Super Sunday (Part 3): “Jane Eyre Is A Sort Of Watson To Adler’s Holmes” – Talking With Paul McCaffrey About New Book ‘Adler’

by Olly MacNamee

As you may have already noticed from last week’s preview was well as the advance review posted as part of this Super Sunday’s celebration of great British comics, new late Victorian-era thriller Adler #1 by Lavie Tidhar and Paul McCaffery comes out this week from Titan Comics. I’ve known about the gestation of this series for a while now and was stoked to see it finally see the light of day. It also gave me the chance to catch up with artist Paul McCaffery to discuss this new book, his own personal interest in the characters and the era its set in as well as a whole lot more as well. Check out the interview and consider picking up the debut issue this Wednesday 5th February. 

Olly MacNamee: Adler, your new series from Titan Comics, along with writer and co-creator Lavie Tidhar, is out this February and promises to be something of a “League of Extraordinary Gentlewoman” with a kick-ass cast of some pretty formidable literary heroines. All seen through the perspective of one Jane Eyre.

It must have been great fun to draw and work to your strengths too, given your interests in Victoriana and particularly steam punk.

Paul McCaffrey: I really enjoy the steam punk aesthetic. There’s something very appealing about mashing up such a pivotal era in our history with cool, fantastical elements to create a vision of a future that never was.

OM: Was it your interest in this period – and your previous work on Anno Dracula 1895: Seven Days of Mayhem – that helped you land this gig, or something else entirely, Paul?

PM: Lavie and I had contributed (independently) to the horror anthology magazine Murky Depths. The editor, Terry Martin, then suggested me as illustrator for the children’s book , Lavie’s poignant tale of a Tourette’s sufferer. Surprisingly, this did not discourage Lavie from ever working with me again. We then pitched a series to Titan – Violent Century – but that fell through (although it finally emerged as a prose novel). Adler was our next pitch and the man from Titan, he said ‘Yes!’ All this was long before Anno Dracula 1895. So, in answer to your question, it was probably the other way around; Adler helped me land the Anno Dracula gig – that, and the fact that David Leach (editor on Adler – Olly) knew I was a big fan of Kim Newman’s work.

OM: Now, Alder isn’t the only turn-of-the-century/late-Victoriana set female focussed comic series you’ve worked on is it? In Anno Dracula we also saw a similar group independently minded female characters take on the patriarchy. What is it that draws you to these kind of characters and this particular time in Britain’s history?

Paul McCaffrey: The similarities are purely coincidental but I am very aware of them! Both Lavie and Kim write really strong characters, regardless of gender, and the fact that Adler, Jane and Estella are who they are in such a repressive and oppressive society makes them even more fascinating. The Victorian era can be seen as the start of the modern age, in many ways – a time of rapid change and development socially, politically and technologically. Great Britain ruled the greatest empire in history whilst many of its people lived in abject poverty, abused and exploited, at home and abroad. All of this makes for a rich and fertile backdrop.

OM: I think I know you well enough to know you’re a fan of Victoriana and steam punk aesthetics, but all the same, where does one start in references all the rich, lavish period details you populate your scenery with? I think it really helps build and solidify this particular period in time effortlessly as part of the integral world in which Alder and her colleagues inhabit.

PM: I’m really pleased you feel the world of Adler has a solid and cohesive quality. It was really important to me that I capture that sense of time and place. When it comes to references, I’m afraid there’s nothing more exciting than online image searches, rifling through books and watching DVDs. Cosplay is a rich source of imagery, although I did temper some of my initial designs with the need for practicality. Havisham, in particular, looked much wilder at first. Also, it was essential to look at the real Victorian London, too, to anchor those flights of fancy in a believable environment. When evoking a particular period, it’s important to avoid elements that are jarringly anachronistic. The devil is in the details, after all…

OM: What’s your approach to the art in this series? I notice you both the artist and colorist. Is it all done digitally or are other more traditional methods applied as well?

PM: I work on paper – pencils and then inks with a fineliner pen. Then I scan the artwork and colour it digitally.

OM: There are some delightful additions to this script, by Lavie Tidhar, like the way Sherlock Holmes’s absence is dealt with in issue one. Explained away by his having travelled to Devon and directly referencing The Hound of The Baskervilles. Tidhar’s scripts must have been both a revelation and enjoyable to read, right?

PM: Lavie really knows his Victoriana (far more than I do) and he’s very adept at weaving together a rich tapestry of the factual and the fictional. This first Adler series is a rollicking, action-adventure romp and I’d be reading it regardless of who drew it.

OM: There are a lot of interesting characters who make an appearance in the first issue but have you got a particular favourite? For me, it has to be Estella Havisham, daughter of Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations.

PM: To be honest, I really like all five of the main characters. Adler is a little cool and aloof, perhaps, always on the edge of impatience, constantly calculating her next move and filled with a determination to do whatever is necessary. Jane Eyre is a sort of Watson to Adler’s Holmes. The hidden world of the story is revealed to us through her eyes. She’s a warmer character than Adler but no less ready for a fight. Havisham does whatever she wants whenever she wants and doesn’t care what anyone thinks. Everything feels like a bit of a game, to her, a game she relishes. Ayesha demands a mixture of respect and fear. Without giving too much away, I can completely understand  her actions and motivation. She’s probably the heroine of her own story… but there’s still a delicious streak of cruelty running through her. Carmilla is perhaps the most mysterious of the main players. She appears devoted to her mistress above all else but how exactly did their paths cross? Of course, this is just how I feel about them. Lavie may see them all in a vastly different way!

OM: I really enjoyed the first issue, with its introduction of the main players, such as the aforementioned Estella Havisham, Jane Eyre and, of course, Irene Adler; the only woman to outfox Sherlock Holmes himself. There’s also the odd nod to other literary greats such s Dracula too (with the death of Doctor Seward on the very first page). Can we expect more of these types of Easter Eggs going forward too?

PM: Yes, definitely. We’ll be introducing some characters you’ll recognise and some you might not… and there are elements in the last issue that brought a big smile to my face when I first read the script. By the end of the series, I think we’ve really opened up the world of Adler.

OM: Paul, as always, many thanks, and all the best with Adler and beyond.

PM: Cheers, Olly. Thanks a lot for taking an interest in our little comic book.

Olly MacNamee

A unashamed DC Comics fan and sometime teacher for over 20 years! I got lucky and found the escape hatch. Now, I just read and write about comics all day long. Co-host of the ICE-Cast podcast and one third of the brains behind Birmingham's street art and graffiti festival High Vis Fest.

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