The Enchanting And Dangerous World Of A Girl In The Himalayas – Talking With David Jesus Vignolli

by Hannah Means Shannon

Coming up in April 2018, Archaia, an imprint of Boom! Studios will be releasing the original graphic novel A Girl In The Himalayas by David Jesus Vignolli. The new work is appropriate for younger or adult readers, and tells a complete story set within a world witnessing the clash between modernization and elemental beings who have created a “Sanctuary” high in the Himalayas to preserve their magic and harmony from destruction by humankind.

Immortal being Prasad witnesses the harrowing events that leave Vijaya, a young girl, an orphan alone in the Himalayas, and sets aside his immortality in order to come to her aid. Bringing her into his Sanctuary, one he shares with a number of delightful and at times menacing creatures, provokes controversy, conflict, and a learning experience for everyone. Especially Vijaya.

David Jesus Vignolli’s artwork on the book is haunting, provoking a sense of wonder, and leaving certain enigmatic qualities in place surrounding the ancient and powerful beings who interact with this human child. There’s a delight in the natural world and an askance view of human assumptions that make the book unique and thought-provoking, too.

David Jesus Vignolli joins us here today, along with Senior Editor Sierra Hahn, to talk about A Girl in the Himalayas.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Can you speak a little bit about the various threads of mythology, storytelling, and mystical perspectives that you might have drawn from to create this book? Are there elements that you drew from existing stories or belief systems?

David Jesus Vignolli: I looked into the different cultures around the Himalayas. They are incredibly rich. The tradition that inspired the book the most is the Indian one. The names and concepts such as illusion (maya), yoga, silence and Kali Yuga (the age of darkness) are directly taken from there.

But, of course, there is a lot of artistic license. I wanted to create a universal story – one which questions our condition as humans and the impact of our decisions. At the same time, it’s a story about a small girl trying to find her place in a community.

As far as philosophical background is concerned, ancient cultures, such as the Indian one, helped me to develop the mystical perspective. When a culture is that old, one can imagine that over the years, many people have asked essential questions about life. The fact that this culture has survived for thousands of years is because they’ve got something right. For example, Indian scriptures described the atom in minute detail long before it was discovered in the West.

However, I didn’t borrow a specific storyline from any mythology. I believe that the simple act of reading about a less well known culture, can give a story an edge of originality.

My work is deeply inspired by Hayao Miyazaki’s films. The power of nature, his children characters, creatures, and worlds he creates have had a long-lasting effect on me.

HMS: Our young girl, Vijaya, has been through some terrible experiences and yet she remains open and hopeful about her future. Is this simply because she’s a resilient young child, or do you think she has qualities that make her unique among human beings? She says she’s different from other humans. Is that true?

DJV: Vijaya is similar to any other child. I think children have an ability to live more in the present moment than adults, as they don’t tend to become as attached to past events.  Even in war torn areas, children find ways to play and enjoy.

What makes Vijaya resilient is the fact that she experienced a lot of love from her parents and Prasad. The certainty of being loved helped her to overcome traumatic experiences.

She is no different from other humans, but her decisions and goals differentiate her from the people who invaded her village.

HMS: What aspects of the book did you most enjoy drawing, and what did you find most of a challenge?

DJV: I love drawing trees, nature in general, and people’s expressions. When I was younger, drawing faces was my favourite occupation.  Many of the connections we feel with comic book characters comes from their expressions.

Drawing buildings was always challenging though as I struggle drawing straight lines. It was quite convenient that the story is set in the Himalayas. 🙂

HMS: Did you approach the book knowing it would be quite long? If so, what led you to that choice?

DJV: Actually, to start off with, the story was far shorter. My initial plan was to make it more like an episode in a series, but in the end, it became more like a movie. Actually, my editors suggested that I increase the length of the book and conclude the story, and I think this was a brilliant idea.

HMS: How did you come up with the different smaller scenes, such as the ones where Vijaya interacts with other beings in the Sanctuary, and decide what order in which they should appear in the story?

DJV: Writing those scenes was a very spontaneous process, as I didn’t need to think of them in a specific order; the scenes came to me effortlessly. I knew Vijaya needed to do a tour through her new home and that she would meet some exotic beings. I tend to use an approach similar to Hayao Miyazaki’s—I like to draw scenes and sketch dialogue and, without thinking too much, just see if they work out.  By simply allowing imagination to flow, it’s actually quite similar to how children create their “adventures” in a playground.

In the final scenes, I knew I had to include some of those beings to reconnect the dots and conclude everyone’s story arcs.

HMS: When I step back and think about this book as a whole, one of the prevailing ideas seems to be that doing something good often requires a lot of effort and commitment, not just a single gesture, as in the case of Prasad saving Vijaya. And it might not have a simple outcome, either. What do you think of Prasad’s gesture?

DJV: Prasad did what he thought was the right thing to do. He didn’t think twice. All he saw was innocence in danger. I think most of us have the impulse to jump into action to protect children.

Yes, a single gesture requires a lot of effort and commitment, especially living in a community where many people have different opinions. For Prasad, saving the girl was the right thing to do. For Vasu, it was a mistake and some of the Elementals perceived Vijaya’s presence as an attack on their community.

It takes time and significant effort to change a pre-established idea in a group. However, one must stand for what one believes in and that’s exactly what Prasad did.

HMS: What made this book stand out among what are surely a great wealth of books published in other countries that English speaking readers might never have seen as one that you felt would particularly reach readers?

Sierra Hahn: A Girl in the Himalayas is an original graphic novel that was discovered by editor Cameron Chittock through our Archaia Open Submissions. The pitch first stood out because of David’s stunning artwork. There is a prestige and confidence to David’s work and overall presentation that was immediately eye-catching.

HMS: What about David’s style of storytelling do you find most compelling in this book that includes quite a number of settings, characters, and activities?

SH: Digging into the story for the briefest moment, you’re engrossed by this compelling world not unlike our own, but with a willingness to explore magic and wonder inherent to nature and childhood. Quickly you’re introduced to young Vijaya and join her on a special journey to learn what it means to live with the Earth rather than on it.

Many thanks to David Jesus Vignolli for taking part in this interview, and to Sierra Hahn, for joining him!

 A Girl in the Himalayas will arrive in comic shops on April 25th, 2018.