One of our 2017 Broken Frontier ‘Six Small Press Creators to Watch‘, Kate-mia White has been working steadily on the dark fantasy series A Dark Forest for the last couple of years. With its gothic overtones and dark fantasy the comic is at once both broodingly disquieting and strangely beautiful; every page full of intricately constructed panels that draw the reader into its eerie environs. You can read a review of #1 here at Broken Frontier and issues #2-4 here.
As part of our ongoing series of ‘Small Press Spotlight on…‘ interviews here at BF I talk to Kate-mia today about her artistic process, the atmospheric world of Blackwood and the tactile nature of the project…
ANDY OLIVER: Can you tell us about your artistic background and your route into comics?
KATE-MIA WHITE: I studied fine art at uni and then specialised in painting. I was very passionate about fine art, and still am, but i remember being more interested in graphic design and illustration after graduating. I love comics like Persepolis, Daniel Clowes graphic novels, and Jeffrey Brown books. I was mostly influenced by Persepolis. At the time the film had just came out and I blown away by the storytelling and visuals in the movie and in the comic. So yeah, I just started drawing ideas and characters and it just evolved from there.
What’s the premise of A Dark Forest and who are the main players in this disquieting fantasy series?
A Dark Forest is set in the early 19th century, in a town called Blackwood, surrounded by a dark forest. It follows two sisters, Elizabeth, her younger sister Grace, and also their cat Jonas. Strange things start to happen in the forest after Grace does a ritual with her friend late at night. People start to turn into animals and disappear. Grace and Elizabeth have to try and figure out what’s happening before the villagers accuse them of being witches, as the people in the village don’t like their family very much.
How would you describe the themes of the series?
Uncertainty, impermanence and coming of age. I feel Elizabeth is trying to hold on to the past and she wants things to stay as it always was in her childhood. Uncertainty because Elizabeth and Grace are trying to change what is happening is the village, but sometimes you can’t change the future and sometimes things happen and you are powerless to change it. Religion and hysteria are also strong themes in A Dark Forest, people sometimes being so blinded by what they believe that they can’t see the monstrous acts they are doing. Superstition is very apparent in this society, so people are very quick to judge and believe in witches. With the people in the village you can only be with the devil or with god.
What made comics as a form such a fitting one for A Dark Forest?
A picture says a thousand words, and depending on the artwork style you can really tell a story in a completely different way. I really love that comics have such a presence at the moment. I really like telling stories and comics and illustration are very accessible.
The comic has a very dark, unsettling, gothic atmosphere to it. What were some of your influences and inspirations for A Dark Forest?
I’ve always loved horror and especially Japanese horror. I was infused by Uzumaki and wanted to capture the hysteria and horror like in the manga. I was also influenced by The Crucible and fairy tales before Disney, where there was usually a more happy ending to the story.
Obviously A Dark Forest has a very distinctive look with those deep black backgrounds and carefully crafted visuals. What medium are you working in to create it? Can you tell us a little about your artistic process?
I work on paper and usually draw everything on ivory paper. I first start with pencil. I start with a image in mind but don’t really know how its going to turn out until the end. I just start scribbling and then the image will start to emerge after that. I rub out the pencil and draw the image with pen and ink. I will then touch it up on Photoshop and try the make it look like a wood cut print. I think it works really well to give it a spooky look.
Given that every panel of A Dark Forest is incredibly intricate and involved how long does it take you to complete each page?
On average I would take about 5 to 8 hours to do each page, so yeah… haha… that’s what you get from doing such detailed artwork!
It’s a story that you’ve been telling in increments over a number of issues. Given the time involved from your initial plotting have you found the story diverging at all from your first plans? Has there been a fluidity to its narrative or have you stuck largely to the original outline you had in mind?
The initial overall arch of the story has remind the same, but some smaller parts in the story have changed as the illustrations themselves can create and develop ideas.
There’s a very tactile element to the book. How have you used the physicality of the object to enhance the themes of the comic?
I always wanted this to be a paper-based piece of work rather than, say, a webcomic. Using sewn string to bind the book gives it a handmade touch, like each copy is its own. I feel that it helps bring the story and characters to life, and takes you into the world I have created.
Why did you choose a crowdfunding option as the best way to get the book out there and in people’s hands? What were the particular advantages of Kickstarter?
Kickstarter is really great because it cuts out the middle man, giving me much more creative freedom with what I do. I also think it gives me a platform for people to find the comic who may not have otherwise. Using Kickstarter has also given me a huge confidence boost to continue to make more work, and I’m really happy that there are people out there who like what I’m doing.
How long is A Dark Forest projected to run and is your aim to collect the series in one edition at the end of the run?
I’m on the sixth part of A Dark Forest, and in the end there are going to be seven parts. I’m working on that final part of the story right now so it’s really exciting! I would really like to get it collated into one work, but I’m not sure yet how I will do this.
Do you have any plans for where you take your work after A Dark Forest? Are there any other comics projects you’re working on or planning?
Yes, I’m hoping to work on a fantasy comic story next and I’m playing to do it in watercolour. I’ve also got some other projects in mind for the future like a science fiction story set in space, but those ideas are fairly rough right now.
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