The following is an interview with writer/artist Caytlin Vilbrandt regarding the recently launched Kickstarter campaign for the ongoing webcomic, Tamberlane: Volume 4. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Vilbrandt about the shared creative process of bringing the ongoing story to life with co-writer and editor Ari Noble, the incredible backer rewards available with the campaign, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the Kickstarter launch for the latest collected edition of Tamberlane! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the series’ premise, and what inspired you to tell this ongoing story?
Caytlin Vilbrandt: Thank you so much! We’re so excited to be able to bring this volume of Tamberlane to print! Tamberlane is inspired by a lot of the media I read or watched as a child, like Redwall, the Secret of NIMH, and Beatrix Potter’s beautiful children’s stories.
It’s about a pastoral, little land with dark and mysterious secrets, a naive and terribly accident-prone young bat named Belfry, and the strange creature she found from the woods and adopted as her own: a human child named Tamberlane! No one in Treehollow seems to know what Tamberlane is, but Belfry is determined to take care of her anyways – no matter how the strange, little creature might be connected to the taboo place they call Abroad. It’s a little bit coming-of-age, a little bit fantasy, a little bit political intrigue, and a lotta bit hopepunk mystery!
BD: As the co-creator and writer, as well as the artist, what can you share with us about the process for balancing your creative process and collaborating with co-writer and editor Ari Noble?
CV: I worked on Tamberlane on my own for five or so years before I finally brought on a team to help with technical tasks like flatting and inking, and even longer before I brought on Ari to help me with writing. He’s been amazing. I’ve always had a vision and a loose outline for the story, but as with most stories, it had a soggy middle that was difficult to navigate compellingly. He has stepped in and taken all of my ideas, my worldbuilding, my thoughts and secrets and ponderings, and turned them into concrete plot points and story beats.
A reader may wonder if Ari came in and took over the story, but that’s not at all the case. What I’ve found, instead, is that he has a great talent for asking the right questions. The hard questions that make me whine, “But we don’t haaaaave to answer that!” [laughs] Except, of course, we do, because it makes the story so much better. Our story meetings generally involve me rambling, him asking questions and poking holes, then both of us collaborating to take what remains and shoring it up into something incredible that I’m excited to bring to the story. (There’s also a lot of us getting more and more hyped and babbling ideas at each other. That’s an important part of storytelling, too!)
His other special collaboration talent is taking the smallest hints and pictures in the comic and connecting them to future events or beats as though it was always meant to be that way. Truly, he has been an incredible blessing, and Tamberlane is so much stronger for it. I’m so happy that we have a process where I know that he’ll take my seedlings and grow them into beautiful flowers.
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 Tamberlane’s story may connect with and impact readers?
CV: I am a huge proponent of storytelling as a vital part of human nature. Stories present us with other values, allow us to live through difficult circumstances in safe ways, help us feel seen, and let us practice our empathy.
At the surface, Tamberlane deals with the way that others’ opinions of you can shape your self-identity, as well as what it means to not fit in even when you’re accepted and loved. But looking a bit deeper, it also tackles the fact that bad people are not always evil, that deeds and intentions sometimes do not walk hand-in-hand. It’s about the status quo, when to maintain it and when to challenge it. It’s about the uphill battle to change something as entrenched as an ideal, a law, a standard. It’s about how to deal with hopelessness and personal unmooring in the face of enormous social and political upheaval.
A lot of these topics are extremely important right now. I will never say I have the answers to any of these quandaries myself; they’re far too big and thorny! Rather, I subscribe to the Brandon Sanderson theory of storytelling: holding up a problem and then exploring it through the characters. It’s so much more fulfilling to try and portray all the sides of a problem holistically than it is to pigeonhole a solution. My ultimate goal is to take a problem, puzzle out all of its perspectives, then hand it to the reader and say, “What do you think?”
BD: You have had a great deal of success with crowdfunding in bringing Tamberlane to Kickstarter in the past. Why do you feel that crowdfunding is such a valuable tool for independent creators?
CV: I love crowdfunding! It really does take the power of publishing and puts it in the hands of the little guy. There’s truly nothing like holding your finished product, physically, in your hands. And more than just providing a vector for printing books, it also allows creators to gauge interest in their projects. This can certainly sting if you fall short, but being able to run a risk-free assessment of how your project is doing with your audience is absolutely invaluable.
My favorite part, however, is that crowdfunding allows you to connect with your readers specifically. It lets me reach out and engage with backers and invite them into our spaces, and it lets me afford spending some extra time making things bespoke for those folks who are passionate enough about my stories to back a campaign – such as adding little messages to my signed books. I struggle with chronic pain and fatigue daily, so giving myself permission to spend the extra time and effort I usually can’t afford is really nice.
Perhaps it’s not exactly crowdfunding like Kickstarter is, but I feel the same way about Patreon. Tamberlane couldn’t exist in its current form without Patreon, and my Patreon is made up of a couple hundred people all pooling together their love of the story to keep it going! It’s truly a wonderful experience, getting to take their joy, turn it into fuel for comics, and return it back to them in a shiny new form.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
CV: Is there life beyond this Kickstarter? I’ve been working on it for so long, I don’t remember. [laughs]
Actually, yes! My co-writer Ari did the soundtrack for an upcoming horror film, Biters and Bleeders, about a woman and her troubled husband who move into his dead mother’s home, and find it infested with horrible memories (and massive bugs). He’s also composing original music for and co-starring in a comedy film, Bernard, about the son of a famous music executive who will go to literally any lengths to become a rock star. Both films are produced by New 32 Productions.
Ari also writes another webcomic, Mothorial, a fantasy adventure story about a nervous homebody bird named Ackerley and his adopted bat daughter, Ava, on an adventure to defeat an evil older than the world itself. You can read that comic on their website!
As for me, I don’t have any specific upcoming projects beyond Tamberlane, but I do have a Patreon where patrons get pages of Tamberlane earlier than the public (as well as commissions and postcards with terrible jokes)! The Patreon helps me pay my team to keep the comic going, so every patron helps!
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Tamberlane: Volume 4 and your other work?
CV: The best way to find out more information about Tamberlane is on our website, TamberlaneComic.com, or if you’re looking for the Kickstarter itself, it’s at kickstarter.tamberlanecomic.com! Beyond that, we’re founding partners on a comic collective called Foxglove Comics, which has a shared Discord where we’re frequently chatty and happy to answer questions!