Over the course of twenty-five plus issues and a number of one-shots and specials, Richard Starkings' Elephantmen series has developed into an eye-opening futuristic tale of humans like you and I interacting with animal/human hybrids such as the titular “Elephantmen”. Starkings, along with a number of other writers and artists, have fleshed out a harrowing world of science gone wrong and dealing with everything left behind.
In the upcoming one-shot Elephantmen, War Toys: Agathe, frequent series artist Marian Churchland turns to writing the story of one of the lead characters from the recent “War Toys” story arc as she takes refuge in a small Norwegian town after her injuries in that arc. Although this is Churchland’s first spin at writing Elephantmen, her 2009 OGN Beast showed her prowess both on the writing and illustrating front. Now with a Russ Manning Award in hand, Churchland is taking on writing this one-shot while also illustrating an upcoming issue of Vertigo’s Madame Xanadu.
Newsarama: Marian, What can you tell us about this one-shot focusing on Yvette from Elephantmen and the recent “War Toys” arc?
Marian Churchland: The issue actually focuses very little on Yvette herself, but rather on her rescuers, a family living in the Norwegian countryside who are working through their own losses. It has a very European old-world-war feel - or it does in my head, at least, and I hope some of that is conveyed in the work. I'm imagining everyone dressed like the cast of Upstairs Downstairs, or A Very Long Engagement, though that might be going a bit too far.
Nrama: What are your thoughts on the Yvette character?
Churchland: I don't want to get too authoritative about her. I do have a very specific idea of what she's like for my own purposes - a very emotionally closed-off person, and resistant to what you'd think of as the standard character development arc. She works perfectly as someone to build a story around, rather than about.
Nrama: Can you tell us more about the family who take Yvette in and the story that develops?
Churchland: The family is rather isolated, out in the Norwegian countryside - the war hasn't quite reached their location, but pins them in place pretty thoroughly. The husband and older brother enlisted some time ago, leaving the mother, her daughter, and her younger two sons to shift for themselves. Yvette's arrival interrupts their status quo. She takes on a kind of ghost role, filling the shoes of the missing men.
Nrama: I see the story is subtitled 'Agathe'; is that one of the characters?
Churchland: Agathe is the young teenage girl (as seen on the cover of the issue). She's about thirteen or fourteen, and thirsty for exciting things to fixate on. Yvette, of course, is an irresistible object for that sort of obsessive teenage attention.
Nrama: You worked on the main Elephantmen series for several issues some time back. What led you to come back to the series to write this one-shot?
Churchland: A while back I drew Yvette for the flip-cover of one of Moritat's issues. I got really into her design - the old European military details, and so on. A little too into it, really, and my enthusiasm must have been evident because Richard Starkings wrote me a sly email one day, "you know, if you want to draw a Yvette issue, just say so". I didn't feel like I had time to sign myself up for another issue, but I mulled the notion around a bit and began to have ideas about this isolated teenage girl pining over a (much older) young man, and things went on from there.
Nrama: What do you think of the success of Elephantmen? I remember when Richard first introduced Hip Flask as an ad for his lettering and didn’t think it’d have much life as a series, but I’m continually blown away by the universe.Churchland: The world of Elephantmen has resonance, I think, because though it's a picture of the future, it is completely fixated with its past, and frequently casts its stories backwards. Even as the plot progresses, it remains constantly nostalgic of its own guilty history. As an artist, there's a lot of visual stretch there - a kind of cross-timeline fluency that allows that mingling of futuristic and film noir and world war era and roaring 20's and what-all-else, that wouldn't fit together nearly so neatly if it inhabited a more linear sci-fi setting.
Nrama: Although you’ve illustrated this series in the past, for this one you’re writing it and having regular series artist Moritat pencil it. That seems like an interesting combination - how did the idea come about?
Churchland: Initially I'd planned to illustrate the story myself, but I'd taken on way too much work for the summer and I had to wheedle poor, long-suffering Justin into taking over for me. He'll get his revenge somehow.
Nrama: Is this your first time writing a script for someone else to draw? As an artist-and-writer, can you tell us about that process? And does it help that you know Moritat personally?
Churchland: Actually, I wrote the script thinking that I'd be drawing it myself, so I had no self-consciousness about it. That's how I work in any case, writing finished scripts as a first step, so it was an easy switch - though of course knowing Moritat helps, just in terms of my excitement. On the other hand, I can't help imagining him rolling his eyes as he reads every line. He's probably sending text messages to all our mutual friends about how bad it is. See, there's no winning.
Nrama: It looks like October is going to be a big month for you. This one-shot is also coming out, and that same month Madame Xanadu #28 is coming out with guest art by you. What's that like for you?
Churchland: Well it's awesome, of course. Because I don't draw monthly comics on a regular basis, it feels like an extra treat when the date rolls around, and I see the printed version of an issue I worked on. More and more, though, all of my attention is tunneled into wanting to get back to my own longer projects, so I'm actually looking forward to things being less exciting for a while.Nrama: Around this time last year you were finishing up your first long-form comic - Beast, also from Image. Do you have plans to do more of your creator-owned work?
Churchland: I'm starting on my next book in September. I didn't plan for this last year to be so full of comics work and its attendant distractions. It has turned out really well for me, but it's also time for me to get back to where I belong, which is deep in my own projects. This next one is set in a surreal, fantasy-ish world, so I'm looking forward to getting really nerdy about it, drawing maps, and taking long walks in the woods, and all that.
Chris Arrant (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a contributing writer to Newsarama.com.