A kind of comic book life: Interview with Kirsty Mordaunt

Kirsty Mordaunt - Manga Studio portrait

Kirsty Mordaunt – Manga Studio portrait

In November 2013 I featured a favourite web comic ‘164 Days’, created by the talented Kirsty Mordaunt. I’m delighted to post an interview with Kirsty, which she kindly agreed to do via email, answering some questions regarding her work as a comic writer and artist and details behind the origins of the charming, intriguing, story featuring the Andersen family and Ysendra the Weatherwitch.

164 Days has been running online since August 2011. Have you found that the way you approach the story has changed over time? Do you keep an outline or written notes on the story line and character development for the future?

I can’t believe I’ve been doing it for that long! I’ve found over time I learned to be a lot more ruthless with what I cut out of the original plans – it was written as a prose story rather than in script form. I love to write dialogue but I had to learn to remove pieces that were unneeded and did not push the plot forward.

The story itself is planned right up until the end, and most of it is written in detail. I started writing it as a nanowrimo project which failed spectacularly when it came to reaching the word count goal, but kept working on it after that until it evolved into the story I have now. We’re still near the beginning, so the characters have a lot more to go through!

tamiyowalk2

Tamiyo the Moon Sage fan art by Kirsty Mordaunt (from Magic – The Gathering)

Have you had professional training in illustration or is it something you are self-taught in?

I’ve drawn since I can remember, and always been obsessed with getting characters right. I studied art at school, then college and university, but I’m unsure that helped me develop my artwork and ‘style’. I feel instead it helped more with learning to take criticism and grow from it. Repetition and practice, as evidenced by my comic archives, are what help me get better.

Are there any particular comic titles that first sparked your interest in comic art and design or which influenced you to create your own? Were they mostly online comics or printed versions?

When I was about 16-17 I discovered webcomics, which I think really kicked off my obsession. Questionable Content, Girl Genius and Dr McNinja are all webcomics I have been reading for almost a decade. Earthsong, Fey Winds and The Phoenix Requiem/Inverloch had a profound effect on me back then too, since they were long narratives with strong characters, all executed by one person. Sarah Ellerton’s work ethic, in particular, still inspires me!

Previous to that I had read things like Tintin and Asterix when I was younger but none of the other comic books like DC/Marvel, etc., The biggest print comic that has influenced me is Sandman (written by Neil Gaiman), in that it showed me just how much potential the comic storytelling format has.

Ysendra rescues Will in 164 Days by Kirsty Mordaunt

Ysendra rescues Will in 164 Days by Kirsty Mordaunt

Many web-based comic artists start out with web-only content and then develop into having printed collections later on. Have you had any thoughts about having 164 Days published as a physical book? 

I’ve found it very interesting how Kickstarter has enabled comics to be printed on demand with a guaranteed audience, and that is something I’d consider using in future. I’d feel I had to redraw the start of the comic though – the way I work has changed a lot since then.

One of the great strengths about 164 Days is that it does appeal to a broad age range of readers; when you initially came up with the story did you specifically want to keep the appeal for a readership that could be between 8 to 80, or was it more that writing the kind of story that is generally labelled as having “mature themes” wasn’t what you thought you’d be most interested in doing?

The comic will definitely touch on some mature themes, mostly language, so I’d label it a teen+ story overall. I’m more interested in character driven stories, and with the characters I ended up developing I just didn’t end up with a mature themed comic. If I did another story in future that I thought required a more mature theme I would, but I believe it needs to be necessary to the story and characters, and not thrown in as fanservice to gain readers.

The huge success of comics like Earthsong and Inverloch back when I discovered webcomics proved to me that there is an audience for comics that tell stories first and foremost, and since then I have discovered more like The Dreamer, Bad Machinery, Widdershins and Perpetual Flux.

Going to the mountain - Will and Sophia, 164 Days by Kirsty Mordaunt

Going to the mountain – Will and Sophia, 164 Days by Kirsty Mordaunt

Balancing everyday work with creating an online comic can be a difficult task to manage; do you have a routine for working on 164 Days that you stick to? Are there any particular difficulties in keeping motivated with telling the story in the way you want to?

Since my everyday work is in retail at a bookshop, my hours can vary which sometimes throws a spanner in the works when it comes to getting comics planned and finished. At the moment the thing that takes me the longest is the start – planning the page layout, then inking and flatting the pages. (Flatting is the process in comic book creation where solid colour is added to the drawn line art)

I have to keep updating with something every Monday, though, or I think I would lose my motivation for regularly updating. As long as I don’t let myself get away with missing a week, I think I can keep it up. I’d prefer to update more than once a week, but currently that’s an impossible dream!

All images are used with the permission of Kirsty Mordaunt.
Links to a list of currently available webcomics that are mentioned in the interview are below. Most of these webcomics are for suitable for teen and upwards readers.