As a follow up to the Kid Beowulf post from yesterday, I was able to conduct an e-mail interview with Kid Beowulf’s creator, Alexis Fajardo. Not much fanfare to begin it, I’ll just let Lex do the talking.
Trevor -What brought about the creation of Kid Beowulf?
Lex – Kid Beowulf started out as a lark, really. Years ago, when I began my cartooning career, my focus was on comic strips. My hope was to get my college comic strip, “Plato’s Republic” syndicated. For years I submitted it to papers and got nothing back but a plate full of rejection letters. During that time, a friend of mine was putting together a fantasy comic book and asked if I wanted to contribute a story to it, he was looking for something funny and all-ages. While I was thinking of ideas for a story I also happened to be re-reading the epic poem BEOWULF (for fun, naturally). Somewhere along the way I wondered what Beowulf, an intimidating, savage and fearless warrior, would have been like as a kid and the idea seemed instantly funny to me. So I ran with it. The original Kid Beowulf story started as a 6 page zine, I had no idea it would eventually grow into a 13 part graphic novel series.
I’ve always been a mythology nut and those are the stories I read growing up. It was only in high school, when we read BEOWULF as an epic poem that my interest really grew; there was just something about the language of epic poetry that ignited my brain–the descriptions were so vivid, it was crystalline in my head. In college I studied Classics and pored through Homer and other epics. BEOWULF always stayed with me though and I think it’s the simplicity of the story. And because it’s so straight forward it lends itself to all kinds of intepretation and permutation without ever damaging the source material. That’s the mark of a good story.
How many books are planned in the series?
I’ve got about 13 ideas for books. The basic premise is Beowulf and Grendel as twin brothers traveling across the world meeting other epic heroes therein. As they travel and get into other adventures, the more they discover what their true destiny is, which is to fight each other (as in the original BEOWULF). The Kid Beowulf series is very much a coming of age story, so with each book they get a little older and ultimately learn what will happen to them. It’s how they deal with that as brothers which is the true meat of the story. The springboard for each new book is the country Beowulf and Grendel happen to be in and the epic poem or legend associated with that country. Each book takes about year to do, so I’ll be at this awhile and I hope I can sustain interest in the series to see it to the end.
Do you think that the recent slew of children’s fantasy (Harry Potter for example) had an impact on your story?
I’ve only read the first Harry Potter novel, though I appreciate what she was able to do and I can see similarities to my own work. I think regardless of the current state of pop-culture, these are the types of stories that will always be popular and resonate. We’re dealing with ideas and themes that are universal and will always be relevant.
What were the influences you used in the character designs?
My primary cartooning influences come from the comics I read and watched as a kid: Asterix, Looney Tunes, Pogo and Peanuts. I try to keep the character designs simple and appealing. I think good cartooning is based on clarity and so is good storytelling. You want to keep your readers engaged so you have to create characters that they can recognize immediately and understand what they are doing in any given panel. Charles Schulz, Chuck Jones, and Walt Kelly knew this, that’s why their characters and stories are so appealing and fun to look at.
What prompted you to introduce Beowulf so late into the first book?
Well the first book is the origin story and when you’re working with the premise that Beowulf and Grendel are in fact, 12-year-old twin brothers (a huge departure from the original story), then you’ve really got to sell that idea and the only way to do that is create a convincing story that leads to their birth. The theme of the first book is family and heritage, something that is always remarked upon in epic poetry (the hero’s lineage, etc). It was really important to me to establish who Beowulf and Grendel’s parents and grandparents were and how their choices had a direct impact on their children. Beowulf and Grendel don’t appear until the third act, but by that time the reader understands exactly what led to that point and hopefully the ramifications of it.
What other historic characters would you like to use in the book? Are there ones that you want but don’t think will fit?
The series is very much a travelogue, so whatever country Beowulf and Grendel happen to be in, they will encounter that country’s heroes, but I’m trying to keep it centered on epic poetry and within Europe and Asia. There are enough similarities between these epics that they can play off and enhance each other. The over-arching story to the series is the changing relationship between Grendel and Beowulf, and how they are destined for two different paths: monster vs. monster-slayer, a very basic mythological theme. I have to make sure every story I do serves that theme.
Epics and stories that I’ll be doing include “The Song of Roland” (France), “El Cid” (Spain), Romulus and Remus (Italy), “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” (Greece) and a whole bunch more!
Considering that the cast includes a dragon and a talking sword as well as a giant, could some of the Norse gods (like Thor) be on the way or are you hoping to keep in as real as possible?
Although there are some fantastical elements in the first two books, I try to make sure all the action is centered on the actions of men and women. Beowulf, Grendel and other characters refer to gods but they do not interact with them. I think an element of drama gets lost when you make things too fantastical, so I want to keep it as grounded as I can.
Why start each book with the actual legend of the figures?
Although a lot of people may have heard of BEOWULF, not as many people have actually read it. And that goes for The Song of Roland, El Cid, Gilgamesh, or the other epics I’ll be using. The last thing I want readers to think is that they need an English degree to enjoy these books–for me, it’s all about making these stories accessible.
That’s why each book will have a prologue, which is a retelling of the original epic. That way, everyone can get in on the ground floor and know what the epics are about and then read the Kid Beowulf version of it. My hope is that by the end of each book the reader will be curious enough about the characters that they’ll want to see how the story ends and read the original source material. I view the books I’m creating as “prequels” to the actual epics they’re based on.
Are characters from other books going to reappear or are we just going to be following Beowulf and Grendel throughout?
I like to keep each story as self-contained if I can. There might be some spill-over but it would only be to carry the action or plot points from one book to another.
There are some characters from book two that will appear in book three, but that’s just at the beginning–the main narrative will be following Beowulf and Grendel as they encounter new people and stories.
How much has the end of the legend, with Beowulf and Grendel becoming enemies, influenced your own story? Do you find it freeing or constraining to know the eventual destination?
As an author, knowing how the story ends is a huge help in crafting the beginnings.
It helps me aim toward something and if I’m lucky I can weave themes and connections that make the end seem inevitable and pre-destined. If I do my job right, then I’ll have convinced readers that there is no other way for this story to end.
Do you find that your personality matches with any of the characters?
I think every author should put a little of himself/herself into their characters, that’s the only way to make them sound true. Even the bad guys should be motivated from a real place, whether it’s being misunderstood, unloved or just plain angry. I have characters who I like more than others, Ogier the Dane (Beowulf and Grendel’s uncle) is a particular favorite, he’s someone I’d like to emulate.
What themes do you hope to explore through the series?
The entire series is basically the hero’s journey and each book focuses on a different part of it. I also want to play up themes that are found in epic poetry. So for instance, the theme of the first book is family, and one of the themes found in epic poetry is the hero proudly talking about his lineage. Something else found in the hero’s journey is the idea of self-sacrifice and how a hero must give up his own ego to serve the greater good, and that’s what “Kid Beowulf and the Song of Roland” is about. Book three, “Kid Beowulf vs. El Cid,” is about the naming of the epic hero, and how each hero has to live up to the name they’ve been given.
With your push to get Kid Beowulf into schools and libraries, do you think society is becoming more accepting of comic books in general or that your book has something more to offer?
Getting people to read anything is pretty tough these days–there are so many other things competing for their attention. The fact that teachers and librarians are willing and excited to share graphic novels with their students is encouraging and can only help, so I’m all for it. I hesitate to say my books have more to offer than others; I do know that the source material is what’s compelling to me and that if I can tell a story that’s half as exciting as the originals they’re based on then I’ll be happy, and hopefully, so will my readers.
Any final thoughts about the book or anything you’d like to share?
I do a production blog and post at least once a week on my website at www.kidbeowulf.com That’s also where I list upcoming appearances and signings. For those wanting to get the books in Sonoma County I recommend the Comic Book Box in Rohnert Park or Outer Planes in Santa Rosa as well as Copperfield’s. The books are also available at any bookstore and online. And of course, you can become of fan of Kid Beowulf on Facebook!
And as an ending note, Lex is also going to be busy over the next month or so. On June 12th, En Garde Fencing in Santa Rosa is hosting the Kid Beowulf Open from 12 to 1:30 PM. It is free and lessons will be available for all who attend. And this Saturday, May 29th, Lex will be doing a signing at Borders in Santa Rosa starting at noon. If you want the chance to meet a great cartoonist and a great guy, make sure to mark your calender.
Picture taken from Bowler Hat Comics