars from the era gave him ideas of hair cuts and styles – Lily Lawrence’s hair is inspired by Coco Chanel, and Sir Alfred Catesby Grey is loosely based on H. Rider Haggard, one of his favourite authors. On creating characters, Ewing said the best thing to do is to ‘Just start drawing – and say ‘I like that bit, I don’t like that bit’, and eventually you get there’, through drawing them many times over until they feel right.
There is a wonderful attention to detail and historical accuracy in his work. Ewing said it is ‘A real pleasure in getting these facts right.’ His research makes sure that specific guns fire the right number of shots, and that the Natural History Museum has the correct display and layout for the time period. Ewing even had a model aeroplane made from the blue prints of the Breguet 280T that appears in the story, after discovering that only twenty four were ever made, so there were very few reference pictures around. Having the physical model made for him by his friend allowed him to draw the plane from any angle he needed.
Ewing talked us through his working process. His work begins with a rough script in free hand, and then a typed script, remembering the importance of the cliff hanger at the end of the page or between each segment. The script is then developed into little thumbnails, a panelled rough draft, and sometimes a second rough. Next comes the final pencils at A3 size (roughly double the size of the printed comic) which takes him eight to twelve hours. Then it’s the black inking stage using dip pens with fine nibs which takes four to seven hours, which is then scanned in at high resolution and coloured in PhotoShop. Ewing then adds the text, for which he made his own font using his hand lettering.
Sitting in the audience, it was wonderful to see so many enthusiastic young readers there. Three boys sat with all of their books piled up on their laps, excitedly talking about the series and saying how many times they’d read them. One of the boys asked Ewing a question at the end, about the possibility of another book, and we were all delighted to hear that the next volume of the ‘biggest adventure in comics’ is on its way!
You can read a special guest Commentary by Garen on his work he did just before his Book Festival appearance here on the blog.