10 Questions with Marian Churchland

One of my favorite graphic novels to come out in the last decade is Beast by Marian Churchland, so I’m honored to announce that she is our next Comics Brewmaster!

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I fell in love with her natural, delicate line work in Beast, as well as the way she taps into the emotional/psychological state of her characters. After Beast(2009), I found more of Churchland’s work in Richard Starkings’ excellent Elephantmen series, an issue of Madame Xanadu, and Northlanders, just to name a few.

The best place to check out the latest Marian Churchland art has been on her blog, where you will find well thought out responses to fans’ questions, sketches of peculiar goblin-folk, and the occasional pastry rendering.

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Things have been a bit quiet on the comics front of late, but that’s about to change! Her new series, From Under Mountains, with friends Claire Gibson & Sloane Leong is coming out soon from Image Comics in 2015, and she’ll be collaborating with fellow artist/husband Brandon Graham on various projects, including the star-studded Island anthology.

I sat down with Marian(virtually), and enjoyed a lively round of “10 Questions” with her. Enjoy the ride!

1. Elven wine or goblin hooch?

I’m pretty sure that goblin hooch is going to taste like burning shoe water, with lethal asphyxiation as a possible side effect, so I’ll take the elven wine.

2. Do you ever drink and draw? If not, are there any other vices you partake in while making art??

No, I can’t work unless I’m perfectly sober. I also refuse to acknowledge that any of my (so-called) vices are actually bad. The ability to eat an entire cake at once, and play videogames for sixteen hours straight? Charming personality quirk.

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3. You’re working with 2 other creators, Claire Gibson & Sloane Leong, on your new fantasy series From Under Mountains. First of all, how did you three meet, and how do the three of you divvy up the writing part & art part of this comic? Do you get together in person to work on the project, or are you all working away in your respective “caves”?

Claire and I have been friends since high school, and Brandon introduced us to Sloane last year.

I came up with the basic story and layout of the world, then I lured Claire in and we shaped it up into something much better. To give credit where it’s due, she’s been doing the lion’s share of the script writing.

Sloane lives down near Portland, so we’ve only been able to hang out a couple times. We send her scripts – very loose scripts, as far as page and panel directions go – and she’s particularly amazing with layouts, and a writer herself, so she can roll with that.

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4. What was the last good movie you’ve seen?

I sincerely can’t recall. The last movie I remember watching was on my hair stylist’s recommendation (it had Tilda Swinton in it?). To give you some idea, the last time I had a (professional) haircut was over three years ago. That sounds pretty absurd, and it makes for a poor response, but there you go.

So, after I harassed Marian with a barrage of Tilda Swinton options, she responded with…

The Tilda Swinton movie must have been We Need To Talk About Kevin. I probably just should have looked that up myself, but I guess my real answer was to point out that I don’t often seek out movies. Like, I’ll actually feel mild annoyance at the prospect of having to sit down and watch one (though of course I always end up enjoying them and then resolving to watch more, but the impression never sticks).

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5. Your art blog describes some of your other interests like food, precious stones, and video games. I saw that you had some really cool wood carved daggers for sale, with some original art. Was that self-taught, or did you take classes to learn to do stuff like that? Do you make other hand-crafted items, and can you share one of your favorite recipes with us?

I grew up with access to giant power tools (early acclimatization always helps), and three generations worth of woodworking accessories, so I was lucky not to need any classes. On a larger scale, I’ve helped my dad make a few tables and bookshelves, and other odd projects. It’s satisfying stuff.

As far as food recipes go, however, I’m really no good. I don’t claim any particular or comical incompetence, but I am very lazy. I want to skip the effort and get straight to the part where I eat.

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6. Since you’re a gamer, can you share with us what you’re currently playing, and what, if any, game you’re looking forward to? Also, do you have a game that you regret investing your playing time in the most?

Oh yes, right now I’m playing Dragon Age: Inquisition. I always sink a lot of time into any Bioware or Bethesda game; and never to my regret, because if I’m spending hundreds of hours with anything – game or book or project – I’m doing so because it’s deeply satisfying; it’s yielding some kind of creative outgrowth.

That’s true of games I play now, at least. My motivations were different as a teenager, when I really needed to be able to tell people that I beat the end boss on the highest difficulty setting using only the combat knife. Nobody cared, Marian! Not one person cared!

As far as games I’m looking forward to in the nearish future, I’ll be checking out Pillars of Eternity.

Do you ever play MMORPG’s(massively multiplayer online role-playing games) like World of Warcraft or The Elder Scrolls Online?

Ooh yes, Elder Scrolls Online. The problem is, I like MMORPG style games just a little too much. I think I was twenty one, when I sank an entire year into the punishing hellscape that was early FFXI. And when I say “entire year”, I really mean every day from waking until sleeping – all or nothing. So you see, I actually can’t be trusted with those games, and I mustn’t go near them. I certainly thought about it, though – I play on the PC, so I could have bought it at release.

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7. Describe your worst dating experience.

I don’t exactly have a broad pool to draw from, here. Possibly because my ideal date involves somebody bringing me food, and then leaving me alone.

Almost every date I’ve ever been on was an accident, anyway. Meaning that I didn’t realize it was a date at all, until a week later when I received an email asking me (with various degrees of bluntness) why I was so frigid and uncaring (that’s an exaggeration, of course – only one person ever really asked me that outright). So I can’t really claim that I have a worst one. Possibly I wouldn’t have known.

8. So, From Under Mountains is part of the 8House universe, and I read that it takes place further back in time than some of the other 8House stories. Specifically, how are you tying some of your characters into those other stories, and has Brandon Graham been easy to work with, or has he become a Stan Lee-style megalomaniac through this whole process?

I’m working with Brandon on a short series called “Arclight”, as part of the 8-house line. We work fine together – at this point we both know our own (and each other’s) boundaries pretty well. And Brandon’s megalomania has no purchase with me, much to his dismay. The only downside, working together, is that we can find all sorts of reasons to evade our deadlines. It’s much easier to hold yourself accountable to somebody you don’t know very well; you still have a reputation to pretend to maintain.

As far as tying characters together between books, I think most of the artists aren’t worrying too much about that – just working on their own thing. Looser tie-ins and more creative freedom seemed like a good call.

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9. I see that there’s a Vancouver tab on your website, where you share some of your favorite restaurants, bakeries, and gemstone galleries. Did you grow up in Vancouver, or someplace else? What was your childhood like?

I grew up in Vancouver, yes. I was really fortunate, because my family has land on one of the nearby islands, from back in the 30’s when it was an abandoned logging area. I had access to the ocean, and great swathes of forest; cliffs to climb, etc. So no wonder fantasy is my thing.

10. Do we have an official release date for From Under Mountains #1 yet? Will you be doing any special variant covers, and signings for it? Further down the line in 2015, I see that you have a special illustration spread in the first issue of Island, Brandon Graham’s ambitious anthology project. Will you continue to be involved in future issues of Island, and is there anything else we should look forward to from you in 2015?

No official date yet, for From Under Mountains, but summer is looking likely – a few months after the Arclight release. There will probably be variant covers – such is the way of things – and I’m not sure about signings, at this point, but possibly some of those as well.

So yes, it looks like I’ll be doing that spread for Island, and Arclight #1 comes out in (I think) April. Busy year.

Thank you, Marian, for being such a good sport!

*Pictures of Marian Churchland, and her artwork borrowed from the intranets. Thx!