Wishing on a Star,
A few years back writer Adam Blackhat was dismayed at the state of mainstream comics, especially the direction of DC Comics. He decided to create Starfall a web comic about Elly Francis-Thrift a former superhero who gets framed for her husband’s murder. Since Starfall began in 2015 he’s been assisted by various artists most notably Valentina Sannais. The writer and artist duo have sat down for a chat and explained Starfall, it’s fanbase, various influences, being on Patreon and what they’re currently reading at the moment.
To those who haven’t read Starfall what’s it all about?
AB: A former C-list superhero is forced to run from the authorities after being implicated in her husband’s wrongful death. She’s pursued by her brother-in-law, who has taken her husband’s mantle. She has very few allies (her ex-girlfriend, Violet, the conflicted spirit of America in human form, called Destiny, and Kinsey, a demon she once exorcised, to name a few) and no one to rely upon on her journey to exoneration and, after a few more twists and turns, saving the universe.
How did you go about creating the characters and what inspired you?
AB: Starfall was originally a response to DC’s New 52. It seemed as if comic fans were staring down the barrel at a long period of gloomy, gritty realism, and I wanted to rein in that trend and make my own happier version of a realistic superhero universe. Which promptly backfired! What began as frequent email correspondence with a friend, developed into a twelve chapter story that will have everything from an entire spaceship crewed by copies of the same person, to giant, demonic bunny rabbits, and super-intelligent mice forming a rock band. So, it’s not realistic and, considering my usual elevator pitch begins, “Starfall begins with a funeral,” still a little dreary. The ironic thing, of course, is that DC wised up and brought back the fun. Without getting too political, since November 2016 I’ve been inspired to try and lighten Starfall up a bit, as well. The real world can be dark enough.
How did you and Valentina meet?
AB: Val was within the same sphere of Tumblr followers as the first artist that I began working with, sirdef. When the second artist left, I circled back around to sirdef’s followers. I saw Val’s profile on Twitter –her banner was this impressively inked rendition of herself as Captain America— and I was certain that she was a pro that I was just unfamiliar with. I couldn’t find any trace of her work in the industry, so I dropped her a line expecting a polite “no”. Now we make comics together!
What do you think you most like about drawing the characters?
VS: In the Starfall universe you will meet a lot of different and unique characters, I think what I most like when creating the look of them is that Adam gives me his description and then I am free to portray them as I have imagined, they kinda become my kids too, I’m like the stepmother. Whenever I am drawing a scene I think of the back stories that sometimes Adam likes so much he decides to make them canon. They are all such messed up kids, lot of flaws and pain they had to fight in their life. Normal people drama you could have experienced yourself.
VS: The process of creating a character for your writer is not as difficult if the said writer knows what he wants. Adam always gives me a lot of references whenever there is a character involved so the most challenging part is for me to do more researches to make it just as close as it was imagined it to be. Attention to details is another challenging aspect, trying to remember birthmarks or scars and such, that’s why it’s always useful to have a characters reference sheet!
What made you get into drawing comics?
VS: It might sound cliché coming from an artist, but I’ve been drawing pretty much all my life. I grow up with animes and mangas, that’s how I first started creating stories with my drawings. It’s always been mostly just illustrations, character concepts, just fun drawings based on the surreal world of the Japanese series. I’ve never been into comics until my late teens, I guess what fascinated me about mangas was the fact that rarely it was about the real world. So when I first picked up a Marvel comic I was surprised to feel so close to something inspired to the real world but with the supernatural concept of superhumans. They explored human feelings and no matter what power involved, you could still feel close to the character. That’s when it hit me, I thought “I want to draw comics, I want to tell stories to share what I feel and impact the life of people.”
VS: As I said, I grew up mostly reading and watching mangas and anime so my main influences come from Japan. My absolute art goal in life is Takeshi Obata (Death Note), he has a beautiful realistic style rendition and his colors are soft and smooth. Eiichiro Oda (One Piece) is another artist I look up to, he has a way more cartoonish style but he makes such great illustrations. Moving on to the European artists, I can certainly name Milo Manara and Adi Granov, both of them masters of the brushes (the first time I saw a Granov illustration I thought it was digitally made!). I could go on and on but I guess these are my main influences since I’ve started drawing comics.
And how would you describe your art style?
VS: * Laughs * Experimental, I guess? One day I wake up and I want to draw like Leonardo da Vinci and the day after I watch a Disney movie and that’s what I want my drawings to look like! I try to maintain a realistic look to my illustrations but I have very little patience for details, I want to see results right here, right now. Someone described my work as “antique” as I use a lot of art nouveau elements. But yeah, let’s go with “experimental”.
What kind of themes does Starfall explore?
AB: Starfall, when it’s all said and done, should have a lot to do with family and identity and what encompasses a person, be it their physical attributes, style, faith, sexuality, interests, and actions. Since this is all being funnelled through my perspective, it’s sort of a ponderous theme, because I think the journey that brings us to where and who we are now, doesn’t invalidate our previous identities. In Starfall, I can explore that perspective through inter dimensional travel and, for certain characters, like Destiny, several centuries of conscious life. Of course, you know, I still have some characters solving complicated problems by punching each other in the face.
AB: When you write your own comics, you get to answer all your own “What Ifs” and daydreams with work that, fingers crossed, can stand shoulder to shoulder with the creative works that inspired you. You can fill the dialog with references and allusions, illustrate your friends and favourite buildings in the backgrounds. You can have fun and you’re not on any clock you didn’t wind yourself.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of producing a webcomic?
AB: The advantage of producing a webcomic versus not doing so is the same as making any other leap in life. If you want to give it a try but you don’t do it, you won’t experience either success or failure. Instead, you’ll remember that time or great swath of time in which you did a lot of hand-wringing. The disadvantage is, whether you’re on a team or working alone, you’re going to spend a lot of your free time delving into areas of expertise you’re unfamiliar with. Web design, advertising, and (starting with chapter 3) lettering are all things I’ve never dealt with and they’re only a few of the aspects of creating a webcomic that have caused me endless frustration. With any luck, I’m learning.
VS: The most amazing thing about web comics is that you can share them in an instant while a paper comic has to be sold physically. You can reach a larger audience in just one click. It is also way easier for me to create pages as I only use digital media to create Starfall, it’s quicker and gives me the opportunity to experiment with my art. I’m not sure if I ever thought of a disadvantage in drawing a web series, probably the way of reaching your audiences when you’re not able to sell your product (I’m terrible at sales).
What made you go onto Patreon and how would you describe the benefits?
AB: My original impulse was to create a Patreon so that I could pay Val more for her work. Her art is stunning to me and I believe professional work deserves a professional wage. However, there have been a few unfortunately timed delays that have set us back, in terms of page completion. We’ve since been using it as means of sharing behind-the-scenes info with our most charitable fans and updating the brand a bit by recreating the first chapter with an updated and expanded script and Val’s art. We’ve also made several reward tiers that allow patrons to request monthly commissions from Val.
These tiers are in line with her normal commission prices and a savvy patron could use such a reward to request an entire gallery of characters or scenes from Starfall (or anything else they can imagine). They can also request commissions from me, but they’d rue the day that P.O.S. arrived in their Inbox, I assure you. The benefits are straight-forward: the money helps us make the comic, adds a bit of prestige to the brand, gets us excited, and gives us ample reason to continue!
How has the series progressed since you went onto Patreon?
AB: Great, really! We’re back to our regular weekly schedule and sharing previews of upcoming pages with patrons, as well as working on the first pages of the chapter 1 redux that I mentioned. It’s coming along great and should give the entire series a unified look as well as, hopefully, plugging a few holes in the plot leftover from my first go-round. We haven’t quite gathered enough of a following for extra pages or new content beyond the chapter 1 redux, but we’re closing on our second goal and starting to feel like honest to goodness creators.
On the side and unrelated to the Patreon, at least at the moment, I’m also working on a high school-set spinoff, with art by the talented Emelie Johansson.
How would you describe the fans of Starfall?
AB: Quiet. I don’t want to make fun, truly, and I appreciate every single unique click that Starfall gets on any of our mirrors. What feedback we’ve gathered has been good! Emlie Johansson, in fact, was a fan before we got involved in Starfall High (2017 TBD), and demand for certain logos and slogans from the series has us slowly starting to fill a TeePublic storefront. We’ve already had a handful of sales and it’s incredible to imagine someone stomping around in Werewolves of Mars t-shirt. That, by the way, is an in-universe B-movie that doesn’t have a parallel in the real world. Yet.
Future Patreon goal, maybe? We already have a few shippers, too, which is my secret one true goal and reason for creating Starfall in the first place: I just want readers to become invested enough that they fight over who’s kissing who.
You’ve recently started attending UK comic shows as a guest, how are you finding it?
VS: Oh man, I LOVE it. I always meet so many amazing people, fellow artists and creators. You know, I was born in a very small town and the only convention we had was a cosplay competition where at least only for one day, all fans could meet up dressed up as their favourite character. When I began first exhibiting last year I just couldn’t believe it was really happening. I still can’t and I’m so grateful for everything and everyone who helped me be where I am now.
What comics are you reading at the moment?
VS: Finding the time to read anything is quite complicated when you are a freelance with a daily job, all I’m reading is what I have in my collection, mainly Iron Man’s volumes, I always love to read the very first volumes. I’m not reading much of the current Marvel but I love the big events titles of the past. I’m very intrigued by some titles at Image Comics, Saga is always the best. I have very random comics scattered through my shelves, I always like to get recommendations other readers though! Feed me comics, any comic.
AB: In the world of webcomics, I’ve just started reading this lude, crude, rude book called Ennui Go! That’s a very recent addition. I keep up with Title Unrelated, Switch, “I, Necromancer” (which is on Comixology now!), and Larkspur, but I’m still working my way through the archives for Blitz Phoenix (without disparaging the others, B.P. is The Single Most Effectively Written Webcomic) and Kill Six Billion Demons.
In the world of print comics, I subscribe to Low, Black Science, Cinema Purgatorio, Invincible, Rock Candy Mountain, Southern Bastards, The Walking Dead, and Wicked + Divine. I’d be exclusive to creator-owned work if not for Tom King and Scott Snyder both taking turns knocking Batman titles out of the park, Bendis back on Jessica Jones, Rick & Morty (gotta love me some Kyle Starks), and, curiously, The Flintstones.