Invariably Inverloch: Al Schroeder interviews Sarah Ellerton

Inverloch tied with Order of the Stick for Outstanding Fantasy webcomic at the 2005 Web Cartoonist’s Choice Awards and was nominated for outstanding art, web design, and environment design. Sarah Ellerton, the creative talent behind Inverloch, gave us a glimpse into crafting this long-running (literally – 320 pages out of a proposed 750 pages) webcomic.

So I know you’re an Australian student, working for a Bachelor of Information Technology degree. What else should we know about you? When were you bit by the creative bug, the urge to tell stories?

This is actually my second degree. I did two years studying Graphic Design, but decided that artistic work clashed with my hobbies too much – hence the somewhat opposite pursual [sic] of IT work! I can exercise both sides of my brain this way 🙂

I always used to write and illustrate stories as a child, never very seriously. I dropped both for a while, then got back into drawing about eight years ago. A couple of years back I discovered the wonderful world of web comics, then decided I wanted to do something like that as well – as a means of improving my art and learning how to better draw people. I used to only draw animals, which, I suppose, is the reason my main character is one!

So this will run 750 pages? And we’re around 320 now? You like long-term projects, don’t you? What do you think draws readers in for the long haul?

750 pages, more or less. That’s the plan; it may go a bit longer. Having read a bit of manga, 750 pages actually feels rather short to me. I wanted to do a long term project as a test of dedication – so many comics update sporadically, many more get started and never complete. I wanted to see how hard it was to maintain a project from start to finish.

Art grabs people’s attention to begin with, but for the long haul, you really need a good story and characters you can care about. That’s one of the biggest compliments I get – people tell me that the characters feel real, and they want to know what will happen to them. It’s nice when people are concerned for the wellbeing of your creations.

Your art is quite beautiful. (And was nominated for outstanding art with the WCCA awards this year.) Who are your artistic influences?

I spent several years drawing Final Fantasy fanart, so Tetsuya Nomura (the character designer for Final Fantasy 7, 8 & 10) is definitely my biggest influence. I also love the work of Izubuchi Yutaka, who did a lot of art nouveau inspired artwork for The Record of Lodoss War.

Who are your writing/storytelling influences? You’ve noted some of your favorite books and obviously Lord of the Rings is one of your influences for Inverloch. Who else?

I actually haven’t read a lot of books – I’m not sure if that helps me as a storyteller, since I’m not influenced much by other works, or whether it hinders me by giving me only a small pool of ideas to draw from. I’ve read most of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, the Belgariad / Mallorean series by David Eddings, and of course the Lord of the Rings. I think my ideas come more from movies than books, which is probably why my story flows more like a movie than a comic book.

Who’s your favorite character, so far? Ash/Acheron is the main character, but there are a lot of intriguing members of the cast.

Varden without a doubt. He tries hard to pretend that he doesn’t care about anything, but deep down he’s actually a kind and thoughtful person that doesn’t like to see other people get hurt. Unfortunately though, he often doesn’t realise the effect his attitude has on other people until it’s too late. By the end of the story, he’s probably the character that changes the most.

You got nominated for best website design and outstanding environment design in the WCCA awards. What do you look for in creating an eye-catching website?

I spent two years working as a web designer, so it was nice to get this nomination 🙂

I try and keep the site design fairly simple – after all, it’s the comic that people want to see. Since the comic pages are fairly large, I try and keep the rest of the graphics on the site minimal and fast loading. Mostly I just start off with some interesting colours and a painting, then go from there.

Why did you decide to turn your strip into a webcomic? What attracted you to it as a medium? What are the advantages – and the disadvantages – in presenting your work this way?

When you’re an unknown artist / writer, it’s near impossible to attempt to create a printed comic and expect it to do well. The web is a fairly cheap and easy way to go about promoting and displaying a comic – there are a variety of toplists and comic directories that you can use to promote your work, which all helps. I suppose the disadvantage is that some people don’t want to sit for hours online reading through several hundred pages; many people still have dial-up internet and load times can be off-putting. I get a lot of requests from people to release my work in printed form – I think now that I have a good sized fan base, that it would be something worth doing.

What advice would you give anyone starting a webcomic – or a comic of any kind, for that matter?

If you’re planning on beginning an epic story-based comic like mine, then think hard about the story and your characters. It’s amazing the difference it can make if you write out your story in full, then revise and edit it, in the same way that someone would write a novel or a film script. After all, your story is the most important thing. It doesn’t matter how good your art is, if your story seems rushed, clichéd, boring, or full of plot holes, then people aren’t going to stick around. And you have to love your story! It’s hard to get motivated to draw new pages every week if you yourself aren’t interested in the events that transpire.

How did it feel to be nominated – and then win – the WCCA award for fantasy webcomic? (Sharing it with Order of the Stick.) Were you surprised, or did you feel your hard work was finally recognized?

I was quite surprised! After all, I was up against fantasy comics that have been around for ages and have larger, more established fan bases. In truth, I thought I had a bigger chance in the art category, but I’m in no way disappointed with this award – even if it was a tie!

What are your plans for future projects?

Provided that I’m not sick to death of drawing comics by the time that Inverloch finishes in another year and a half, I have another story in the works. Some rough ideas for plot and characters have been written down, and I may start fleshing out the story more within the next few months.

Al Schroeder is a man of action! Mindmistress is a woman of action webcomics!