Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Interview with Sarah Ellerton

Inspired by sfgirlbybay's Unexpected Guests series (which unfortunately she doesn't have tagged), I set out to interview someone whose work I'm crazy about. Sarah Ellerton is the mind behind the immensely popular completed comic Inverloch, as well as the currently ongoing Phoenix Requiem. Inverloch ran from 2004 to 2007, totaled 5 volumes, and ended at a whopping 764 pages. In looking for images for this post I found myself rereading the last 400 pages of it, helplessly pulled into a wonderfully well-written story. To say nothing of the art! Phoenix, in its 5th chapter, is already promising to be equally addictive (updates Mondays and Thursdays!). Additionally, I love getting to watch as an artist progresses, slowly settling into their own style.

I wish I could have met with Sarah in person, but as she lives in the wilds of Australia and I am roughly half a world away from there, it was not to be.
1. What inspires you?

I find colour very inspirational. It can so easily evoke thoughts and moods; colour can say so much. Beautiful colour schemes make me want to paint and be creative. Nature in general can be a very inspiring thing; I live out in the countryside so I'm surrounded by it.
2. Are there artists who've had a significant influence on your style?

In my earlier days I drew a lot of Final Fantasy fanart, trying to emulate Tetsuya Nomura's style; I think there is still a fair bit of that in my character's faces. I've also had some influence from Disney animated films, hence the painted background / outlined character look that I adopted for my first comic.
3.While both Inverloch and The Phoenix Requiem are fantasy-based, they are very different from one another. Where did you get the ideas for each of them?

For both, I started with a seed of an idea, usually inspired from something I'd seen or read recently. Those ideas just grew, evolved, and changed until they became a structured story. By the time everything is complete, I can't actually recall where any specific idea came from; it happens so gradually.
4. You write the stories for your comics out in advance. In creating Inverloch and Phoenix, do you consider yourself primarily an artist or a storyteller?

I'd have to say artist first. I don't have much experience in writing; Inverloch was my first completed story (childish short stories written in early school years not included) which makes The Phoenix Requiem my second. I'm still learning how best to write characters and events suited to the pacing and format of comics.
5. Once you've written a script for a comic, does it ever change?

Yes and no. The overall story and the major scenes usually don't change; minor things, like the words spoken and the direction will sometimes change quite a lot. Often even as I start putting the scripted words onto the page I'll end up altering them if they don't seem to fit, or if it's too wordy. I also like to listen to what the readers are saying in the forums, and make changes appropriately. While I would never let them influence the overall direction of the story, it can be helpful to see what elements of a character interest them, and therefore what parts could be built upon.
6. Phoenix isn't your full-time job. If you could change that, would you?

I enjoy the job I have; it gives me a break from drawing. I think if I were to draw comics full time, a lot of the fun would be lost. Instead of it being an optional hobby, it would be a necessity. I would hate for it to become like that.
7. When you started Inverloch, did you ever imagine that it would become as popular as it did?

Not at all. In fact, I had no aspirations for it whatsoever. It was just a new direction to take my art; something to do other than painting or drawing fanart of other people's characters. The popularity has just been a bonus.
8. What are your thoughts about webcomics as a genre?

It's a wonderful way to allow aspiring amateur and unpublished creators to present their work to a large audience without the need for a publisher. At the same time though, they're a different animal from printed comics. Creators are usually expected to put up pages frequently, in small servings, rather than being able to present an entire chapter or volume. While this works for gag/strip comics, story-based comics are presented with a unique challenge; tradeoffs may need to be made when it comes to pacing the story. There are a lot of impatient readers who have little tolerance for the slower pacing of a webcomic that may work very well in printed form. Does one cater to the immediate web-based readers who are seeing a page or two per week, or does one think of the long-term feel of the story? I'm still not sure of the answer, as I read and enjoy comics of both kinds.
9. Can you see yourself ever illustrating someone else's story or writing a script for someone else to illustrate?

Certainly not the latter, as I've said, I don't really consider myself to be a proper author, and my script writing would probably be too vague for another artist to make sense of. I would be open to considering the illustration of another story, if I liked it enough. I find that I need a strong attachment to a script and characters in order to have the motivation to put in the amount of illustration effort that is required.
10. Thus far, is there any one thing you can point to and say, "This is my personal best"?

At any one time, it'll be the most recent page I've just drawn...until I draw the next one :)
11. Beyond Phoenix, do you see yourself continuing to make comics in this fashion?

I'd certainly love to. But Phoenix will take at least another three years to complete, and it's hard to say what I'll be doing by then, and if my life has given me other commitments. If I were too busy for comics, then I think I'd still be drawing in some form.
12. What do you love best about what you do?

Making other people happy. It's fantastic when somebody writes and says 'thank you, I was having a bad day, and today your comic has cheered me up'. If I can inspire somebody, brighten their day, or just make them smile, then it makes all the hard work and late nights worth the effort.Most images taken from Inverloch and The Phoenix Requiem--I tried my best not to include major spoilers! "Englishmen" is a fanart Sarah drew for Barb Jacobs, creator of Xylia (Barb's character Claudius is on the right).

Inverloch Volume 1 and Volume 2 are available via Amazon (and I highly recommend them, they look beautiful in print), but sadly that's all. However, 18 chapters of Inverloch are available for download in the US on Wowio for free! The best part of that is that even though you pay nothing, Sarah benefits!

Big thanks to Sarah for agreeing to break me in as an interviewer! If you haven't already, be sure to check out the comics: Inverloch is complete, and The Phoenix Requiem updates on Mondays and Thursdays!

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