Comics get more room to experiment than a lot of other media. That can even come down to asking what constitutes a comic in the first place. Lyndon White’s concertina comics are one such example of experimenting with the comic form. White has taken familiar stories (like Dante’s Inferno or Dracula) and presented them in a new form of “sequential art,” one that you can read and then keep out on your shelf. Called “concertina” comics because of their shape, they fold open to reveal ten pages in a concise, vivid narrative. We caught up with White to talk about his concertina comics and his latest adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
A Place To Hang Your Cape: What is the attraction of a concertina book as a form?
Lyndon White: It’s a bit of a lost book format but a great way of tackling some of these classic stories. Usually, concertinas showcase a set of art work, which pop up every now and again at art shows, zine fairs or galleries. However, it’s even rarer to find them telling a story from beginning to end. For myself, I love that they challenge you as an illustrator to tell a story through a limited set of drawings. Also, the fact that they are smaller books, it gives me the time and opportunity to tell these classic stories. Usually I’m locked into working on longer form books and these concertinas give me a nice change of pace and break from the bigger projects.
AP2HYC: How have you gone about deciding what other stories to adapt into this format?
LW: The book must be out of copyright, otherwise I won’t touch it. A lot, but not all, of these classic stories are now out of copyright, which lets myself and others do their take on them. This set of books started with Dracula and from there people have given me suggestions on what to adapt next, most of which are in the realms of horror and sci-fi. It’s tough because not every story works for the format, especially if it’s a long book. Adapting Dante’s Inferno was a tricky one because there’s so, so much in the Divine Comedy, you are always going to end up missing things. As a general rule, I always want to have my own take on the story; I want to push my version of that classic tale. I never want to be doing one of these books for the sake of it. I always try to do one book per author to mix things up.
AP2HYC: How is it different working for a concertina book, compared to a more familiar layout of sequential panels in a comic, and are there any new challenges?
LW: With comics, you are spoilt. You can break down the scene into multiple images, play around with panel borders and generally have a lot more freedom. With the concertinas, you are basically building a story through a series of splash pages. Thankfully, I love working on splash pages, it’s something I look forward to when drawing comics. The main challenge with a concertina book is breaking down the story into its core scenes. You are limited to 9 illustrations and a back cover, so you have to really boil down the story into those key moments. Finding your beginning, middle and end point is what helps click everything into place.
AP2HYC: Why Frankenstein?
LW: It’s been one of the most requested adaptations since I started working on these books four years ago. After adapting The War of the Worlds last year, I was ready to dive back into gothic horror. I’ve been working on a modern adaption of Lovecraft’s Reanimator (Reanimator Incorporated) which was directly influenced by Frankenstein. The visuals and themes have been taking up my headspace and because we are doing such a modern take on Reanimator, I liked the idea of playing in the same area, but going back to its roots. Frankenstein is full of rich gothic imagery and I knew I could have a lot of fun playing around with the monster design, Victor, and the laboratory. There’s a lot of duality and tragedy in there and I knew I could do a lot with the back and forth between Victor and the monster he created.
AP2HYC: Frankenstein has been reimagined so many times over. Were there particular incarnations you could draw more inspirations from?
LW: With every concertina book, I re-read the original book and purposely avoid every other adaptation. Which granted, is really hard to do. Frankenstein is one of those monsters that is prominent in pop culture. The monster was the hardest part because the classic, black and white film version is burned into everyone’s head. Drawing Victor in his laboratory helped develop visual style and set the tone for the entire book. The monster can be seen trapped in different tanks and I knew I wanted to showcase some form of evolution to the monster. It’s why we don’t see the monster in full detail under page 5, which also acts as the book cover. There needed to be that build up.
AP2HYC: How closely have you remained to Mary Shelley’s text and are there any places you’ve taken more liberties at?
LW: There’s a line early on in the book which mentions Victor researching The Philosopher’s Stone after the death of his mother. There was something a little more magical in reading it which allowed me to have a different approach to illustrating it. The death of his mother and trying to conquer death is Victor’s key motivation which sets him on this path. If I had a larger page count, I would have included the farm scenes but in the end, they had to be cut. They make up a good chunk of the book and are important for the monster understanding what it is to be human, but it would have been difficult to portray that in a single page. Or it would have taken up too many pages. It’s what’s fun and challenging about the concertina format; you have to choose your moments but also have to make them exciting while developing the plot. It’s all a balancing act.
You can find out more about Lyndon White’s concertina comics at the Kickstarter page. What other stories do you think would work well? Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter!