Adam Marshall is one of the thousands of diligent comic artists currently publishing their work on the Web. As a result you may not have heard of him, but his work is an example of some of the more detailed and complex storytelling out there.
His first comic, Boschen and Nesuko, is a kind of science fiction fable set in a world completely of his own creation. Adam describes it as “the story of a lonely nudist borderline psychopath and her ennui-stricken undead companion as they battle the forces of evil. In space.” I came across it a few years ago and was immediately intrigued with the unique character design, the bluntness of the writing, and its bizarre tone.
I talked with Adam over the phone last week about his latest tale, Venia’s Travels, a medieval fantasy about tyranny, torture, faeries, and the differences between men and women (also featuring ultra-violent swashbuckling and suspense). Once again the action is set in a thoroughly fleshed-out fantasy world with its own morality, social structure, and history. Already five chapters in, there’s been a dinner party, torture, some equal opportunity nudity, and a dash of espionage.
You’ve got a very distinctive art style. Where did you learn to draw?
Disney movies, Calvin and Hobbes, and anime are probably the biggest influences I can point to. Mostly, though, getting to my current methods and style was such a gradual process that it’s hard to say exactly how it got to be as it is now.
I think that most of my influences are movies, actually. I love comics, but I think I really at the end of the day I’m doing comics because it grants me total creative freedom immediately, where with film I’d probably have to wait until I was 60 years old. If I was lucky.
I particularly like Alfred Hitchcock movies – I have a massive obsession with Vertigo and a big thing for Notorious – mainly in terms of pacing and color, and the way he would tell a story by using a consistent point of view for one character. In Hitchcock’s films the adventure and suspense elements are so inextricably wrapped in revealing subtle things about character and establishing conflict.
What was the impetus behind Venia’s Travels?
I have themes I want to explore and I suppose that I wanted to work with medieval fantasy, which is something I’ve always liked. You can tell any good story with any forum or genre – it’s almost arbitrary what you pick, so you should just go with your personal taste. Because I like to create worlds there’s a usefulness in the medieval fantasy genre where you can rely on things that are already established – elves and such. You’re not required to make up new things to fill those spots and people just kind of go with it. I’ve found that they kind of prefer that you do.
I really wanted to take the time to create a detailed world that functioned with societies and cultures and economies, and the sort of cultural psychology that would develop under the circumstances of specific wars or famine or the other sorts of things that might effect an entire society.
You mentioned themes you wanted to explore. What are some of those themes?
Venia’s Travels is kind of a coming of age story which is sort of a standard thing in fantasy, but I wanted to explore themes of what good and evil mean. Venia in Latin means “forgiveness” and I wanted to create this tension for anyone who might know that and try to figure out whether I’m using the word ironically or not. I’ll go back and forth between that, or maybe settle on one or the other. In any case, forgiveness and the absence of forgiveness will be a central concept – and how people deal with receiving it or not receiving it, and whether they even deserve it or not.
The artwork is fairly adult in nature – there are graphic depictions of violence, there’s male and female nudity. What compelled you to take this approach?
I don’t think it’s quite as shocking to people in comic format as it would be in a film. That might be where I’m granted some material that a filmmaker might shy away from. Also, drawing the human body is nice. I think that’s why the classic superhero comics feature characters in tights that cling to every crevice. You just want to draw the muscles.
I also wanted to explore torture very much. It’s a part of our culture now because we’re aware that the government and people not entirely dissimilar to us have been torturing people. Pictures from Abu Ghraib aren’t any more extreme than what I’m showing. In fact, what I’m showing is probably more extreme. I think that when people see the pictures from Abu Ghraib they sense that what they’re seeing is only the tip of the iceberg and much worse things have gone down.
So you’re playing on contemporary themes as well.
I try to. When Katrina hit New Orleans, immediately I started writing that into Boschen and Nesuko. There’s a portion of the comic where suddenly the city they’re in loses power and there are riots. The characters were essentially the government of that city and I started writing about how they were reacting to the suffering of the people in the face of a natural disaster. It wasn’t a direct allegory but introduced new concepts – like natural disasters – into my mind. They were things I really had on my mind and I had to explore them.
Have there been any objections to the graphic content?
I could speculate that it has limited my audience, but I haven’t received any complaints about it in any way. The only time I’ve even came close to getting criticism was when I was at Comic Con and someone commented that I needed to have a “mature” label on my work.
We’re only five chapters into Venia’s Travels. What are your plans for the rest of her story?
I’m not keeping it definite. I’ll allow myself to change it at any time because I find I get better ideas as I go along.
There’s definitely going to be creatures and monsters and lots of action sequences – and even scenes during the day, which so far has not occurred. Everything has taken place at night.
I kind of established for myself a format in Boschen and Nesuko that fluctuates between action/adventure and character studies. I’m definitely going to continue in that vein for Venia’s Travels. Explorations of character are extremely important for me. I liked how it came off in Boschen and Nesuko, but I want to integrate it a little better this time around.