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Fanbase Press Interviews Henry Chebaane on the Release of the Graphic Novel, ‘The Panharmonion Chronicles

The following is an interview with Henry Chebaane regarding the recent release of the alternative history graphic novel, The Panharmonion Chronicles. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Chebaane about his creative process in bringing the story and characters to life on the page, what he hopes that readers may take away from the story, and more!

Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the recent release of The Panharmonion Chronicles! For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the premise of this story?

Henry Chebaane: In short, it’s the story of Alex Campbell, a Canadian music composer with a complicated multi-ethnic background. When she was young, her family was murdered in an arson attack, which triggered an ancestral supernatural ability that made her survive but left her filled with survivor’s guilt and self-loathing. She grows up attempting to suppress these memories. Thirty years later, she’s still single and in search of purpose. She inherits a decayed townhouse in London, England, and moves there for a fresh start. What she finds instead is mounting hostility from a shadowy organization with a rather horrid agenda. Her resistance starts a chain reaction across time with dramatic consequences for her and our reality.

BD: How would you describe your creative process in bringing this world and characters to life on the page?

HC: When five years I started writing this story, it was so big in scope that I was unsure what would be the best medium to start with. I wrote a set of short stories, then a film script and a TV pilot, before deciding to write and produce it as a graphic novel. Comics are a challenging medium that is often misunderstood, particularly in the UK. I like this medium very much because it allows to combine narrative with visual clues and world-building.

By some strange synchronicity, I was also researching the history of King’s Cross in the London borough of Camden for a design project. I was creating for a client a new boutique hotel, called The Gyle, from a set of 19th century townhouses in a very peculiar London square. The whole chain of events would fill a book by itself so to keep it brief here for this interview, let’s just say that the story I was writing got increasingly mixed with real facts until fiction and reality became increasingly fuzzy. This blurring led to my personal musings on the nature of reality, time, and consciousness as I’m also an avid reader of science and quantum physics.

During my research on the 19th century history of Camden, I was surprised to find blanks and inconsistencies in ‘historical’ records. This led me to speculate about possible reasons. We, humans, use history to tell a story about ourselves. To make sense of who we are, individually and collectively. This ‘history’ is often revised, altered, and edited to suit political agenda and consolidate power structures. It is also often modified to confirm world views and cognitive biases that have been acquired over generations.

I found other ‘historical gaps’ while visiting Canada for work, on several occasions. I was surprised at how conflicted the relationship between past and present seems to be there, particularly with regards to the many First Nations people. So, after reading every book I could find on the subject, I took two on-line courses: “Aboriginal worldviews and Education” from the University of Toronto and “Indigenous Canada” from the University of Alberta. Both courses are taught by indigenous educators and very insightful.

To be sure that I got the nuances of each character right, I also interviewed friends and acquaintances from all sorts of background.

BD: This is the first book of a larger series. What can you tell us about your plans for the overall series and its various story arcs?

HC: The overall series spans a very specific time frame between 1864 and 2044 because of how the time-travel mechanics operate within the story. It allows me to explore with the readers the causality of actions taken by Alex and her antagonists in a focused but open-ended way. Also, it gives plenty scope in the series to creatively explore this alternative reality through a range of visual styles from steampunk to cyberpunk.

Also, instead of plotting the whole series in advance, I’m learning about Alex and discovering what she wants and what is happening to her, one chapter at a time. I guess how the story will likely end, but with so many twists and turns along the way…who can really know? The future happens right now but with many possible outcomes in flux.

All I can say is that as we learn from historical records and our daily newsfeed, that the human capacity for outrage and depravity seems to have no limits, the series must somehow reflect this. So, if you think volume 1 is a tough read…wait until you see volume 2!

Still, I’m an optimist and believe that there are far more good people on this planet than not. So, who knows…?

Meanwhile, on the creative side, I’ve started several initiatives to develop and share Alex’s mythology through other media. If I find the audience for it, I will also develop specific stories for some of the individual characters and locations. I’ve lived in Scotland for many years and would love to set more stories there. Much of the action in volume 2 takes place across the water in Nova Scotia. It’s a fascinating place with much to tell.

BD: In addition to the graphic novel itself, you have also produced an accompanying in-universe soundtrack for the story. What can you tell us about the complementary nature of the music and the comic book?

HC: I’ve always been interested in music. Not just the concepts or emotions it can express but also where it comes from. We all understand that sound is air vibration, and that music is a controlled modulation of it…but what about earlier in the process? Music notes are reference points in space and time that inform the shapes of vibrations, and by extension reality. So, in a way, music creates reality and vice-versa.

One of the novel’s themes is to speculate to what extent the nature of reality is ‘permanent’ or is it just a temporary ‘field’ (in)formed by consciousness? Could a human alter the fabric of reality, albeit briefly, under some extreme circumstances? Could sound be the gateway to such change? On a much milder scale, isn’t reality changed for us when we experience a massive night club or a live concert arena? In the moment of the performance, there always seem to be a palpable change to the time and place. Even listening to music in headphones can bring about tangible sensations, thoughts, and memories that transport us. Is music an actual Time Machine?

In the book Alex is a professional composer who goes by the alias LX8. So, as I was trying to get into character, trying to imagine what it would be like to produce music…I thought to myself, let’s give it a go! I took online courses including an excellent one taught by Deadmau5 and then started writing songs. I wrote eight so far, trying various styles of EDM, which are available online under LX8. The lyrics are directly related to the book and there will be a first LP compilation soon.

This has also been an opportunity to try my hand at filmmaking. I wrote and produced several music videos and short films. The first one (same title as the novel) that I sent to film festivals this year has already garnered 16 nominations and awards. It was shot in the actual London hotel that inspired the plot point in the book and I filmed myself as a Victorian writer-engineer stranded in his own fictional universe, who discovers the same artifact as Alex in the book.

So, music, video, and book form a kind of entangled narrative loop testing creative boundaries between reality and fiction.

The Panharmonion cover

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 Alex’s story may impact readers?

HC: I started thinking about this story over 10 years ago, after visiting more than 40 countries for work. The more people I met, the more I realized how similar struggles we all face as humans. And yet, we accept or endure many social constructs as normative barriers to mutual understanding, respect, and acceptance. This situation seems to be always fueled by the lust and greed of a few individuals taking advantage of human fears and disquiet about hunger, disease, poverty, unemployment, death…etc. to assert their dominance on others, using superstition, myths and deception.

So, in telling Alex’s story and of the characters around her, I’m trying to explore through their deeds and turmoils what it is to be human and what choices can we make. How to seek our true potential and decide who we want to be. Instead of letting other people decide for us, whether peers, parents, school, religion, or politics.

Each one of us deals with life the best we can. In objective terms, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do this. Only the way that rings true to us personally, through the ethics and moral values that we choose to apply ourselves.

Alex’s story is a work of fiction that is not easy to tell or read. Not just because of the harsh historical facts but also because of the physical and emotional traumas evoked. So, to give each reader a buffer zone, I’ve put some distance on the various topics by blending them into a mystery Sci-Fi thriller with horror and alternative history. The book also contains some lighter notes of irony sprinkled with occasional pop culture humor that I hope will help relieve some of the darkness.

It’s also a complex story because each human personal story is complicated, filled with social baggage, contradictions, errors, desires, angst, hopes, and aspirations. Yet, despite the rich, complex inner consciousness that each can experience, we are just a brief spark in the immensity of spacetime. Life is tenuous, fragile, and fleeting. It is precious and should be respected in all living creatures. And yet it is continuously squandered and defiled by the violence of the few on the many.

Alex’s story is firstly an adventure, about someone who’s been dealt a hard time and keeps on fighting no matter what the odds are.

But I also hope that her story will inspire and help comfort others who might have experienced injustice and prejudices in their own life. I also hope that for those blessed not to have had such experiences that they find some empathy to stand up or speak out should they witness any assault on another person’s dignity.

Ultimately, I’m not preaching anything. I’m just telling a story. I find the comic medium useful because by being sparse with text, I can let the readers think and make up their own mind about what it means to them personally.

BD: Are there any other projects on which you are working that you’re able to share with readers?

HC: I’m currently producing Ghosts of Sound, the second volume of The Panharmonion Chronicles. It’s being illustrated by Stephen Baskerville, the same artist as volume 1 Times of London. We have completed 2/3 of the pages, so I’m expecting to be ready for publication next summer.

I’m also writing the series in prose form. Without illustrations, the experience for the reader can be more internalized, so expect to learn more about the inner conflicts and motivations of each character. There is also more scope to expand on details about the world and context of the story.

Beside The Panharmonion Chronicles, I’ve also written and now producing another graphic novel, which will be published towards the end of this year or early 2025. Titled Kingdom United this speculative fiction series is set in London, in the very near future. It’s a family drama and action thriller that looks at the logic of unbridled capitalism and its impact on local communities.

Volume 1: Capital clean-up is a 220-page, self-contained story that follows Neeta Rao a young British-Asian scientist torn between competing needs, loyalties, and desires. When she tries to help her father run the family cleaning business, she is attacked by a street gang with tragic consequences. This drives her to set up a vigilante organization to protect her neighborhood.

Within the meta narrative are several back and side stories which I intend to write and develop for future books.

BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about The Panharmonion Chronicles

HC: Firstly, I would like to thank everyone who’s been supporting this journey so far. The feedback from advance readers, reviewers, and early adopters has been humbling and confirmed to me how important the issues evoked are for so many people. This has raised my own expectations and drive to continue telling stories that matter to people who care about making our planet a better place for all.

It is possibly the single biggest financial risk I’ve ever taken because to produce a quality graphic novel and distribute it is a considerable investment, as a lone entrepreneur and small press indie publisher. I didn’t try crowdfunding for several reasons, mostly because I believe that as a debut author, I should be the one taking the risk, not my readers. Maybe it’s foolish but time will tell.

If the story finds enough audience, I might be able to develop it into different types of media like game and animation. Ultimately, my end goal is to set up a foundation to promote social justice, science education, and animal welfare through the arts. Big aspirations but like all journeys, it must start with a single step. And I’m grateful to Fanbase Press for your interest and support with this first one.

Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief




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