The following is an interview with Xavier Saxon regarding the recent release of his debut graphic novel, Night at the Belfry, from ComiXology Originals. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Saxon about the inspiration behind the story, his creative process in bringing the story to life while balancing the writing and illustrative duties, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the recent release of Night at the Belfry! For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the story’s premise, and what was its inspiration?
Xavier Saxon: Thank you! The story of Night at the Belfry follows 73-year-old retiree and former amateur boxer James Ransom. Through a series of incidents, he begins to realize how much age has affected him physically and mentally. Frustrated with his lack of autonomy and increasing reliance on others, he plans to stage a series of illegal boxing matches in the bell-tower opposite his apartment with the hope of either proving to himself that his life still has value, or ending it with dignity.
The inspiration for this book came from a few different places. The image of the boxing match in the church bell-tower was certainly one of the earliest concepts that drove me to make it. It was just a scene that I thought looked pretty cool. I guess I sort of took that image and mashed it up with the idea of being violently resistant to aging that I found interesting. I mention in the backmatter of the book that part of that idea came from the death of Hunter S. Thompson, which after I learned about I found particularly shocking. The thought that someone could, in a seemingly measured way, say “Okay, I’m old enough now. I don’t want to get any older than this.” And take their own life. That mindset was something I thought could be worth exploring in a story, maybe just because I wanted to understand it better.
BD: How would you describe your creative process in bringing this story to life, especially as you balanced both the writing and illustrative duties of the project?
XS: The process was pretty well-structured thanks to Allison O’Toole, who edited the book. When we started working on it, she made a schedule that detailed when I should have each stage of the art done, so the first few weeks were devoted to thumbnails, then once I was done with that we moved on to pencils, etc. It never felt overwhelming, because I was only ever doing one job at a time. The only downside was that it could occasionally get a bit boring doing only one thing for several months, especially when it came to inking and colouring, but having that structure far outweighed any negatives.
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 James’ story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
XS: I’m not sure how it will connect with people, I just hope it connects in some meaningful way. I hope it’s a story that will stick with readers, that’s the most important thing to me. I love watching a movie that then sort of takes over my life for the next few days, where it’s constantly in my brain for better or worse. When I’m making something, it’s really hard to tell what kind of emotional resonance the thing will have, because, in the midst of making it, I’m not really interacting with the story on an emotional level. I’ve already read the story a thousand times before in my head. I really just have to have faith that my storytelling instincts are good.
James’ story is important to me, because I believe it has an emotional core that a lot of people will be familiar with. Fears about getting older are pretty universal, and this is just the story of how one person deals with those fears. I don’t think stories about this kind of thing get old or tired (ha), because you can tell them in so many different ways. If James just had a slightly altered personality, this whole thing could have gone somewhere else completely.
BD: What makes ComiXology Originals the perfect home for Night at the Belfry?
XS: ComiXology has had such a varied lineup of books so far that I don’t know if I can say that Night at the Belfry is a “perfect fit” or anything like that. Their willingness to take a risk on a comic like mine when nobody knows who I am really makes them the perfect fit for any weird book that might be a hard sell. They gave me so much freedom to make the book how I wanted but also an incredible amount of support and assistance. I hope they continue to give more unknown creators similar opportunities.
BD: Are there any other upcoming projects on which you are working that you are able to share with our readers?
XS: Nothing to share for now, but I’m sure I will have more to talk about at some point in the future. Night at the Belfry took much longer to make than I initially planned. I’m hoping I can pick up the pace a little for later projects so I end up with more than 100 pages to show every three years.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Night at the Belfry?
XS: I would encourage them to read the book on ComiXology! It’s $0 if you have some sort of Prime or Kindle subscription. Otherwise, it’s still pretty affordable. If they would like to follow my work, you can find me @xavier_saxon_ on twitter and Instagram.