Garen Ewing – artist, author and creator of the Julius Chancer comics The Rainbow Orchid and The Secret of the Samurai – answers our questions about archaeology, antiquarian sleuths and his artistic influences.
Dr A and H are both great admirers of Garen’s work. Set in the 1920s, The Rainbow Orchid charts the adventures of Julius Chancer as he races to find the mythical Rainbow Orchid ahead of Urkas Grope’s fiendish (but stylish) assistant Evelyn Crow. More recently Julius Chancer has been tracking down a lost suit of samurai armour. Antiquities, adventure, even attractive French aerobats – these stories have it all!
Ask an Artist: Garen Ewing
Your Julius Chancer adventures feature lots of references to archaeology – were you interested in ancient things and peoples as a child, or is it a recent interest?
I’m really interested in the concept of undiscovered things and places, and I think this has been a staple of the type of adventure story I’ve enjoyed since childhood. I really love the idea that an object or a place can reveal the story of people long gone … and I guess that is archaeology, though I can’t claim to have been specifically interested in that subject until more recently. Having said that, my first and longest-lasting comics love is Asterix, which encompasses ancient things and people quite nicely.
The Rainbow Orchid draws on the archaeology of Mohenjo-daro; what made you choose this site in particular?
About the time I was starting to develop The Rainbow Orchid I came across a series of travel books by David Hatcher Childress, a sort of self-styled Indiana Jones type figure who wrote about alternative historical theories while visiting the places in question. One of these was Mohenjo-daro, which included tales of ancient warfare and pre-historic super weapons. At the time I was open to the idea that some of this might be true, and it intrigued me greatly – as well as providing inspiration for some of the story elements I was developing at the time. In the following years, through lots of research and also through a process of me becoming a lot more rationalist and skeptical, I no longer found Childress’s ideas convincing, but I still enjoyed the premise as a basis for a good adventure story.
Sir Alfred Catesby-Grey and his assistant Julius Chancer are historical/archaeological sleuths (and researchers); how did you decide on their profession?
I think I just knew I’d need that kind of a character for the story I wanted to tell. At first it was only Sir Alfred, a kind of authoritative mentor who would be useful for background information and research. Julius’s initial role in the story was as Lily Lawrence’s chauffeur. I soon decided that Julius would be much more interesting as a ‘historical researcher’ himself, and the scope for further adventures would be far greater too. It’s a terrific character occupation for an author (me) who loves both detective mysteries and history.
Your work is often compared to the Tintin adventures, but are there other comics/artists that influenced your creation of The Rainbow Orchid? Do you currently have any favourite comics (on any subject) you would like to urge people to track down and read?
I’m a long-time fan, since about the age of 6 or 7, of Tintin, but it was discovering the work of Edgar P. Jacobs that really inspired me to take that route with my own story. His characters of Blake and Mortimer have a bit more science and history thrown in to the mix, and are a bit less cartoony than Tintin, which is probably closer to the template I prefer for Julius Chancer. Jacobs was a member of Hergé’s studio, and another colleague of his I’d very much recommend is Roger Leloup who created Yoko Tsuno, a young Japanese electrical engineer who has a number of exotic ‘scientific’ adventures – very good stuff.
I would also highly recommend the work of Jacques Tardi (Adel Blanc-Sec, amongst many other great works) and Lewis Trondheim (I like the ‘Dungeon’ series, but also his Lapinot character and the recent Ralph Azham). Away from Franco-Belgian comics I like Miyazaki’s Nausicaa and Osamu Tezuka (especially Black Jack and Dororo). My favourite British comic of the moment is probably Bryan Talbot’s Grandville series – but, really, there’s so much good stuff around at the moment.
You recently had a short Julius Chancer story – “The Secret of the Samurai” – in The Phoenix comic. Do you have plans for any more Julius Chancer stories (and are they likely to involve any archaeology?)
Yes, I’m working on the next Julius Chancer book now. I suppose it does include a bit of archaeology in that part of the story will see Julius travel to a lost island where some ancient relics are discovered – not necessarily all dead or inanimate! I’m also using a real local ruin, the remains of a seventeenth century manor called Brambletye House which I became very interested in after stumbling across it on a country walk one day, many years ago.
Please head over to Garen’s website to find out more about his work and characters. There are sections of the comic to read online, an insight into Garen’s working process, and you can even join the Adventurer’s Society!