Dave Morris is a true Renaissance man with work published not only in comic books, games and novels but even a paper on the propagation of light delivered to the Institute of Physics. He joins us to talk about his project Mirabilis, a mixture of Victorian sensibilities and fantastic creature events brought on by a mysterious green comet.
Q) For people unfamiliar with Mirabilis can you give us quick rundown on the story?
It’s the turn of the 20th century. The Edwardian era is just beginning when a green comet appears. The nearer it gets to Earth, the
more that fantastic things become part of everyday life. By midsummer the comet fills the night sky and you’ve got real dinosaurs munching the lawns at Crystal Palace, Martians taking the train to Whitehall, and mythological creatures on every street corner.
Our hero is Jack Ember, a poor young man with imagination but no prospects. In the real world of Edwardian England, which runs on class and privilege, he’d be stuck in the slums forever. But the green comet changes everything.
So many ingredients… My love of comics, which dates back to
Iron Man and Spider-Man in the late ‘60s, was rekindled by Watchmen and Sandman in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and most recently by Dark Horse’s Hellboy and B.P.R.D. books.
And then there’s my love of fantasy – a complex kind of
relationship, this, as I find most fantasy unreadable. It’s a genre that is
peerless when done well, but abysmal if not. And I like the whole strain of
fantasy just around the corner from real life, which you see in Saki and
Kenneth Grahame, Forster’s “The Celestial Omnibus”, Dunsany’s Jorkens yarns and so on. That’s close to our real experience of fantasy, after all – we’re
walking down the street, and on the other side of this veil there’s the entire
world of the imagination. Mirabilis is what happens when the veil rips.
Also I wanted to do a story that was character-driven. I love TV shows like Buffy and Fringe, where there is a background plot going on but that’s secondary to the fact that the story is happening to these characters. It’s their journey.
Why is it set in Edwardian times? Partly because a lot of those writers I mentioned were working then, and the Belle Époque, with the shadow of the Great War ahead, meshes nicely with the theme of a glorious and yet too-brief time. But mainly it’s because we need to feature all kinds of characters from mythology, and if you come up to the present day that would include movies, novels and comics that are in copyright. I didn’t want to freight the story with arch little references to “Barry Dotter” and “Steel Man”
and “Photic the Hedgehog” and so on. Some writers – and readers – love that stuff, but I find it overwhelms the narrative.
Q) Who are some of the other creators involved in Mirabilis?
Leo Hartas does the interior art. I’ve worked with Leo my whole career – when I did my first book, the publisher asked who I wanted to illustrate it, and I’d met Leo the week before. He was the only artist I knew, really! Since then we’ve cooked up lots of ideas together.
Martin McKenna did the cover and was originally going to do the paintings for a Dinotopia-style “gazetteer”. For many years, the gazetteer was how Mirabilis was going to appear – that was how Leo and I first conceived it – and it was only when David Fickling called us up to say he was doing a weekly comic that we thought, “Of course, that’s what it wanted to be all along!”
Nikos Koutsis is the superstar on our team. He colors Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon and we’re very lucky to have him, because he’s in constant demand at Marvel. His most recent work there was recoloring Walt Simonson’s classic Thor stories. Actually I would’ve been perfectly happy with the old colors, but if you are going to go digital, Nikos and his assistant Mike Toris are guys who actually understand how to make digital coloring into an art.
I mentioned David Fickling there. He’s not one of the creators, but he’s the publisher who first helped roll Mirabilis down to the shore and get her in the water. We couldn’t have done it without him.
Monthly pamphlet comics don’t have much of a future. I say that
with great sadness, as I’ve been a comic book fan since I was a kid, but the
economics don’t support them anymore. My local comic store closed down
recently, not so much because digital comics were stealing their business as the
fact that the readers are all in their thirties or older, and when one of them
gives up comics for any reason, no new blood is coming in to take his place.
I think apps will pretty much replace the monthly comic, then
when you’ve got enough issues you can publish the book. That will still exist
in print form for a while, because the 112-page tpb or hardcover is something
to keep. Even when all the bookstore chains have gone from the high street –
which won’t be long, I guess – paperbacks may lose out to digital, but the
diehard book readers will still have hardcovers.
Like most change, this can be a good thing if people embrace the possibilities. Comics have become a pretty niche medium – I’m talking about US-style comic books here, as that’s my field. Ironically, the more “mature” comics are said to have become, the more off-putting and immature the content has often become. With Mirabilis, Leo and I wanted the kind of story that could
appeal to any age. It’s like Harry Potter, say – an eleven-year-old can read that, and they don’t get quite the same things from it that an adult reader does, but they both enjoy it. Or a Pixar movie. Or Doctor Who. Apps can move comics out of the hobby store, and although currently that’s a shallow market it is potentially a much broader one. When we have kids, teens and parents all
coming to comics conventions, as you see in France, then the medium will have a much brighter future.
Q) Do you have any advice for people looking to break into the writing field?
Work on your craft. Every writer and artist has strengths and weaknesses. It’s easy to play to your strengths, but you need to work on the weak points too. Bad at characterization? Study how a great screenwriter or novelist does it. Have trouble with hands? (Most artists do.) Look at Leonardo’s – copy the master. You need to hone all your skills. And incidentally this isn’t just advice for people starting out. Developing your craft is a lifetime journey.
To keep your creativity, be open to a wide range of influences. Don’t just read the comics you like, look at others that you wouldn’t
necessarily read for pleasure. Everyone who has been professionally published could have things to teach you. This doesn’t just apply to comics. Art galleries, museums, movies, classic novels, plays and music can all stimulate your creative juices. If you look at Barry Windsor-Smith when he was starting out, people said he was influenced by Kirby but there are hands and faces in
those early Conan comics that are pure Sistine Chapel. Keep an open mind.
I’ve talked to a few people in the industry about this,
naturally, and it’s something I’d really like to do. The only snag is that running
a development team is a year or two out of your life, and I’m not sure how I
could fit that in alongside writing the thing. Mirabilis is a big saga – it’ll
be at least 800 pages when complete – and that’s my time booked up for the next
few years. I could hand it off to another designer, I suppose, but… I dunno,
that wouldn’t feel right. It’s my baby.
people want more information about Mirabilis where should they go?
Our website is www.mirabilis-yearofwonders.com where you
can find links to the blog and iPad app, as well as the first issue in webcomic
form (in French and Japanese as well as English) and lots of background
You can also get the first two books on Amazon, in both hardcover and paperback editions. The hardcovers are a really beautiful
production, large format on high-quality paper, so even if I hadn’t written Mirabilis I’d be recommending it!
Final four questions –we ask everybody
Q) When the zombies take over the world where will you be?
You mean they didn’t already take over?
Q) Jedi, Ninja, vampire, were-wolf, pirate, fairy or Spartan?
Hmm, tricky one. I am in fact a thousand-year-old Spartan in Tim Harford’s roleplaying campaign. On the other hand, I wanted to be a vampire after reading Dracula when I was 9 years old. But I think pirates win it as they have the best gear.
Q) What piece of art, be it in the form of music, a book, a film or picture, do you think people must experience before they die?
There are as many answers to that as people on this Earth. I love Lawrence of Arabia, and there’s no doubt that if you want to learn about telling a story visually you can get it all from that movie. But every piece of art is interpreted in the context of everything else you’ve read, seen or heard – so everyone is going to have their own defining text.
Having said that, if you want to create comic books you simply must read Scott McCloud’s books. If I were stranded on a desert island, they’d be my non-fiction pick.
Q) Give one fact that most people would not believe about you.
It probably would’ve been that paper at the Institute of Physics, but you already mentioned that. And although I was the first boy in the world to meet a Dalek face-to-face, anyone who knows me would find that totally believable… Hmm. Oh, I know: I was a green belt in Shotokan karate. These days that is pretty hard to credit.