“I wanted to write something about a person who was previously a destructive force, who is now trying desperately to live a normal life” Sarah Millman on the secrets behind NPC Tea
Sarah Millman burst on to the indie scene with her pug based adventure Heart Of Time. However her new series NPC-Tea with it’s tale of an ancient deity working in a Cardiff tea shop, combined with some of Sarah’s best artwork to date (including a stunning blue and pink colour scheme) may be about to become her new signature title. We catch up with Sarah to find out about orcs and goblins in the real world and just what is her favourite tea?
NPC Tea is set in this great mix of the real world and one filled with magical creatures, so where did the idea for mixing these two worlds come about?
Sarah Millman: It made me laugh a bit? Honestly, I struggle with pinpointing where it came from. There are so many epic fantasy stories and games that are straight-faced and medieval, and the idea of doing something modern and light with traditionally heavy fantasy elements appealed to me a lot. I often start with characters too, and this time it was Bryn. Sounds unrelated, but I’m a pacifist and I wanted to write something about a person who was previously a destructive force, who is now trying desperately to live a normal life. A fantasy/modern setting seemed perfect for that.
It’s based around a tea shop in Cardiff, so how important was it for you to give the place a familiar location? And is that your local tea shop that you’ve set it in?
SM: Cardiff is such a brilliant place to live, and I wanted the comic to be set somewhere familiar to make the contrast between the magical elements and the real world more stark. What’s lovely about Cardiff is that is a city, but has all the idiosyncrasies of a small town – if there were orcs out and about in the real world, there would probably be a good deal of them in Cardiff.
I’ve based it on my favourite tea shops, but there’s actually an empty car park on the street where it’s set. Womanby Street is a bit of an inside joke for Cardiffians: it’s a street filled with nightclubs and bars, and little daytime footfall. It’d be a terrible place for a tea shop.
It features an ancient deity hiding out in a tea shop, do you ever wonder whats hiding in your local cafe?
SM: Let’s be fair, it’s Wales – nothing would surprise me! Though I hope for a good brew and some lovely cake, and that they’re not hidden too well…
And did you have to do lots of teashop research as a result? What’s your brew of choice?
SM: Cardiff has some lovely cafes and teashops (Barker is my favourite) which I do a lot of writing in anyway, so spending more time relaxing in them and drinking tea for “research” was definitely no hardship. I focused on shops that were less traditional and more… well, hipster, and tried to make Y Ddraig a scruffier version of that. Not quite cool enough to be popular, not traditional enough to attract purists.
Bryn would be very unhappy with my tea. I’m a tea nerd so I enjoy trying new brews but always fall back on Earl Grey, with milk and one sugar. And from a tea bag rather than loose leaf which is a crime in itself…
The most distinctive thing about it is your blue and pink colour scheme. Did you settle on that quite early on, or did it evolve as time went on? It’s quite a departure from Heart of Time!
SM: It started out mainly as an experiment to save time – I did a short comic for HoT that used a similar colour theme and it cut my production time down by a huge amount. Having a restricted colour palette turned out to be a really useful storytelling tool, as I’m not a huge fan of narrative boxes and the story flips about quite a bit between different groups of characters. I played about with several colour palettes but these two suited the pages best, and I like how the blues give it a relaxed feel. Using so few colours also allows me to give magic a really big impact when it’s involved, as it’s much more fluorescent and bright than the usual colour schemes. I want to push myself and my comic as much as I can so I’d love to experiment more in further issues.
How long a series will it be and after that will you be returning to Heart of Time?
SM: This year is going to be a bit crazy for all my comics, as I intend to finish NPC Tea completely by this time next year – whether or not this is possible is one thing but I’m certainly aiming for it! It’s a 8 issue arc, and as soon as that’s done I’m going to be taking what I learned from NPCT and putting it right back into HoT. I was unhappy with how I was progressing with HoT before I started NPCT, but now, I’m excited to get back to it. There’s potential for them to cross over too.
How are your fanbase reacting to the first issue and are you picking up more fans at cons as a result of it being different – or do your fans want more pugs?
SM: My readership have been lovely! I was really worried about taking a break from HoT – I felt like I was letting everyone down – but they’re so patient, and it sounds like NPCT is going down well. My little Gertrude sign does attract people to my convention table, but people seem equally interested in both.
Finally, we are trying to feature more female creators on the site, do you think female creators are well represented on the indie scene and who would you recommend we check out?
SM: Oh my gosh yes! The indie scene is so diverse at the moment! I recommend Anastasia Catris, Sian Jefferson, Rachael Smith, Jess Taylor, Faye Simms, Kit Buss, Emily Owen, Katie Whittle… I could go on and on and on. Women are very well represented in terms of output but from what I can see, aren’t promoted as much, so any help would be very much appreciated!