Director’s Commentary – Gareth Brookes on A Thousand Coloured Castles
I’m delighted to welcome back to the blog Gareth Brookes for his second time on our Director’s Commentary (a series of irregular guest posts where we step back and let the creators talk about their new work in their own words). Actually I suppose this is really his second and a half time as he did us a Commentary back when the wonderfully unusual Black Project was still a work he was crafting for the splendid Myriad Editions folks, and he returned to do another commentary when the book was actually completed (see here). With another unusual and intriguing work, A Thousand Coloured Castles, just released by Myriad, I’m happy to say we have Gareth back on the blog to talk us through a bit of his new work:
After The Black Project came out I immediately threw myself into another graphic novel idea, which again involved embroidery. This was a mistake that taught me an important lesson. After a few months of slow progress I realised I was completely embroidered out.
It’s not very often that I get completely stuck but for two horrible days in May 2014 that’s what I was. I had a couple of bits of writing that I didn’t know what to do with about a nosey old man and his long suffering wife, the breakthrough came when I remembered being about five or six years old, and it being bonfire night, and the teachers getting us to make these crayon drawings where you drew a rainbow of bright colours then went over the top with a black crayon until the page was completely blacked out. Then they would give us a pin to scratch away the black crayon in order to create a lurid proximity of fireworks. I wanted to see if this would work for a whole image, so grabbed my crayons and made this drawing.
The blurry image reminded me a bit of how the world looks with my glasses off, and it occurred to be that the process was an interesting visual metaphor for blindness. This sent me on a train of thought which at arrived at the recollection that my Grandma, who had died some years before, had, whilst suffering sight loss from cataracts, experienced a number of bizarre hallucinations, a symptom of an illness that I couldn’t remember the name of but which was presented to me as being exceptionally rare.
The condition turned out to be called Charles Bonnet Syndrome, and was not as rare as I had been led to believe. I began doing some research which eventually led to having meetings with Kings College’s Dr Dominic Ffytche, a world-leading specialist in the study of this bizarre and disturbing condition.
So the idea now arose of having a kind of suburban mystery story seen through the eyes of an elderly female protagonist, wherein the reader has to navigate through a swamp of reality verses apparition.
The ‘mystery’ which is taking place next door (which I don’t want to give too much away about) was based on an actual event that took place in the town where I grew up, but which everyone seems to have collectively forgotten about. I remember that it made the front page of the Sun Newspaper in about 1989.
One of the problems I encountered during the making of the book was that I became very quickly proficient in the technique I had partially invented and that as a result the early pages had to be redrawn because I was no longer happy with them. The two images here tell the story.
At no point did I ever quite know how pages would turn out, and I had foolishly begun drawing things in non- chronological order. The first pages I drew were limited to the twenty four colours that I wrongly assumed constituted the full spectrum of the crayola range, I used a twenty pence piece to scrape away the black (a colour I kept running out of because I needed to use so much to cover the page), making the scraping process a bit like doing a great big scratch card. I discovered that packs of ninety eight crayola colours were available, that a sharp craft knife created better results than a twenty pence coin, and that large black crayons from China were available on the internet.
Those who are familiar with my previous work will know that I’m not someone who makes what you might call traditional comics. None the less this book is my most conventionally comic-like work to date. The panel structure of twelve panels set out in a ¾ arrangement (or oompah rhythm) is adhered to for the most part, and speech bubbles are used throughout. The latter demands some comment though, my idea being that the shape and trajectory of the speech bubble would express to the reader some idea of the intonation and volume of the words. This worked well in some parts of the book, the best example being this page where our heroine Myriam is trapped by the oppressive speech bubbles of her husband Fred.
From the day I had the aforementioned crayon firework drawing epiphany to the day I find myself writing this, is just about exactly three years, which is not bad going really. Three years of working all day at least five days a week on something requires a great deal of patience toward yourself and from those around you. I wrote something to this effect when I wrote directors commentary for The Black Project, but now I shall elaborate further: Writing a graphic novel is exactly like being in a relationship. At first you’re so excited you want to spend all your time together, you neglect your family and friends who don’t understand the specialness of what you’ve found.
Soon enough it settles into a comfortable routine of doing more or less the same thing every day, but then the cracks begin to show. You begin to resent the need to spend so much time together and begin to find yourself thinking about other projects. Finally you can’t stand the sight of each other and can’t wait to get it all over with, but there’s a great deal of paperwork to do first. Finally the day comes when it’s out of your life. You’re glad, and hope it’s happy. But you find yourself Googling it to see what it’s doing these days, or inadvertently see it on social networking in the hands of another, and experience an involuntary pang of nostalgia for the time when it was just the two of you.