Arclight’s Marian Churchland Talks Fantasy Tropes, Androgynous Fashion & Kicking Off The 8house Anthology

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8house is a lot of things that an American comic book isn’t supposed to be: a fantasy anthology with a rotating creative team, illustrated by a mix of established and new talents, with stories that refuse to hold the reader’s hand. Its first story arc, writer Brandon Graham and writer/artist Marian Churchland’s Arclight, reveals more in its solicitation text—the journey of a royal lady attempting to reclaim her body from a foreign menace—than it does on initial reading. One gets the sense that 8house isn’t meant to be easy.

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Readers of Brandon Graham and friends’ Prophet will likely feel right at home (for a crude comparison, think of 8house as the Elder Scrolls to Prophet’s Fallout), although the ultimate structure and scale of 8house is still largely unknown.

In advance of Arclight’s debut next week, Paste spoke with artist and co-creator Marian Churchland (Beast) to discuss her almost completely non-digital artistic process, avoiding common fantasy flaws and kicking off a brand-new shared universe.
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Paste: Fantasy as a genre is frequently criticized for homogenous (mostly white, mostly cis) bodies and repetitive visual themes—the Medieval Europe school of design. Arclight doesn’t look like that. What were some of your visual inspirations for the series and how conscious are you of avoiding tropes?
Marian Churchland: Yes, that’s a really irksome thing about fantasy—made even worse by the way people defend it. And in the end, our fantasies say more about the present day than they do about Medieval Europe (which is frequently misrepresented as all-white, always violent, etc.) or any other point in history. So of course I want to steer clear of that nonsense, but as much as I’m conscious of avoiding tropes, I’m also conscious that Brandon and I are a couple of white people (and the title character of Arclight is a thin, pale person). Our avoiding tropes isn’t enough. If the powerful people in comics and other media actually care about diversity in fantasy and sci-fi—as a real thing, and not just a meaningless buzz-word—then they need to be hiring a more diverse range of creators.

Paste: The solicit promises genderqueer knights and you’ve delivered with a largely androgynous cast. What inspired this decision and how important is this kind of representation to your work?
Churchland: Well androgyny in various forms is just my personal aesthetic. I think Arclight is that, filtered through Brandon’s brain, and then reconstituted back into what you see before you.

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8House: Arclight #1 Art by Marian Churchland

Paste: What is your art process these days? Are you fully digital?
Churchland: No, in fact almost the opposite. Arclight was drawn with pencils and markers, and anything I add in Photoshop usually doesn’t go beyond a few flat layers of color.

Paste: Many of today’s artists have switched to digital work for speed, efficiency and the easy opportunity to fix mistakes. What keeps you working with physical materials?
Churchland: Oh, nothing high-minded. It really just comes down to what feels most comfortable and expressive for me (and I think for most people). I don’t worry too much about speed or efficiency outside of immediate deadlines—I think good work demands time, no matter the medium—and there’s something to be said for having no choice but to work with (or live with) your mistakes.

Paste: How long does the average page take you, from start to finish?
Churchland: Just sitting down and putting lines on paper, I’d say four to eight hours or so. But of course there’s a lot more to it than the mechanical output. For me, a good pace is two days per page, and that’s if I’ve already done some planning ahead of time.

Strict schedules never work for me. When I have deadlines on the horizon, I figure out how much work I have to do every day on average (one page, half a page, etc.) and then I make sure I accomplish that before I let myself do anything too distracting (or before I let myself sleep, if it comes to that).

Paste: Can you talk a little bit about the color palette for the book? I was struck by the way it mixed the bold red of the goose/salamander with backgrounds that felt almost pastel, lending the whole story a very otherworldly vibe.
Churchland: I like working with desaturated palettes. That way bright shots of color can be used to really specific effect. But lately I’ve been admiring artists who use a lot of bright color, so I’m also seeing if I can work in more of that.

In particular I’m thinking of Sloane Leong, the artist on From Under Mountains (another 8house book, coming out in September). I’ve been working with her this past year, and I really like her style of coloring.

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8House: Arclight #1 Art by Marian Churchland

Paste: Near the end of the first issue, (characters) Arclight, Jagoda and Nowak are clad in these gorgeous, ethereal, translucent outfits that I could easily imagine walking down a haute couture runway. As an artist and designer, do you keep your eye on the fashion world for inspiration? Are you maintaining a “vision board” of any sort for this series?
Churchland: I do have an interest in fashion, and in clothing and design (though my own style is pretty pared down and doesn’t reflect it much). But I think the designs in Arclight take more inspiration from early ‘90s Yoshitaka Amano than the current fashion world. I’m not the sort of person to keep a vision board for any subject—my disorganization runs through everything—though I do occasionally (and with the best intentions) save images to reference folders, where they lie forgotten until I’ve passed onto a new project.

Paste: One assumes that your collaboration with Brandon Graham [the two are also married] isn’t the typical writer/artist relationship. What has it been like working together on Arclight? Is he contributing designs? Are you writing dialogue?
Churchland: Yes, the usual polite boundaries don’t apply, so we can impose our own preferences to a much larger extent. But it’s pretty normal for Brandon to be part of the design process in any of his projects, and I often go over his scripts for him and suggest changes (only with more personal interest in this case). The real difference is probably just that we can whine to each other more openly, and be more blunt in our evasion of deadlines. (I’m just kidding about the last one, of course. Deadlines are sacred.)

Paste: 8house is unlike anything else in the North American market. Can you speak to the genesis of the series and when you became involved?

[Churchland turned this question over to Brandon Graham]

Brandon Graham: It initially started as an idea for a Top Cow relaunch in the same way me and my collaborators (Simon Roy, Giannis Milonogiannis, Farel Dalrymple, Joseph Bergin III, etc.) did Prophet and Joe Keatinge and Sophie Campbell did Glory.

I was going to do Pitt and Marian was talking about taking on Witchblade, but that ended up not happening and little remained in 8house from that past the idea of how we might structure the books, with multiple series by different teams all loosely set in the same world. I think with the freedom Image is giving us, it’s cool to rethink how a monthly series might work.

I remember [Churchland] getting involved because she’d been recently working in video games and was seeing all the fun and freedom I was having working on comics.

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8House: Arclight #1 Art by Marian Churchland

Paste: Arclight is the beginning of a shared fantasy universe. What does it mean to you to create in a larger sandbox, and to kick it all off? How much have you and Brandon discussed the rest of this world and its rules?
Churchland: As far as sharing the sandbox with other creators, I think the rules remain pretty loose. People can largely do what they like. Arclight-wise, it’s been an interesting process because Brandon and I take different approaches to these things, use different logic, etc. So the conversations where we’re trying to figure out the rules of the world can get pretty tangled.

Paste: Arclight is just the first two issues of 8house. Do you plan to return to this story thread, or to illustrate other tales in this universe?
Churchland: These are the first two issues of four (and we’ll release the second two later this year). We have no specific plans after that, but it’s possible we could return to these characters.

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