The following is an interview with Chris Spalton, creator of the comic book series, The Eelman Chronicles. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Spalton about the inspiration behind the series, his creative process in balancing both the writing and illustrative duties, what he hopes that readers will take away from the story, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the release of your comic book, The Eelman Chronicles! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the comic’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Chris Spalton: Thank you! It’s been a bit of a journey, but it’s great to see to it out and getting a nice a response. How to describe it? Well, it’s a collection of authentic, true stories about my dad’s life and adventures as the last remaining Eel Catcher in the Fens of Eastern England. Not many people have heard of the fens, so, as a frame of reference, use that marsh they cross in LOTR where the dead people rise up from the bog… the fens is like that, but weirder. Throw Criminals, Ferrets, Royalty, and Eels into the equation, and there’s your book!
The inspiration was literally just growing up in my family. Dad is a true character and, combined with the strange occupation, the strange setting, and the struggles our family had to go through to keep the lights on, it was all the inspiration I needed. I think growing up in such a situation gave me a unique perspective on life with the ability to see the humor in all aspects of life. Hopefully, I’ve translated these to the page effectively.
I’ve also been telling these stories down the pub to my mates for years, and everyone has always responded really well to them. We’ve shared lots of laughs about my dad’s escapades, and I thought it would just be a great project to actually document them all to preserve them for eternity. I originally just set out to put together a few pages to give friends and family some giggles but step by step as I started to get good feedback and some really inspiring reviews I gained confidence in what I was doing, and to continue and therefore it become a project to put a ‘real’ book out.
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in balancing the writing and illustrative duties of the comic, and what have been some of your creative influences?
CS: To be honest, it never crossed my mind to do anything other than write and draw the whole thing myself. I practices a lot of visual thinking, storyboarding, etc. through my day job, and whilst I’m not, nor ever will consider myself an “artist,” I’m comfortable with my limited level of drawing ability and the ability to convey an idea of what I want to show. I was far, far more worried about the actual writing, but I figured I would just write it as naturally as possible. This isn’t a story about superhero’s saving the galaxy, it’s a story about my dad, and by extension, my life, so what better way to tell it that in my own natural voice. Of course, I embellished it with some lyrical flourishes for narrative effect, but, mostly, I just wrote whatever came to me.
In terms of balancing the workload, drawing takes more time and effort than the words, so I tried to alternate between the two regularly so neither started to feel like ‘work’ but it’s important to get a little in the zone so you head is in the right place. After mapping out some really loose thumbnails, I mostly sat down and drew around 3-4 panels, then went back over and added the narrative.
In terms of inspiration, I’ve always loved ‘underground’ comics such as Evan Dorkin’s work on Dork and Milk N Cheese and things such as Johnny the Homicidal Maniac by Jhonen Vasquez. The sense of absurdity and humor in those types of books is a big influence. I think this is then combined with realizing the documentary power of comics through things such as Persepolis, Maus, and Joe Stacco’s Palestine diaries. In terms of art, I’ve always really loved low-brow stuff, especially in the rock poster art world, so people such as Frank Kozik, Tara McPherson, and that kind of art have always appealed. As it turns out, due to my drawing ability, my comics come out looking somewhat like the Beano or Viz… and that’s totally cool. I read a lot of both when I was younger, and they’re as valid as any other form of comic.
BD: What do you hope that readers will take away from your work?
CS: Originally, I hoped people got a laugh from it (and I still do!), but the reviews and feedback I’ve had have made me think a bit deeper about it… I’m not sure if it’s the fact I’ve been honest and authentic about my dad and my family, but there seems to be something that resonates with people on a level I didn’t expect. One reviewer mentioned that reading my book made him want to go for a beer with his dad who he hadn’t seen in a few years, that’s pretty much the most powerful feedback you can get.
Maybe it’s taking away a bit of Spalt the Eelman with you and knowing that even when things are tough, and the chips are down, it IS still possible to tackle life somewhat on your own terms with a smile on your face (even if some teeth are missing!). I think there’s a bit of the Eelman in us all and hopefully the book holds a positive mirror up to that.
From a process point of view, I really hope people look at the book and think “I could do that!” Like I said I’m not an artist, nor writer, but there, on shop shelves, is a book I made. Everyone has stories to tell, but a lot of people lack the confidence or feel nervous to try putting their ideas out there and I hope it someway if they pick my book up it shows them that it is possible, every story is as valid as any other and they too can create something. It’s a cliché, but literally if I can, anyone can, and more people should. We’re put on this Earth to create stuff, tell stories and connect with each other, that’s kinda the point of all of this right?
BD: Do you have plans to expand The Eelman Chronicles world into an ongoing comic book series?
CS: Yep, I’ve already started on Volume 2 (Dad’s had a crazy/funny life so there’s lots more stories to tell about him!), and then after that, I have plans for two more books. One would just be about other strange Fen Stories (The fens is as much of a character as any human.) and then I’d love to do a further book of local folklore, strange history, and ghost tales, as that’s always been a big interest of mine and I feel my style could tell those pretty well.
BD: If given the opportunity to adapt your series into other entertainment mediums, in what format do you hope to see it adapted?
CS: I think the Chronicles would work really well as simple, children’s cartoon-style animation, which I may yet experiment with trying to find someone to help me with. My style seems like it could be easily animated/voiced-over, etc., and I think that would bring it to life nicely. I said “easily animated” . . . I have no idea of the work that would entail.
Otherwise, I think it could work great as a series of short sketches on a comedy show or similar, I am thinking of something like the League of Gentleman series we had over here in the UK, completely absurd, a bit dark and a good opportunity for someone to stick a wig on and play a strange wild man lost out in the marsh!
I also think it could make a great video game, and that’s something I’ve had initially dabbling’s in, but I’m really busy and it’s a lot of extra to learn.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
CS: As I mentioned I’m working on Volume 2, so I’ll see that through then decide what next. I probably will do something different to vary up. I’ve got several ideas for different zines, along with an illustration/design project idea around serial killers / weird Victorian stuff.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about The Eelman Chronicles?
CS: You can keep up with The Eelman Chronicles on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The physical book is available through my webstore, and digital/eBook versions are available on Comix Central and ComiXology.