What if a magical world existed on Earth but we didn’t know it? And what if those magical beings we unknowingly share space with aren’t happy sharing anymore? That’s the story in the upcoming graphic novel from Image, Valentine, Vol. 1: The Ice Death.
Originally published online by writer Alex de Campi and artist Christine Larsen, the rollicking color series starts off in the colds of Russia during Napoleon’s doomed march on the Russian capital. The book’s titular hero Valentine is one of a handful of survivors of the French army, and he’s given a mysterious package and tasked to walk it back home. Between him and his goal is the Russian army, the cold, and some supernatural monsters. Along the way Valentine is pulled into a decades-old struggle between the natural and the supernatural that puts him and his mysterious package at the center of it.Valentine pg. 34 After essentially self-publishing Valentine online through various digital outlets and racking up 350,000 downloads worldwide, de Campi is bringing her “cliffhangerrific supernatural thriller” to the creator-owned print bastion of Image in the first of what the creators hope to be a two-volume series. In addition to the story some people read digitally, also included is a 42-page bonus story showing a younger Valentine in action called “Fanchon.” For more on the history, the fantasy and the twists of Valentine, we spoke with de Campi. pg. 35 Newsarama: Alex, back when I originally talked to you in 2010, the you positioned the Valentine story released as a historical novel. But as you got into the story, you took a sharp right turn and down a supernatural and otherworldly path. Now that the comic is complete and coming to print later this year, how would you describe the book as a whole?
Alex de Campi: Well, first of all, it's not complete. We only finished the first 10 episodes before I lost my job and couldn't afford to continue to produce Valentine... there are about 14 more episodes to go! To me, the best of the series is yet to come. The last third of the book is just, well, more thrills than should be legal.pg. 36 And second, I never really advertised it as a historical novel... I always said "supernatural thriller" as those twists you mention were always there in the plan from Day One. It's hard, though, to summarize a book like Valentine which has so many cliffhangers and thrills without giving massive spoilers! So when people looked at the first episode and went, "oh, it's a historical series" I had a hard time biting my tongue and not spoiling the series! pg. 37 Anyway, the series is basically a roaring adventure tale of a young man, a mysterious sword, our world then and now, and a couple other worlds too. It only *starts* in 1812. There's pretty much a fight and two cliffhangers every chapter. The series has certainly got a great reception online (350,000 downloads and counting), and we're hoping that will power enough sales of the book that we can finish the entire story!
There's so much further I always wanted to go with Valentine, in terms of digital comics.... and hopefully between this trade and a forthcoming Kickstarter, we can cross some things off my wish list. Although we love our distributors, we also want to have our own web version out there, and I'm working with a good friend on a really cool responsive-design version of Valentine that will just be web browser, but will check what size screen and what language you read in, and deliver up the comic at the correct resolution and language automatically.pg. 38 Nrama: Valentine’s seems to be a real noble kind of hero for this book, but this story really puts him through his paces. Can you outline for us who Valentine is and what this adventure does to him?
de Campi: Yeah, man, I'm really mean to Valentine. He goes through such hell... even just in the first two episodes! Valentine is a young, idealistic cavalry officer who finds himself caught up in one of the worst military and humanitarian disasters in history -- Napoleon's retreat from Russia in the winter of 1812, where about 450,000 troops, 90% of his army, died. [Protip: never start a land war in Russia.] Valentine himself is going to die. He's starting to succumb to the cold and hallucinate... and then he and his best friend stumble upon a French general, also dying, and things get really weird from there.pg. 39 Valentine is fundamentally a really good person, but very naive, and has always believed what he has been told by authority figures. As is common with the times, he is very pious and somewhat superstitious. But he's also young, so makes some hotheaded decisions and, especially in one case, doesn't listen when a woman tries to give him some very important information. Over the course of the series, we basically rip up everything Valentine believes in: the fundamental justice of the French army; authority in general; religion; myth/legend... and Valentine is forced to make some very, very big decisions about whether he continues to try to be a good person when everyone around him is basically acting like venal scumbags and seeming to flourish. pg. 40 Nrama: Who or what is out to stop Valentine from leaving this whole war behind and leading a more peaceful life?
de Campi: There are a couple factors. The first is that he and the item that opens the gates to other worlds become bonded, so the key doesn't work without the man holding it. Which means, he could throw it in the ocean and hop a ship to Australia and give it all up... and still be pursued until the end of time by everything awful out of human nightmare and dream, bearing the key they fished out of the ocean. Because, frankly, they're both pretty awful -- not human, in any way.pg. 41 The second is, of course, a girl. She saves his life then disappears. And he is naturally concerned that her disappearance is against her will. The process of his escaping the retreat from Moscow also puts him at odds with the army that, until now, he has been laying down his life for... if he goes back to them, he has been branded a deserter and will be hung. So, our lad's kinda low on options. And then, of course, by the end of this book he literally cannot go back to his old life because it doesn't exist any more. You'll have to read the book to find out why.
Nrama: What can you tell us about this supernatural world that Valentine finds that shares space with our own?
de Campi: Well, all Western cultures share a certain bedrock of mythology and superstition: dragons, undead, fairies, magic.... Books from The Hero's Journey through to The Golden Bough have posited explanations of why this is so, but in Valentine we posit a much simpler explanation: because it's all true. Back in the day, folks believed in magic because magic existed. The world was a bit softer then, not as finished and hard-formed as it is now. And its borders were blurred... with two other worlds, where magic rather than science held primacy. One world, the Dawn Country, had all the "nice" creatures of legend: the unicorns, the fairies, the dragons. The other world, that of the Tenebrae, had all the "nasty" stuff: undead, vampires, demons, serpent-creatures, et cetera.pg. 42 But don't pick up Valentine expecting a re-tread of the Fae mythos or anything. While humans may have thought up categories, hierarchies and explanations for the creatures they observed, the creatures themselves are far less wedded to form than we think. In fact that was one of the most fun parts of writing the scenes in the Dawn Country -- taking those fantasy tropes and just upending them; thinking what creatures who had total magical control over everything would really be like.
Nrama: How do you think serializing this online and distributing it in different languages across the globe has set the stage for this print edition?
de Campi: Well, we've had 350,000 downloads around the world. Via comiXology (the only of my distributors to provide breakdowns, and responsible for about 3/4 of our downloads) we do about 10,000 downloads per episode in English; 13,000 in Spanish, 6,000 in French... So there is a huge fanbase out there if I can reach it. It's been over a year since the last episode of Valentine (Episode 10) so the gap is long... and it is really only just little me trying to reach out, but I have hope. In my wildest dreams, some backer comes along who is interested in reaching/advertising to a huge worldwide genre audience via free content, and pays us all to do this. In reality: Kickstarter.
Nrama: It addition to the first half of the Valentine story, you also have an additional story that you never published online called “Fanchon.” What is that about, and how does it factor into the main story?
de Campi: “Fanchon” takes its name after an old French drinking song of the Napoleonic era. Although the main story only begins in the Napoleonic era, that time is tremendously fun to write about... as is Valentine's best friend, his fellow officer Oscar Levy. Oscar has a rapier wit and a way with the ladies, but also has a few problems that he keeps pretty quiet. So I thought I'd do a Young Valentine adventure, about Valentine's enlistment in the French army, and when he first met Oscar. Although all of Valentine is pretty kid-friendly (bar some interjectory swearing and a little non-human gore), the bonus story is pretty definitely all ages.pg. 43 It was also a great opportunity to work with the Tasmanian artist Cassandra James, who is an absolute delight and has done some of her best work yet on “Fanchon.”. I'm hoping she'll come on board to do a few episodes of the main Valentine story! Christine Larsen is of course coming back to do more, if we're funded (her art is such a big part of the series' identity), but Valentine is pretty demanding and she's said she'd love to have someone to swap off with occasionally.
Nrama: In this story you’re mixing straight historical facts with supernatural fantasy. For one part there’s a lot of research involved, but in the other you get to be more free-wheeling. What was that like mixing those two?
de Campi: It was easy. I have read more military history than probably 95% of the women in America, thanks to one ex boyfriend and one ex husband who were both avid fans of British military history. And the Napoleonic era is just badass. Huge, outsize personalities -- frat boys on horseback, in some cases wildly exciting battles; huge geographic reach (Egypt! Moscow! Spain!); bitchiness; infighting; emperors behaving badly.... really, if you seriously engage with this stuff in more than a "Battle of Trafalgar, 1805" kind of way, you'd be amazed at how exciting it is. And all of these people wrote letters constantly, and seemingly just cracked jokes the entire time. Oh, and the uniforms are pretty hot, too. Every regiment had their own and the officers fussed over their appearance more than a Jersey girl on her way to a MTV Reality casting.I'd totally do some more properly historically-based stuff. There's been a tickle at the back of my mind to do a medieval series for some time now. I may succumb, soon.
Nrama: When this book edition comes out in September 5, will this supplant the previous original serialized edition online ?
de Campi: Not at all. They are totally different formats. The serialized Valentine is one landscape-format panel per phone screen -- it's an awesome iPhone or Android read!. The book was totally re-laid out, taking those panels and arranging them into portrait-format pages. Although I intend to upload a new, retina-display version of the series with a few tweaked/corrected panels, the book will not replace the series or vice versa. They are different ways to read the same story; you pick whichever way you like better to read.
Though I hope people who really loved the free online version will consider buying the book, as that will help us make more free online episodes!FACEBOOK and TWITTER!