Meet Mark Allard-Will and Elaine Will, creators of the retro-inspired comic Årkade, which debuts this year at Toronto Comic Arts Festival. The team is campaigning on GoFundMe, and I had the opportunity to talk to them about the campaign and the comic.
Graphic Policy: Hi! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Could you please tell us a little about yourselves?
Mark Allard-Will: No, thank you, Madison. It’s a real pleasure to be interviewed by you and for Graphic Policy. My name is Mark Allard-Will and I am a Writer, specialising and focussing on Comic Books, Graphic Novels, etc. Although I now call Canada home and call myself a Canadian, I’m British born and raised. My previous project, and most successful project to-date, was Saskatch-A-Man; a Canadiana comedy comic book that focussed on the Province I live in, Saskatchewan.
Elaine Will: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, Madison! I’m Elaine Will and I’m a cartoonist and illustrator also residing in Saskatchewan, Canada. My main claim to fame is the graphic novel Look Straight Ahead, a story about mental illness which was a 2012 Xeric Award winner, from the very last grant cycle (a fact I’m pretty proud of!) The book was very well received and can still be read online on my website blog.e2w-illustration.com (I admit, the site is in desperate need of a revamp – soon, I swear!)
GP: Your comic Årkade is currently up on GoFundMe. Can you describe the project?
MAW: Sure can. Årkade, in a nutshell, is a metafiction comic book that fuses styles and genres; which, for us, is the old ham-fisted American and British produced Viking movies where the cast knowingly misused Middle English and late ‘80s, early ‘90s family adventure movies. Our medium to fuse the two is defunct Video Games (albeit fictional Video Games of our creation). This story is a one-shot, it’ll be perfect-bound like a graphic novel and we’ll be adding some goodies in there too, like a Pin-up/Tribute Art Gallery that features some Artwork by a diverse range of Canadian Cartoonists, Artists and even an American Comic Book Artist.
So, the GoFundMe page acts just as any other Crowdfunding page would and does, people who help us pay off our printing bill by backing the project can get preorders of the physical Book, digital download and a plethora of other goodies, including some advertising opportunities, limited signed and numbered sketch cards and the chance to receive some art of yourself drawn as an Årkade character.
EW: What Mark said – one thing I’ll add is that I wanted to do a comic that incorporated glitch art (as I have yet to see that – although, it may exist now) and asked Mark to write a story which might allow me to indulge in that.
GP: What were some of the movie and game influences for Årkade? What inspired the AxeMan character?
MAW: For me, when I writing the script, I absolutely wanted to throw some homage to, what in my mind is the pinnacle of adventure metafiction movies, The Neverending Story; and that’s certainly where the fiction-to-“reality” crossover and the race against impending doom narratives of Årkade take their base from. I think for many of us whom grew up before story-driven video gaming, we have a certain love affair held out for the old side-scrollers and Arcade house games and certainly a big motivator for how I envisioned the video game world of the Vikings was a Sega Genesis titled called Golden Axe.
EW: I was born in ’85 and pretty much only played side-scrolling platform games growing up – I was given a SNES for my 7th birthday with Super Mario World as the pack-in game. A couple of years later I got a Sega Genesis as well, because I was a rather spoiled only child. In fact, I never really grew into a next-gen gamer…at some point I just couldn’t keep up and I still enjoyed the old games enough I didn’t feel a need to upgrade. I definitely know that I’m missing out on some great modern games and I really want to find the time to play a few soon.
Sorry to go off on a bit of a tangent there – there’s a little bit of pixel art in the comic that’s definitely inspired by the graphics of the old 2D sidescrollers. I actually usually point to Sonic the Hedgehog as my biggest artistic inspiration, as it was the original comics published by Archie that instilled the desire in me to become a cartoonist!
GP: This isn’t the first comic you have done together, how has your storytelling evolved as your comics have progressed?
MAW: Well, I think that’s a really neat part of working together and furthering together as we do; as we’ve moved on to different projects together, Elaine will give me some ideas of what she’d like to see in the visuals of the World, etc, and I’ll see if I can make it work in plot development and later in scripting. We’re definitely very good at bouncing ideas off of each other, which I think helps to flesh out something really exciting.
EW: I think we definitely make a good team. Mark’s scripts are so easy for me to visualize. Due to his background in film, he’s able to nail down what he wants to see drawn in each panel and describes that in great detail, so much of the work is already done for me before I ever sit down to do thumbnails.
GP: Though there have been other comic adaptations of video games, Årkade is unique in that it incorporates the side-view angles and pixelated graphics of a side-scroll video game. What were the challenges of adapting the medium for print while staying faithful to the style?
EW: When designing the pixel art I went so far as to make sure the character sprites didn’t contain more than 16 colours – the standard for a single “palette line” in a 16-bit game. Depending on the console, there could also be anywhere from 64-256 colours on screen at one time, so I stuck pretty firmly to that in the pixel art as well.
For the rest of the artwork I went for a pretty cartoony cel-shaded style.
GP: Elaine, Årkade is different from your other projects Look Straight Ahead and Dustship Glory. How do these different genres allow you to explore different forms of storytelling in comics?
EW: I decided to go for a much more straightforward storytelling style for Årkade. One of the hallmarks of my style is tilted, oddly-shaped or jagged panels corresponding to moments of tension in the story. I think I sometimes have a tendency to create odd page layouts or differently shaped panels just for the sake of it, and not always when it serves the story. So, I wanted to draw a comic that didn’t have any of that for once and then slowly start to bring it back in later on (you see a bit of it towards the end of Årkade, once the game world starts to fall apart).
GP: As an artist, what is your favorite part of telling different types of stories?
EW: I suppose, trying to figure out the best art and storytelling style to set the mood! And the challenges that presents. It can be frustrating sometimes, of course, when I’m sitting down to draw a new story and realize it’s full of things I don’t really know how to draw…but this always ends up being beneficial later on, even if I don’t realize it at the time. I think the horses in Årkade are pretty sweet looking, and that’s because I had plenty of practice drawing them in Dustship Glory! ;)
GP: Mark, were there challenges in capturing the spirit of a video game in a print medium?
MAW: That’s a really great question. For me personally, not so much; it’s introduced very early on in the story and falls in to place as AxeMan reminiscing about the days gone by when he and his game cartridge were played with routinely and beloved by players and continues with a Jay and Silent Bob-esque retro game collector and restorer in our modern timeline. Despite the story being metafiction (where you have at least some free reign to ham things up), the only real challenge was to make sure I didn’t get too quirky on any one particular element in those dynamics.
GP: Nostalgia is kind of “in vogue” right now, with the return of 1980s and 1990s fashion and the popularity of movie and television show reboots. What role does nostalgia play in the comic? Was there a game or movie you were feeling particularly nostalgic for when developing the story?
MAW: Definitely. For me, it was movies such as Neverending Story, The Goonies, The Last Action Hero and ET. In terms of games, beyond the aforementioned Golden Axe, I’d have to say the Sonic The Hedgehog games and a great Sega Genesis title called Wiz ‘n’ Liz.
EW: As I mentioned above, Sonic the Hedgehog has always been a big influence (particularly the art direction of Sonic CD, as it’s just so different from the rest of the classic series and has a really interesting “technology bonded with nature” thing going on). I think that we were also inspired by the movie Wreck-It Ralph, its existentialist themes and the wonderful feeling of nostalgia it created from an entirely fictional arcade game – in fact, I usually Elevator Pitch Årkade as “Wreck-It Ralph With Vikings.”
GP: What are you most excited for readers to see in this comic?
MAW: For me, I’m really excited for readers to see my quirky, fun writing take on new legs outside of Canadiana into something that’s fun for all ages. I’m also really hoping this will just be a nice big blast of nostalgia for people too.
EW: Everything! We really gave it our all for this one and I think lots of folks will love it – not just for the nostalgia factor, but because I think it’s a really fun story.
GP: Congrats on being able to debut Årkade at Toronto Comic Arts Festival! Where will this comic be available after TCAF?
MAW: Thank you. After the show, the comic will be available in stores across Canada and from our online webstore, we’ll be updating people of the exact purchase link on our Social Media platforms when it goes live. The best place for people to keep up-to-date is on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CuckoosNestPress
GP: Is there anything you’d like to discuss that I didn’t ask you about?
MAW: Just to say a huge thanks for having us and putting us up on Graphic Policy and to say a huge thank you to all the backers and sharers of the crowdfunding page, it really does mean a lot to us.
EW: Yes, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview with us and for featuring us on Graphic Policy! The crowdfunding campaign is up until April 9th.
GP: Thank you so much for your time!
EW: Cheers! :)