Bram Michielsen and Rik Willemen are two comic creators from Antwerp, Belgium. They both studied Illustration and Comics at the Sint-Lukas Brussels University College of Art and Design. Rik went on to study Philosophy and is also a certified teacher. Bram Michielsen took up Filmstudies, specializing in screenwriting and storytelling (both traditional and interactive). Together they co-create A Song Called City, a free-to-read, long-form webcomic intended for mature audiences, which is kinda like the Matrix, except Neo’s a girl and she’s getting mentored by John Constantine. In this article, Bram talks about the highly collaborative process underlying the comic.
- “You draw comics? That’s so cool!”
- “No, I don’t draw anything. You see—”
- “Oh, so you’re the writer?”
- “Not exactly. I mean, I do write, but—”
When Rik and me decided we were going to work on another comic together, we never anticipated this kind of confusion. Faced with the question of who-does-what, occasionally we’ll go “Rik’s the artist, Bram’s the writer”, just to be done with it. This is a gross simplification, however, and it does great injustice to the truly collaborative effort that is A Song Called City.
ASCC certainly isn’t the first time me and Rik join creative forces. Having gone through the Illustration and Comics course at the Sint-Lukas Brussels University College of Art and Design together, we organically started collaborating. A short story that put a Sumerian twist on the Philadelphia Experiment. A thinly-veiled steampunk parody of our own college. A comedy strip about two movie lovers. Over time, we found that work we created together would invariably be superior to our solo work.
Then we drifted apart for a while. When we eventually got back in touch, one of the first things we did was decide to work on a new comic together. Inspired by the teachings of the Halfpixel/Webcomics Weekly crew, we decided to merge our love for the classic DC Vertigo stories with the webcomics model. Our new comic would be available to read for free online but at the same time, would also be long form, intended for mature audiences and deal with subjects like sex, violence and magic. The basic blueprint for A Song Called City was created; it was time for the training wheels to come off.
For the basic story idea, we went back to an old assignment we’d gotten as part of a scenario class at college, when we were asked to come up with a couple of pitches for potential new comic book series. I was way into Hellblazer at the time and decided I wanted to try and put a local, Antwerp-based spin on the loner mage template, turning him more into a sort of empathetic guardian shaman along the way. It quickly dawned on us, however, that we needed a more relatable, kind protagonist. Enter a little, spunky, lesbian cyberpunk I’d dreamt up for a solo project a couple years back. It was Rik who then came up with the grand, over-arching story dynamic, based upon the philosophical writings of Alasdair MacIntyre. Armed with both building blocks and building plan, we could now start to construct our megalomaniacal magnum opus.
We decided to map this epic tale of ours onto a tv series structure: there would eventually be six seasons of six episodes, with between 30 and 50 pages of story per episode. This gave us a rough guideline for a season-by-season synopsis, which we followed up with more detailed synopses of the first, second and final season. By the time we were done story crafting (after about a year), we knew exactly how this vast, sprawling saga was going to end. We more or less knew how we were going to get to that end point and which characters would fall along the way, while still allowing the precise details to be filled in when the time came to write the individual episodes. Production on the actual comic could finally begin.
And so we’ve arrived at that original question: how do we divide the work on A Song Called City? Basically, everything (from the story structure to the visual design of both characters and page layouts, to the numerous (pop)cultural references) is completely co-authored and thus a product of me and Rik’s unique, time-honed synergy. We literally sit together, talking everything over, while Rik sketches and thumbnails. The only thing that’s split up, is the final production process: the art component (i.e. the finalized line work and shading) I leave into Rik’s capable hands and the written component (i.e. the actual phrasings of the dialogue and captions) he entrusts to me. Our lushly illustrated episode covers come courtesy of enigmatic visual visionary (and close friend) J. Krissis aka Cimax aka the54thcell. We couldn’t get Moebius, so we got the next best thing.
We update twice a week, every week. Every Tuesday and Friday, a new page goes up. You can also read a SFW version of the comic on Facebook. The last page of our very first episode has just gone online and episode two is about to start. It’s the perfect jumping-on point for new readers. If you feel like checking out a modern fusion of American comics and European bandes-dessinées, with an urban fantasy/horror touch and -most importantly- a lot of heart, then we’d love to welcome you. Sit tight, because we’re in this for the long run, and this roller coaster is just starting to gear up.