One of the most intriguing graphic novels I’ve read in the past few months is Parassassin by Jasper Bark with art by Alfa Robbi, first published in the brilliant digital anthology Aces Weekly but available now as a full-blown graphic novel from Markosia. It’s a head-scratching but ultimately very cleverly-told, quite mind-boggling tale that plays with every time travel concept you can possibly think of, mashes in some angry aliens – and then ups the ante with a smooth blend of parody and outrageous treachery, delivering a hugely enjoyable thriller of a book.
Writer Jasper Bark takes you behind the scenes on the making of Parassassin, with some concept art kindly provided by Alfa Robbi… So sit, back, kick off your para-time plimsolls and find out how what was to have been a Doctor Who comic story became something very different…
If you spend a lot of time writing, then you’ll find that the stories you work on are a lot like friendships. Some last a very long time, others are short but pleasant. Some you make while at work, because they’re written on commission, others are more personal, written because you made a strong and instant connection with them.
We all have that one friend who’s incredibly hard work, yet we put up with their crap because, in the end, they’re worth it. Many writers also have stories like that, stories that took years of hard work, that we stuck with no matter how much crap they threw up, because it was worth it to finally tell them.
My latest graphic novel, Parassassin, from Markosia, was just such a story. It was over a decade in the telling, but worth the hard work to finally see it finished and in print.
It began life as a three-part serial for Panini’s Doctor Who Magazine, commissioned by then editor Clayton Hickman. Unfortunately, as it was being scheduled for publication, Clayton quit as DWM editor to pursue a career as a scriptwriter for Big Finish and CBBC. When Tom Spilsbury took the editorial reigns, as is often the case with new editors, he came in with a fresh set of ideas about where he wanted to take the regular strip. Sometimes this means orphaned stories, commissioned by the former editor, fall by the wayside, and this was the case with Parassassin. I did, however, get some brilliant input into the strip, not only from Clayton, but also regular Panini and Marvel writer – Scott Gray. This input proved invaluable, not only to the story as it was then, but also to how it was going to develop.
Luckily, I had quite a busy schedule of work, so I put Parassassin in a bottom drawer, and got on with my other scripts and novel commissions. The story wasn’t finished with me though; it would lurk at the back of my mind, turning up time and again, when I wasn’t thinking about more pressing work. It would remind me that it was still a great plot and that I mustn’t forget about it.
Sometimes insisting, in the most inopportune moments, that I get around to writing it at the first available opportunity…
An opportunity did make itself available, a few years later, when I met a brilliant, up-and-coming Indonesian artist, called Alfa Robbi, on LinkedIn. Alfa and I hit it off straight away and began discussing the possibility of working on a project together. As soon as these discussions began, the Parassassin story popped back into my mind to remind me that it was still available to be written, and I really had promised to write it, the first chance I got and – hey look, what was this, if it wasn’t a chance?
The only sticking point, in this otherwise undeniable argument, was that Parassassin was a Doctor Who story and I didn’t have the rights to use any of characters, or properties, in the Doctor Who Universe. What I did have though, was an overly fertile imagination and that, I was sure, would more than make up for this sticking point. So I went back to the story and removed anything that belonged to the world of Doctor Who, so I could retell it in my own way and repopulate it with my own characters.
In some ways, I felt a bit like a mad scientist, removing the skeleton from one of my living creations, in order to build an entirely new creature around it, from entirely new flesh.
This entirely new flesh was made up of the new characters and settings I brought to the old plot. Now that I was no longer constrained by working in an existing franchise, with a very strictly controlled fictional universe, I decided to give my imagination free reign. I wanted to come up with a bunch of characters I’d never seen before, but would really love to read about. Characters that would take the story, which was part time travel caper and part political parody, to a whole new level. As the characters changed, so did the story, and the way it was told. This was what I eventually ended up with:
“Three futures hang in the balance.
Two end in total annihilation.
One assassin’s bullet will decide.
On the planet Sedulon, a rogue band of renegade time travelers and scientific misfits fight to save the futures of two worlds.
Doc Hydrabus – a brilliant scientist whose body splits into a crowd of his past and future selves, he lives in one present and many futures all at the same time.
Cassindra – 900 years old, impossible to kill and every bit as deadly as she is beautiful. She’s travelled back in time to change the world.
Rushaar and Shartara – alien beings made entirely of gas with one simple plan, to use time travel to assassinate the leader of Sedulon and save their planet Eidolonia.
The Parassassin – will take the shot that decides the destinies of everyone in the galaxy. You’ll never guess their real identity.”
Alfa took the ideas and began to run with them, drawing up character designs, layouts and concepts that continued to build the world of the story. This was tremendously exciting for us both and I began to reach out to friends and colleagues in the comics world, to put together a creative team to work on the story.
We were joined by colourist, Yel Zamor and Dave Evans, better known to 2000AD fandom as the letterer Bolt-01 and the editor of FutureQuake, Zarjaz and Dogbreath. I can’t over emphasise how big a contribution Yel and Dave made to Parassassin in its early development. Yel is a tremendously talented colourist and her work is in great demand, not just in the comics world but in other markets too. She made an invaluable contribution to the look of the planet Sedulon, where Parassassin is set, and to all the of the strange characters that populate it.
As well as being one of the best letterers in the business, and an heir to lettering legend Tom Frame, Dave is also a great editor. He provided a lot of useful feedback on the early scripts that allowed me to improve them and get the story into shape.
Once we had a good set of sample pages we began shopping the project around different publishers. We did get a lot of interest from CLiNT magazine, but unfortunately they shut up shop before we got off the starting blocks. Finally, after a few near misses, our project found a better home than we could ever have hoped for, thanks to a mini publishing revolution, being mounted by a maverick comics legend.
Aces Weekly is the brain child of David Lloyd, co-creator of V for Vendetta and originator of the iconic Guy Fawkes mask that was worn by protestors from Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring. A weekly online comics anthology that contains stories from leading writers and artists from both mainstream and indie comics. It’s run on a completely co-operative basis and all the profits of each volume are shared equally between the creators.
Parassassin ended up running across eight full volumes of Aces Weekly, meaning that we had to put out weekly instalments for a full eight months before we finally finished the story. This posed a lot of challenges to our joint schedules, and we were often skating the bleeding edge of our deadline. However we were never met with anything less than courtesy, patience and unfailing professionalism by the staff at Aces Weekly, and they were always a joy to work with.
Sadly, we lost Yel working on the second volume of Aces Weekly, due to her demanding workload, which was a shame because she was great to work with. Instead, Alfa stepped up to the plate and took on the full art chores, handling pencils, inks and colours for the rest of the project. This was no mean feat on his part, given how tight the schedule was, and what hard work this project was proving to be.
David Lloyd is on a crusade to take comics into the 21st century and for him that means saying goodbye to the world of paper forever and forging ahead into the digital zone. He is determined that Aces Weeklywill only be available online or through digital distribution services such as Comixology, and will never see print. Alfa, Dave and I had always envisioned Parassassin as one cohesive story, and were very keen to see it collected as a graphic novel, but we knew this was never going to happen with Aces Weekly. So, when the strip finished its extended run, we began to cast about for another publisher to bring out a hard copy.
When Markosia heard that Parassassin was available, they practically bit our hands off. Both Dave and I had worked with Markosia previously, on the graphic novel Bloodfellas, and that had been a very positive experience for everyone involved, so Markosia seemed like the perfect home for the collected edition.
Dave had a few ideas about the way the story could be expanded in a graphic novel format, that he was keen to share with me. He and I sat down at the ICE con in Birmingham, in between signings and panels, to thrash his ideas out. We were very pleased to see that we were on exactly the same page when it came to where we thought the expanded story ought to go. I went home and scripted some additional pages, and rewrote certain sections of the existing script to accommodate them. I also added extra narration to make the story clearer.
When I was done, Alfa drew up the new pages and reformatted the old ones so they’d look just as good on a printed page as they had on a screen.
I’ll admit there were times when we thought this project would never be finished. The late nights spent staring at a monitor screen, and firing off last minute e-mails to avert yet another catastrophe, seemed to never end. Like that difficult friend, who turns up at your house at two in morning with yet another crisis they need help with, Parassassin demanded a lot of our time and attention. There’s a reason you have those people in your life though, and when we finally debuted Parassassin at Thought Bubble last year, we realised why we’d gone to such lengths to get this project off the ground and to keep it running for so long.
I also hope the staff at Markosia, particularly Harry Markos, GM Jordan and Ian Sharman, who went above and beyond for us, would also agree it was worth the hard work. The response from readers has certainly been gratifying and the early reviews have all been great.
I think the main reason we maintain certain, sometime difficult relationships, is because, in many other ways, those people are a hell of a lot of fun to be around and, for all the hard work, Parassassin was a lot of fun to work on.
Hopefully, if I’ve intrigued you enough, with this behind the scenes glimpse, to pick it up, you’ll find it’s a hell of a lot of fun to read as well.
• Parassassin is available now from all good bookshops physical, digital and trans-temporal
• Jasper Bark is an award-winning novelist, children’s author and comic book writer. Famed for his imaginative story telling he’s published four novels, twelve children’s books and countless comics and graphic novels. His work has been translated into nine languages and is used in schools throughout the UK to improve literacy. He regularly performs his work all over the country, on the radio and through regular podcasts. He’s online at www.jasperbark.com
Jasper is currently working on Beyond Lovecraft is a portmanteau horror story that draws directly on the works of H. P Lovecraft, drawn by award-winning artist Rob Moran. It’s a 96 page graphic novel featuring four stand alone tales and one ongoing story that links them all together – a grim and cosmic love letter to the mythos that means so much to the creators.
• Artist Alfa Robbi is a comic artist, illustrator and character designer, working at Papillon Studio, whose many credits include Max Steel . He’s online at sharknob.deviantart.com