• Interviews 

    Alison Sampson and Nathan Edmondson Redefine the World in “Genesis” [Interview]

    By | March 19th, 2014
    Posted in Interviews | % Comments

    Announced in Image’s April solicits, Image will be releasing a brand new graphic novella called “Genesis.” Written by Nathan Edmondson and illustrated by Alison Sampson, it’s a dark little tale about one man who finds himself imbued with the power to create and destroy, as he finds himself generally unable to cope with the awesome responsibility that comes with this.

    It’s a very entertaining and thoughtful read, one put together with extra care and impressive craft by newcomer Sampson and Edmondson. And today, we chat with both of them all about the book, its origin and its execution.

    Read on as we chat with Alison and Nathan all about everything “Genesis.”

    Can you tell me about how the two of you came together to create the series? How did you meet, how did the initial pitch come about?

    Alison Sampson: Who is Jake Ellis is a book I’d blogged about, read and enjoyed, so when the writer who worked with Tonci Zonjic emailed me and asked if I’d like to draw a comic about a man who could manifest anything, it was not going to be ‘no’. I was just about to take a sabbatical from my job to make a comic, something about the same size as Becky Cloonan’s Wolves. I’d received a bit of encouragement from Thought Bubble the week before and was just about to set to making a one-off labour of love where I could design everything. I’d written it and had just drawn the first panel. Feeling I’d be limiting myself , I swapped over to draw someone else’s work, to be stretched. I liked the idea of taking a story that sounded like what you’d find in Ovid’s Metamorphoses- those myths are still exciting the imagination today. The timing was right. i drew some sketches and we were off.

    Nathan Edmondson: I had this story in mind for a while, and my interest in it, after I had set it aside, was re-ignited when I saw some of Alison’s work where her skills as an architect were on display. I thought it would make for a very intriguing book—in which the world literally pulls apart and comes back together—to have someone who knew how parts of the world actually do fit together illustrate that story.

    I think upon reading it it makes sense why, but can you talk a bit about what led to the decision to make this a one-shot/graphic novella comic as opposed to something more long-form?

    AS: Anything longer would be just too much of a rich meal. Also, this IS my first comic beyond two pretty short shorts, so there some sense in not making it too many pages.

    NE: Like you said, it just makes sense. Many stories dictate their own length, and ironically some of the biggest ideas necessitate the shortest forms.

    So the book itself asks some pretty heavy questions and doesn’t give any straight answers from any of them. Is this something you were both conscious of in the creation process, both in terms of story and art?

    AS: I don’t come from a background of figurative art, but architecture. It’s good to be able to ‘dwell’ in a space, not to have to rush, and I think that is not a bad thing for a comic either. With good architecture, you can get what you need and you can take it how you want. To have the possibility to dwell in a place, there needs to be some mystery and privacy. So I’m happy with a story that doesn’t rush our reader through from a to b- that offers a bit of space to think. This kind of unease that you suggest, where there are no easy answers… isn’t that is what is meant to make a good allegory, a story with layers? I did wonder at some stages whether I was drawing The Pilgrim’s Progress. As happy as I am to draw something straightforward, it makes sense, particularly on the basis of what little Nathan had seen of my work, that I’d be happy to draw something that wasn’t.

    NE: Whatever answers the reader is able to divine from the pages I think is great, but ultimately this is about the story of a man and his struggle against himself. I’ll be interested in what readers draw from it beyond that, but my role as a writer is telling the story, not preaching a message.

    Continued below

    I really like how fluid the art feels throughout the entire comic. Was there anything in particular you tried to be aware of or push towards in terms of the book’s design?

    AS: Thank you! I made composition the most important thing. In architecture we try to direct people without signage or words- so our art leads the reader. If the art is an indication of our protagonist’s state of mind, then the pages have to read not just at level of the panel, but the page and spread as well. Whatever the reader +could+ see, that +still+ has to tell the story, at whatever scale. In order to keep the art under control, we have structure. In indicating movement, I needed to borrow other parts of page, to give me a hand in trying to convey this, as the script was so dense. I have slightly relaxed priorities in terms of perspective- it doesn’t always accurately describe a space, so that was a tool to use. I’m very new to comics and this is probably me saying things that other artists do all the time- but you did ask. Jason Wordie did a lot of work on trying to tell the story with just colour, without his gorgeous, instinctive take, this would be a very different book.

    I find the exploration of religious themes within the book to be quite compelling, but it did make me think a bit about where the book must come from for you. It felt like a rather personal story for both of you — would you say that I’m reading that correctly?

    AS: I don’t think we’ve ever talked about this. It is a personal story. We are from different places, but at the end of the day, we are circling round the same common themes, if that makes sense. And I hope this commonality is something other people can pick up on too.

    NE: There’s no story that I write that isn’t born out of me personally, and whether or not this sort of story has me writing more with my heart on my sleeve or not I can’t really say—I feel/fear my soul is pretty exposed with everything that I write. I suppose GENESIS approaches some moral themes and questions in a much more direct way, but then again as a story it is more fantastic, which is either ironic or says something about the importance of fantasy. I’m not sure I’m smart enough to say much more; I might direct a reader to Tolkien or C.S. Lewis for more discussion on that point.

    I really enjoy that the structure vs chaos elements of the book are matched in tone by the art direction. Alison, how did you find the challenge of having the art match the follow that anarchy?

    AS: I leaned on my design skills to the same extent pretty much all the way through the story, but where the pages have more chaotic elements, I had fewer tools to use. Good composition brings structure and It just takes work to bring control to chaos. There is always a way.

    In terms of your work, this book in particular, is architecture something that is at the forefront of your mind? Or is it more of just a general influence?

    AS: Architecture is a useful toolset to bring to storytelling, and generally in the book, it is not a conscious thing in my mind. A broad influence as opposed to a general one, and a medium as opposed to a message. Architecture projects encompass a huge range of tasks and issues. You may end up with a building/ landscape/ whatever, but there is so much more you have to do and find out before you get there. We have to get inside our clients’ heads, and study the context they operate in. We have to take what they have, and figure out what they really want and try and elevate that. We may be operating on the briefest of information, but still have to deliver something that is both fully finished and better than they imagined. So to bring this mindset to the comic script: that was at the forefront of my mind. Various bits of architecture and landscape form part of the work, and I drew on my own taste and knowledge, which is limited (but I’m learning).. I’ve only been to one city in central Africa, I drew what I remembered, for example.

    Continued below

    Given the specificity of the book in terms of symbolism and format, what was the collaborative process like between the two of you?

    AS: We talked at some length at the beginning of the project, when Nathan was developing the script (and I did some sketches and sent over some visual references). Once that was set, and beyond it, it was up to me to define the art and make the comic. I stuck close to the script, identified layouts, shots and priorities, designed pages, spreads (and the book), did research on geography, invented architecture, found and worked with Jason and so on. There were some very substantial challenges in terms of design, of various kinds, but those things are what makes making a comic fun. Having done a lot of research into our hero’s life, I wanted to take the reader into his world. It has been a pleasure to find out out about the landscapes and influences he might know (for example, how regional architecture in the US is). When I was done, Nathan reviewed all the dialogue and revised it to suit where we were. So this is the personal vision of two people working together.

    So with Genesis, one thing I enjoyed about the book was it’s balance of using the sequential medium to tell a story while also being incredibly poetic. Do you both find that the comic medium offers a lot more room for this kind of creative design (vs TV, cinema, etc)?

    AS: Comics have a huge capacity for poetry and storytelling, probably infinite, but that doesn’t mean other media do not, or cannot have this. Also, there is no reason why something that is poetic cannot also be highly functional and work for a wide range of people. Take the film Blade Runner, for example, or La Jetee, or Breaking Bad. All are poetic, so we are really comparing apples and oranges here. I have no idea what makers of comics, or of other media will do in the future. I believe anything is possible, can be composed, engineered, executed. All media have their technical limitations, but it is our job to work round those, not be defined by them.

    NE: Comics does offer the opportunity for experimentation and boundary-bleeding, if not busting when it comes to traditional narrative styles. Of course, it’s a gambit to experiment as sales most often suffer but occasional the inspiration ignites the story and art and all grow into something unique; that’s what I felt was the case with Genesis.

    While not universal, I think that sometimes books that ask more questions than they answer often have mixed reactions from readers (Lost and Prometheus both come to mind). Is this aspect something you’re thinking about, or is it not much of a bother?

    NE: I think there’s a difference between stories that ask questions for which they have the answers, even if they don’t offer them (think, for example, 2001) versus stories that titillate for the sake of the chill or thrill of mystery. Mystery is powerful, within it grows faith and out of it comes hope but unless there is a real substance—real truth—behind it, it’s flash in the pan. The point to all this is, if you the story is born out of the “answer” then the question of the “questions” becomes secondary, because whatever questions are evoked in the telling of the story, you won’t be worried about their meaninglessness.

    AS: I wouldn’t want to under-estimate people’s capacity to enjoy and get something from art.

    What are you hoping the book leaves with the reader?

    AS: A sense of enjoyment, maybe an interest in a second reading.

    NE: A sense of a fun story that’s intriguing enough, and perhaps strange enough (not read obtuse) to warrant a second read-through.

    And Alison, how did you find your first major experience working on a comic book for Image? Good, I hope!

    AS: Yes! It has been exciting to work with Image, and an honour, and as you’d expect, a hugely valuable learning experience. Everyone has been very supportive.

    What do you have planned next?

    AS: More creator owned comics. More exploration, more stories, hopefully more for Image. And something horrible in Texas.

    Continued below

    “Genesis” goes on sale from Image Comics on April 16th with Diamond Order Code FEB140504.The FOC is this coming Monday, the 24th. If you want

    Matthew Meylikhov

    Once upon a time, Matthew Meylikhov became the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Multiversity Comics, where he was known for his beard and fondness for cats. Then he became only one of those things. Now, if you listen really carefully at night, you may still hear from whispers on the wind a faint voice saying, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not as bad as everyone says it issss."