Our Inside Look feature at Broken Frontier provides creators with the opportunity to share exclusive commentaries on their comics projects with our readers, giving insights into the genesis, process and themes of their work. Today UK small presser Michael Lomon talks about the inspirations for and his work on The Palace of Tears.
Having just wrapped up a book set in present day London and mostly in the V&A Museum (why do they have to put so many tiles on their floor? Don’t they think about comic artists when they design these otherwise perfectly wondrous spaces?), I had a strong urge to immerse myself in something utterly fantastical and utterly tile-less.
Enter The Palace of Tears. I was reading a copy of Miriam’s Tambourine, a collection of Jewish folktales from around the world (when you’ve been fed Greek, Norse and Arthurian your whole life it’s time to diversify!) and while there were a fair few tales that seemed stuffed full of symbolism but lacking in impact or cohesion, something about this story really hit home. Of course I went and changed the whole bloody thing when writing this book, but there is a great central concept that features a queen who is caught between a king she has grown to despise (and turned to stone from the waist down, did I mention she is a powerful sorceress) and a comatose lover she continues to
mourn. There is a suggestion that these two figures are aspects of the same person, a manifestation of one’s longing for the fires of early passion and rejection of stability and the inexorable, crippling march of time. It helped that the story also had generous lashings of demonic creatures, haunted palaces, jealousy and murder most bloody. So, I decided that this would make a great basis for a short romp through a world of wonder, a one year or so project that would let me really indulge in a way the previous book hadn’t. That was in 2014. It’s 2020… What the hell happened?
THE WORRISOME SEEDS OF AMBITION
Well, let’s look at the very first scraps of paper sacrificed to this all consuming beast of an undertaking.
These two were drawn while I was working on my first draft of a script. There never was a second draft, but I rewrite chunks as and when it occurs to me that certain story elements are preposterous or just plain… daft. What became immediately apparent, was that this was to be a full colour book. I love me some black and white, but if you want sumptuous, there’s no getting round it, colour can really ramp things up a notch. Though I’d hardly say I keep up to date with every current release, I felt that current trends in colouring weren’t scratching my particular, ah… hue-itch. So it became a kind of masochistic endeavour to present this tale in vivid technicolour. Here you can see a before and after.
My process starts traditional, with blue pencil on A3 Bristol Board and ink via nib and fine liner. Not to forget the Tipp Ex of course, or should I say Pentel Micro correct, the connoisseurs choice of cheap white out. Colours are digitally applied to scanned artwork in Photoshop
Colouring a comic. It seems so reasonable when you say it out loud.
“Will you excuse me, I’m off to colour in some pictures” You see, nothing to it. Child’s play! However, I now have a lot more respect for the masters of colouring and god pity the flatters. I would discuss how each section of the story has a different colour scheme to reflect mood and how the presence of danger brings its own hues to the palette, but I’ve noticed that practically every comic and film has been doing this forever and so it’s now taken for granted!
Anyhow, here you see perhaps my favourite character to draw. Alas his scales became the equivalent of the V&A’s floor tiles but when it’s in service of some monstrous, death dealing creature of chaos it somehow makes it alright! You’ll notice a few stylistic swipes creeping in. I’d like to thank my friend Mr Hokusai-San for his waves, but more importantly, we have a couple of Hindu temples nearby in north London and traditionally, in both Hindu and Buddhist depictions of gods, they do a terrific job visualising awe and terror that has a kind of deranged opulence I’d like to see more of in comics.
Magzor Gyalmo – The Queen who Repels Armies and probably not someone you want to disagree with.
MYTH , EVERYMAN & A WOMAN’S WORK
What began as something of an adventure romp soon started to mutate into a thornier, darker tale that further explores some of the hinted at themes of the original. There are still plenty of slapstick moments early on, with colourful dungeon dwelling companions and a chase scene through a local death cult leader’s palace toilet bock. Classic.
One aspect of adaptation I had overlooked is how black and white the separation between good and evil is. In the original tale, the quite deplorable queen has her throat slit by the hero of the tale and this releases the cursed kingdom from her terrible grip. While this certainly works in short story form and folk tales very much rely on these kind of tropes to explore deeper themes in bite sized chunks, once I had drawn my queen, I felt quite appalled that someone could simply wander into her place of mourning, slit her throat and be hailed a hero. That blood spilling hero was also originally the sultan who had arrested the fisherman who set things in motion in the first place. Unacceptable! Addressing these slight annoyances extended the script by about.. say… 60 pages. So double my original aim! Thus part 1 of the comic is now the first of a trilogy rather than a somewhat more humble two-parter.
In terms of new themes, I had become somewhat fixated on the idea of ‘Folk Tales From a Fallen World’ as a series concept. Taking classic themes and transplanting them into the early teething years of fresh civilisations springing up in the shadow of environmentally catastrophic conflict. I fancied the different takes on mankind’s legacy could lead to some interesting splinter groups and very different approaches to survival and theology. Some of these ideas find a home in The Palace of Tears, with many groups scavenging what they can find out in the wastes, others devoting their lives to unlocking the secrets of the past and some, considering even the slightest contact with technology from the former age of man to be heretical. These conflicting value systems in the various factions we meet throughout the tale, reflect the queen’s own inner turmoil nicely and hopefully broaden the scope of the story without compromising the main focus. My queen also *spoiler warning* does not have her throat cut. She’s just not that kind of sorceress I’m afraid!
So you now find me one third of the way through what will perhaps make or break my comic escapades. Since I started drawing Palace, I’ve fathered two children. One of them speaks two languages fluently and can ride his bike without stabilisers, the other can sing the chorus to Justin Bieber’s (ft. Ludacris) ‘Baby’ (she’s only 1 1/2 give her time!). It puts my achievements somewhat in the shade.
Having recently approached a few publishers and setting time aside later this year to finish/make major inroads with the book, I’ll be looking forward to releasing the final story in 2021/22 by which time people will hopefully be able to once more enjoy scenes of horror and desolation without assuming it’s a Covid-19 documentary.
Thanks for reading and good health to all ye explorers of small press!
The Palace of Tears is also available to read online at https://tapas.io/series/The-Palace-of-Tears
Other works over at michaellomon.com