The following is an interview with Jacob Murray and Alice Li Barnes regarding the release of The Eight Immortal #3 from Source Point Press. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Murray and Li Barnes about their shared creative process in bringing the story to life, what they hope that readers will take away from the story, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of Issue #3! For those who may be coming to the series fresh, what can you tell us about the story’s premise?
Jacob Murray: Our book follows Curipan, one of seven immortals who walk this earth, bound by a prophecy which foretells calamity if an eighth immortal were to come into being. Curipan possesses the unique ability to strip the immortal life force from nascent immortal children, called the Pillan, themselves ancestors of misguided unions between the immortals and humanity. Thousands of years of stealing magic from the world, the same magic that burns in her, has taken its toll on Curipan, and, combined with the loss of her own child long ago and the knowledge she can never be a mother, has worn Curipan down to her breaking point.
In issue 3, our story finds Curipan wrestling with the aftermath of having foregone her duty on a young Pillan she encountered who reminded her of her lost son. Her past and her present are getting mixed up in her head, and she is spiraling, but also in the process liberating herself from the shackles of prophecy and of her own trauma. Is Daniel the fulfillment of the prophecy, is he Curipan’s past come back to haunt her, or is he just an innocent boy about to be caught up in the baggage of several twisted, magical beings? The Eighth Immortal is a story about how we define ourselves by our trauma, and the consequences of trying to break through those barriers.
Alice Li Barnes: Curipan is an immortal woman wrestling with a painful past, destructive behavior of her fellow immortals, and simply existing as an ancient creature in a modern world. In issue 3, she attempts to find some release (sexual and otherwise) for her inner turmoil, but instead, things only become increasingly volatile for her.
BD: How would you describe your shared creative process in bringing this story to life, and what (or who) were some of your creative influences in terms of the characters and tone?
JM: Alice and I had a blast making this book. I am a pretty particular (Read: difficult at times.) person to work with creatively, because I fluctuate between having very clear, specific ideas for how things should look and feel, and at other times just sending out a vague notion and a goal, and leaving it up to Alice to help navigate through a scatter-plot blueprint. Alice is a fantastic artist, and a great story-teller in her own right, so she’s able to deliver on the more specific sequences the scripts would outline, while also inserting her own narrative sense into the book, stripping things down to their essence, or building on themes that were only vaguely mentioned in the book.
For me, the character and tone of the book were heavily influenced by Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major. I listened to it on repeat while first putting together the basic structure of the story and developing the characters. That piece has such a sense of grandiosity and decisive purpose, but it ruminates on its epic refrains with these softer verses that reign things in and make it very personal. It culminates with, what to me is a sense of the tragedy of anything truly consequential. It’s inescapable. But there’s a beauty in that, the very things that make life, and that concerto, feel so synergistic at times, also highlight how things can never end exactly as you’d hope. There’s a sweetness to accepting the burdens of your life, and I hope to have taken Curipan on a journey through her traumas, those inflicted upon her by the universe, and those exacerbated by her own choices, to a place of embracing the horror of an impossibly long life, and reveling in the things that make any life, long or short, worth living.
ALB: It was a lot of back and forth: sending and editing sketches, adjusting lineart, and going through several iterations of the same panel. I felt like an explorer in the world that Jacob created, and I wanted to create a path through it that would show readers its beauty and mystery. Sometimes, there were many different ways to approach a scene, and the more I worked on the comic, the more I could better choose the layouts that felt right. As Jacob mentioned, he varies between being specific or rather loose about certain scenes. It was a little chaotic at first, but I found that it kept things lively as well where I had some time to relax or go crazy.
It’s a little embarrassing but I usually infuse some part of my personality to most characters I draw… For Curipan, I tried to imagine a depressed, impatient, and vulnerable version of myself. I’m sure middle school Alice would have related well. In terms of her looks, I used reference images of Adriana Lima (a Brazilian model) but adapted to the way I like to draw faces. The overall look and tone are just something that I work at until it looks right to me. I do watch a lot of horror movies, so that surely had an influence.
BD: Alice, your use of color is truly striking! How do you approach your coloring technique in the series, given its sparse, yet impactful, implementation?
ALB: It’s funny that you describe it as sparse when there’s much more color than I expected there to be! When Jacob and I first discussed this concept, I was thinking of green eyes only with one or two colorful panels per issue; however, it became less of an aesthetic, and more of a manifestation of the narrative threads. Every color actually has a specific meaning, and conveys a thematic element. Think of it like an orchestra with every featured color as a solo instrument. Different instruments will become the forefront at different parts of the symphony.
When I draw the lineart and initial grayscale toning, I don’t think about color at all. For me, it distracts from the rendering of form and texture. I then ask Jacob for which panels to make more impactful and some color suggestions. I go back and do some washes of color using a soft brush with a filter to punch up saturation on the darker tones. If needed, I might go in and re-render areas with analogous colors or add a secondary tone. This approach is normal for me as I come from a Japanese manga background, where all the pages are black and white. I often don’t miss color at all when drawing manga; however, I find that its narrative function to be fun to work with for The Eighth Immortal.
BD: Do you feel that Issue #3 serves as a solid jumping-on point for new readers, or would you encourage them to start from the beginning of the series to fully enjoy its story arc?
JM: If you want a book that’s fast-paced, issue 3 is a good place to start, because this is where the story really kicks into high gear. The first two issues are really establishing the mindset of our cast, and ordering the rules of this world. I love those issues, and they are necessary to get a full and complete picture of Curipan’s actions, but you could certainly jump into issue 3 and get a sense of what is going on, which would hopefully intrigue readers enough to go back and read the first two issues. I understand not everyone likes a languid pace, so reading issue 3 first would give readers that more traditional comic entry point where a bunch of crazy stuff happens right off the bat. I wrote this story saving most of the crazy stuff for the end because I’m personally always disappointed when media of any kind goes too big too soon. I like a slow build. So, for readers like me, you want to start with issue 1, but the rest would get a lot out of reading 3, then 1, 2 and 4 when it comes out.
ALB: #3 would be an interesting place to start… you’re getting to the juicy part right away!
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Curipan’s story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
JM: My hope is that people connect with Curipan’s desire to be free of the rules placed upon her. None of us get to fully create our own reality, and while some stories of immortality and magical beings are fantasies meant to let us explore what it would be like to be the genesis of our own wonder, our book takes a different approach. There’s a line in the first issue that I think sums up the book pretty well – “Immortality is the inability to grow.” How do we make slaves of ourselves? How do we let the world around us, and the things it does to us, define who we are? Can we ever really escape that and what does it look like to throw caution to the wind there? These are the questions the book wrestles with and I think it’s important to explore that side of our humanity. There’s a lot we take for granted about how the world works, and we allow these implicit assumptions of truth to harden us to the point where we can no longer tell what of our circumstances were forced upon us and are truly inescapable, and what artificial walls have we built while convincing ourselves their form and structure are elemental.
ALB: The theme of mother and child was something I didn’t think too much about when I first signed up for the project; however, I think that the way that Curipan longs for a child, yet that is the ONE thing she can’t have, is something that people can sympathize with. I had a son during the production of this comic, and some of the panels came from a very personal place. I think those parts will speak deeply to those who’ve experienced wanting or raising a child. And I’m sure most people have thought it would be great to live forever, but in fact there’s an element of existential horror and ennui to it.
BD: What makes Source Point Press the perfect home for The Eighth Immortal?
JM: Source Point Press has been great. They have been so supportive, flexible and open to working with newer creators like Alice and myself. After being sold on the story and our first 5 pages of artwork we presented, they let us do our thing. The team there is small but passionate, and they embrace an eclectic collection of works. The Eighth Immortal is also not a book for children, and as Ira Glass likes to say on the This American Life podcast, this book acknowledges the existence of sex. Not all publishers are comfortable with that, while others lean on it. This book is focused on the human experience, so I thought it was important to be explicit about this thing which most of us place huge importance on and spend probably too much time thinking about chasing, while also being too embarrassed to really talk about why it matters. At the same time, like life, it’s just one facet, and I really didn’t want it to steal the focus too much. It’s just there, and while it’s important unto itself, it also is something we load with our emotional baggage. Source Point was supportive of that, while not pressuring us to either back off or lean into it. There was no mandate that we couldn’t say this or show that, but also not even subtle pressuring to try and “sell” it as a primary appeal, which I know is many people’s reflex when dealing with sex. It’s weird for me to focus on it here, since my point is that SPP didn’t focus on it, but that’s just it, I suppose.
ALB: They gave us complete artistic freedom, something increasingly rare nowadays. To be honest, I think that should be the standard.
BD: As the series will be wrapping up in Issue #4 next month, is there anything that you are most excited for readers to experience with the story’s conclusion?
JM: I’ve been pretty long winded here, so I’ll change course with this one and say simply that by the end of the series, I’m hoping to leave readers with a little scar on their hearts that is slightly sweet to the touch, like the memory of a youthful romance.
ALB: Let’s just say I never want to draw a train caboose again… But to be serious, there’s a lot jam-packed into every panel and we did our best not to waste a single moment.
BD: Are there any other upcoming projects on which you are working that you are able to share with our readers?
JM: I am currently looking to put between one and three new books into production. One is a post-apocalyptic kaiju fantasy, another is a children’s parable with cute aliens, and the last is a gritty period piece dealing with faith and women’s issues. It will be a while before those are ready to show off in any real way, so I won’t say more. But I will be putting out a short, free superhero pulp book online sometime in the next month or so called Why We Fight. Follow my Twitter (@surlierthanthou) for that comic and info on the others as it becomes relevant to share! And finally, I make comics because I love them, but I primarily work in television sitcoms as an Associate Director. I’m working now on a truly lovely new show called United States of Al that premieres Thursday, April 1, on CBS @ 8:30 p.m. It’s a fabulous show that I’m incredibly proud to be a part of, and I hope America loves it half as much as I do.
ALB: I have a self-published graphic novel of Pride & Prejudice that is slowly coming out of hiatus. Currently, Volume I is available on my Etsy (yumedarling.etsy.com). Otherwise, I’m still considering which long-term projects to pick up and you can find updates on my Twitter (@yumdarling). Feel free to contact me about any collaborations!
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about The Eighth Immortal?
JM: I’d like to say that I’m so thankful that you gave any of your attention in this crazy, saturated world to our book. It’s a project more than 5 years in the making, and I’m honored to have had the opportunity to bring to life. While our 4 issue series wrap ups, I also have more stories to tell in this world if the interest is there, so if you find yourself wanting more, please let us (and Source Point Press) know!
ALB: Hit us up on social media if you have questions! We’ll be happy to answer. Thanks for checking out our story!