The last few weeks, I have had the unparalleled privilege of exchanging emails with Leia Weathington, the diva behind Bold Riley. Never heard of it? Better get on that.
1. What are some of your artistic influences?
In terms of comics and who I admire for storytelling and composition my holy trinity is Carla Speed McNeil, Mike Migniola and Ted Niafeh. But a lot of my personal style is inspired by the works of illustrators like 18th century Russian illustrator Ivan Bilibin.
2. That explains some of your artistic style! What are some of your literary influences?
Well, Brothers Grimm is a big one of course, as well as heroic epics such as Gilgamesh and Beowulf. Also Emma Donoghue’s Kissing the Witch, a collection of well known fairy tales told in first person by the protagonists and interwoven.
That about covers the influences for Bold Riley. In a broader sense my influences have been poets like Ted Hughes and William Butler Yeats and contemporary authors Angela Carter, David Sedaris, Clive Barker and Margaret Atwood.
3. What motivated you to tell this sort of feminist fairy tale?
Like many creators I started writing the kind of story I always wanted to see. Like most women I was raised with fairy tales and the complex feelings that go with them. Sure they focus primarily on female leads, but those leads tend to be passive objects. The women are what things happen TO not people who make things happen themselves.
What drew me to fairy tales as well was how many different versions of each one there are. Disney of course has been a huge factor in influencing and changing the perception of these stories. Angela Carter as well wrote either versions of classic tales or created her own using the tropes and language of fairy tales.
4. What mythologies do you prefer to work with?
All of them! There isn’t too much in the world of myth and folklore that bores me. Although I have to admit I’m a bit burned out on Greek and Roman mythologies. But, that maybe because I went to the Louvre and got lost in the halls filled with Greek pottery. Do you know how much of that shit they have? It’s a lot. I thought I was going to die in there and French authorities would discover me by the stench of my decomposing carcass.
So, don’t expect to see too much based off of the Greek myths.
5. What myths CAN we expect to see?
It’s not myths so much as cultures. Most of the landscapes and peoples are culled from a variety of sources. For example Bold Riley’s home nation of Prakkalore is a mix of Indian, Moroccan and Turkish aesthetics. The clothing her people wear tends to be more Indian and the architecture has Middle Eastern influences. In “Serpent in the Belly,” the land of Conchenn is a blend of Mesoamerican and Spanish influence.
I’m sort of an armchair anthropologist. I love studying other cultures past and present so a lot of the things I’ve read ends up in the scripts. Things like marriage practices, table etiquette, festivals have been soullessly bastardized for my own use. As much as some of the content may have been inspired by other sources I’m still writing about a wholly fictional world so any research I’ve done gets mixed up and redistributed so as to reflect that. If you want me to be completely honest there is a lot that gets made up as I go along.
I’d like The Legend of Bold Riley when complete to almost be a travelogue to the lands of the ancient world Bold Riley and the rest of the cast inhabit.
6. Will Bold Riley have a prequel?
A prequel? No, the books that are being worked on are pretty much the start of things. Though once all of the Bold Riley stories are finished there will be a tale that takes place in the modern day version of her world that follows a young archeologist trying to prove there was some truth to her legend.
7. In what ways will the archaeologist’s story parallel Bold Riley’s?
Ok, I can’t tell you too much about this one just yet because it’s so far in the future! But what I will say is that almost a thousand years after the events that take place in the Bold Riley books. The world of the Coin is of course a very different place. It’s been modernized and the figure of Bold Riley has been reduced to a folk hero status. People aren’t sure how much truth there is to the legends because like many of our stories the details differ depending on who’s doing the telling. This young archaeologist wants to prove that Bold Riley was in fact a real human being and not just a mythic figure and he follows many of the same routes she does in an effort to find her final resting place. Some of what he discovers may contradict some of the events in the actual Bold Riley legends. My goal with Bold Riley is to present to readers a comic book that would be read in the modern day world of the Coin. It’s one version of events — granted the most accepted version. In the present day the archeologist inhabits there have been Bold Riley movies, novels that retell the events from other characters’ points of view, stage plays…Things we see with our own ancient stories in our world. I want to present a narrative that show how storytelling as well as histories can be so subjective depending on who is doing the telling and how difficult it can be to mine truth from that.
8. Ohhhh. That sounds profoundly cool! Why is he so interested in Bold Riley’s history?
I can’t tell you yet! Don’t worry, it should be moving and involve a complex family history.
9. Can you say a little bit about sexuality in Bold Riley’s world?
I think when writing fantasy you can either address the real world realities of racism, sexism, homophobia etc. or you can ignore what goes on outside your door and write a world where those things don’t exist as much.
The world of Bold Riley is fairly egalitarian. True there are oppressed groups but in terms of homosexuality it’s not much of a big deal. It’s accepted as something that just happens. In some countries on the Coin it’s considered odd if you haven’t had at least ONE homosexual relationship.
Riley’s Prakkalore is very much into legislature and law. For example, say two men want to enter into a marriage contract. That is completely hunky dory, but one man takes the legal status of wife and one the status of husband. Same thing if it was two women. How children are to come about is dealt with in a separate contract. It’s a system not without its flaws but in the context of their culture it usually works out. This is actually based off of a practice in sub-Saharan Africa where if a man has only daughters he elects one to, in the eyes of the law, be his son.
The issue will come up from time to time but in Bold Riley the topic will not elicit the kind of blanket revulsion of same sex relationships do in our world. Disapproval comes more from shirking familial responsibility, which is a problem Riley’s future wife will have to contend with.
10. In what ways does Bold Riley skew conventional fairy tales?
Well, there is less passivity on the part of the female characters for one. I actually think the Bold Riley stories are a little less brutal than traditional tales. The characters are a bit more even handed in the way they problem solve.
11. Why are the stories scattered amongst different websites?
Because when I started all this I was a callow youth and didn’t know what the hell I was doing. The only website anyone should be going to is www.boldriley.com. Any others that are still floating around? Forget it. Didn’t happen. Lalalala.
www.boldriley.com is your starting point. All of the main stories will be posted there in black and white and then collected in full color trades once the content is complete. I do have to recommend getting the trades when they come out though. They’re going to be full of extra content and goodies.
12. What does networking look like for a webcomic artist/writer?
Many of the people I’m working with now are classmates of mine from art school. A handful of others are friends made during my Girlamatic.com days.
I’d have to say the best ways to network are going to the conventions, which gives you an opportunity for face time with other creators. Having an online presence is a huge help as well.
13. How did you get started?
I always wanted to be a writer so I really got my start writing short stories from a young age. But my passion for comics can be laid at the feet of Jeff Smith. His opus Bone was running in the magazine Disney Adventures at the time and I was obsessed. Then one day they stopped running it and I had to take my first ever trip to a comic shop to get the continuation.
My mom dropped me off at this dingy little shack somewhere in St. Louis. I walked in and surveyed these massive stacks of comics, and the awkward 20-something that pointed me to my purchase in monotone. He refused to make eye contact as he rang up my three issues of Bone and about a dozen issues of Ranma. For some reason I just remember thinking as read I Bone and ate my boiled hot dogs with the soda on the side: “My god. This is all I want from life. Yes. This is the dream.”
So I started drawing comics. Most of them furry comics but…But I don’t want to talk about those days.
14. What do you do when feeling burnt out?
I drink through it. (I’m supposed to be honest here right?)
15. Of course! Do you have a support network you go drinking with, or are you thinking more as in alone-time?
Haha! I have a really solid support group with my cohorts at Couscous Collective. Everyone gets burned out sometimes and my fellow creators have always been there for me. We get together as a big group a couple times a month and look over each other’s work, discuss new ideas and edit and critique one another work over drinks. It’s both relaxing and helpful. I’m blessed to work with people who are incredibly insightful. After an hour with them I usually remember why it is I love doing what I do and feel galvanized to get back to work.
16. What are the biggest/most important lessons you’ve learned in your career?
Be confident and self motivated. Set deadlines and tell everyone about them. That way when you miss one you are so ashamed you will do everything in your power to never miss another.
Don’t redo pages! This is a rule I apply to myself and the artists I work with. We all tend to be hard on ourselves with what we produce but nothing gets done if you spend all of your time redoing the same five pages. It’s painful, but just let it go! A page has to be seriously fucked before I redo it.
Try not to get wasted at con after-parties. You may ALMOST throw up on Carla Speed McNeil.
17. What are some of your favorite web-comics?
Gunnerkrig Court by Tom Sidell is always on my weekly check list. Sheanon Garrity’s Skin Horse brings endless joy to my soul. I’m also a fan of Evan Dhalm’s Rice Boy and Order of Tales, Spike’s Templar, AZ, Evil Diva and Girls With Slingshots. Jason Thompson’s The Stiff is also wonderful though unfortunately on hiatus.
18. What is the publishing process like?
Oh man. Maybe you should ask me again after the first book comes out! I’ve been looking into printers recently and trying to gauge what sort of funds I’ll need to obtain. That may be interesting considering Bold Riley will be full color. I have tentative plans for how to go about this venture but at this point I’m prepared to be flexible.
19. How definite/far ahead does your plotting go?
Far. I have the whole Bold Riley arc plotted to the very end. Certain stories are landmarks for character development and plot so some details may be subject to change but some things are set in stone.
20. Has Bold Riley’s evolution as a series/character ever surprised you?
Yes. When I started this story I was intending to do something very simple. A straightforward fairy tale with a hero beyond reproach. But as I wrote more and fleshed out Riley’s back story I found that the way many of the stories were coming together showed her flaws. Her recklessness, ego, and need for control. And in the course of writing the series characters emerged to balance these aspects of her personality.
The Legend of Bold Riley follows a character from the beginning of her life to the end of it and how her experiences change her. We all start out when we are young with a solid notion of how life is. As we grow older we meet people or see things that put cracks in our world view. That was what Riley became. Someone who is good but grounded in a sort of self righteous naiveté and throughout the course of her experiences and growing older finds that she doesn’t know everything.
That theme was something that surprised me a little. I started out wanting to write something simply entertaining but that evolved to reflect how life is both full of joy and goodness and at the same time tragedy and helplessness. Riley will experience all of this and it shapes her in ways that are both obvious and unexpected.