Scars hold an interesting place in the human psyche. Pages of quotes have been written about the remnants of past injuries and how they can remind us of our history long after the initial pain has dissipated. Some of us wear our scars proudly like badges; others try to hide them away. For their part, co-writer/artists D.S. Talon and E.G. Thompson are showcasing a variety of these disfigurements in the pages of their new Archaia graphic novel, “Beautiful Scars,” on sale March 12.
The 8×8 book splits its time and pages between the story of a girl learning from her grandfather and the fantasy story that his past would inspire in her many years later, oftentimes on the same page with the former running on the top and the latter underneath.
In the past, Maddie discovers that her scarred grandfather Ridley is actually filled with stories about how he collected his various injuries. Meanwhile, in a fantasy world of Maddie’s creation, many of those encounters are transposed onto the Woodsman who teams up with Scar the troll to save Princess Lilian.
In addition to utilizing sequential storytelling to tell two parallel tales, Talon and Thompson also wrote a prose piece that appears in the back of the book accompanied by artwork from Scott Hampton, Ryan Hill and many more. CBR News spoke with Talon and Thompson about developing these overlapping stories, splitting the art and writing duties and the importance of storytellers in their lives.
CBR News: “Beautiful Scars” is a really intriguing title. How did it come to you and what does it mean for the story?
D.S. Talon: “Beautiful Scars,” to us, is a title that is multi-layered. In the Grandfather’s story, Ridley exhibits physical scars that, though seemingly scary, represents these beautiful or poignant milestones in his life. When he explains the origins of these marks, Maddie begins to understand the life her grandfather has led. In the fantasy story, Scars is a disreputable troll, he’s viewed as a villain. However, through his actions, he reveals how noble and brave he truly is. Often times we are all deeper than what we show on the surface.
E.G. Thompson: Originally, the title was simply “Scars,” but as the story developed, we felt that the title might give the wrong impression for the book. It’s a complex story, one that has harsh moments but also very sweet ones. Adding “beautiful” to the title helped to add a little more complexity to a first impression of the story and to soften it a little. I think it matches the story quite well; these scars are beautiful testimony to a full, well-lived life.
Beautiful Scars tells the story of a woman named Maddie learning about her grandfather while also telling the fantasy story she’s written partially based on his experiences. How do the two tales relate to each other?
Thompson: We wanted to explore how stories come about; they can be inspired by real life, news stories, memories of others or of your own life. And, we wanted to weave in those people who encourage the storyteller. In this case, Maddie’s grandfather is a natural storyteller. He inspires her stories, but he also encourages her to write them and to share them. There are moments that directly relate to one another in the two stories, so that influence is strongly represented.
Talon: At a technical level, these two tales visually influence each other as well. In the beginning of the tales, we create beats and panel shapes that, at times, are not in synch. When Maddie is a child, as a young storyteller, her stories are visually trying to catch up to her grandfather’s stories through the panel design. As the story unfolds, the beats of both storylines begin to align as we hear her mature storytelling voice as an accomplished writer. The grandfather and the granddaughter eventually tell their stories in visual unison.
The book really focuses on the beauty and power of storytelling. Do you have a person like Maddie’s grandfather in your lives?
Thompson: We are both lucky to have many supportive people in our lives that allow us to tell our stories, and to inspire us. I was very close with my grandmother and my great-grandmother, and this helped me to understand how important these cross-generational relationships are. I’m also really lucky to have supportive parents that have always encouraged me in art and in writing; they are very talented people in their own right and gave me a creative environment in which to grow and explore.
Talon: I kind of view the Grandfather as this wonderful raconteur. And I think to tell stories, it helps to have storytellers in your life. If you have a chance to hear Murray Tinkelman, Walt and Louise Simonson, Bob Schreck or Scott Hampton spin their tales, you’ll walk away with the best stories. And the inspiration to tell your own!
“Beautiful Scars” has a really interesting format from the 8×8 size and the split pages. Plus it has the prose section at the end with the larger illustrations. How did you decide on these various storytelling and design elements?
Thompson: It was great working with a publisher like Archaia because they are pretty adventurous when it comes to printing and storytelling. “Mouse Guard” is also published as an 8×8 format, and the square book really stands out as unique on the shelf. Working with the square presented an interesting challenge for us, but was perfectly suited to a split storytelling format, since the page divides evenly in two. We wanted to clearly show Ridley’s inspiration in Maddie’s storytelling; we could have told Ridley’s story and then Maddie’s separately, but it wouldn’t have been as immersive. It’s really up to the reader how they want to interact with the story; there’s no wrong way to read it. We wanted to explore and celebrate what the sequential form is capable of.
Talon: We also wanted to tell stories in our world that didn’t purely exist in comics. When we finished the graphic novel, we also discovered that though we talk about Maddie becoming a writer, we never really show off her writing (beyond these snippets in captions). We decided to write a true Fairy Tale, to showcase her maturation as a writer. Also, this allowed for us to tackle other story details that we couldn’t quite fit in our graphic novel — not without adding additional scars from Ridley. This prose section, as [Archaia Chief Creative Officer] Mark Smylie would say, is “meta.” It allows us to explore different forms of storytelling within the same world. This also allowed us to work with some of our dear friends in comics and art. This encourages us to tell additional “Beautiful Scars” stories in other formats, maybe including children’s books!
You’re both credited as writers and illustrators. What is your collaboration process like?
Thompson: It is a truly collaborative process. We both wrote the story together. We actually sat at a Denny’s one night with a notebook and wrote the entirety of the plot outline in one go. It was a very organic process. There were some things that changed along the way, but the original bones of the story remain the same. Durwin and I both think alike when it comes to art and storytelling, and we complement each other’s strengths. It works very well for us. We do have our individual voices when it comes to creating, and we can go solo, but it works well when we’re in harmony.
Talon: For the art side, in an ideal day, Guin and I would share penciling duties and then I would ink, she would color, I would add shadow and tone, she would design the environments and I would finish with the effects. Keep in mind, because there is so much to create in comics, we’ve been able to switch roles as needed. But as in any collaboration, communication is key!
How did you wind up publishing “Beautiful Scars” at Archaia?
Talon:” Beautiful Scars” began with the simplest of premises: “Every scar tells a story.” Armed with a plot synopsis, character descriptions and a page of art, we pitched this to Mark Smylie after a gaming convention. From that point, Mark pretty much championed us at Archaia, and now we also have [editor Rebecca] Tay Taylor, [designer] Scott Newman and [marketing manager] Mel Caylo as our advocates. It’s simply been the best experience and we couldn’t be happier.
Thompson: Archaia seemed like a good fit for the story because of their previous work with fantasy and all-ages books. We really love the fact that they strive to make beautiful books, as well as great stories. We are both print and design nerds and so that was an important factor for us. And, Archaia is really, really supportive of their creators. We feel great about this book going forward because we know we’ve done the absolute best we can, and so have they.
You mentioned the potential for a children’s book. Do you have any more “Beautiful Scars” stories in the works focusing on Maddie, the fantasy world or both?
Talon: Interestingly enough, we just spent our winter break coming up with story ideas and story arcs. For this graphic novel, we explored Ridley’s life and how these scars commemorate various moments in his life. Obviously these scars appear on the woodsman, but Scars the Troll also carries many of these marks (and more). The next story we would like to tell delves into the origin of how Scars the Troll got his own scars.
Thompson: We have really started to create a rich fantasy world. Especially as we were writing the prose section at the end, we kept coming up with really fun ideas that wouldn’t necessarily work for this story, but definitely will for the next. Scars is a very intriguing character. He would have to have a pretty interesting back-story-perhaps involving piracy. Evermore is starting to turn into a very interesting place!
“Beautiful Scars” from D.S. Talon, E.G. Thompson and Archaia goes on sale March 12, 2014.