Coming in March of next year, Archaia will be releasing a brand new original fantasy graphic novel entitled “Beautiful Scars.” Written and illustrated by D.S. Talon and E.G. Thompson, “Beautiful Scars” tells the story of Ridley Shaw, an older man who tells his granddaughter the stories of how he received his scars throughout his lifetime. However, the way he chooses to relate them is through fantastical parallel analogies set in a fantasy world with knights and princesses and trolls, all of whom play a part in his tales as he imparts unto his granddaughter life lessons and a love of storytelling. And as we see, these stories that her grandfather told her play a large role in her life later on as well.
Featuring both a comic and a novel within the graphic novel, it’s a very touching book and one that Archaia seems incredibly excited to release. And in addition to our announcement of it, we had the opportunity to chat with authors and illustrators D.S. Talon and E.G. Thompson about the book, fantasy and the tradition of storytelling.
The book centralizes on the relationship of a grandfather and his daughter, and obviously it becomes a very personal read. Can you talk a bit about where the book comes from for you?
D.S. Talon: I never knew my grandfathers… both my grandfathers and one grandmother passed away before I was born. And when I was a young child, my last grandmother died, so I don’t have too many memories of grandparents from my childhood. However, the relationship between a granddaughter and grandfather was an important exploration for us. I think that age can create unneeded barriers between loved ones, and often time it simply takes opening up to reach insight. Beyond respecting your elders, more importantly, there are many stories that can overlap from young to old. Remarkably, both kinds of stories are not that different from one another.
E.G. Thompson: I have been lucky to have strong relationships with my grandparents and great-grandparents. I spent a lot of time, especially as a kid, with my great-grandma on my dad’s side and my grandma on my mom’s side, and they both helped to shape who I am as a person now. Both of them are sadly gone now, but working on this project made me feel closer to them. Our book is about this great cross-generational relationship, but it’s also about the loss of that, and how someone that you love becomes a part of you, and they live on through you.
I see that fantasy is making a major comeback in recent years as a genre people are interested in. What is it about the fantasy genre that you felt would make a strong parallel to Ridley’s scar fictions?
EGT: I think for us, we have always loved the fantasy/fairy tale genre. Reading these kinds of stories was a big part of my childhood, and though I love all kinds of stories, these hold a special place in my heart. I think the fantasy stories that we know and love come from somewhere rooted in the writers’ real lives, whether it’s a desire to see the world different than it is, or to grow through a painful experience, or express something in a way that isn’t available in regular life. It’s such a powerful storytelling tool. In our story, Maddie is able to process something fairly adult through the fantasy genre. With fantasy, I think that’s true for kids and grown-ups.
DST: I agree! I think stories are stories, but the fantasy element can make the writing seem timeless. I suppose this story could have been told in a sci-fi or urban setting, but I think it would lose some of the magic. When you think about dragons in fiction, they tend to be monsters that are larger than life… metaphors for war, or the negative side of the human condition. That’s when you need people strong enough to combat it. In Beautiful Scars, Ridley fights in World War I and the war manifests itself in the form of Nightshade the Dragon. In fantasy, the lines are so much more clear: it’s good against evil without too many shades of grey. I think the fantasy genre, from JRR Tolkien to Lloyd Alexander, champions that kind of clarity because real life is often less clear.Continued below
Where did your interest in the fantasy genre originally spring from?
EGT: I read and loved a lot of the classic fairy-tale stories as a kid. I didn’t just read them, actually. I absorbed them. I loved “Alice in Wonderland” for the incredible world Lewis Carroll was able to create in my head. I loved “Mary Poppins” for turning the ordinary into the extraordinary, with this very dry humor approach. Roald Dahl had a big influence on my sense of humor and inserting odd details into a story. And I had a great copy of “The Water Babies” illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith, which are burned into my brain. So these stories probably had the biggest influence on my storytelling, but also on my career choice as illustrator and cartoonist.
DST: Well, I was a fantasy nerd growing up. The Hobbit, the Fellowship of the Rings, the Chronicles of Prydain and the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe were read to pieces. I also loved playing D&D, watched a lot of classic Disney and though some people would dispute this, Staw Wars in my book was completely a fantastic experience. And my favourite book growing up was Helen Hyman’s World’s Greatest Fairy Tales. As you mentioned, it’s been great to see the resurgence of this genre of storytelling. When we were thinking about a home for Beautiful Scars, Archaia was the natural choice for us because the champion stories told in the fantasy genre.
The book also features a “novel within the novel” angle, featuring illustrations by many talented artists. Can you talk a bit about how you composed this part of the book?
DST: Absolutely! When Guin and I finished the graphic novel section of the book, we were satisfied how Maddie and Ridley (the granddaughter and grandfather) found each other. We knew that the grandfather’s raconteur ways would positively affect Maddie to become a writer herself. And then it dawned on us… besides the shift in narration for the second half of the graphic novel, you never get a sense of her writing as an adult. Since we knew we wanted our friends do a pinup section, we decided to expand this section by instead writing prose as an adult Madeline Shaw, and invited our friends to create illustrations that matched passages of the narrative.
EGT: It was an honor to have all of these fantastic artists be a part of this project. I love that it goes beyond the typical pinup section. One of the best parts was seeing how all of these artists took our character designs and adapted them into their own styles – it’s an amazing amount of variety and I love every single one. There was a lot more in Maddie’s world that we wanted to explore, and we got to do it this way. It’s really inspired us to keep thinking about what else could exist in the kingdom of Evermore.
I almost get a Princess Bride feel in looking at the book. Can you talk about what influenced you both in working on graphic novel?
EGT: That’s such a great compliment, because we LOVE The Princess Bride. It’s one of those great, timeless stories that appeals to everyone and definitely a level we aspire to reach. As for the artwork, my two biggest influences are probably mid-century Disney artists Mary Blair and Eyvind Earle. Durwin and I have a lot of overlapping tastes when it comes to storytelling and art, so I know these two are on his list as well. Mary Blair’s work is absolutely timeless and wonderful. It still looks fresh and modern. She took a lot of chances with her work in terms of color and shape and it worked out beautifully. She helped me to refine my color sense and find the joy in my own work. I can’t say enough good things about her. Eyvind Earle has such a fantastic sense of refinement in his work, and it’s his work that made me love environments and backgrounds (which I would do anything to avoid drawing before I found his work).
DST: Funny, I always got a Game of Thrones meets Downton Abbey vibe in our book, but G-Rated. But seriously, influences are so important in anything creative. For comics folks, it’s like defining your creative lineage in writing and art. In writing, I think we also looked to Neil Gaiman and Michael Chabon. In art, we also looked to Myazaki and Claire Wendling. However, the three biggest influences to this book are Scott Hampton, Dave Guertin and Mark Smylie. Scott encouraged us to write our own stories and to take chances, Dave helped us how to make our stories reality and Mark had the vision and patience to see this project to the end. These, and the other artists involved in our book, inspired us to keep going.Continued below
What is it about storytelling that you feel is ultimately so timeless and important?
DST: Stories are the basis of humanity. Without books, movies, video games or art, we’d still had the oral tradition. As Maddie says in our book, we CHERISH great stories. But then we can’t just hoard a great story, we feel the need to share them. There’s a great story for every facet of the human condition. Stories can inspire us or humble us, but as creators, we always strive to explore them. Especially in comics. Where else can you be a five-year old girl, a World War I pilot, and a misunderstood troll in the same book? It’s just so much fun to do what we do!
EGT: I think Durwin nailed it. Stories connect us, to each other and to ourselves. They’re meant for sharing. We’ve been telling stories as long as there’s been a fire to gather around, and probably even before that. It’s part of what makes us human. Technology can change how we tell stories, and the ways that we express them, but the need will always be there to create them and share them!
Here’s the solicit:
Original graphic novel hardcover
Writers: D.S. Talon, E.G. Thompson
Artists: D.S. Talon, E.G. Thompson
Cover: D.S. Talon, E.G. Thompson
Format: 8″ x 8″, hardcover, full color, 128 pages
WHY WE LOVE IT: One of the most heartwarming family tales of the year. Everyone remembers the first person who inspired them to follow their dreams. This beautiful and elegant fable pays tribute to all our loved ones.
WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT: Weaving historical fiction and fantasy together, Durwin S. Talon and E. G. Thompson remind us of the power of stories, both those from our imaginations and, more importantly, those from our own lives.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: BEAUTIFUL SCARS tells the story of Ridley Shaw as he explains to his granddaughter how he got each of his scars, each one gained through either a sad or uplifting adventure. Through his tales, she learns how to tell her own stories and how to hold onto his through her own, magical re-telling.