‘Comics Can Turn The Key In A Person’s Mind’ – Artist Nick Brokenshire On The Once And Future Queen

by Staff

 

Nickolas Brokenshire is currently working on his second major creator-owned series as artist, following several years creating the imaginative all-ages adventure story published by Monkeybrain Comics and IDW, Amelia Cole. With an omnibus coming up for that title in June, the same creative team are well underway on The Once and Future Queen, published by Dark Horse Comics.

I first became aware of Brokenshire’s work when he appeared on a panel for Amelia Cole and IDW at Baltimore Comic Con and found it unique, compelling, and full of its own magic. It toed the line between soft illustration lines and the dynamism of movement more typical of comics, and his color choices were unique and striking. I spoke to Brokenshire, and also the writing team of Adam P. Knave, and D.J. Kirkbride after the panel, and we’ve been in touch ever since.

Years later, I found myself looking at a pitch they had submitted for The Once and Future Queen to Dark Horse Comics when I worked there as an editor, and had the pleasure of seeing the pitch through the process of being picked up by the publisher. I went on to work as editor on the outline for the series, and the scripting for the first issue, before my time at Dark Horse came to a close.

Now, the series is out and reaching fans in new and challenging ways, bringing an Indian-American female hero onto the scene, an re-imagining the tales of King Arthur in a modern, diverse setting. Rani is joined by new friends Gwen, who is gay, and Lance, and she navigates her life as a 19 year old with them, while trying to put together her own Round Table to save the human world from the Shadow King and the invading Fae folk.

Nick Brokenshire joins me here today to talk about his life as a comics creator, and how he has approached The Once and Future Queen.

Hannah Means-Shannon: How long have you been making art, and how long have you been making comics, specifically?

Nick Brokenshire: I’ve been drawing since I was little. I really took to it when I saw Star Wars. I doodled those characters A LOT! As for comics, I used to make the odd little strip to amuse myself and friends. I designed a lot of characters, but I never really made many comics. Even at the peak of my comics reading, I didn’t draw a lot. At the time, I was more focused on music and learning to play guitar. I often made posters and pinups for bands – they were always comic book inspired.

I think in the back of my head I always thought I’d make comics, but I didn’t get around to it until I was in my thirties. I was a late bloomer in that sense. Eventually, I made the decision to try and make a real comic and that’s when I invented Flick and Barnaby a web comic thing I put on my website years ago. I was working full time as a teacher, so I only managed to make fifteen pages in a year but they were half-decent. Good enough to bring me to the attention of the terrible twins, Adam and DJ. Soon after that we started making Amelia Cole. I think I might’ve made about twenty-five to thirty pages of comics in my entire life before we embarked on Amelia Cole.

[Amelia Cole artwork]

HMS: What impact do you think comics can have on someone’s daily life or on the world at large?

NB: Comics can turn the key in a person’s mind. When I read Watchmen at age sixteen or seventeen, it was like somebody opened a door and I looked at the world differently. It’s a combination of wonder, whimsy and cynicism all rolled into one. Moore and Gibbons used this goofy colourful medium to slice through the reality of nuclear paranoia we lived in at the time.

When I discovered Love And Rockets, I suddenly had a window into the world of these punk rock girls in a way I might never have had. I felt their heartache and their triumphs. Moebius and Druillet turned the key further – there should be NO LIMIT to imagination. Of course Kirby taught the same thing, but he reminds us that heart is what matters at the end of the day. Sienkiewicz showed me unfettered expression where Mignola is the epitome of restraint.

Chris Ware and Dan Clowes showed me that alienation and detachment are strangely beautiful. Otomo and Miyazaki are like mainlining the rainbow! How could these works NOT have an impact on a person? Comics help a person make sense of everything, while making sure the mysteries of the Universe stay mysterious.

[“The Cannibal Queen”]

HMS: Did The Once and Future Queen have a particular appeal to you as an idea because of its ties to the “Matter of Britain” and Arthurian lore?

NB: Most definitely. I grew up in a very rural part of Scotland. Literally up a small mountain called the “Hill Of Fare”. At the bottom of the Hill the is a stone circle.  When I place my hand on the ground in any ancient place, I can feel the magic of the place. The history, the legends. And so I’m drawn to ancient myths and lore. I have ancestral connections to Cornwall on my father’s side.

The Arthurian legend as well as stories of magic and the fae are a big part of my psychological make-up. I grew up listening to music that evoked those things and read books, poems and comics that did too. I am on a life-long journey to find the hidden magic in stories and music, so yes, The Once And Future Queen appeals greatly to me!

[Cover art for The Once and Future Queen, issue #2]

HMS: Tell us something about the choices you made in designing the look of the main characters in this book.

NB: During the making of Amelia Cole, I discovered to my chagrin that when you are under the gun, trying to draw semi-realistic people is a very hit and miss endeavor, if you don’t use some reference. So I made it my first priority to arm myself with reference for every character and pose that I would be using.

The result has been that a more naturalistic sense to the figures in my cartooning – at least I think so. Some people scoff at using reference, but anyone who knows anything about the history of cartooning, illustration and art in general, knows that an artist must refer to the real world in order to communicate effectively with their audience. Even if the art is fantastical or surreal.

It took me five years of sweating bullets over every page of Amelia to figure this out…I’m a slow learner…The result of my employing more reference has been a steep uptick in my drawing skills. The more I use reference, the less I need to use it because I’m learning so much with every panel I draw. It’s great!

[Anderson from Judge Dredd]

HMS: What is the color scheme in this comic about? It is very bright, but also highly mood-driven. How did you find your way through composing the colors for this book?

NB: I wanted to employ some of the more painterly ideas that I’d been developing, but at the same time I wanted a simpler approach to colouring pages. I wanted to communicate the mood of each scene clearly and directly using colour, so I landed on the idea of very limited palettes for the backgrounds while keeping main characters in full colour.

The main reason for the colour approach is a mechanism to change gears for each scene. It seems to be working quite well, I think. While the real world is depicted in simple bright colours, you’ll notice the Fae world is painted in more jarring combinations. That was a deliberate decision passed down to me from Adam and DJ. They wanted the colours of the Fae to be somewhat obnoxious. The way I see it they have fallen so far from their pastoral, magical ways that they now live in a world of perpetual blacklight.

[Page from The Once and Future Queen, issue #1]

HMS: Why do you still use full comic boards and hand-drawing of panels rather than some of the more digital tools available these days?

NB: I’m trying my hardest to catch up with the people I grew up admiring. They worked on boards, so I figure I ought to as well. It’s as simple as that.

[“Seahorse Princess”]

Thanks very much to Nick Brokenshire for taking the time to talk about his life in art and The Once and Future Queen.

This is Part 1 of a 2 part interview. The second part will be published here on Comicon.com in the upcoming week.

The Once and Future Queen #1 is currently in shops. The Once and Future Queen #2 arrives in shops on Wednesday, April 12th.