In the Yeti Cave today, we have Caitlin Like, creator of The Hundredth Voice - a fresh youth-focused graphic novel from Dark Horse. Step into a period of time where performance on the stage is the height of the dramatic arts, and learn what happens when a bit of magic mixes in!
COMIC BOOK YETI: Welcome to the Yeti Cave, Caitlin! Thanks for finding time to discuss your work. How has the reception to The Hundredth Voice come together over the past month since release?
CAITLIN LIKE: Thanks for talking to me! And really great! I’m used to being just a part of an overall machine in comics, so hearing reactions to something that I made entirely is both overwhelming and really gratifying. Especially hearing from parents that their child read the book more than once in 24 hours.
CBY: Oh, that's wonderful feedback. Getting that kind of fervent response from young readers has to feel heartwarming. Back to the book, it's explicit at the start - 1924, Isle of Man, King George V, WWI - you mention other elements that temporally ground The Hundredth Voice. What led to you choosing the setting you did in terms of both time and place?
CL: I wanted to ground The Hundredth Voice in what can feel like familiar times - a society dealing with the aftermath of a terrible pandemic and war, in a place that would feel sheltered from the worst of it to a child. Uriel’s been deliberately sheltered his whole life, but like a lot of kids, his recent memories are of a global pandemic (in Uriel’s case, the Spanish Flu) and a terrible war. The 1920s was also a time of rapid modernization and music was changing a lot as well! I wanted to find a place that could be the last gasp of faerie being able to exist in the modern world and needing to change, and the 1920s seemed like the best place.
CBY: That level of historical parallel definitely makes sense, and I hope readers connect with the similarities. With Uriel meant to have been the seventh successive Declan Driscoll, that means the overture should have taken place ~200 years prior. How much consideration of the intervening period have you undertaken around the Driscroll legacy and the formation of the Aisling Academy? From your world-building efforts, are there other stories in there worth telling, given the other voices that pop up in the course of the story, before the core narrative of The Hundredth Voice kicks in?
CL: Ohhh, that’s an interesting thought. I think any other stories in the intervening ~200 approximate years would be various scales of tragedy, but the most interesting one would probably be Uriel’s mother Delilah. I do have in mind how each of the subsequent Declan Driscoll’s met their ends and by what means and desperation that ended up making them all turn to magic for help, and how it ends the same for all of them one way or another. But Declan I, Declan VI, and Delilah all have the most interesting stories to me, or at least the ones I’ve thought about the most.
CBY: That certainly makes sense - they create the climax of this story. Now, the fairy presence, the adventuresome imagery - a number of elements evoked aesthetic tones from The Legend of Zelda for me. While that was merely the impression I received (and it could be way off the mark), can you share with our readers the creative work that has provided you with the greatest inspiration for this graphic novel?
CL: While I’m not a recent Zelda player (no fault of the games, I literally don’t own a Switch. I’m an aspiring modern Zelda player.) I’ve played or watched my brother play nearly every Zelda game that was available for the GameCube or DS! I’ve always loved how music plays an integral role in the Zelda franchise, so that for sure sneaked in there, inspiration-wise.
Another major influence was Holly Black’s Tithe, which is a YA Urban Fantasy story about a changeling girl that really got me into faerie mythology and the fae as a whole when I was a teenager. It’s a really snappy read and really fun for teenagers.
The biggest influence though is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera (and its infamous stage sequel Love Never Dies). It’s melodrama and musical and Faustian, and makes incredible use of its in-universe opera to help expand on the overall story.
CBY: I've never checked out Tithe, so thanks for putting that on my radar. The Phantom of the Opera provides a nice segue into the next topic. There’s a fair bit of imagery meant to convey musical scenes - what sort of conventions of theatricality were important to employ in order to convey the intent to the reader in the absence of emoting through sound or the absence of hearing what’s meant to be taking place on the page?
CL: Oh wow, that’s a really interesting question. So I’ve been moderately obsessed with trying to convey music in my comics for most of my career, and I learned pretty quickly that I did not like how transcribing actual music notes worked. It got the point across, sure, but I was struggling to figure out how to convey the emotion behind the music and what it meant rather than just a string of notes. I ended up pulling most of my influence from manga, and I’d like to talk about one major inspiration in particular.
SWAN is a shoujo manga by Kyoko Ariyoshi and it’s sadly out of print in the US. It’s about a teenage girl entering an exclusive Japanese ballet academy on the back of her pure unrefined passion for the art and having to learn both the fine art of dance and also deal with the drama and stress that comes with being a dancer under the spotlight and the strain that puts on the body. It’s incredible, if you can find it I highly recommend it. But the way a static medium can convey dance and the emotion that comes from that is astonishing. It inspired me in both how its pages were constructed, but to also look at theatrical ballet to show emotion through movement.
For a story about opera (for kids!) I actually ended up watching more ballet than anything else while working on the book. I watched a lot of Swan Lake, but I’ve developed a minor obsession with Rite of Spring recently.
CBY: Ah, a suitable point of obsession. In my dance department, we spent a fair amount of time watching reconstructions of Ballet Russe productions, and Stravinsky is hard to top in terms of vitriolic orchestration. Regarding other classics, aspects of Shakespeare and Goethe’s work pop up in the narrative constructs of the story in the elements of the Fae’s presence in the world and elements of Faustian bargaining. What other stories may have been core to your process as you were developing The Hundredth Voice?
CL: I can talk about Faust all day! A lot of Faustian stories cropped up in inspiration, especially Faustian musicals like Phantom of the Opera and The Little Mermaid. The closest Shakespeare would be The Tempest, which while not my favorite bit of his work (Much Ado and Twelfth Night are my favorites, personally) lent a major hand in how it deals with managing magical forces beyond your control on your own little island kingdom.
CBY: I often think about the nature of the agreement between the witches of Macbeth, and how loopholes in phrasing provide room for interpretation in high-stakes metaphysical bargaining. Getting back to that specificity of setting, I started the interview with a query on the time and place in which your comic is set. Your webcomic, Maiden of the Machine, was also a period piece set in the UK, and “My Reluctant Prince” and “The Gimmick Oracle” also feature magic and period settings as well. It seems you have strong thematic preferences for your stories’ subject matter, but what sort of changes in your process are necessary as a consequence of the switch from web to print?
CL: I’ve always been a huge fan of historical fiction, I got won over early by the wonderful combo of Magic Tree House, Dear America, and the American Girl series. (Samantha was my favorite American Girl, which sparked a major interest in the Edwardian era that ended up snowballing into a general interest of the Victorian era through the 1920s.) That also leans into historical fantasy or historical sci-fi in the steampunk and gaslamp genres, where I get to explore my interests in the day to day life of people from these eras but also have them deal with ghosts.
The biggest change honestly, in the switch from web to print, is writing for children deliberately over incidentally. It’s been an interesting challenge, but one I’ve been really excited for. Thankfully because I had been doing small press and self publishing for so long, all of my webcomics are drawn and colored for an eventual print run in mind, so there’s not too much change on the purely technical side.
CBY: Oh, I'd never heard the term Gaslamp as a genre, but I definitely enjoy that contemporaneous Gilded Age aesthetic it evokes - my mother grew up near Edith Wharton's estate, so she and Henry James were both fascinating fixtures of my adolescent reading. Beyond period style, color is clearly a very important component of your work, and it comes up repeatedly in the story (e.g. - frequent mention of Uriel’s eyes, etc.) - what sort of tools and techniques do you use to achieve the look of your work? How much are you doing on the page, how much is digital, and what goes into the mix to get the clean, bold look you’ve delivered throughout The Hundredth Voice?
CL: It’s allllll digital. I work entirely in Clip Studio Paint, and all the colors were done on an iPad. I’ve done a lot of work in the industry as a flatter, particularly flatting to print.
Flatting, for those not familiar with the process, is basically doing paint by numbers for inked comics pages. It’s where you lay down flat colors so the colorist can render on top and use their focus for painting rather than just putting down colors. Most flatters don’t do flat to print, which is choosing colors as close to the final colors as you can, but that particular job has been a lot of my experience. So I’ve had a lot of interest and practice in finding color stories for characters and scenes to tell a story through color.
When I was doing development for the book, I had to sit down and decide on what key color would work for each character. Uriel was blue, Romy was yellow, Jasper was red, and the Declan Driscolls would all feature green in some way. So each of their costumes would involve that color in some respects, and if you attach a specific color to a character, you can then use that to signal other things. Like Raphael/Kelly’s loyalties moving from Declan to Uriel by changing his color palette from green to blue, or showing that one character is thinking of another by pushing their colors into the scene.
I’m 100% in the camp that emotive coloring means more to me than realism, so my work definitely bends around that theory.
CBY: It definitely helps create stronger identities, particularly with ensemble casts (reminding me why the Turtles ended up diversifying from all red headbands pretty quickly). While you’ve undertaken all the writing and illustration for the project, you’ve got an editorial team including; Brett Israel as Editor, Sanjay Dharawat as Assistant Editor, May Hijikuro as Designer, and Mars Ralson as Digital Art Technician. You also have Nichole Robinson listed as Sensitivity Reader. Can you speak to everyone’s role and their contributions to the finished graphic novel?
CL: I can speak to a few of them! Brett and Sanjay were wonderful, and it was fantastic working with them. The technical team at Dark Horse was extremely responsive to any questions I had, and I cannot thank them enough for doing my logo design for me. I’m no graphic designer, type design is not my strong suit, and they knocked it out of the park for me on the title design. I adore it.
Nichole Robinson (Also known as Dakky Comics if you’re looking to find them online) is a wonderful sensitivity reader, who read the whole book back when it was basically stick figures with dialog slapped over it. This was my first time working with a sensitivity reader, and they gave me really detailed feedback on both plot direction and aesthetic choices. It’s really great to have both a really responsive editor and a sensitivity reader to put your mind at ease as a creator, because they helped me not overthink my work, which can be a real problem when you’re used to going it alone as a webcomic artist. Having that backup is honestly life-changing.
CBY: Having discussed the editorial team and their contributions, can you share with our readers what the process of finding Dark Horse as a publisher looked like? What did the pitch and development process to get it from the initial conversations you may have had through to publication?
CL: So, I am lucky enough to be represented by Laurel Symonds of ktLiterary. Most of my career to date in mainstream comics has been work for hire, but I wanted to get an agent for my creator owned writer/artist work so that I could get into the royalties game, which you can’t get in work for hire. (Work for hire is a lump sum that you get for a project and you typically don’t get any rights to the work.) Laurel was the one who shopped my pitch around until we landed with Dark Horse!
I’d been working on the pitch for a while before the pandemic with a little critique group at Helioscope, which is my comics studio. It was in those early critique sessions that the story turned from a haunted house story into basically a musical. Laurel helped me refine things from there before it went off to editors.
CBY: Caitlin, thanks for making time to share more about The Hundredth Voice. Now, before we close, are there any unrelated comics or other media you’ve been enjoying lately that you think our readers should check out?
If you like other comics about magical kids who are Going Through It: Hooky by Miriam Bonastre Tur, Witch Hat Atelier by Kamome Shirahama, or the re-releases of W.I.T.C.H. By Elisabetta Gnone, Alessandra Barbucci, and Barbara Canepa.
If you’re looking for modern setting middle grade: Crush by Svetlana Chmakova
Historical fantasy for kids: Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis
Historical fantasy for grown-ups: Tiger, Tiger by Petra Erika Nordlund, the Delilah Dirk series by Tony Cliff, and The Glass Scientists by Sage Cotugno
Grounded historical fiction for grownups: Anything by Kaoru Mori, but Emma is my favorite
Newspaper, Actually: You should be reading the new Flash Gordon by Dan Schkade
CBY: Thanks for all the fantastic recommendations, Caitlin! It’s been fantastic having you join Comic Book Yeti today! If there are portfolio, publication, or social media links you’d like our readers to know, please drop them in below.
CL: Of course!
You can find my overall work at my portfolio: https://www.caitlinlike.net
I’m @caitlike on most social media, except on Tumblr, where you can find me at @jeanne-de-valois
If you’d like to check out my studio’s work, you can find that here: http://helioscopepdx.com
Thanks for having me!