Interview: Paul Duffield and The Firelight Isle

Yesterday I brought you information about The Firelight Isle, an independently produced graphic novel from Paul Duffield. Today, I bring you an interview with Paul Duffield, pretty cool huh? A big thanks to Paul for taking the time to answer some questions with us and we'll have a bunch of links at the bottom, but to start off with check out the link to IndieGoGo and consider funding Paul's project.

Comic Bastards)  First one is easy, tells us a little about The Firelight Isle? Where did the idea come from and what is the story you want to tell with it?

Paul Duffield)  The Firelight Isle is a story I've been wanting to tell for a long time! I've always been a fan of fantasy, science fiction and surreal or magical storytelling, and I've always had a desire to write my own stories, so for most of my life I've had a grand writing project in mind that has gone through different incarnations (inspired by whoever my favorite authors were at the time)! When I started work as a professional artist, I began to realise just how much work is involved in creating epic, multi-volume stories and graphic novels, and so I ended up focusing on completing shorter stories. At that point, Freakangels started, and I spent 4 years working on that, during which time the hectic schedule and intense work on Warren's script taught me a lot about both writing and drawing long form stories. When Freakangels finished, I found that my desire to create a longer piece had been rekindled, and I considered it the best time to try to establish myself as a writer as well as an artist. I broke down all of my early story ideas, and mined them for inspiration, taking all sorts of fragments, and reworking them into a new piece, which became The Firelight Isle. So it's a new story with long roots!

The story I want to tell is very much a character and culture focused piece, a fantasy that feels like it could well be taking place on some distant world that might really exist. Its themes include friendship and coming of age, along with faith and segregation. I've tried to assimilate as much information as I can on human culture in a short time so that the world it takes place in will be both familiar and surprising. It's hard to describe the plot in a movie-pitch style, since it's more of a slice-of-life style story that includes some grander elements.TheFirelightIsle_PromoCB)  Can you tell us about the main characters, what their names are and why you felt they were the right choice to tell the story with?

PD) The two main characters are both the same age (around 16), and have known each other since their earliest memories, and been fast friends ever since. Anlil is a girl who has been learning to weave since she was a child so she can take up her mother's profession (one that is well thought of in a town where dye and fabrics are a major trade), the story opens as she starts her most important commission for the Somin - the highest members of thier society. Sen is a boy who has always dreamed of becoming a warrior, although his family create and trade dyes. As the story begins, he is about to be initiated into training as a guard - also for the Somin - which is a big step in a society where profession is usually inherited. Then there is a third character who is pivotal to the plot, Tandzin ouHaddi, a missionary from another continent who has come to spread the word about his God. The land on which the story is set is culturally isolated from the rest of the world, and for most of the characters he will be the only foreigner they have ever seen. The story develops as Anlil and Sen live through the impact of both adulthood and clashing cultures.

CB)  Watching the trailer for Firelight, I couldn't help but feel that it was an epic story. It also reminded me of Hayao Miyazaki's work. How big is the story you're looking to tell? Is it going to be contained to one volume or is the world bigger than that?

PD)  The story of the Firelight Isle will be self-contained in one long volume of maybe 200 pages, but the world (and even universe) in which it is set is much larger, and I'm hoping that in the future I can expand it by writing more that might tie in to it in some way. Miyazaki is definitely an influence when it comes to story telling and visuals!CB)  I really respect that you're not willing to sacrifice the quality of the book in order to release it quickly. Is there some event in your professional career that's made you not want to compromise quality for speed?

PD)  I think it was mainly working on Freakangels for so long, which had a very tight deadline. The weekly schedule meant that often I would have to compromise and give up a certain amount of quality, detail or grandeur in order to get the episode finished. It was a learning experience that helped me speed up, and taught me all sorts of short-cuts that didn't impact the quality of the work, but in the end I found myself wishing that I could slow down, especially when I had to design story elements like characters or machinery on the page in which they first appeared! I was also itching to discover how much quality I could put into an image when there was no deadline attached. However, I understand that there's a commercial pressure on every project, and part of Freakangels' success was its regularity and reliability. For The Firelight Isle, I want to strike a balance by putting as much effort as possible into preparation, research and thumb-nailing, so the production stage can be as business-like as possible.

CB)  The perks on the Firelight Isle Indie Gogo page have titles like: Spark, Firelight and Moonlight. Are these references to something within the story?

PD)  Not specifically, I was just playing with the theme of the title in order to make pleasent sounding names for the perks! Also, they go up in order of size and brightness (spark, fire, moon, sun, galaxy).


CB)  I imagine with as much promotion work done for the project that you've already begun work on the actual story. How far along into it are you and how will the Indie Gogo funding help you complete it the way you'd like?

PD)  I have the whole story very roughly blocked out, with various sections of it fleshed out in prose, and the first few pages done in thumbnails. The funding will help me to develop the story from here by drawing and writing it at the same time in the form of thumbnails (storyboards for comics), which I feel produces a better balance between visual and textual storytelling than moving from script to rough does, and also to take the time I need to step back and focus on the design of any new elements as they appear in the plot. It's the money that will allow me to put down the foundations I need in order to get as much quality as possible out of the project.

CB)  Have you been approached by comic publishers about picking up the project? If so how did you manage to fend them off and remain 100% creator owned?PD)  Not yet, no, so it's been pretty straight forward keeping it creator owned!

CB)  When the book is released, what formats are you looking to publish it in? Just hardcover or will you release it digitally as well?

PD)  Like Freakangels, it will be released on the web for free as I produce it, and then collected as a trade. I'm hoping this will help to gather an audience, and also circumnavigate the usual problems with piracy.

CB)  What I find most striking about the project thus far is the art. Particularly the coloring that you do, what is your process and how do you get it to look so vibrant?

PD)  Whilst working on Freakangels I wrote a break-down of my colouring process which is a good reference as it's the same method that I'm using now In broad strokes, it's pencil linework that's coloured in photoshop using a cel-shading technique in combination with photographic and painted textures. The major difference is that I'm doing it all myself this time! The vibrancy comes from colour choices, and range of lighting - I'm working with a lot of blues and greens offset against browns and reds, which hopefully should look fresh and airy as a consequence.

CB)  For those unfamiliar with your work and background can you tell us a little about yourself and your craft?

PD)  I was initially trained in Animation and Illustration at Kingston University, but I've always loved comics, and found that you get much more creative control when working on them. Whilst I was still at University, I produced a short comic that won Tokyopop's first UK Rising Stars of Manga competition, and when I left, the short animation I produced in my final year won grand prize in The International Manga and Anime Festival. Those two prizes lead to more work, including The Tempest for SelfMadeHero's Manga Shakespeare range, and a short comic in Best New Manga 2. At that time I managed to get the job drawing Freakangels ( for Warren Ellis and Avatar Press, and since then I've branched out into film and illustration, doing some storyboarding, cover illustration and concept art.

CB)  Wow! Great stuff right? Again I'd like to thank Paul for his time and for talking to us and be sure to check out any of the links below.

You can check out a visual promotional video here:

More about the project can be found here:

Paul Duffield's own website is here: