Last Friday, we ran the first part of an interview with artist Nickolas Brokenshire about his life as a comic artist and the career path that led to his current series, The Once and Future Queen, from Dark Horse Comics. The second issue of which arrives in shops this week on Wednesday, April 12th. After creating a webcomic as his first comic project while working as a high school art teacher, Brokenshire jumped into the medium with both feet to create the long-running all-ages adventure series with writers Adam P. Knave and D.j. Kirkbride. Amelia Cole was published by Monkeybrain, and later in print by IDW, and the series has an omnibus edition arriving from IDW in June 2017.
[Art from The Once and Future Queen #3, cover]
The Once and Future Queen, a modern retelling of the King Arthur story, features a diverse team of characters including Indian-American chess champion and teenage girl Rani, who is the new Queen, her new British lesbian friend Gwen, African American cyclist extraordinaire Lance, and oh, yeah, a Merlin who is partial to space suits for moving in space and time. Bridging continents, time periods, and cultural ideas, the series also features a wealth of fairy and fairy tale tradition as the teens battle the invading forces of the Fae folk.
While working as an editor at Dark Horse, I had the proud duty of bringing this series into the company and seeing it through the initial scripting phases. But what the series has become since then impresses me far more than I could have imagined–Nick Brokenshire’s unique brand of the ethereal and earthy has brought this world to life in a way that captures my imagination, and it will capture yours as well.
Here’s the second part of my interview with Nick Brokenshire, in which he talks about his cultural influences, growing as an artist, and the ever-present magic of communicating with others through comic art:
[Art from The Once and Future Queen #2, cover]
Hannah Means-Shannon: Were you influenced by illustration art as well as comic art, and if so, what pushed you toward comics?
Nick Brokenshire: To be honest, I was influenced by every form of art I could find. I spent countless hours poring over books about fine art as well as illustration and comics. I think it’s more about communication. Anything that communicates ideas is fascinating to me. Images, songs, books, movies. Anything that can transfer an idea from one person to another. The fancier the better! Curiously, I grew up not really feeling that I was allowed to pursue artistic things. I had to do physical work from a young age and had to earn a wage from the age of 16 onwards, so art was always what I did for relaxation.
It wasn’t until I was twenty-six that I went back to school to study art. Then I focused on illustration as a career path, which led to becoming a high school art teacher and THAT was the thing that pushed me into comics fully. Becoming a teacher taught me the lesson that, if I want to do something and set my mind to it, then I can achieve it as long I focus totally on it and don’t allow myself to be distracted. I realized then that I would make it my focus to make comics – a thing that had been dwelling in the back of my mind for all those years.
[Getting the team together in The Once and Future Queen. Yes, that’s Merlin in a spacesuit.]
HMS: For you, what are some of the personal high points of your work in comics so far?
NB: Being asked by Adam and DJ to work with them on Amelia Cole was an enormous thrill, as was being included in Monkeybrain Comics starting roster. For me, it was like we were given the go-ahead to do this thing. We knew right from the start that we were going to finish this thing come hell or high water. That was a good feeling. Seeing Volume 1 of Amelia printed by IDW was amazing to me. To be honest, in some ways it seemed unreal because I didn’t feel ready for it. As I said, I was only really a novice at that point.
The biggest high point, and this is no word of a lie, was when Dark Horse gave us the green light for The One and Future Queen (thanks to the efforts of a certain person whose name rhymes with Banana Beans Flannon). I’ve said this before but, the process of making Amelia Cole was for me a non-stop, five year learning curve that led directly to the art style that you see in OAFQ. I’m so pleased to have the opportunity to do my best work for the company that gave us Hellboy and Sin City. What a blast!
[Fighting the Fae in The Once and Future Queen]
HMS: The Once and Future Queen seems to bridge the gap between continents and coasts for the creative team on the book, since it takes place both in Portland, Oregon, and the UK. Has it felt like a coming together of ideas for you all?
NB: I believe that one of the underlying reasons that Adam and DJ had the initial idea of trying to bridge the gap between the UK and America in the story is because when I visited Portland a couple of years ago, I instantly fell in love with the countryside and mountains surrounding the city. It reminded me a lot of where I grew up in Scotland. It seemed to spark a thematic thread in Adam and DJ’s minds that they knew I would respond to. I also have ties to the Americas through my mother’s side. There is magic to be woven everywhere!
[The Shadow King in The Once and Future Queen]
HMS: Tell me something about the choices you made in designing the Fae folk and their land in this book. What were you aiming for and what were you hoping to avoid in such a large visual tradition?
NB: I wanted to make the Fae archetypal villains and the easiest way to telegraph this idea was to make them scary looking. Basic goblins or gargoyle-ish designs. Now, that’s not to say that there isn’t more to them than being all-out evil. But that’s a theme for a later story. Suffice to say, they are a corrupted race–much like the Orcs and Uruk Hai of Tolkien’s worl –thus their visual similarity to them. As our story develops, we may find out more about the Fae. In traditional lore, they can be morally ambiguous and often take very different forms depending on their alignment. Perhaps we might see less antagonistic Fae at some point…
HMS: Has working on this comic taken you places that you haven’t been before as an artist?
NB: It has. I finally learned to employ a strict discipline concerning my approach to drawing pages. I follow the process I developed very closely in order to achieve something I hadn’t managed before, which was a coherent overall style to the book. This has been a giant breakthrough for me as a cartoonist.
[Buffy and Angel sketch]
HMS: Can I ask about your tattoos, which I recently saw some of on Instagram? Can you tell us the story behind one of your tattoos?
NB: I have a few, but there are two that mean the most to me. One is the Celtic knot on my back and the other a Day Of The Dead skull on my arm. The Celtic knot symbolizes my personal connection with the land I grew up in. My life on The Hill of Fare is so special to me that I miss it every day. The Skull symbolizes my connection with Latin America. I am a child of two very distinct cultures. The two play such an important role in my personality that I felt compelled to create symbols of them on my body. Magic, you see. My magic lies in the place where the opposing influences in my life meet. Magia!
[Nick Brokenshire is so multi-faceted that he can cook while playing a classic guitar. I can do neither. All hail Nick.]
This is Part 2 of an interview with Nickolas Brokenshire on The Once and Future Queen. You can find Part 1, right here.
The Once and Future Queen’s first issue is currently available in shops and the second issue arrives in shops this Wednesday, April 12th.