Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the release of your comic, Theophano! For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the premise of the story?
Chrysa Sakel: The plot of the graphic novel takes place in the 10th century Byzantine Empire, the Eastern half of the Roman Empire which survived well into the middle ages. During that time, Anastasia, a common girl, marries the heir to the throne, enters the palace and becomes Theophano. Αn ambitious woman ready to climb the ladder of power in a palace where politics are dominated by Emperors, generals, and eunuchs. This explosive mixture of occurrences takes place in a historical era of territorial resurgence and Imperial extravagance, but also an era of dynastic intrigues and endless plotting for the ultimate prize: the Roman Throne!
BD: How would you describe your creative process in working with writer/editor Spyros Theocharis in bringing this story to life, and what (or who) were some of your creative influences in terms of the characters and tone?
CS: The whole process of creating a specific style and depicting everything in a historically accurate way, was very challenging. And it’s quite funny, ironic maybe, that I had the skill to put down on paper anything I wanted, I just didn’t have any images in my head! While at the same time, Spyros’ head was full of images that he didn’t have the skill to illustrate! So, we had to cooperate in that way. He had to provide me with visual references for every single detail that could give me a visual clue for each page of the graphic novel!
Personally, I had no idea what life was like, what the architecture, the interior design, the fashion looked like, and what people of different class should wear. When I found out, I was really surprised by the vast material and cultural wealth the Byzantines possessed. Unlike, the generally dull western medieval visual themes of castles made of stone, spiked crowns and the lack of the classical culture, in Theophano I had to visualise colourful clothes adorned with numerous jewels, elaborately made crowns with pearls and rubies, palaces made of marble and huge cathedrals such as the famous Hagia Sophia.
BD: At Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Theophano's story will connect with and impact readers?
CS: Plotwise, we want to make the reader see that historically, medieval politics were as brutal as they were depicted on popular medieval fantasy shows like Game of Thrones. In the story of Theophano, entering the palace doesn’t mean it’s the happy end of the fairytale. On the contrary, for Theophano it marks the beginning of an endless struggle. Regarding the set of characters, each one has their own agenda and this means that they can’t be labelled as heroes or villains. The motives of their actions are defined by their self-interests and personal ambitions. I wanted to put down a story of raw realism where even the main protagonist’s actions may be interpreted according to the reader’s morality. Some may justify a character’s actions based on their motives, some others may condemn them based on the principles they believe in. The same thing happens in our age too. People are divided over some politicians’ decisions. Some find them right, some others wrong. This is the link that we wanted to create with the present time through our story.
Along with that, I hope that this graphic novel will help readers get to know more about the Byzantine history in an era when the Empire was on the rise militarily and culturally and reminded the glory of the ancient Roman empire.
BD: Given that this is your debut work in comic, why do you feel that it was important to bring this story to life through the sequential art medium?
CS: Someone would say it’s not the wisest thing to make a debut with such a “difficult” theme. Creating something completely fictional, including popular themes in the comic book genre, would be an easy way out. But as an artist I decided to go with something more original, less exposed to the general public.
With the creation of an illustrated narrative placed during the 10th century Constantinople, we wanted of course for the readers to visually connect with the unknown world of Byzantium. There are, of course, many books and historical novels about that time period, but I think what we offer in our graphic novel is very different. We tried to give as many visual elements as we could since there are not many graphic novels or movies to get an idea of what everything looked like back then. And believe me, there are a lot of wonderful things that this culture had to display.
I’ll give you two examples that everyone could relate to. In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien associated Minas Tirith with Byzantium. There are a lot of similarities in the history of Gondor and Byzantium. Even in Peter Jackson’s trilogy, the production team explained how they added Byzantine domes in the architecture of Minas Tirith and why they chose Byzantine style clothing for its inhabitants.
The second example is from Game of thrones. We all saw the devastating effects of wildfire. Few people know though that this “weapon” really existed historically and the Byzantines were the only ones to possess it. It was known as “Greek fire” and literally saved the empire a lot of times.
BD: Are there any other upcoming projects on which you are working that you are able to share with our readers?
CS: Right now, we are doing everything to promote our work, in hopes that it will have the impact it deserves. At the same time, we are planning our next steps by researching other medieval themed stories, with or without correlation to Byzantium. We are also considering making a sequel to the story of Theophano. Actually, the readers of Theophano will be able to see who the next protagonist will be in the last page of the graphic novel. It really depends on the reader’s response. Also, being an artist, I always practice to improve my skills. I post new artwork on my Instagram account almost every day.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Theophano?
CS: I’d like to say that they should give Theophano a try and dive into the genre of medieval historical fiction. It may not feature wizards and dragons, but it offers an expression of human nature at its best and simultaneously at its worst, featuring a female protagonist who may not have super powers but uses her determination and will to survive in a world dominated by men.