On May 5th, comic shops around the country introduced Sarah Ellerton's artwork to readers in the Free Comic Book Day issue Finding Gossamyr (see the full issue here).
While the comic, which begins as a bi-monthly in July, features a whimsical story about a boy who finds a magical world, the free debut issue was striking because of Ellerton's unique digital paintings.
But the issue, which many critics hailed as a surprise hit for the FCBD event, isn't the first success for Ellerton. Because of the her immensely popular webcomics like Inverloch and Phoenix Requiem, she's already won a loyal fan following – and multiple awards for her art.
Of course this time around, Ellerton is letting someone else do the writing. On Finding Gossamyr, she's working with another creator from the webcomics community, David Rodriguez, who created the comic Shadowgirls. The two are publishing Gossamyr through Th3rd World Studios, the company that launched the New York Times best-selling comic, The Stuff of Legend.
The story of Finding Gossamyr is described by the publisher as "A Beautiful Mind meets The Chronicles of Narnia." It follows the story of a boy named Denny who has a genius ability to solve math problems. When he solves a mysterious theorem, he and his older sister, Jenna, end up visiting a world called Gossamyr, where math is the language of magic.
The combination of math and magic have given Gossamyr a unique charm that Th3rd World is hoping readers find compelling.
Newsarama talked with Ellerton to find out more about her attraction to Gossamyr, her art and what she thinks about making the switch from webcomics to print.
Newsarama: Coming from a popular webcomic, what was behind your decision to try out a story that's primarily designed for print? And how has it been making that switch?
Sarah Ellerton: I didn't actually set out with that intention. I'd previously illustrated Dreamless for Bobby Crosby, and found that I really enjoyed the experience of working with a good writer. It was happenstance that the project that caught my eye was one that was being crafted for a printed, serialized format. I didn't feel tied to webcomics, and my convention experience showed me that print was an almost completely separate fandom, with many people oblivious that webcomics of quality even existed. I guess part of me wanted to dip my toes into that other world, to find a new audience for my art.
It's been an interesting experience. On the one hand, the deadlines feel a little more flexible – I'm not tied into a set frequent update schedule, so I can afford to slack off every now and again, provided I still meet the completion date for the entire issue. On the other, I really miss the instant feedback that comes with a webcomic. There's something incredibly valuable about having hundreds of people complementing and criticizing every page you put out on a weekly basis. Seeing people enjoying your work is fantastic motivation to continue; for a printed comic, I can't see the feedback until the entire chapter is complete and on the shelves.Nrama: What attracted you to this project in particular? Ellerton: I found the "maths as magic" premise fascinating — the idea that proving complex equations and theorems, that represented the way things like fire and gravity worked, would cause them to materialize in the real world. It's also a true all-ages story, with appeal for both children and adults, and I think there needs to be more of those. Nrama: How would you describe your overall style?
Ellerton: I've been heavily influenced by the colors and styles of Pixar and Disney. I have a huge folder of storyboards and concept art which I flick through when I'm looking for ideas. I've always been much more inspired by movies and animation than comics, and Pixar does animation better than anyone, with an enviable color palette and imagination.Nrama: What artistic tools do you use to create the art we've seen previewed for Gossamyr?
Ellerton: I've been working entirely digitally with Gossamyr, with the exception of a couple of special pages. My toolbox is just Adobe Photoshop and an old Wacom Intuos.
Nrama: What's the artistic approach you're taking to the world that David has imagined for Gossamyr? Is it youthful and whimsical? Or are there dark elements?
Ellerton: I'm approaching this story with the knowledge that it needs to be appropriate for the younger crowd, which means keeping it a little cartoony, with bright colors and exaggeration, and staying away from being too grim and dark. That's not to say it doesn't get really scary, of course! But there are ways to present frightening moments and violent battles without getting too dirty and bloody.Nrama: From the Free Comic Book Day issue, looks like your color palette really changes between the "real world" and the "fantasy world." How did you change your approach to each?
Ellerton: For the real world, my reference material for lighting and colors were all photographs of actual locations and interiors. That tends to keep things a little more muted and grounded in reality.
Gossamyr, however, is a lot more fantastical, with brighter saturated colors and unusual lighting sources – there isn't a proper sun in Gossamyr, for instance – which lets me experiment more with my colors and contrast.Nrama: What can you tell us about Jenna and how you're portraying her?
Ellerton: I see Jenna as a young woman who loves her brother more than anything, but she's out of her depth in trying to care for him. She's made a lot of sacrifices, and is frequently frustrated about her situation. She's never really sure if what she's doing is the right thing, but her heart is in the right place despite her mistakes.
Nrama: What about Denny?
Ellerton: Denny is quiet and reserved. He doesn't say much, shows little expression except when throwing tantrums, and rarely looks people in the eye, so much of his character and emotion needs to come from his body language and pose. He's quite fixated on the comfort of his days being carefully scheduled, so ending up in Gossamyr really turns his life upside down.
Nrama: What other characters have you created, and how would you describe them?
Ellerton: In the second issue, we'll be introduced to Eloric and Barnabus, the two other characters seen on the Free Comic Book Day cover. Eloric's design is part cowboy, part Jedi; he's a bit of a rogue with an an oversized ego. Barnabus is a kind of hairy Chinese dragon crossed with a horse, a beast of burden who can still be quick and agile. They're a great pair, with Denny especially being quite fascinated with Barnabus.
Nrama: How has it been working with David and the folks at Th3rd World on the comic?
Ellerton: It's been fantastic. Th3rd World are very enthusiastic about the comic, and are really putting their all into making it a success. David is great to work with, and I feel comfortable with making my own suggestions for the script and story and knowing I'll be listened to. In that way, it really feels like a collaboration, which keeps me excited and invested in the project.Also, compared to webcomics and self-publishing... sometimes it's nice just to be able to sit back and let other people handle all the promotion and prep work for you!
Nrama: Is there anything else you want to tell fans about what they'll see in Finding Gossamyr?
Ellerton: I love writing my own stories, so it takes something very special for me to put my writing pen aside and keep my grip firmly on my paintbrush. The first full story arc of Gossamyr has made me cry, fret, and laugh. There is so much crammed into each issue – wonderful characters, amazing locations, adventure, danger, and hope. It's been an absolute honor to be the one bringing this fantastic story to life, and I can only I hope that everyone enjoys Finding Gossamyr as much as I have enjoyed both reading and illustrating it.