Interview: Serena Obhrai and Jennie Gyllblad talk about their urban fantasy comic ‘Elysia’
Late last year at the Thought Bubble comics convention in Leeds. I got to meet a lot of exciting new people from the UK comics industry and met friends old and new.
Among the new friends I made were writer Serena Obhrai and artist Jennie Gyllblad, who told me a little about a comic book project that they were working on titled ‘Elysia,’ which is an Urban fantasy, which centres on a character that pretty much anyone should be able to relate too.
Yesterday Serena and Jennie launched their Kickstarter campaign in order to help them raised the much needed funds to bring their creation to life.
I caught up with both Serena and Jennie and quizzed them a little on how the project came into being and what the inspiration was behind it all.
SciFiPulse: So first off how did you guys meet and what is the inspiration behind Elysia?
Serena Obhrai: Jennie and I met at last year’s Bristol Expo and hit it off immediately. We’ve not worked together before, but she came highly recommended through a friend, so I pitched Elysia to her. Before we knew it, it’s been a year and we’re working together almost full time. Crazy how some things work out.
The inspiration behind Elysia came about 13 years ago in my teens, where reading comics and graphic novels then was very different. There weren’t many lead female characters in their own stories (and I wanted to be a writer) so, I conjured up a story about a little girl who has all this messed up stuff happen to her and then go into how she has no choice but to deal with it. Usual story for a superhero (although, I haven’t really gone down that route), except I wanted her to just be this kid who struggles with herself. Like we all do. It’s all pretty dark when you come to think about it, but all the people she comes across make light of the the fact that she’s just had wings pop out of her back. I also have a huge fascination with wings.
Jennie Gyllblad: Elysia is a very different kind of story from anything that I’ve done in the past. I’ve had to try to re-think how to approach the look of it, both to make it appealing for our target audience and also to do the story itself justice. Although the story has dark elements to it, overall we are following Elysia on her adventure and self discovery, so the tone needed to be a bit more upbeat to what I’ve been used to painting. I’ve always loved colour splashes and the texture that mixing watercolour with gouache will bring to a page, so it’s not surprising that artists like David Mack and Bill Sienkiewicz have provided me with a lot of inspiration. I am also generally quite inspired by European comics, especially the look of French graphic novels (L’Auberge du bout du monde by Prugne & Oger), but once I started doing the concept sketches and paintings for Elysia, I found that my style was drifting ever so slightly towards a more expressive manga look, but maybe I’m the only one noticing that! Terry Moore’s ‘Strangers in Paradise’ is another fabulous example of expressive artwork with colourful characters! I am no doubt influenced by that.
SFP: When it comes to comics what writers and artists have inspired you both the most?
Serena Obhrai: Writers such as Spike Milligan and Samuel Beckett have taught me how to write absurdity, black comedy and humour well over the years with whatever I’ve written; be it short films, theatre, stories or poetry. With regards to comics, though, Craig Thompson’s work has always inspired me and it was actually ‘Blankets’ that gave me the idea to write Elysia as such an epic and lengthy story – it was only later down the line that I decided to split it into chapters. Of course, the greats (Ellis, Morrison, Moore, Gaiman) have found their way onto my shelves and this is because they have an exceptional way of creating characters who are damaged in some way and are in need of major change to reach their goals. Some don’t even reach their goals, but we admire them because they’ve tried to. Great reading, for me, is a story that takes me on the journey with the characters. I want to laugh, cry, really understand the protagonist’s pains and be entirely drawn into the scenario that’s been created. If I’m able to put the book down then I fear it may have lost me. I’m a big X-Men fan and characters like Wolverine and Jean Grey/Phoenix with pretty major story arcs have inspired me to write similar characters.
Jennie Gyllblad: I describe myself as quite ‘work damaged’. I can’t pick up a comic and stick with it if I don’t like the artwork (I must have missed plenty of great stories because of this). However, If I do happen to enjoy and admire the artwork I will be able to properly immerse myself in the story. The best comics are the ones where the art style just seems in perfect harmony with the writing. One obvious example would be Maus by Art Spiegelman with it’s haunting depiction of different people as cats and mice. Another comic which is utterly inspiring to me and where you can see that the artwork complements the writing brilliantly, is Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (the second comic to date to make me cry). However, if I look at comics for pure art inspiration, I start moving over to European comics (I have French graphic novels that I can’t understand a word of, but I bought them just for the artwork) and more traditionally painted styles that almost come off as art books more than comics. Good examples are David Mack’s full colour Kabuki books, Dave McKeans work on Arkham Asylum and Violent Cases, and finally Juanjo Garnido’s incredible painted pages for the book Blacksad (My favourite!). I believe a good comic book should have the art and the writing going hand in hand to tell an engaging story that focuses on intriguing characters. I am a nut for character development.
SFP: Can you ever see Elysia crossing over into other media such as adventure video games or a movie project and if a movie, who out of today’s actors could you see embodying the role?
Serena Obhrai: I actually always saw Elysia as a lengthy story, so it was pretty easy to envision it as a film or animated series. I’d absolutely love if it became a game too because I play so many myself. Writing it as a comic happened because I’m just a big comic book nerd and have been since I was very young. With regards to actors; I honestly have no idea. It’d be great if it was a team of upcoming actors looking for a fun project to get involved in. I’ll worry about this if it ever becomes a reality – it’s definitely way too early to know what will happen. I’ll just be happy to get the graphic novels done for now.
You can learn much more about ‘Elysia’ and see even more of Jennies fab artwork, and make a donation to the cause at: www.kickstarter.com/projects/serenaobhrai/join-elysia-on-her-journey
Written By: Ian Cullen
Ian Cullen is the owner of scifipulse.net. A wannabe musician. Ian is a legend in his own mind and when not working on the website host the hugely successful SFP-NOW Podcast he can be found skulking around empty corridors. A longtime fan of genre television and movies Ian was also a producer on the Reality On Demand web-series and has even been published in the official Star Trek Magazine.
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