This week sees the publication of new YA graphic novel, Conspiracy of Ravens by writing (and life) partners, John Reppion and Leah Moore and artist Sally Jane Thompson from Dark Horse. It’s the story of Anne Ravenhall who unexpectedly inherits her long-lost aunt’s crumbling English mansion and a strange, ancient locket, only to find this magic talisman leads mysterious powers, as well as some well buried family secrets. It’s a graphic novel that has echoes of classic children’s literature and UK girls’ comics, as well as elements of contemporary storytelling, too. We caught up with John and Leah on the eve of their book coming out.
Olly MacNamee: At first, this is a book that seems to have come from a different era, with its rural, public school setting and aristocratic ancestral mansion in the country, but looks can be deceptive, can’t they? I don’t remember any robot nannies in Swallows and Amazons?
John Reppion: I think the feel and setting seem pretty classic – appealing to those of us who love The Worst Witch, Harry Potter, and all those very British/Anglophile set-ups – but it’s definitley a book about 21st century kids.
Leah Moore: We wanted to make something that could have been in a old girls’ comic, like Bunty or Jinty, where gangs of girls were pitched against all kinds of mental stuff, but got through it just with ‘pluck’ and determination. We wanted it to be very firmly rooted in folklore and magic, because corvids have so much mythological depth to them, and we wanted a science element, but a very antique kind of science, so the robots are full of valves instead of microchips. The whole idea was to create a rich intriguing world that young girls would be into, and that would encourage them to read stuff like old books about birds, or castles, or robots.
OM: What were your own inspirations going I to this project? Forgive me for saying this, but I didn’t have either of you down as big supporters of boarding schools and the kind of people who go there. It starts off all Harry Potter but the swerves into sci-fi and espionage, too.
Leah Moore: Ha, ha! You’re right of course, but I think that a boarding school is a great device for a book with a cast of kids, because it’s like summer camp. The kids are together the whole time, and any parental involvement is an intrusion into that world. I think it’s something we get from The Four Marys and similar, where there’s an awful lot of sneaking out after lights out, and hushed conversations during double Maths. It’s a world that has always felt a million miles away from reality to me, and that’s totally the attraction. The sci-fi and espionage is from comics, and books, and films, and TV that we had growing up. We would be plonked in front of James Bond films at Christmas, or Bonanza on Sunday afternoons, or Terrahawks, or whatever, and it all finds its way in. Conspiracy of Ravens is aimed squarely at young girls, who won’t have a clue about any of that, and will just enjoy the story. I want them to have heads full of robot housekeepers that tidy up for you, and magic birds that can become women, and big spooky houses, tricked out cars, all of that. What’s not to love?
OM: And how is it, writing together and bringing up a family too? There’s no escape is there?
John Reppion: We’ve never known any different, to be honest. We’ve been writing together pretty much since we first started living together, so we’ve never had much of a work/life balance going on. It’s all just part of the same day-to-day life. Add three kids into the mix, and it makes it all bit more complicated, but they go to school and we do our work. That’s about as sorted as we can get it. The school holidays are the hard bit, really.
OM: As the GN progresses, we get a clearer picture of Anne Ravenhall’s ancestry and their place in history as a group of secretive crime-fighting women called the Dissimulation. What can you tell me about them?
Leah Moore: The Dissimulation is the best girl gang ever! The girls find out that not only did their grannies go romping about in the middle of the night fighting bad guys, battling monsters, and finding ancient cursed treasures, but they did it in cool Victorian costumes, and they had cool weapons, and a secret underground base, and a cool car. I remember seeing a picture of my nan and her mates taken in a studio on the seafront somewhere, where they are messing about posing on a motorbike with helmets on and all laughing their heads off. You realise you did not invent ‘Being Young’, and that the old ladies you see may have had all kinds of adventures. Anne has to figure out who the dissimulation were, and who their descendants are, and what on earth she is supposed to do about any of it.
OM: It would seem that the Dissimulation lives on in these more modern times, too? In some ways, this is also a book about getting a new crime-fighting team together too, isn’t it? There’s even an evil megalomaniac and a secret HQ!
Leah Moore: Yes! The magic has been dormant all these years, but now, gradually, it’s coming back to life, and the girls find themselves in charge of the whole thing. Like the sickening moment when you realise that having a party without your mum there means you are actually in charge, when they are suddenly handed a crumbling mansion, a pile of magical powers and a load of responsibility. The main mission for the girls is to ‘Not Mess This Up’, which is a goal for all of us I think…
OM: And how did you come across the marvel that is Sally Jane Thompson, who’s Manga-esque art style gives it such a contemporary feel even though much of the setting for this book is more antiquated?
John Reppion: I’d already been following Sally on Twitter for a while when she did an art giveaway back in 2012. My name got picked out of the hat and I asked her for a sketch with “corvids and Victorian stuff” in it. Sally came back with this beautiful image of a young woman with a magical locket which had ravens flying out of it. It was just so perfect. It had so much going on that we were like “You could write a series about her”. So we did.
OM: It’s certainly a book that leaves the door wide open for a sequel. I know it’s early days, but as you were writing this book, surely other plot lines and ideas filled your minds?
Leah Moore: We always intended for the readers to spend more than just one book with the girls, and we want to be able to follow them as they figure out their powers, but there is also a whole library full of trophies and past cases, so Binky has a lot of fileboxes to open, and books to read, and Felicity hasn’t even seen secret headquarters yet!
Conspiracy of Ravens is out Wednesday, the 3rd of October from Dark Horse and you can catch John and Leah signing their new book in Travelling Man’s Manchester branch this Saturday, the 6th of October.