Flickers of Light Floating Amongst the Trees – An Interview with LYNDON WHITE and LIZZIE KAYE
CANDLES is this summer's Kickstarter pleasure book. It's an all-ages fantasy tale from Lyndon White that wears its influences on its sleeve. Providing magical support is new publisher Cast Iron Books and its founder Lizzie Kaye. They take time out of their busy schedule to talk to Comic Book Yeti about their campaign, fantasy, magic and publishing.
The Kickstarter campaign for CANDLES ends July 16, 2021, and you can back it HERE.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Let's talk about the book. Candles is a work: 144 pages of magic, in every sense, from story and characters to the eye-catching art and colors that is faithful to its audience and the genre. Lyndon, I’ve seen your name attached to “horror” books like Frankenstein, Dracula and The Call of Cthulu, and Reanimator Incorporated. So what inspired an all-ages fantasy book? And how did it get into the hands of Cast Iron Books?
LYNDON WHITE: In the past, I’ve very much been labeled as a “horror guy,” but I think that’s down to the types of scripts I’ve been offered over the past few years. Which, to no one’s surprise, are mostly set at night. I’ve had this ongoing joke that monsters don’t come during the day, which is why the palettes and themes of a number of my previous books have been so dark.
Candles came about while working on said horror books and looking out my window at night. I wish I was kidding, 'cause it does sound cliche. Across from my house is a set of trees on a hill and there were flickers of light floating amongst the trees, and from that, I had the idea of floating candles burnt into my brain. That leads to an enchanted forest, a witch, a couple of monsters, and a wizard. All of which is in my wheelhouse.
I’ve steered towards supernatural horror rather than blood and gore horror. There’s actually a decent amount of overlap. If you look at my back catalogue, I’ve actually already done an all-ages book, Sparks and the Fallen Star. Night never ends and, while others only wonder, Sparks, the bravest little robot, sets out to discover the reason why. Sparks was my first full-sized graphic novel and it has quite a broad audience. I regularly hear from people about how much they’ve enjoyed it and others tell me they’ve read it with their kids. It’s playing around in that Shaun Tan spot on your bookshelf. A book can be for everyone and, depending on your age, you’ll get more out of it.
LW: Candles came to Cast Iron Books because when I originally sent the pitch to Lizzie, she loved it and knew straight away what I was going for. In another publisher’s hands, this book could be forced to be darker or aged up, which is not what I was going for. It is light-hearted, magical and a little whimsy in places, but it needs to be, to balance the darker themes that come in later pages. It is an all-ages book, but it's not dumbed down for kids.
CBY: I’m glad you said that. I hate labels on books that are for a specific age group. I’ve always felt that, to create a niche marketplace, the industry has shrunk its readership. Everyone has a different maturity level and set of experiences. Adults can read children's books and some children can read more adult material.
LW: Right! I find it incredibly painful to read or watch something that has things purposely put in because a writer or team feels it will appeal to the younger audience. It can very easily feel forced or tacky. I’ve never been a single-issues comic reader. I never had access to them. It’s always been trades or the collections here in the UK (usually 2-3 comics, bundled together). As a kid, I hated picking up the magazine version of Spider-Man when I could have the “grown-up” version (minus the plastic toy) because most of the time, the stories had no weight and felt disposable. I’m a big fan of making the book that you want to create and the rest will come. Know your audience, but don’t pander to them.
"...if you like supernatural horror or books that are a little spooky, say something like Coraline, give Candles a look."
CBY: The book has a great cast of characters of all different ages. What kind of audience are you comfortable reading Candles? LW: I know "all-ages" is quite broad, but for me, I’d comfortably give this to a 12-year-old and upwards. If it was myself as a kid, I’d digest any comic I could get hold of and would have read this from around 8+. For the younger side of things, I’d say it depends on your reading age and how comfortable you are with comics. If you are older and officially a grown-up, then you're good, you can safely read this one. You can probably tell looking at the artwork, this one is directly influenced by Studio Ghibli, and their films are for all ages. In terms of actual genre and reading, if you like fantasy and fairytales, this book is for you. It’s across every page and core to the story. However, I would say if you like supernatural horror or books that are a little spooky, say something like Coraline, give Candles a look. It does have quite a broad appeal and I’ve avoided really, really heavy fantasy jargon. You aren’t going to need a guide or someone to explain the history of the world to you. With Candles, you can simply pick up the book and go.
CBY: I don’t know the age metrics of Kickstarter supporters, but I assume the Young Reader dynamic is small. Do you find the dichotomy of an all-ages book being available on Kickstarter a little strange?
LW: Not really, because people will either buy it for themselves or their kids. At comic conventions, I have families come to my table and pick up different books. Parents might buy Sparks and the Fallen Star for their kids (and secretly themselves), pick up a horror anthology for a teenager, and then Reanimator Incorporated for themselves. I do think it’s important to offer a range of different books on Kickstarter. The audience there is vast and will buy things for themselves and others. It’s grown into something more than a platform for one demographic.
CBY: Lyndon, you wear all the hats (except publishing) in creating Candles. Have you ever stopped and thought, “Ugh, why didn’t I get someone to (insert task) this?” Does that put more or less pressure on you to complete Candles? LW: There have been a couple of times when I’ve thought, “damn it, Past Lyndon! How am I meant to draw X?” But that’s all part of the fun of it. I generally love what I do, no matter the book, but Candles has really been something special. I know artists say it with every book, but this is the best thing I’ve ever done and every day has been an utter joy. Which I hope shows in the artwork – there’s a number of challenging pages throughout Candles and, as an artist, you wouldn’t want to draw them unless you love what you do.
I’d say it can be hard to find ways to bring people into the art process when you’ve developed your own style that has its own visual look. Not to toot my own horn, but it’s all painted, and painting takes time. If I was to match this book again, I could maybe find someone I trust to help with the flat colours or maybe the lettering. But I’d want them to match the style I’d be going for.
I will say, it’s nice to say this is 100% a Lyndon book. This is my identity as a writer, artist and letterer.
CBY: I got to read a few preview pages and I won’t lie, a few panels in, I gave up on the story and lived in the art. It is stunning. The coloring is so…visual. At times they remind me of animation cells. When I get the complete book, I promise I will give it my full attention. It's a very deliberate look. Can you share the process with us?
LW: Haha, I’ll take that as a compliment. That’s really nice to hear because the artwork can take time to do. I’m generally pretty fast at turning around pages, but that doesn’t mean the hours aren’t there. Okay, I never start drawing anything until the script is done. I like to see the start and end, so I can start thinking about the visuals as a complete package. From there, I draw thumbnails for each page, which are tiny, sketchy drawings that are about the size of your thumb (hence the name). They aren’t meant to be detailed, but do help you break down your paneling and framing. From there it’s linework, which is pretty detailed with some shading. I like to think of this as the skeleton of the page. If it works in line work, it will work in colour.
Next is ink wash, and I only work in grey tones. There tend to be 4-6 layers of ink depending on the page or illustration. This bit is pretty fun and you can work in some great base textures, tones, and mark-making. If we are sticking to the skeleton analogy, these are the muscles. Then its colours, which as you can see, can take some time to do. I’m actually partly colourblind and colouring by hand can be quite tricky. So I scan my pages in and use a Cintiq to colour them digitally, using painted brushes and textures. It’s very similar to painting by hand. I still have to work in all the details and, well, paint. But this way, I have more control over the colours and can change things if I’ve made any mistakes. On occasion, I’ll accidentally colour something the complete wrong colour. If that happens, I can at least edit and change it. If it was by hand, I’d most likely have ruined the painting. At this point, the colours are...shall we say the skin? Finally, it’s the lettering. I tend to lean towards handwritten typefaces and always draw my text boxes and bubbles, rather than using clean shapes. I like giving them that extra bit of character, which ties nicely into the analogy, because these would be your clothes! Overall, it's a mixture of working both traditionally and digitally. The best of both worlds.
CBY: When the reader finishes the book and puts it down, what are you hoping that they are feeling?
LW: I hope they feel like they’ve been on a journey and it was worth it. For both the reader and the characters they’ve followed. I’m personally a bit tired of not getting complete stories when I finish a graphic novel or a chunky trade. Even if there’s more to come, I want a satisfying reading experience when I turn to that last page, and I hope Candles delivers on that.
CBY: With a few weeks left, Candles is looking good at being funded. What is the contingency plan if it doesn’t? I think this book should be in people's hands. Do you and Lizzie have something magical up your sleeves? LW: This would be more on Lizzie and figuring out a battle plan. Cast Iron Books are committed to publishing Candles in whatever capacity it takes, be that a webcomic, adjusting the format, or possibly trying to sell the foreign rights first. It’s a case-by-case basis and this is why I’m working with a publisher. I trust Lizzie and the master of publishing that she is. If the Kickstarter didn’t pan out and we had to go a different way, I’d trust her to figure out the next course of action.
CBY: How has working with Lizzie and Cast Iron Books been? LW: In short, brilliant. Lizzie and Cast Iron Books believe in Candles and the book it can be. As an artist/author, I want that. I need them to understand what Candles is at its core and who it is for. Each time I’ve had a new idea or needed something checked over, Lizzie has been there and supported [me] as a creator. A clear example was adding the map. I have no idea why the map wasn’t there in the original draft, but it should have been. So when I suggested adding it, Lizzie was just as excited about it and hey, we did it. It’s now there in the book and I can’t see a version of Candles without it. This has happened a few times, and Lizzie has that level of trust in me to, one, deliver the book and, two, know that I’m going to make it the best it can be. She hasn’t had to really chase me and knows I’m just getting on with it.
CBY: Lizzie, you head up Cast Iron Books with an eye on graphic novels, illustrated books, and experimental fiction. Cast Iron Books is just starting its walk, but you are no stranger to this business. What made you start your own brand (and what's the story behind the name)? And why these specific areas of work?
LIZZIE KAYE: The idea for Cast Iron Books has been simmering away for a few years, but it took a while for all the pieces to fall into place!
During my tenure with Unbound (UK-based crowdfunding publisher where I built a graphic novel list), I learned a lot about how crowdfunding interacts with the wider publishing industry, and what opportunities there were for graphic novels to capitalise on their already strong presence across online funding platforms.
When I started saying to myself “Well, if it was up to me, I would do it this way,” on a daily basis, I knew it was time to properly commit to the idea of starting my own publisher. I also received a lot of encouragement from people I respect in both the graphic novel and trade publishing spaces, which was heartening. It was with one of those people that I had the conversation that led to the name – which had been a huge stumbling block. A conversation in the pub about frying pans and fires, and the name “Cast Iron Books” was the result. My experience is almost exclusively comics and graphic novels, across the whole gamut of the medium, so there was never anything else I would do – it was always going to be this – but I like experimentation and innovation. I want to push the medium forward.
"...there was never anything else I would do – it was always going to be this – but I like experimentation and innovation. I want to push the medium forward."
CBY: Is Cast Iron Books' business model going to rely heavily on supporting creators/books through crowdfunding or, in time, will it produce and distribute on its own?
LK: For the moment, the model is tied to crowdfunding, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I believe in it. It’s a fantastic way to allow books to find their readership without being shackled to the traditional processes of the wider publishing industry – be that trade or the direct market. Looking at where publishing as an industry is heading, I have more faith in the crowdfunding route as a means to bring original work to readers, and the market, and to do that in a sustainable way.
Secondly, while all avenues have their benefits, and downsides, on balance I believe that the crowdfunding model makes more sense for both the creators and the publisher – though there are, as always, a whole fleet of caveats and addendums to this related to expectations, goals, investment, overhead, etc.
Ultimately, though, it gives us more freedom. And I like freedom.
CBY: Cast Iron Books does have a submissions page (currently closed) and you exhibit your openness to working with creatives with two questions: "What are you trying to say?" and "Why?" So what can someone expect when they do reach out to you? What do you expect from people in a pitch?
LK: I read every pitch we get, and try to send a personalised response (which is partly why submissions are still closed for now…)
The submission guidelines are deliberately broad because I know what I’m looking for – and that isn’t necessarily going to be shown to its best advantage if I ask for a form submission.
The easiest way to describe it is that I’m looking for a sensibility. That is the thread that links the – on the face of it quite eclectic – Cast Iron Books titles. The authors all have a sensibility and approach to their work that I understand and respect. If the book is going to exist whether I, or anyone else, commissions it is a good benchmark for me. There are some projects that authors give their souls to – I’m looking for those books, and those creators. Lyndon is one of those. His craftsmanship and care for Candles is exactly what I’m looking for, so I’m very, very pleased to be working with him.
Just to add – I’ve had to pass on some books where I could feel the love for the story and the medium coming across in the pages. It hurt to do it. We’re running a small list for now. Hopefully that won’t be the case for long!
"I think there’s a lot of pressure and expectation that individuals and companies will “hit the ground running, a hundred miles an hour” when it comes to a new venture and while that certainly works for some people, it doesn’t work for me. I’m more interested in building a strong base that creators, retailers, and readers can trust and rely on."
CBY: Would you consider publishing books that creators had successfully crowdfunded? Could Cast Iron Books be a foundation for those creators to lean on?
LK: Potentially yes, in the future, but I’m wary of over-reaching – like you said, Cast Iron Books is just starting to walk! I think there’s a lot of pressure and expectation that individuals and companies will “hit the ground running, a hundred miles an hour” when it comes to a new venture and while that certainly works for some people, it doesn’t work for me. I’m more interested in building a strong base that creators, retailers, and readers can trust and rely on. That takes time. For now, that means focusing on using our business model to produce beautiful books. I’m in no rush.
CBY: If you haven’t checked out Candles, go now and get on board. When you are done there, go visit Cast Iron Books. It's your chance to get on the ground floor of something new and exciting. Many thanks to Lyndon and Lizzie for speaking to Comic Book Yeti.
Candles Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/castironbooks/candles-book Twitter: @lyndondraws
Instagram: @lyndondraws Website: www.lyndonwhite.com