This week I had a chat with Darren Pearce and Stuart Jennett about their new comic Elena Divinity Rising, here is what they told us about this new series and their thoughts about the comic medium.
Comic Crusaders: First thing that I wanted to ask you guys, there are a lot of comics coming out lately that have got strong female protagonists, did you guys try and tap into that and seeing that trend and what influences brought Elena to the fore.
Darren Pearce: Elena has been on table for about 2 and half years as character and I don’t think at any point did I or Stuart look at any trends within the industry and say that this is a market we want to go after. I think what we did consider and what we have created is that strong female lead in the mould of Ripley, Sarah Conner or Elizabeth (from the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). These are influences for me in terms of where Elena is now as a character; certainly looking beyond the Comic industry is where I looked at for influences.
Stuart Jennett: Yeah she is just a good a character, it all came together regardless of trends or seeing a niche in the market it wasn’t so calculated to that degree, it was interesting character and a good story and we thought we’d make a go at it.
CC: As I say it was something that I noticed coming out in the last year or so going down to the comic shop and picking up my pull list, we’ve seen this new wave of strong female protagonists but you saying that I completely forgot about Ripley and Sarah Conner.
DP: I think many people do, when you look at Hollywood now female lead characters that have that strength are quite rare at the moment and if you look at Sarah Conner, Ripley and Elizabeth those are three of the strongest female characters to come out of Hollywood, certainly in the last 30 – 40 years and I looked at those characters before I looked at anything that has come before in comic book industry.
CC: From my reading of the first issue I did notice a few things coming through but, what kind of themes are you looking to explore in this inaugural 4 issues?
DP: For both of us, the themes are very much a good vs evil but, with a very strong family theme within this as well, I think it is very important that people see that established in issue 1 and take that through this first series. Whilst I can’t tell you how it will end, that undercurrent of family overtones will be there right to the end of series one and we hope it will continue into series 2. I personally love how Elena is developing as a character, we love how people are understanding and you hit the nail on the read [in your review] when you said empathise with her. Because if you can empathise with her you can go on her journey if you can’t empathise with her you won’t.
CC: That was one of the things I did find myself doing when I was reading the book, I enjoyed her in the mission she’s on in the first issue but, the things I found interesting and heart-warming were the flashback scenes when she is talking to her handler and later on seeing you tap into that family theme with Alex and how their relationship forms. Are you going to see more of that development as you go through these first four issues in some of these flashback scenes?
SJ: We’re definitely looking to expand it out, there are certain things I don’t want to ruin for the reader; we will be expanding certain characters out more than others. Certainly reaffirm that father figure relationship with Lester (her handler) and Elena, and obviously Alex is Elena’s first love interest as it were and it gives her a good emotional blanket to help us carry it through the flashback sequences. And also bring it up to the present and into issue, we were quite careful about how we were going play that.
CC: I noticed these come through quite naturally, the flashback sequences don’t feel forced in.
SJ: We wanted this to help move the story along in the present tense, but not in a way that intrudes too much and it is also rewarding to the reader as it helps flesh these characters out in both directions, you learn about a character as they progress forward but we also wanted for you to get this historical depth to the characters.
CC: Moving onto a different sort of question, Stu you work in the Video Game Industry and Darren you’re heavily involved in the film side of things. Did you think that the medium on comics gives you something different to bring something to the table to allow you bring a story like Elena to life, was it a conscious decision to do this as a comic or did you have the concept for the character first and then decide a comic was the way to go
DP: I came up with the character initially and we were hooked up by a mutual friend and Stu and I sat down over a pint in the pub.
CC: The typical British way to do things.
DP: Oh it was, very British. We had this commonality of love for the medium and how this could work. I always felt Elena would work in a graphic novel format because; the story is hugely visual, there is so much going on and to get that into a traditional novel would have taken far too much in the way of words. What we have in a graphic novel and what Stu and I have worked on , especially Stu with the visual side is that a picture sums up 1000 words and what we have is this extraordinarily exciting story bought together vividly in a visual format which has allowed us to give it the pace it needs. Readers now need to cut to the chase and get to the story and I think the comic format has allowed us to do that and I think that when I read it, its bang, its quick, its showbiz, its fast and that’s why I think this format works for this story.
CC: And do you then find it different how you would approach this writing a film script or a novel or Stu, producing a piece of art for a video game. How does your creative approach differ from some of the other work you are involved in?
SJ: On the game side on a day to day basis I’m more involved in concept design so I might be dealing with how a spaceship looks or making amends to an outsourcer’s artwork, edit that and sending it back to them. Doing comics is a completely different ballgame; me and Darren have quite a good relationship where Darren will flesh out the issue then I’ll come in and hopefully not upset Darren but, I’ll restructure things to a degree and get stuck into some of the dialogue and that helps me start to visualise it at the most basic level. Then I will move onto my thumbnails for each page and break each page down and move onto pencils and final inks, it’s a completely different mind-set and approach to doing concept design.
CC: Following on from that, I touched upon this in my review, one of the things I found quite jarring, was Elena’s character design, for a spy she looks very conspicuous and stands out quite a lot, where did the idea for the character design come from as normally when you associate someone working in espionage they try to blend in and Elena really stands out on the page.
SJ: For us with Elena, with her being Russian we wanted to bring that kind of European, Euro trash sensibility to her. As a comic book character we needed her to stand out, personally I was influenced by Elisabeth from Girl with a Dragon Tattoo as well. Not to that extreme I thought we could make a more accessible interpretation of that with Elena but, she has visually be interesting and stand out we didn’t want her to look like every other TV spy or female movie spy it’s pretty boring. We wanted people to relate to Elena and also given her look she would be the last person you’d expect to be a spy.
There is that flipside to it, I suppose it’s the visualisation that most people have in their head of a spy and when you to someone spy the immediately think Bond.
SJ: James Bond’s the worst spy ever! Everywhere he goes he tells everyone who he is.
DP: And drinks the same drink everywhere he goes so he’s easily traceable.
CC: And tends to blow up half the place he’s in.
DP: Never a good ploy.
CC: It’s why I wanted to ask about the design choice because at the same time you want her to stand out and want her to be relatable as she looks as though she is someone from the rock scene.
SJ: We needed Elena’s look to express who she is, these are not conventional spies. Without giving too much away these are empowered secret agents a special unit. They are a younger generation of spies and very contemporary from that kind of perspective.
CC: And was there anything else you wanted to add?
DP: I guess the thing is as each issue evolves, the story evolves and the characters evolve. What you see in issue 1 is very much laying down the gauntlet for what would follow. I think what you will see in the ensuing issues is even more of the same and hopefully better.
CC: The first issue for me set up that world really well and I am intrigued as to what Elena’s powers actually are as they seem to be a cross between telepathy and I suppose technomancy is the best way to call it and I’ve seen a few characters that have this ability to control machines with their mind.
SJ: We’ve been very mindful to keep all the abilities as grounded as possible, were not into superheroes flying about with laser beams shooting out their fists. We trying to give this a real cold war era kind of feel, I see this as a mix between David Cronenberg’s Scanners and a Bourne movie.
I just wanted to thank both Darren and Stuart for their time, if you want to know more about Elena you can catch up with all the latest news from the team via Twitter @ElenaAnchova.
Check out Comic Crusader’s thoughts on Elena with our review here: https://www.comiccrusaders.com/elena-divinity-rising-review/
Elena Divinity Rising issue 1 is available right now via Comixology at, https://www.comixology.co.uk/Elena-Divinity-Rising-1/digital-comic/164373