Writer Dave Elliott is a constant innovator in the world of comics, with a long career as a writer, artist, editor, publisher and IP developer. He was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the development of his newest creation The Weirding Willows, the DeviantArt community, changes he has seen in the comics industry over the years, and more!
Andrea Johnson: The Weirding Willows is a mash up of famed literary characters from Alice in Wonderland, Frankenstein, The Wind in the Willows and The Wizard of Oz, just to name a few. How did you choose which characters to include, and which classic stories to pull from?
Dave Elliott: I originally wanted to do something more mature with the series, before it was called The Weirding Willows, using Sherlock Holmes, Erik (the Phantom) and Dracula. But I realized there would be more fun in bringing in different characters and then figuring out how they could all ‘live’ together. Once I came up with the origin of this universe and its link to all the other connected worlds, the big picture came together. Then it became a matter of deciding where I was going to start.
A.J.: How long did it take to get the story of The Weirding Willows put together? What are some of the unique challenges of working on comics and graphic novels vs working on a novel?
D.E.: As a creator I’ve a long list of projects that I’ve been slowing developing for a number of years. There’s a folder on my desktop that has some projects dating back 15 years or more. Every time I get an idea for it I open up the folder and update them until such a time as it is developed enough to really start in on. With Weirding Willows it started out as one thing but when I made the mental shift on how I would approach the worlds development, it started writing itself. It was tough with the first book as I had a lot to establish. I took for granted that many people would know the characters but then realized I shouldn’t do that because in many cases the characters had either moved on from who they were in the original books or hadn’t even become those people because I was writing them before those events.
The next volume is much easier as while there are several new characters appearing I can build on the previous ones and it is much more of a single adventure story.
I’d imagine that’s not much different to writing a novel other than in a novel you have the ability to add more detail and tell a longer story.
A.J.: Where do you see the story in The Weirding Willows going in future volumes? How far ahead do you outline what will happen?
D.E.: I developed the first major storyline arc simultaneously to developing the universe and where the universe was heading. With Weirding Willows I am not setting out to just write about this one time period and these one set of characters. Over the years I hope to tell other stories in this universe in different time periods with new characters, some of whom will have descendants in this first cast while many others will be brand new characters.
The first book was mostly set in Willow Weir to establish the characters, the concept, with just a little peek into the worlds they’ll go in the future. The second book gives us a little more of Wonderland and a glimpse of the far future as the Time Traveler from H G Wells’ The Time Machine comes to Doctor Moreau looking for help with the Morlocks.
A.J.: A phrase that came up over and over again when I was doing research for this interview was “Full Spectrum Narrative”. What exactly does that term mean, and why is it important?
D.E.: Much of what I do when not doing my own comics is helping people and companies expand out their stories into universes. I help them build worlds for their characters to reside it so they can be in a position to better understand the potential for their story to become an Intellectual Property that can have a timeline beyond just the single story.
Some people call it ‘Transmedia’ but I personally don’t like that term as I hear too many describing it the wrong way. “Full Spectrum Narrative” was a term coined by Ron Martino (Techgnotic on deviantART) who runs depthRADIUS. It refers to the potential for a concept to run on any media platform telling different stories that work independently but also compliment each other. Some think the adaptation of a comic to a film is Transmedia, it isn’t. That’s just an adaptation. FSN allows for the expansion of a concept onto many levels creating a more engaging and immersive universe to enjoy.
For instance I would like to go back and do my Sherlock Holmes, Erik, Dracula story as part of Weirding Willows, while at the same time I’d like to do a series following the adventures of Peter (Rabbit), Benjamin (Bunny), Maisy, Flopsy, the White Rabbit (Hoetoe), Jack (a young dinosaur), Bill (a flying monkey) and Pepper (a young feline magician). Two very different projects but once you know the laws and physics of how the concept works, it becomes easy to accept these stories are both possible in this single universe.
A.J.: You’re very active in the DeviantArt community. What can you tell us about your new Deviant Art Anthology project?
D.E.: I love deviantART. It’s a great community to be a part of. I’ve been trying to do anything I can to help others in the community so the Deviant Art Anthology sprang out of that. The project is slow moving at the moment only because there is a resistance to anthologies in the market that don’t have big names attached so I’m looking at different avenues to publish such as Kickstarter. It’ll happen but later rather than sooner.
A.J.: In 2011 you published a series of articles on your website called “Acts of Creation“. What can you tell us about this series. Why did you feel it was important to get this type of information out there?
D.E.: You can find them all on deviantART under [my] ‘journals’. I felt that some basic information about the comics industry was necessary for people to get a better understanding of how it worked. Anything that would help people in deciding whether or not comics would or could be the life for them. Some of it is basic information to us which we take for granted, but for others it is useful to formulate how they approach their careers and get a more realistic perspective on the industry. That includes how to work with other creators on creator owned material.
A.J.: How long have you been creating graphic narratives? What changes have you see in the industry since then?
D.E.: I’ve been creating graphic narratives since I was at school. My first creation was the Terminator (I kid thee not). He was heavily influenced by the Six Million Dollar man. A test pilot for Stark Industries who ends up getting 70 percent of his body replaced after an accident. His first real mission was to travel into space looking for astronauts Taylor and Brent, ending up on the Planet of the Apes. Hey, it was my comic and I could do what I liked.
My first real creator owned character, the superhero Blazing Glory, appeared in A1 back in 1987, so it’s been quite a while. Mostly I’ve been helping others with their properties but now I want to balance that out with more of my own.
The industry keeps changing, new technologies have helped it stay in business. Being able to print direct-to-plate and saving the costs of producing film saved a lot of companies a small fortune, then Tokyopop and Viz opened the book market up for US comics and now digital is adding some revenues although how many of those ‘new’ consumers are lapsed readers or those just migrating from paper to digital isn’t that clear yet. My biggest concern is whether Marvel and DC can attract new readers at any substantial growth. The reality is that the independents always did best when readers moved from the big two to the independents when they wanted something more mature. The big two were the entry to reading for most kids, along with Archie Comics, but I only see Archie and IDW fulfilling that need now. I don’t expect to see the next Amulet or Diary of a Wimpy Kid coming from the comics industry, which is a shame. I started out as a creator/editor/publisher wanting to more mature material but now everyone is doing it I want to produce more accessible material like Weirding Willows.
A.J.: Thanks for giving us such a detailed behind the scenes view of worldbuilding and character creation in the universe of comics and graphic novels!