This week, we welcome Megan L. Heaton and Isabelle Melancon, the creators of the webcomic NAMESAKE.
Namesake is the story of Emma Crewe, a woman who discovers she can visit other worlds. She finds out that these are places she already knows – fantasy and fairy lands made famous through the spoken word, literature and cinema. Her power as a Namesake forces her to act as a protagonist in these familiar stories as she figures out how to get home.
Isabelle is a French-Canadian comic artist currently living in Montréal. She has currently 2 graphic novels published and a webcomic running and is planning to write many, many more. She is fascinated by fairy tales, mythology, gore and the macabre. She currently works in a french comic book store.
Megan is an American comic book writer, tech blogger and newspaper designer best known for co-creating the webcomic Namesake with Isabelle Melançon. She’s originally from Montgomery, Ala., and currently lives outside Harrisburg, Pa. In addition to writing comics, she is a designer and copy editor for The Patriot-News and app review editor for TUAW (The Unofficial Apple Weblog).
ANTHONY: Hello, Ladies! First question: What’s the creative process like? Do you work with Megan giving Isabelle a fully-detailed script including dialogue? Or is there more creative give-and-take behind each individual page?
ISABELLE: Well, since both of us work on the story, it’s very much a back-and-forth. Megan and I discuss what happens in the next couple of pages and then she scripts it out. Once it’s scripted, I create the weekly pages from it, usually in sets of three, adapting her text to the comic format. She approves the visuals, I ink them, color them and then send the files to her for her to add the text in and make some last minute changes. So as you can see, it’s pretty much pure teamwork all steps of the way.
MEGAN: Exactly what Isa said. It’s teamwork all the way. Before Namesake began, we sat down starting in mid-2009 and hashed out a detailed story arc we dubbed the retcon. We broke the entire story into individual arcs, then from there we began breaking the first arc into chapters. The story’s evolved from that first retcon in a good way. We’ll now look at what we want to accomplish in a chapter as a whole, then I script it out. Originally, almost was computer-scripted from first to last, but then I realized I was getting my best results by handwriting the script first. So, I’ll take a Moleskine and fountain pen and script out a scene. Then, I’ll type it in Scrivener where I have the master Namesake file, then send the scene to Isa. She’ll create the weekly pages, adding in her own suggested dialogue and either expanding or contracting some of the suggested scenes/lines. I’ll approve the visuals, Isa then inks and colors, then I do the lettering for any last-minute text tweaks and because I am an acknowledged font snob. I hear there’s support groups for that.
ANTHONY: The idea of fairy tale and literary characters existing in our real world has been done before, in a number of different formats. You’ve tweaked that concept in an original and interesting way. How did you hit on the idea of Namesakes (Wendy, Dorothy, Alice, Jack) fulfilling specific literary roles in new adventures?
ISABELLE: I guess it’s always the way I saw adaptations as a kid. All the characters felt like different persons born of the same original concept. The first Alice was long gone and the one in the Disney movie I was watching was the “new” one. I don’t even remember the concept ever really hitting me like Newton’s apple. It just naturally evolved into Namesake, thanks to Meg’s encouragements and motivation to help me get my ideas into place. The whole idea really started solidifying in a silly parody of the “Wizard of Oz” I was doing. She saw a lot of potential in it, and that’s how it started off.
MEGAN: I came into Namesake after Isa’d already come up with the idea, encouraging her to do more with the idea.
ANTHONY: Your main character, Emma, seems to be the first new Namesake in a number of years — so much so that Alice and Wendy aren’t even really sure what literary role she’s meant to fulfill, although a Jane Austen connection is mentioned. Emma ends up in Oz, is greeted as the new Dorothy, and is read “The Dorothy Protocols.” Does every literary dimension have such Protocols (“The Alice Protocols,” “The Jack Protocols,” etc)?
ISABELLE: Yes and no. It depends how the world greets the Namesakes and keeps up with their history. For instance, Wonderland doesn’t have an Alice protocol because they really can’t manage to write down a logical one. In most worlds, the visits of Namesakes are recorded in the form of folktales, much like the other worlds are folktales in our world. Oz has a pretty specific protocol mostly due to the fact that Dorothies usually ended up staying as residents and most Ozites are immortal, thus allowing the memory of what a Dorothy is to stay alive and fresh.
MEGAN: There’s even rare cases where the Namesake has shifted from a guy to a girl or vice versa depending on the circumstances. We’ll eventually meet one of these Namesakes.
ANTHONY: Feel free to order me to be silent, but my theory is that Emma is not named for/empowered by the Jane Austen character because all of your recognizable Namesakes so far are named for child characters (Alice, Wendy, Dorothy, even Jack). Of course, that makes Emma even more mysterious. You, as the creators, do have a plan all worked out I assume. This isn’t going to be like so many genre TV shows that claim they know what the end-game is but really don’t at all, right? Feel like giving us any hints as to where the story is going?
ISABELLE: Rest assured, Emma’s story is pretty much all written out. Which allows us to laughs evilly when people make theories. Mwa-hah-hah. I guess the two only hints I feel comfortable giving is that not all Namesakes are kids and that Emma’s world is quite close to the ones of the rest of the Calliope cast. It is an existing literature world. And it’s not by Austen.
MEGAN: The vast majority of the Namesake cast is actually in their mid-20s to early-30s. As Isa said, not all Namesakes are kids or take their journeys when they’re children. Among the main cast, we have some who did their journeys as teens and some when they were younger, and there’s some who do their journeys as adults. But, yes, we definitely know the end game. It’s all documented in that aforementioned retcon/Scrivener file and in Gmail conversations. It’s like J.K. Rowling already having the epilogue to the Harry Potter series, but I promise we will not name a character Albus Severus!
ANTHONY: That poor kid will be scarred forever. (Couldn’t resist the pun.) Right now the focus is clearly on Emma in Oz and on Alice/Wendy/Jack’s efforts to figure out where she’s gone. But there are other mysteries running in the background: why did Vanessa kill Karen? Whose ghost was possessing Karen? What happened to Emma’s missing mother? And what connection do Charles Dodson and Alice Liddell have to the modern cast of characters? Will any of these mysteries come to the front burner in the future? Or are they all long-term sub-plots?
ISABELLE: All the current plot points will get resolved. Most of them will be closed when the big villain walks in, which is fairly soon. More flashbacks featuring Alice and Dodson will gradually show what their connection to the present is. Every member of the cast has a planned flashback sequence within the story, with some extra material that will be included as downloadable content in the future. In the long-term sub-plot part of the story, Emma’s mother is going to be a very important character in the future and the ghost too. So they have planned flashbacks as well. But be warned – every explained mystery pretty much opens another. Again : evil laughter. Mwa-hah-hah.
MEGAN: Speaking of the big villain, I am really looking forward to introducing that character and showing some of the research that went into said villain. As you can see with some of the current pages, we’re finally answering some of the questions from chapter 1, but raising others at the same time.
ANTHONY: Isabelle, this one is for you: what medium do you work in, and what tools do you use, to create the art for Namesake? How do you decide which pages, or sometimes just panels, get to appear in color versus which pages stay in black and white?
ISABELLE: I work with liquid china ink, Sakura micron pens and pilot fineliners on bristol board. I usually sketch out the art with a red pencil, then ink directly on top, scan the art and remove the red sketch lines with Adobe Photoshop. The shading and coloring is done with that program as well. The color highlights that are chosen usually come quite naturally. They either match the conversation or underline the use of magic. For instance, the current pages show that Jack feels guilty over Vanessa. So the blood-splatter-shaped marking on his hand is the element in color.
ANTHONY: There seems to be a stylistic difference between the Dodson/Alice Intermissions and Emma’s story. Am I imagining it, or are you purposefully using a slightly different art style for those flashbacks?
ISABELLE: The art style is mostly the same, the framing is a bit different. The sequences with Alice always have a striped wall in the back. Makes everything looks tight and caged. Emma’s story breathes a whole lot more.
ANTHONY: Who are your creative influences, respectively?
ISABELLE: …Oh boy. So many I don’t even know where to start. I guess the main ones would be 19e century illustration (as a whole), Terry Moore, Jeff Smith, Yukito Kishiro, Kerascoet, Fabien Vehlmann and many. many of my webcomic artist friends.
MEGAN: For me, the first was J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5. His televised novel made a huge impression on me as a teenager. Writing-wise, feel free to laugh, but I draw a lot of inspiration from Nora Roberts. She’s a romance/mystery writer (as J.D. Robb), and her characters are well-rounded and the stories filled with emotion. Other writing influences include J.K. Rowling, Rumiko Takahashi and Nobuhiro Watsuki’s Rurouni Kenshin. I’m starting to study the work of Stephen Moffat more and love what he’s done with Doctor Who.
ANTHONY: What is the typical turn-around time from the beginning of script-writing to the completed pages being posted on the site? How far in advance are you working?
ISABELLE: So far, we seem to get stuff done about a week or two in advance. It’s not ideal, but it seems to work well for us.
MEGAN: Yes. Knock on wood, we’ve never missed an update. Some times I am doing the pages by remotely connecting to my desktop to get the lettering done, but the latest we’ve ever been was 30 minutes and that’s because I was driving home from the airport.
ANTHONY: Is there a plan for getting Namesake into print form?
ISABELLE: Since both Meg and me are fascinated by books, yes, absolutely. We are currently looking for printers we can use.
MEGAN: Yes, with a story like this, Namesake needs books. If you know of any good printers, please send them our way.
ANTHONY: When you’re not working on Namesake, are there other projects out there readers should be looking for?
ISABELLE: I have several graphic novel ideas currently in the works. For some of them, Meg and I will be working together again. For others, I will be working alone or with other talented writers I adore. We plan on having one or 2 mini-comics available this year. Among the planned ideas we have vampires, an adaptation of Beauty and the Beast with a gender-swap, magical murder mysteries and stories about fire spirits. So it’s going to be a lot of fun for both us and our readers. I think it’s what makes our projects so likable. It’s that we really have a ton of fun making them.
MEGAN: Isa’s provided a good description of our upcoming projects. We have a ton of fun making stuff and refining ideas. We write what we would like to read. Isa’s been encouraging me to develop my own ideas more, which is where the magical murder mystery came from. We also plan to have mini-comics featuring powerful women in history that don’t always get the spotlight. We also participated in Womanthology together, and that will be out in December.
ANTHONY: And here’s my customary final question: What is your favorite book and what would you say to recommend it to someone who has never read it?
ISABELLE: My favorite book changes every five years or so. I’m a fickle thing that way. But I think one of the books that will always be in my top 10 is the Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. Why? Because it’s a story that is really complex and really simple at the same time. It’s imaginative, beautiful and truly an example of what timeless fantasy should be like.
MEGAN: I can never answer this one! I can easily give you a list of 10 that would be my favorites. My favorite single book is T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King.” I first read it in ninth grade, and it’s such a great fantasy story. I still have my very battered copy I got for school sitting on the shelf. I love how complex he made the traditional Arthurian characters and how he weaved the current events at that time, World War II, in with the fantasy setting of the novel. My favorite book series is the “In Death” mysteries by J.D. Robb (the aforementioned Nora Roberts.) It’s a series that’s spanned more than 40 books and novella since the mid-90s, and the beauty in the story is the complex mysteries and characters that change and grow as the novels progress. These are mysteries with a romance subplot, and they go hand in hand. But, I absolutely love them and it’s a rule in my household that I am not to be disturbed when a new In Death comes out.
ANTHONY: Thanks for chatting with me, ladies!