Hello and welcome to another exceptional edition of Comicadia Interviews. Today we have the amazing Rachel Anne Jones and her stunning comic Alchemist Burnouts. A splash of British humour, an amazing style and a story that takes you on an adventure that you won’t soon forget! Without further adieu, let’s dive in!
Tell us about yourself?
My name is Rachel Jones and I’m an illustrator. Doing webcomics was a natural way to merge art and story in an atmosphere that really allows for creativity and risk, and I’m mostly known for doing some pretty colorful and painterly illustrations, so this comic has been a really fun departure from my safe place of hiding behind rendering. It’s been a joy to see it come together.
Tell us about your work?
Alchemist Burnouts is a modern fantasy about some kids who want to escape their prophetic endings. Harriet is doomed to end the world, Gordy is doomed to save the world, and Fred is on academic suspension and looking at permanent expulsion from his school. Can they change becoming exactly the way every adult around them tells them that they are? Or will they find a way to escape and forge their own path despite their magical and academic failures? Basically I wanted to make a story about failing to meet your grand expectations, and what comes after.
The way to story is being told feels as though it would fit surprisingly well in a mix between Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy, A Series of Unfortunate Events and sprinkled with a bit of Dirk Gently. What were your inspirations for this style of storytelling?
Oh thank you! You nailed exactly the books I was reading as a kid! I read mostly British authors during my formative years—tons of Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, and of course, Harry Potter was really near and dear to me, (and It’s a little embarrassing how, even though it’s been years since I’ve re-read them, I still know more facts about Harry Potter than I remember about…math.)
I like to read and create things that have humor to them, especially when I know that the story is going to approach some really tough and difficult subjects. I will forever admire Terry Pratchett, in particular, for how he was able to really elegantly go back and forth from wit to very serious subject matters without being disrespectful.
So, I think that British style of writing sarcasm eeked through into my writing. If anything, it made me very, very wordy. So, it’s ironic that I decided to take my wordy as hell dialogue and condense it into a comic format. It took a lot of editing, but that’s most of the comic writing process—just so much editing. You always end up deleting like half of what you initially wrote in the script.
The line art adds such character to the story. What was the thought process behind leaving the story black and white? (with tones appearing in later pages)
I’m glad you’ve noticed—it was a hard decision to come to, but something I had to do. I had to put my hubris aside and say “Listen. You’re good at art. You already know that. You’ve made a good story. Just tell the damn story without covering it up in stuff.” Because…I have a history of doing that.
I had made a comic before this one that was fully painted, where I wanted to pull all the bells and whistles—it was what I thought was my magnum opus, so I put everything I had into that hella bizarre comic. But there were so many weird-ass complicated elements going on that what I ended up with was such nonsense that I visited it’s website recently (cuz I handmade that site) and it actually crashed my own Firefox browser. At the time of making it, it was devastating to feel that I had “wasted” all that effort (although I learned so much I don’t think of it as a waste anymore) but I came to the point where I had to shelf the project and take to heart what wasn’t working—which was that I wasn’t thinking about what worked best for the story, I was only thinking about what would make me look cool and make me look impressive.
So later, when I made Alchemist Burnouts into a comic, I looked in the mirror and I told myself “we’re not going to have a repeat of the confusing cat comic, are we?” (it had cats in it, PS) and I decided to do the opposite of what I had done before. I decided that every artistic element that wasn’t necessary to the story of the comic was going to be cut. Color was cut, weird page sizes was cut, interactive elements were cut, I chose one pen—the Kyle Webster Finer than Fine pen, which you can get free with Photoshop CC—and nearly the entire comic is colored with just that one pen. There’s some halftone, the occasional splash of red for emphasis. And that’s all my tools.
And what happens when you restrict your art, is you get to really focus on the style and the design a lot more. You have more time and space to really make it feel uniquely itself, and I’m really glad I was able to learn that. Also, keeping my focus on telling the story has helped me tell a much better story. And who knows, if I ever decide to do parts of it in color down the road, the files will always be. That’s the thing about webcomics, you can change stuff later, if you decide to. You can add color later, or never at all. It’s totally and wholly up to you.
I noticed that the pacing of the story seems to reflect with whomever it is currently focusing upon. It’s a very unique quality. What are the pacing inspirations behind the characters? Specifically Harriet, Fred and Gordy?
It’s mostly so that we know, as readers, that Harriet isn’t a liar about how she was living in a parallel dimension until like…two days ago. She’s been stripped of her powers, so although she was at one point a force to be reckoned with, now she’s just a weird girl in borrowed knitwear.
Gordy especially, doesn’t have a clue what’s really going on, he’s a self-centered person who’s had a very shut-in life, and so he really isn’t able to read Harriet well enough to know what we’ve already figured out. Until then, Gordy is just going to assume that Harriet is a weirdo, and Fred is going to assume that Harriet is some sort spy working for Willt.
Also, having the different viewpoints lets us see how the two worlds they are from are different. In one dimension Pendleson smokes, in the other he keeps a notebook. In one dimension Fred is dead, in the other Fred is alive. In one dimension Gordy’s Dad is alive and is the school doctor. In the other one Harriet’s Dad is alive and has the same job as Gordy’s Dad. We get to do a lot of comparisons in that way.
Tell us about your process?
So I had already written the story out as a book, and it’s kind of rough to go from novel to comic—it’s a completely different medium so a lot has to be deleted and a lot more action has to be pushed in. What I do, is I go in with the highlighter tool and highlight everything that I deem worthy enough to go in the comic. I had to edit a lot out, just because otherwise it would take 20 years to tell the story (literally 20 years.)
After that, I pace out the pages to figure out how many panels will be in each page—so not just pacing out dialogue, but actions as well. It helps me see if I have certain pages with maybe too much content or if some conversations are going too long (which is usually. Less is more).
Then, I will start laying out my pages in Photoshop. I’ve been doing page-format comics, so I start with an 8.5 by 11 page in 300 dpi, then I go in this order. I have a very precise pipeline, and I find it helps me move quicker to follow it the same each time
– lay out the text on the page first (text takes 2x the amount of room I think it will)
– decide where the panels will roughly go (and this is very thumbnaily at this stage)
– draw stick-figure gestures to place all the figures and the rough backgrounds, making sure that there’s a flow and points of interest to the page.
– make nice crisp panels and define the gutters.
– add the bubbles for the text, check for tangents
– At this point I can take whatever reference of hands or anatomy I need with my own phone— the selfie mode for phones is like made for getting reference for art. Half my phone is just me in weird poses.
– create any perspective guides necessary for backgrounds (I use Lazy Nezumi for my perspective guides.)
– Draw the lineart
– After that, I polish with whatever halftones I feel like using
– Double check to see everyone’s ring is drawn on the correct hand (It’s usually not) or if anyone is so off-model that I need to use the liquify window to sort of push their eyes back into place.
Could you give us a bit of a family breakdown and the idea behind why the Boothes, Pecks and Pendelsons are out to get one another?
The Knight circles run a lot like mob circles. Since none of them were actually Knighted by any King. They really just made up that they were “Knights” and went with it for hundreds of years because outsiders just don’t trust wizards—but they do trust Knights. They tend to be familial since magic can only run through bloodlines and since there is no governing body for all the Knights, each of the Knight circles (and there’s thousands across the Earth) either form alliances with their neighbors, or have very heated turf wars with one another. A lot of the comic is just the kids avoiding whatever magic-mafia fights the adults are in, really.
The Pendleson’s are the oldest circle of Knights in the US that call themselves “Knights,” and they are alchemists who have been living in the North East since the time of the Pilgrims. The Knights of the Brim (currently run by Willt) are their direct enemies since they are established in almost the same place. They’ve have a very long running feud over territory and differing ideologies.
The Pecks however, are a circle of Knights that live in the forests of Maine, so they’re more of a neutral party. Pendleson and Willt are constantly trying to buy over the Pecks’s loyalty and Peck remains very fickle.
The Boothes name is infamous, but they are mostly dead because of a curse, which is why they were absorbed into Pendleson’s circle. All that is left of the Boothe legacy is a ring and two descendants. Well, three, if you count Harriet, who never existed in this dimension before two days ago.
There are various forms of magic in ABO, Brim and Alchemy being the most focused on, what are all the types? How do they work?
Depending on what circle of Knights you are working for, you will be using a different system of magic. There aren’t many people who can use more than one form of magic, sort of like how if you go to college you only really major in one thing. So there are Knights who use alchemy, Knights who use animals, Knights who use Brim magic, Knights who use ghosts, Knights who use weapons with pinpoint accuracy, etc. Each type of magic has it’s advantages and disadvantages, and as we meet more Knights we will find more magic systems.
The Brim, Alchemy, and the Peck Knight’s magic are the ones I’ve gone over in the comic so far. The Brim is like the skin between two close but different parallel worlds. Brim magic is pulling things that you want from one dimension into your own. But, if you pull too much, you can end up destroying how the laws of science and nature work and it creates very explosive consequences, which is why people tend to not like having Brim magic next door.
Alchemy, on the other hand, is a magic that relies on the laws of science and nature needing to work properly. In fact, only a very good alchemist can undo the damage done by a Brim Knight. This makes it the natural enemy to Brim magic, which is part of why the Pendleson/Willt feud has gone on for so long, they keep undoing each other’s work.
Now, it’s believed that it is statistically impossible to pull a human being through the Brim because you would need near perfect conditions to do it. Kind of like finding absolute zero, no one’s ever achieved it. But then…Harriet happened.
We don’t know how that happened. But pulling a human across the Brim…is probably going to have some…consequences.
The Peck Knights, in contrast, are close to nature, so close that many of them have developed a strong spiritual connection with an animal that can grant them their powers. This is how Sir Landon Bradshaw was able to kill a Grizzly bear with a poop shovel—because he was given the actual power of a Grizzly Bear.
I think that’s all the types I’ve introduced so far, but there’s more around the bend.
What does it take to be a Knight and what responsibilities does that hold?
So Knights aren’t real Knights in the sense that they are governed by a King. They adopted the name because they didn’t want people to know they were witches during the medieval era when that sort of thing would get you executed. Since then, the name stuck, and the classic Knightly ideologies became a part of their culture.
So, before a child is Knighted, they are a page. A page will often test out different circles to figure out where they think they should belong (although usually this is decided for them and they have no choice). As they learn, they will graduate from a Page, to a Knight, and then will work as members of that circle, slowly being promoted until—if they live long enough—they can be the Master Knight themselves.
Their responsibilities are dictated by the ideologies of their particular circle. So a Brim Knight’s responsibility is very different from a Knight who is a ghost hunter, for instance. The Brim would like to rearrange the universe to create the greatest universe, and a ghost hunter just wants to help relieve the very pressing ghost problem. But, a ghost hunter and a Brim Knight would lie down their life for their cause, Knights are very loyal.
As for Gordy, Harriet, and Fred, they don’t really know where they belong anymore, or if they’ll ever belong, and a large part of their story is them trying to figure it out.
Where can we find more of your work?
My comic is at Tapas and there is a mobile version on webtoons but it only has two chapters since it involves a lot of reformatting, but if people want to bookmark it for later it is here.
You can find me at my twitter, which is @RAJmews or follow me at my tumblr which will link you to my other websites and things.
there is a fledgling little ABO-only twitter account where I try and post updates, when I can, and also has extra art, and it is at @ABurnouts
We’d like to thank Rachel Anne Jones for not only having this interview, but allowing us to discover Alchemist Burnouts. It was a truly unique experience and the style and character of the story are absolutely one of a kind!
I would suggest anyone with a penchant for any of the old British classics of writing in the styles of Pratchett or Addams have a look – especially if your stories require whimsy, adventure and an awesome cast of eclectic, eccentric characters! Just, avoid getting stuck in between dimensions when reading it. I hear it can be a little disconcerting.
Remember, if anyone would like to be interviewed, please do not hesitate to email us at email@example.com. We are always happy to discover new comics and speak with creators!