By Olly MacNamee
Once you’ve met The Etherington Brothers (Robin, writer, Lorenzo, artist) then it is very hard to forget them. Together they are the walking embodiment of everything fun about the British comic book tradition, equal parts anarchic, energetic and with the power to capture the minds of all their audiences’ young and old. As well as producing some of Britain’s finest quality comic strips and graphic albums, this dynamic duo also tour the schools of Britain, and beyond, to get their passion for visual storytelling out to the next generation of comic book creators. It is with great pleasure that I was able to chat with the guys recently about their upcoming work their collaborative process and an Indiegogo campaign to boot.
Olly MacNamee: Lorenzo, your new graphic album, Von Doogan and The Curse of The Golden Monkey has just hit the literal and virtual bookshelves. This is his first solo outing from The Phoenix and for those BC readers unfamiliar with your adventuring puzzle-solver what can they expect from this book?
Lorenzo Etherington: The Von Doogan books are interactive comic adventures in which the reader must solve a series of brain-twisting puzzles and challenges as they progress through the story. The Curse of the Golden Monkey begins when the young adventurer, Doogan, is sent a mysterious package, which leads him to investigate the shadowy crew of the Ramona, a boat bound for the strange, unexplored Javasu Island! As the book progresses, the challenges the reader plays through build the adventure, as Doogan is drawn onward towards the unearthly terrors that lurk on the Island, and the solution to the mystery of the Golden Monkey! Phew!
OM: I always enjoyed the summer holiday of my youth and the bigger, special summer editions of The Beano and The Dandy. The summer had officially started when these arrived in newsagents. Does Von Doogan, for you, fit into this same tradition do you think?
LE: Absolutely! I always envisioned the Doogan series as the type of books in which you can lose yourself on the long, lazy days of summer. The Curse of the Golden Monkey is packed with enough challenges and story that it’ll take a good while to get through, and I love the thought of young and old readers alike sitting in deckchairs, or hammocks, with a copy of Doogan, a pencil and some scrap paper … and their favourite drink and snack, of course!
While Lorenzo is going it alone as it were on Von Doogan, you are brothers, Robin, who are best known as a writing-art partnership and for your work with the successful UK weekly, The Phoenix Comic. And my daughter and I have both loved your previous graphic novel collaborations (Monkey Nuts and Baggage) immensely. When did you realize that you would work so well together?
Robin Etherington: It all really came together during the production of our first proper comic (the self-published series Malcolm Magic). Although we’d worked on smaller music or story ideas in the past, they’d only been for fun. It was a combination of luck and creative frustration that drew us back together and fuelled our desire to make a proper go at the world of comics. We discovered, quite quickly, that our influences were still extremely similar. We found the same things funny, exciting and compelling, and although Malcolm Magic was a LONG way from being a perfect start, it really set us up for everything to come.
It’s also worth noting that as brothers, we’d pretty much had every single argument you can possibly have by the time we hit our twenties! Creatively, our partnership felt unique and strong from the word go.
OM: The next collaborative graphic album you will be publishing will be Long Gone Don: The Monstrous Underworld this August. Again, Don regularly appears in The Phoenix, so why the decision to produce this album?
RE:Long Gone Don felt, from the very first page, like a tale we could really sink our teeth into. Lorenzo and I have always loved the European format, and our previous comics all fit into that mould, but none of them quite had the legs we needed to tell scores of stories. Don’s tale (about a ten-year-old boy who drowns accidentally in a bowl of soup, only to wake and find himself in an unforgiving and rather freaky underworld) opened the door to a seemingly perfect blend of world-building, unique characterisation, satire, adventurous shenanigans and lots and lots of laughs. As we worked on The Monstrous Underworld (book one, and we’re currently scripting the fourth book) we realised we’d created our ultimate sandbox where our stories could genuinely be engaging to adults and kids alike, because Don is the ONLY child present.
Visually, the series offers great opportunities for Lorenzo to flex his nimble fingers. We approach each comic much like an animated movie – the first question we always ask is why does this story need to be drawn? If we can’t make the argument that the tale HAS to be told in pictures and words, then we head back to the drawing board. But Don is shaping up to be a real feast for the eyes!
OM: If I can quickly cover the wonderful workshops you put on the schools up and down the country for a moment. My Year 7 pupils always look forward to your visits which take a very different approach to introducing comic book story-telling and character design than any I’ve seen other writer/artists bring into schools. How is your approach so different, do you think?
RE: Much like our take on the comic book page, the concept behind our live shows was that we had to use our time in schools, libraries, book shops and festivals to the very best effect. If we’re given an hour to talk to a group of students, teachers or parents, then that hour has to be packed! We don’t want to waste a minute with anything that isn’t sparking the interest of the audience. Oh, and it should be fun. Experimenting with story and character and genre and a dozen other elements allows us to demonstrate that the creative process is a delightfully non-linear, non-conformist experience. Our education system in the UK is getting more and more prescriptive, and visits from exciting authors give children an increasingly rare opportunity to think outside the box. And Lorenzo and I like to think WAY outside the box!
OM: Lorenzo, how did you get involved with the currently running Indiegogo campaign, 21 Draw and what’s is the projects main aim?
LE:21 Draw is a crowd-funded art book which I was invited to be featured in by the project’s creator, Chris, who had seen my work in comics and online. The book is primarily a series of model sheets of many, many different character, monster and creature types, but it’s the range of artists and styles within it that I think makes it truly special. The support for the book was unbelievable, and it is now the most funded art project ever on Indiegogo, which is awesome!
OM: How did you find yourselves in New Zealand recently? What were the highlights for you both?
RE: We were invited to perform five shows as part of the Auckland Writers Festival. It was a real honour to be included among a fantastic line-up of international writers, speakers and performers, especially as comic book creators. And we had a pretty wonderful time from start to finish!
LE: My highlight was performing in a theatre, on the other side of the world, to 1400 enthusiastic young readers! That our comics got us there is such a fantastic and surreal thought!
RE: I’d have to agree with Lorenzo. It’s humbling to see how far our work has travelled. And that audience … HUGE. But I’d also pick bungy jumping off the harbour bridge and zip-lining over a forest canopy on the island of Waiheke … because if you can’t bring a little rock and roll to these proceedings then what’s the point?
Olly MacNamee teaches English and Media, for his sins, in a school somewhere in Birmingham. Some days, even he doesn’t know where it is. Follow him on twitter @ollymacnamee or read about his exploits at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or don’t.