“At least one person survives, I promise!” Alexis Deacon on the secrets behind Geis from Nobrow Press
Geis – pronounced Gesh – is a Gallic word meaning curse or taboo and this new book from Nobrow Press is anything but cursed! It sees a group of nobles compete to be chief of their town after a sorceress curses the will of their chief and mixes a European fairytale feel with the high production values that Nobrow have made their signature. We catch up with creator Alexis Deacon to find out the real secrets behind this delightfully dark new graphic novel and it’s cursed name.
Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind Geis? It has a really European fairytale feel to it? Is it based on an old folk story or was that just the genre which you chose to work in?
Alexis Deacon: The story grew from a very simple start. In fact it was one the stories I considered when I was trying to find a four page narrative for the Observer/ Jonathan Cape/ Comica Graphic Short Story Prize (the award with the longest name in publishing). In its first version, the story was about four village elders locked in a room and not allowed out until they had chosen a new chief. A bit like what happens with the cardinals after the pope dies. The difference here was that none of them ever came out. That’s not a spoiler for Geis by the way! At least one person survives, I promise… and maybe a few more!
As I played with this very simple narrative, I found the cast of characters growing and the story grew along with them. The folk tale elements probably come from my general interest stories of that type but it isn’t based on anything in particular.
The word Geis means taboo or curse in Gaillic, how influential was Gaillic folklore to the world of your book? Or was it inspired by other folklore? At what point in the development of the story did you know that it was going to be the title or was it always a major part of the creation?
AD: I had liked the construct of Geisa for a while. The way I use them isn’t quite the same as they appear in Celtic mythology. In the Celtic tales everyone has these Geisa or taboos from birth and you had to consult someone to learn what they were. If you didn’t, you just never knew. What I liked about them in story terms was that no one ever did manage to avoid breaking their Geisa. It was inevitable. It was particularly satisfying when a character went to great lengths to avoid breaking them, only to find they’d made that come about by doing so.
I also like how this unfamiliar word, ‘Geis,’ makes you a little curious if you haven’t come across it before. How is it said? What does it mean? I like things that make you think and ask questions!
It wasn’t the original title. The first working titles centered around the word ‘will’ (and the Will, as there is one of those too) as that is an important theme. But all the good titles with the word ‘will’ in them were taken. One of my original ideas is now the title of the third book, ‘The Will that Shapes the World’
You have created a really interesting and diverse collection of characters competing for the prize (plus of course a really classically evil sorceress!), which of the characters is your favourite to write and draw?
AD: I tried to make a rule for myself when writing this story, that there should be no character I didn’t love in some way. The whole story is very much about life, and what is the value of life, so I wanted each life to feel important and individual. I do have some favourites though. Whilst Nemas and Io may take centre stage, I love writing for Artur and for the Sorceress… and for a lawyer called Malmo, who you meet only very briefly in book one. Artur is the most fun to draw because he is almost impossible to get wrong. The sorceress is fun too as she makes lots of good theatrical poses. She makes me wonder whether I shouldn’t give up trying to be a good person at all and just go full on rotten top to toe!
Can you tell us a bit about your art process? It seems to mix pencils, ink brush, and watercolour to create this really unique, very classic and old fashioned look to it. How did you develop this style and did you make any chance to your usual style to make it work for this book? And did you have to make any considerations for lettering?
AD: Well, the artwork is done this way: It is drawn in ink and wash (and yes, pencil in one or two places) then a flat colour layer goes behind. This is painted in gouache then scanned and assembled in Photoshop. Any small colour details are added digitally on a middle layer, then the text and bubbles go over the top. I don’t draw the bubbles on the artwork as I like to be able to play around with where they go later but I am working from pencil layouts that show me where I should be leaving space.
As for the look and feel of the drawing, I try not to aim for a specific style but rather draw the world of the story as it is in my imagination, matching it as faithfully as I am able. It always falls short of course, but it keeps me trying to get better! If it has a different look, that’s a nice bonus!
This is part 1 of a trilogy, can you let us into any details about future story plans and characters?
AD: Erm… Well part two and three are written and drawn in rough. It is exciting knowing where this is all heading. So long as I am still able to draw for the next two years, I promise the story will have an ending!
Part two is set entirely inside the castle, It revolves around an elaborate game the sorceress has designed for the contestants. Almost all the characters from book one reappear – even the dead ones, in their new life as the sorceress’ slaves. There are also larger roles for characters only appearing in cameo in book one. We meet Nemas’ two brothers, Toras and Caliphas and see more from the lawyers Malmo and Tomas, and Chief Judge Joyce. If book one focused on Io, book two has Nemas at its centre… Is he really going to carry on with his plan to kill the others now one of them has saved him?
When book two is out we can talk about book three!
As we have come to expect it has amazing production values thanks to Nobrow, which really makes the artwork feel even more timeless and classic. Was that always a consideration when you came to team up with Nobrow to produce Geis? And how did you come to be published by them?
AD: Well, I was aware of them, obviously. I had several of their books in my own collection before approaching them. I had approached other publishers beforehand. My background is in children’s books but I had wanted to make work in comic format for some time. Originally I approached my usual publishers with material but they were very reticent given the small nature of the market in this country compared to children’s books and the slightly esoteric nature of my work.
Nobrow were one of the few companies to show genuine excitement at the projects I had and I felt that they were a great fit for me. I like to try and take risks with my stories and my artwork and to try and make work that is challenging for me and sometimes for the reader too. Nobrow have excellent production quality, arguably second to none in UK publishing right now, and they have built a reputation as a company that is prepared to break new ground. I am not trying to reinvent the wheel in comics; I love the medium and everything it can do, but to make a Bande Dessinee style adventure comic for the UK market was never going to be an easy sell. I like to think that Nobrow’s excellent production, coupled with their reputation for innovation will help the book find an audience here… we shall see about that!
And finally what can we look forward to from you next? And if people love Geis, do you have other books they could check out as well?
AD: Doing the artwork for parts two and three will take a looooong time! There are other projects behind them in the queue. A comic about Mr Punch’s attempts to start over with a second family called, ‘A World of Hope and Promise,’ and a sci fi story called ‘An Only Child.’
You won’t be seeing those til 2019 earliest though. If you can’t wait that long I have lots of children’s books you can look at. Check out ‘Beegu,’ ‘While you Are Sleeping,’ Slow Loris,’ ‘Croc and Bird’ or ‘Soonchild’ and ‘Jim’s Lion’ if you want something a little older!