layla: grass at sunset (Default)
Layla ([personal profile] layla) wrote2012-03-13 01:47 pm

Raven's Children - introduction and background

Continuing onwards with my introductory posts to my creative projects:

Raven's Children is a series of copied-and-stapled minicomics that I produced and sold from 2000-2003 (plus a final, online-only chapter in 2005 to complete the story arc). I collected them into two graphic novels, "Shadow of the Snow Fox" and "Dogs of War". Both are now out of print, although by "out of print" I actually mean, "In fact, I still have several boxes of them, but I think selling them would do my career more harm than good at this point."

Raven's Children was the result of me realizing that I could spend my whole life fantasizing about making comics, or I could just get out there and do it. So I got out there and did it. It's a massively ambitious, massively flawed project. The amount of improvement in my ability to visually tell a story, from Issue #1 to Issue #13 (the last one) is absolutely staggering. But the story also went completely off the rails in the process. There is a lot about RC that I'm proud of, and a lot that I'm embarrassed about now, and a few things that I'm ashamed of.

Starting in (probably) April 2012, I'm going to begin serializing the old RC pages, with commentary: what I think worked, what I think didn't work, and all the things I've learned in the 12 years since I started it. It'll be a good opportunity to talk about writing and the creative process, as well as to do something useful with my huge backlog of RC pages (about 300 of them, not to mention vast quantities of sketches, promo art, covers, parodies and so forth).

Raven's Children began as one of a number of different, but similar, comics and novels that I conceived in the years between 1987 and 1992. I was in my early teens, and like a lot of fantasy- and comic-loving girls in the 1980s, I'd been utterly captivated with Wendy and Richard Pini's Elfquest. Though I was also captivated and influenced by superhero comics, and by the bits and bobs of heavily edited anime that had trickled to the American TV market in the mid-80s (Robotech and Captain Harlock, among other things), I was even more taken by fantasy epics with sprawling casts of characters. Jean M. Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear books and Roger Zelazny's Amber were other huge influences on me. So I went through ream after ream of paper designing huge casts of characters, usually on a medieval-to-prehistoric Earthlike planet with little or no magic, building complicated family trees going back generations.

The big irony of Raven's Children is that I think it would have been a much better story, and I'd feel a lot less uncomfortable about it now, if it had stuck closer to its roots. Basically, all of these different epics were about a tribe, village or extended family, their interpersonal relationships, and their interactions with the outside world. These stories were optimistic and cheerful, despite having some gritty stuff along the way, and things mostly worked out for the best.

Then I hit my late teens/early twenties, and discovered REALISM ... mid-90s style. In pop culture, music, books and comics, this was an era when grunge was in, Goth was in, depressing was in. Darker! Grittier! I'm not saying I was doing this deliberately -- actually, I had no clue at the time that I was being influenced by the culture around me; it's only obvious to me when I look back on it, at the sudden shift when I went off to college and was suddenly exposed to a very different set of influences than I'd gotten growing up. Plus, I went through a period of serious clinical depression in my early twenties, which almost certainly influenced the sort of things I wanted to read and write about. I wasn't interested in upbeat fantasy anymore. (Kismet, too, took a massively depressing turn in the late '90s; it had always had a bleak side to it, but when I revisit Kismet stories from this era, I'm often struck by just how miserable most of them are.)

But it wasn't just being depressed and being affected by the culture around me, though looking back on it, I think there was probably a whole lot more of that going on than I realized at the time. I was growing as a writer, and I was genuinely interested in writing a realistic, believable story that was thoroughly researched and heavily rooted in real-world history and culture, rather than drawing upon fantasy influences as I had in the past. This is definitely a good thing, overall. Unfortunately, because I was at the mental place where I was at the time, I ended up cherry-picking really dark stuff, wallowing heavily in murder, slavery, war and rape. (Because, REALISM!)

I mentioned above that there were things about RC that I'm ashamed of. This is the big one. It's fairly obvious, when you read it, where my inspiration is coming from -- the real-world cultures and conflicts that I drew upon when I put the story together. But I threw them into a completely different context -- a very dark context, in which everyone was portrayed in their worst possible light. I'll talk about this more in the commentary for the individual pages (actually, I'll probably talk about it until you wish I'd shut up about it *g*), but I really, really wish I'd done one of the following:

a) Hidden my real-world cultural influences better. A lot better.
b) Stuck even closer to the cultures and conflicts that I was riffing on in the real world, rather than grafting them onto a pre-existing plot that didn't fit them very well.

In the end, I feel like what I did was the worst of all possible options. I took an existing real-world culture who've historically suffered from racism and genocide, and made them look like thugs, savages and killers. That's definitely not what I set out to do, but it's the result.

And I'll talk more about that when I get there. Actually, I guess the annotated-RC project is an attempt to, hmm, make amends, by taking a good hard look at all the places where I went off the rails and making something good out of it.

Despite all of the above, I don't actually feel too bad about RC now. I mean, I wish to hell that I'd made different creative decisions in certain places, and if I had it to do over again I'd do almost everything differently -- but it was a massively ambitious, unusual project, very much its own thing, and half the problems with it were because my vision severely outstripped my skills. It was a project with tremendous ambition, and despite the fact that it crashed and burned in a number of ways, I'm glad I attempted it. I wouldn't have learned half so much if I'd played it safe and taken no risks. If there had been no RC, a lot of what I've written since then would probably not have existed, or at least, wouldn't have been as good.

And I'm looking forward to going back to it -- I haven't looked at it in years, and I don't think I've ever re-read it from start to finish. This will be interesting for me, and, I hope, for all of you, too.

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