Paul Duffield is best known as the artist on the long-running webcomic “FreakAngels,” written by Warren Ellis and originally published online before being collected by Avatar Press. Duffield’s work was a revelation and if fans logged on because of Ellis’ name, Duffield’s work was key to the comic’s success. Avatar published “The Art of Duffield” and Duffield has drawn a number of covers for various comics from “Fashion Beast” to “Anna Mercury” to “The Guild,” but in the two years since “FreakAngels” ended, he’s been working on a project of his own.
“The Firelight Isle” is his new project and the art style is recognizably Duffield, but as far as the story he’s aiming for something different — a fantastic story inspired by his love of creators like Hayao Miyazaki and Ursula LeGuin. The comic launched in late November at www.firelightisle.com and Duffield spoke with CBR News about this passion project and his return to the web.
CBR News: Paul, I think it’s fair to say that most people know you from “FreakAngels” or have come across covers you’ve drawn, but what’s your background? What were you doing before “FreakAngels?”
Paul Duffield: Originally, I trained in animation, but as soon as I left Uni, I set my sights on comics! My first published work was a short story that won a Rising Stars of Manga competition, (the ones that Tokyopop ran when they were still a company). After that I had another short published in a compilation called “Best New Manga,” and was later approached by Self Made Hero to illustrate an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” “Freakangels” followed on quite shortly after that! It was my first project not branded as manga, and my style went through a lot of changes whilst working on it!
It’s been about two years since “FreakAngels” ended its run online. Tell us about this project you’ve been cooking up since then. What is “The Firelight Isle?”
It always surprises me when I think of how long has passed since “FreakAngels” ended! Since then, I’ve been pursuing the goal of writing and drawing a long-form narrative, and “The Firelight Isle” is the story that I developed in that time. Because it’s so hard to get an original project of this size off the ground without being a pre-established writer, these last two years have been a juggling act — raising funding to give “The Firelight Isle” the time it needed, whilst keeping my freelance career alive doing short jobs like covers and illustrations. In short, “The Firelight Isle” is the story I’ve always wanted to write! It’s a fantasy inspired by writers such as Ursula Le Guin, Miyazaki and countless others I’ve enjoyed!
I’m sure you’ve gotten offers for different projects. I know you’ve done covers for different books, but why did you want to write and draw your own book?
Being honest, it’s been a hard series of decisions that I’ve made since “FreakAngels.” I have been offered projects and had to turn them down in order to find the time I’ve needed, and I sometimes wonder what on earth I was thinking prioritizing writing ahead of a stable career as an artist — especially at times when money has been tight. But in the end, it always comes down to the same thing: I want to make comics because I love telling stories, and being able to do so has been worth any number of compromises.
Coming off something as lengthy as “FreakAngels,” was there anything Warren Ellis did or that you gleaned from the experience that really helped as far as writing or plotting?
“FreakAngels” was an eye opener to work on, and one that I both learned from and failed to learn from at the same time! After coming off the back of a weekly schedule in which the scripts were written from week to week, I was determined to take my time and completely write and thumbnail the story before beginning. I also wanted to focus on fewer main characters and give myself time to design them and their world well before I started drawing the finished pages of the comic. I think that’s been beneficial when it comes to the story itself, but it has also been a trying process! The more forethought and design I put into the story, the more the finished pages demand, and the longer the writing process takes. What Warren excels at that I’m many years away from learning is producing a compelling story to a tight schedule, and making the planning process an economic but effective one — i.e. being a professional writer!
Talk a little about the writing and the process of putting together a book like this.
As I suggested, it’s been a bit of a sprawling and disorganized process. I’ve had to not just write the story, but learn how to coordinate a long plot, and sustain the characters throughout. In the end, I settled on a very visual process, in which the events of the plot are broken into sections by a loose manuscript, and individual scenes are planned visually the way one might storyboard a movie, with notes on dialogue and the odd indication of page layout. From there, those notes are fleshed out and reorganized into thumbnails (very sketchy versions of final pages).
The pages are essentially traditional comic sized pages. Why go that route as opposed to a more customized shape or size? Is it a question of how you think and work and you’re accustomed to that space?
It’s a decision based on practicality. Although the webcomic is going to be presented as a long chain of pages seamlessly connected to each other (top to bottom), I also want this project to work as a single printed graphic novel (albeit a very long one). That meant composing the pages in traditional sizes, whilst also thinking of ways to knit them all together end-to-end.
David Fickling has been working with you as the editor on the project and is publishing he print edition through David Fickling Books. What has working with him been like?
He’s been fantastic to work with! David has essentially provided me with the voice of experience that I lacked when starting this project. He hasn’t interfered with the plot or the characters, but at every turn he has made sure that I’m telling it in the most compelling way I’m capable of! The editing process hasn’t always been easy, in fact it has been downright frustrating at times, but that’s just another way in which I’ve had to learn on the job. With each draft I go through, the story gets stronger, although the process gets longer!
Why did you decide to run it online?
Because I liked the model with which “FreakAngels” was published so much! It’s a bit of a risk when I don’t have the guaranteed fan-base that Warren has, but I’ve learned since starting comics that every aspect of publishing is calculated risk. The way I see it, publishing for free on the web is a much more guaranteed way of building an audience than publishing straight to shops and hoping for the right press and the right word-of-mouth recommendations.
So how long are you projecting the entire book to be?
Currently, it’s projected to be 300 pages, although that number is in flux as revisions are made and new drafts replace old ones!
What is the online publishing schedule like?
Right now, I’m imagining that it will be monthly rather than weekly, although this is something I’m going to have to find out for sure as I go. I’ll be making revisions and refining the remaining plot at the same time as drawing the pages, on top of having a part-time job at “The Phoenix,” so it certainly won’t be as fast as “FreakAngels” was.
Even if I don’t post an episode each week, I want to start a “Firelight Fridays” tradition a la “FreakAngels Fridays,” where I’ll be posting either a progress blog-entry or a new episode up each Friday. I’ll be able to post behind the scenes snippets like live streams or rough pages, so the web experience becomes a “making of” along with the reading of the comic itself. This situation may also change in the future depending on how popular the comic gets!
Does the print book have a release date, however tentative?
Not for a collected volume! As far as trades are concerned, all I can say is that it will be done when it’s done, but that new pages will be coming out continuously from now on. However, we’re planning to release it physically in single issues of around 30 pages each, and I’ve already printed a 14-page teaser issue, so the first full issue may well be out early next year if things go smoothly!
“The Firelight Isle” is live now at http://www.firelightisle.com