Fantasy fiction-based comics are on the rise, and that’s in no small part to Image with books like Seven To Eternity showing that there is a real desire for such stories. And so, this April, another contender enters the ring with a mighty impressive pedigree, too. Childhood friends and creative partners, Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kercshl (Gotham Academy, both), bring you ISOLA, which we were fortunate enough to get an early look at recently. You read it, right? NO? Well, I’ll wait for you then.
Ready now? Good. then, let’s begin as I grabbed Fletcher and Kerschl for a tag-team interview covering their inspirations, collaboration process, and finding their colorist, Msassyk, who have, together, created a promising new epic in the making.
Olly MacNamee: So, friends since childhood, eh? Was it your shared love of comics books that brought you together, or something less obvious?
Brenden Fletcher: We met in September, 1984, when I transferred into the Humberstone Elementary School Grade 6 class. As I recall it, we made fast friends talking about Ghostbusters, trading Transformers toys, and drawing Voltron together (among other genre fare) in chalk on the playground asphalt. I think we were both casual comic book readers at the time. The passion came either later that year or early in Grade 7 when we discovered that a book called Elfquest wasn’t available via the newsstand, forcing us to find a way to get the series into our grubby little hands. Through that quest, and my grandparents’ deft use of the Yellow Pages, we discovered the existence of comic book stores and our lives were forever changed.
OM: And you say that Isola is a story you’ve both been dying to produce for some time now? How so? How did this tale come about in your collective minds?
Karl Kerschl: Well, over the years we collaborated on a lot of different ideas, kind of figuring out how stories are crafted by trial and error. In the late nineties we put a ton of work into a series we’d hoped to publish called “Miki”, which actually nearly found a home at Image, but things didn’t quite work out and I went on to do a lot of other work for Marvel and DC while Brenden pursued music. ISOLA is the culmination of that original effort and incorporates a lot of concepts from Miki. It’s an entirely original story, though.
OM: From what I can see, this is a fantasy story with more than a hint of the magical and mythical about it. And another book that leads with a solid female protagonist, right?
BF: That’s correct. There is magic in the world of ISOLA and we’re telling a story about people whose lives have been heavily influenced by myth, all the while riffing on traditional myths in the style of our own storytelling. Our leads are Queen Olwyn and her Captain of the Guard, Rook, both strong female protagonists.
KK: It owes a lot to classical mythology, specifically the story of Orpheus, but I kind of think of it as a fusion of Eastern and Western mythologies. There’s a strong sense of the environment as a character, with its own soul and motivations.
OM: I must ask; where did you gain your influences when planning this epic story over so many years? what changes came about and what stayed? For example, was Captain Rook always female?
BF: This was always a story about two women. It’s been something of a pattern for us since working on Miki, the project we spent several years attempting to publish before moving on to other things. ISOLA is really the product of that nearly decade-long struggle. Many of the story elements from that project migrated to this one. Without Miki there’d be no ISOLA.
OM: Queen Olwyn. She’s not your conventional fairy tale queen now is she? What can you tell us about this strong but silent monarch, who begins this story a victim of a spell?
BF: Queen Olwyn is far from a typical monarch and she’d be anything but silent if she wasn’t trapped in the body of a giant cat. She’s the youngest Queen of Maar, ruling over a kingdom divided by indiscretions of the past. Now that she finds herself living a new life on the run in a furry, blue body she doesn’t understand, she is forced to begin reconsidering her place within the kingdom of Maar as well as Maar’s place within the world as she’d come to know it.
OM: And, given your friendship, how did you coordinate with one another on the creation and production of each issue, as well as work alongside your colorist from Gotham Academy, Msassyk?
BF: My favourite part of every project with Karl is the very beginning where we both feel the unlimited potential of a concept and its characters and we just hang out with each other like we’re kids again, kicking around ideas. Every issue and every arc of a series begins that way too, to some extent. From there, we write an issue breakdown that sits somewhere between a very loose set of notes and a script.
KK: That breakdown is mostly a set of story beats that give us a rough idea of where the issue begins and ends, along with a bunch of notes about specific details we’d like to see. From there, I start drawing the book and writing the pages in more detail as I break them down, writing rough dialogue in the process. Often, I’ll run into things that don’t quite work or have new ideas for scenes or environments and adjust as I go. When I’ve finished the book, we do a scripting pass on it and then edit that until we’re happy.
I send Michele (Msassyk) pages as I finish them. She does a palette pass of the whole issue, telling the story loosely with colour, and then after we discuss it as she colours each page in (great) detail, bringing it all to life.
OM: Was Msassyk a must for this series? I must say Karl, on top of your stunning art, her colours take it to another level! Classic, timeless animation springs to mind when I look at her work.
KK: She’s incredible. We met at TCAF a few years ago when we were starting Gotham Academy. When I learned that she was a background painter, I kept her in mind for the series and eventually asked her to join the team. I couldn’t imagine doing ISOLA without her. Michele gives such thought and attention to the use of colour as a storytelling device and together we’ve cultivated a process and look that I’m extremely proud of.
OM: Isola, then, is a place? A place Captain Rook and Queen Olwyn are seeking? What can we expect along the way on their journey to this mythical land and across the series?
BF: Rook and Olwyn, along with every other child in Maar, grew up hearing tall tales about a distant land called Isola, a place where spirits go when their earthly shells expire. Rook believes it might actually exist and decides it is the only possible way for her Queen to be made whole again. Along the journey, everything Rook and Olwyn believe about their world and each other will be put into question as both women come to accept their new roles beyond that of Queen and Captain.
Many thanks to Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kershl for taking part in this interview with Comicon.com.
Isola #1 is out April 4th, 2018 from Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl, Msassyk, and Image Comics