Independent publisher Improper Books have just confirmed that Briar, a new graphic novel by Benjamin Read and Chris Wildgoose, will be released this autumn (with copies on sale at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival), and I got a chance to sit down with Chris and chat about his and Ben’s ideas about this beauty of a the book and its origins.
Briar follows the story of Princess Layka, who seeks an end to the curse that keeps her shut off from the world. Trapped for years behind the enchanted barrier of the briar, she awaits her one true knight, who has been tasked with the quest to break the curse and set her free….
The brainchild of Benjamin Read and Chris Wildgoose, creators of the acclaimed Porcelain: A Gothic Fairy Tale, Briar is inspired by European myth and folklore. It subverts the fairy tale tradition of the princess imprisoned behind a hedge of thorns, turning it into something dark, bittersweet, and original.
“Briar is Improper doing what we do best, dark fairy tales,” says Chris. “I don’t think Ben or I could be any more at home than with knights, magic, and monsters, and we’ve really raised the bar for ourselves with this.
“We also wanted to push the boat out art-wise, so we’ve gone incredibly detailed with all the interior artwork. Storytelling is paramount, but I’ve tried to go as intricate with the art as Ben’s tale. I’m also so excited to have Jordan Boyd on colours with us. He gets what we’re aiming for and brings a whole other life to my inks.’
“Briar is one of the books I’ve always wanted to write,” said Benjamin Read. “Set against a background of eastern European folklore, it’s a Russian doll of nested stories, wearing a coat of fairy tales but subverting every trope within them.”
Chris explained to me that everything about Briar grows from the Russian folklore that is its inspiration, and that this is just the first in a series of stories, planned as a long series. The later pages of this first tale lay the framework for the ideas and themes of the books that will follow.
There’s also a couple of real life homages and references going on in the mix, Chris tells me. Princess Layka has a little bit of the actress Imogen Poots (best known for the movies 28 Weeks Later and Centurion) in her look and movement.
There are also a couple of brutish twins who appear and wreak havoc in Book One of Briar, based (visually, at least) on the fantasy writer Patrick Rothfuss (creator of the Kingkiller book series). Chris tells me that Patrick got a big tip of the hat after being such a vocal fan of Ben and Chris’ other ongoing series Porcelain. The artist was over the moon when he heard of the writer’s enjoyment of their small press series and had to include him – it was an added extra that Patrick has the right look for medieval times, Chris tells me with a smile.
Outside of Briar but still in comics Chris has some big things happening. After Briar launches at the Lakes Festival in October he, Ben and Improper Books are launching the new volume of Porcelain – Bone China at Thought Bubble in November. As well as his Improper Books output, Chris is also working on a story for Phonogram with Kieron Gillen and other hush-hush projects.
The first five pages of Briar are presented below. This is some of my favourite art in a comic book in years. Enjoy.
Written by Benjamin Read
Illustrated by Chris Wildgoose
Coloured by Jordan Boyd
Lettered by Jim Campbell
Publisher: Improper Books
UK limited indie release – October/November 2015
US & International release – Wednesday, 2nd December 2015 (Diamond: OCT151508)
Many thanks for reading.