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The Fey and the Furious: In Conversation With Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel and Lee Sullivan!

In celebration of the release of Rivers of London’s new graphic novel The Fey and the Furious, we sat down with writers Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel and artist Lee Sullivan to discuss the series and beyond!

A Place to Hang Your Cape: What is the writing process like? How do you come up with the ideas for the comics and brainstorm between the two of you? 

Andrew Cartmel: It varies. Our first story, Body Work was pretty much split down the middle with us each doing half the writing, then swapping and editing each other’s work. Now, we tend to each take the lead on individual stories in alternation and write an entire draft then hand it to the other guy to edit.

Ben Aaronovitch: Prior to quarantine we would throw ideas back and forth and then go out for an enormous lunch where we would decide on which stories we wanted to do. After some experimentation we found the best system was if one of us was lead writer and the other worked as script editor and suggester in chief. You can tell who was lead on which story by seeing whose name comes first in the credits.

AP2HYC: How difficult is it to juggle all the different characters and personalities in the story? How difficult is it when it comes to the artwork?

Cartmel: Far from being difficult, the large cast of different characters is a tremendous advantage in that they are like a wonderful collection of resources, to be used for different story purposes. The only difficulty with artwork comes when there’s a new artist and they are getting used to the material.

Aaronovitch: Like what Andrew said having a large cast to draw on is a bonus because you don’t have to overuse anyone or put them in a role or situation that doesn’t suit them. There’s an inevitable period when a new artist comes on board where they are trying to work out what you want and you are sussing out their strengths and weaknesses. Once you’ve got used to each other you can start writing specifically the artists strengths – which spurs creativity and is more fun for the artist.

Sullivan: From the artist’s point of view the main thing is to try to make sure that the characters are visually sufficiently distinct in themselves and from each other so that there’s no confusion about who is who; the juggling is mainly in choreographing the characters within the panels so that they speak in the order that the script dictates and which changes from panel to panel.

AP2HYC: How does the magic system vary from the books to the comics? What was it like bringing the magic system to life from a visual perspective? 

Aaronovitch: The magic system is unchanged however we had to come up with ways to visualise abstract concepts like vestigia. Comics, being a very visual medium, are particularly good at things like ironic counterpart, memory flashes and or things like when you just label items in a panel to show what a character is thinking.

Cartmel: The main thing was to make sure the magic wasn’t presented in a Doctor Strange brightly coloured magic hand-blasts fashion.

Sullivan: Avoiding the Doctor Strange approach was slightly frustrating at first, because of course an artist wants to be as flashy as possible, but actually it worked well with no overt effects. I kept remembering the wonderful scene in the 1957 movie Night of the Demon where the Satanic cult leader Karswell summons a  localised storm with very little fuss, which is very effective. Less is more.

AP2HYC: The panels that featured the races were by far the most impressive. What was it like creating those from an artistic standpoint? 

Aaronovitch: Because we knew the race panel would lean heavily on the artist creating exciting dynamic panels so we wrote them loosely, giving locations and reference pictures, detailing what we wanted to happen and in what sequence and letting the artist create images around that.

Cartmel: The manga Akira was a useful reference point for the illustrators, who did a magnificent job.

Sullivan: I only did the first episode, but I think that comics artists relish action. Cars are tricky things to draw though – there are a lot of perspective issues, and if you don’t have precise reference for a particular angle it can be challenging to make them look right.

AP2HYC: How do you balance the police, investigative portion of the story while also making it dynamic visually for comic readers?

Cartmel: Explanatory footnotes are useful.

Aaronovitch: To be honest I don’t think we see it as a conflict. Any human activity can be made visually interesting if you present it in the right way.

Sullivan: You let the writers do their stuff and draw what the story requires; sometimes my favourite and I think most effective scenes were where nothing much was actually happening, just back and forth between characters so the emphasis was on expression, body language and subtle nuances over several panels.

AP2HYC: Now that there’s potentially a TV series in the works, how do you plan to juggle the novels, comics, and now TV show?

Aaronovitch: I shall worry about that when it happens.

Cartmel: As is the way with these things, the TV series seems to have gone back on hold for the time being.

Sullivan: I’m no longer working on Rivers, but if the TV series comes along (and I hope it does) it will be interesting to see if the character design etc. will have to be rethought for the comic or whether it will continue to go its own way.

You can purchase your copy of Rivers of London: The Fey and the Furious through Titan Comics on December 15th! Have you had a chance to delve into the underground supernatural? Let us know in the comments below or send us your thoughts on Twitter!

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Jillian Diblasio

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