Several years ago I stumbled across a book called Monster Blood Tattoo: Book 1 - The Foundling, by DM Cornish. I admit that I bought that book solely on the basis of the title. Monster Blood Tattoo sounded like an awesome premise. Then I read it and was completely blown away by what I considered to be the most unique and fascinating fantasy series since I first read The Lord of the Rings as a young girl. It is set in a new world called the Half-Continent and it is filled with "predatory monsters, chemical potions and surgically altered people...Foundling begins the journey of Rossamund, a boy with a girl's name, who is just about to begin a dangerous life in the service of the Emperor. What starts as a simple journey is threatened by encounters with monsters - and people, who may be worse."
Along with this amazing and thrilling story, you get incredibly detailed illustrations, created by the author himself. Like our own Grace Lin, DM Cornish is a doubly talented author/illustrator. His illustrations add so much to the experience, especially knowing that we really are seeing into the eye of the creator. That the characters he brings to life on paper are then shown how exactly he imagined them. I devoured both The Foundling and The Lamplighter and have waited eagerly for the release of Factotum, the third book in the series.
Factotum will be out in stores in November of this year, making this wait that much harder for me. But today, the Inkies are proud to bring you an interview with the amazingly talented author/illustrator/ creator of the Monster Blood Tattoo series, D.M. Cornish.
Ello - I am a true fan of the Monster Blood Tattoo series. From the title of the series to the intricate details of your world building, I am completely overwhelmed with admiration. The thing about this series is that it sinks into your psyche and you just can’t forget it. The Half-Continent is filled with amazing and frightening monster, but some of your human characters are even more frightening. Where did all these creatures come from? How did you create them? Did you have a lot of nightmares when you were younger?
DMC - Well, firstly, thank you for such encouraging praise! As to where all the beasties both human and non come from, I can not rightly say. Certainly a wide cross-section of influences have played their part, from Star Wars and Doctor Who, LotR, Narnia, the Cthulhu Mythos and all that, through manga (Akira, Orion, Appleseed, Ghost In The Shell for example), and of course all the real and wonderful horrors of real creation – the slimy, thorny, snaggle-toothed critters lurking in the oceans and hidden places. Really, as I sit to write/draw a beastie for a text, I find myself making it up in the moment, with ideas swirling and coagulating as need dictates./ I do not think I have more than the usually share of nightmares – my dreams are certainly very vivid, often with a strong narrative that will link one dream to the next through a night’s sleep.
Ello - I understand that it took you 10 years to create the Half-Continent. What was those 10 years working on this world like? Were you surprised to find the world you were creating was coming so incredibly to life?
DMC - I reckon it has been about 18 years since I first began to pointedly create what has eventually become the Half-Continent – and I am creating it still. There have been moments when I have indeed realised and been very grateful to have (after so long a period of invention) a setting functioning well enough to employ in a story. Then I wonder to myself, How on earth did this happen? It was certainly a very natural evolution, an often unconscious expression of some urge turning away inside me.
Ello - Having read many interviews you’ve given, I understand that your editor happened to see your notebook of illustrations on the half-continent and then asked you to write a story about it. So in that case, it was the art that lead you into the writing. But now you’ve had the first 2 books published and the 3rd one is coming out
this November in the US, so is the process different now? As an author and an illustrator, which of these crafts leads your creative process? For example, when a story idea comes to you, do you illustrate it first or do you write it out first?
DMC - I think it is largely simultaneous. Over the years working as a freelance illustrator, I was filling notebooks with writing (that is, notes and concepts for how the Half-Continent works). I find now that once the writing has started I tend to get stuck into it almost wholly and draw some sketch or other only to help in “seeing” a setting or costume or beast. Professionally I feel I have transitioned from illustrator to author, well at least I hope so.
Ello - Absolutely! And what a great way to get around writer's block! To be able to draw something to help you see is a talent I deeply envy. So a few of my fellow Inkies also had questions for you.
R.J. Anderson - Your books contain no allegory, preachiness, or even any obvious form of religion. But you've made no secret that you are a committed Christian, and having read your books I think that your faith does play into your writing in a meaningful -- though subtle -- way. What advice would you give to people of faith writing for an audience that doesn't necessarily share those beliefs?
DMC - I think that there can be a perhaps artificial notion that we ought to write what I think C.S. Lewis termed “nice Christian books”. I have certainly been asked more than once in when I might write a proper “Christian” book, to which my answer is that I have written a Christian book – I am a Christian and I have written a book.
There seems to me to also be a prevailing belief that God does not like us, that he wants us to be someone else, that he frowns on us and says not “good enough”, that we are supposed to write/create things .
During the years of initial invention I laboured under the notion that the Lord disapproved of what I was doing, that my passion for it was what is (I believe erroneously) termed “idolatry”. Yet in the unfolding “accident” of my publisher discovering my ideas, of all the “accidents” that lead to this, I found the Lord saying that he very much approves of the Half-Continent and all its denizens.
I have come to understand that the Lord actually wants us to be fully ourselves, indeed that he made us to be so, and would help us to throw off those parts of our character which hurt us and others and keep us from being truly and freely ourselves.
So my advice is, be yourself, write what you really want to, what is truly in you heart, in you thoughts – I would argue that this is a genuine act of faith.
I hope this all makes some fashion of sense…
R.L. LaFevers - I'm wondering which comes first in your mind: the words or the pictures. I'm also wondering if you draw to feed the story, or if the story sprang up around early illustrations. I'm actually very jealous of your drawing ability because there are so many times I wish I could draw something so I could "see" it better--I find myself wishing for a way to leap frog past my own process barriers...
DMC - Again, I think it is simultaneous, one cannot be divided from the other. Certainly images both drawn by my own hand and other sources feed my ideas as much as those miss-seen words, tid-bits of history and geography and other linguistic inspirations. The story of MBT was drawn from the large seed-bed of concepts that I had (and continue) to gather about how the Half-Continent works; the Half-Continent existed as notes and drawings well before it was put to me to concoct a tale from it.
As to leap-frogging barriers, drawing presents as many problems as it solves, and I have barriers aplenty of my own (as witnessed by the great stretch of time between volumes of MBT). I have found there is no cheep way through a problem, no get out of gaol free card, but to sit with it until it is solved. I might humbly suggest that any writerly soul attempt to sketch characters, clothes, equipment, situations – however roughly and just for themselves – as an aid to getting the story out; no one else need see them (so no fear of “I’m no good” need enter the mind nor delay the hand). Give it a try, you might just find you can draw well enough to help yourself, the point is not excellence of the marks but the problems they help solve.
Caroline Hooton - I'd be interested in knowing where the inspiration for Miss Europe came from - whether she was based on anyone in particular and how you developed her abilities? Also, are you an ‘outliner’ or a 'pantser'?
DMC - If I may, I will repeat an answer I gave at the Facebook “fan” page, Monster-Blood Cult:
‘Europe is most likely a mix of several strong women in my life, though certainly not through any deliberate decision on my behalf, rather she has formed herself on the page before me. Perhaps a bit of Lizzy B (thank you Ms Austen!) might be in her, especially that moment when she thunders away at the Duchess, but if this is so, it has not been intentional. Thinking of it, maybe a bit of Queen Liz I might be in my thoughts, especially in maintaining the queenly repose the Duchess-in-Waiting often affects.
I can say most certainly that Europe IS a reaction against other fantasy "heroines" out there, in that she is sensibly dressed, no bulging bosoms or bared mid-rifs offering vulnerable spots for a foe to hit, her "femaleness" is quite deliberately implicit rather than flesh-flauntingly explicit.
I see/hear her very clearly in my mind, feel the way she does (or does not, as "feeling" is not really a thing she approves of doing a lot of - not of the steadily introspective sort, any way), though there have been many times in the process of penning her that I have got her wrong and ladies like my wife or Mandii (to whom the first book is dedicated and upon whom Europe has some foundation) have very much helped me to get her "correct" again. Achieving the perfect pitch of disdain, ennui, anger, passion, general darkness, sharp tongue, droll wit has been a tricky but satisfying adventure... but the fact she can just cut sick and conquer every soul in the room is a great relief and very helpful indeed.
She says the things I wish I had the alacrity of wit to say, is helpfully amoral, and oddly impulsive (surprising even herself, though she would never admit to such surprise), and is perhaps an expression of such character in me. As such I have noticed that she is rather masculine for a lady, which leaves me wondering upon the challenge of penning a female character who is more "female" in her strength.’
As to the development of her abilities, as a fulgar it has been fairly straight forward to play out her ‘talents’ as the story unfolds, though I have to admit, an ecclatic (the skills of a fulgar) occurred to me in the penning of Book 3 that had never occurred to me before – such is the adventure of writing!
MBT is largely a bit of “panster” fiction, though Book 3 had a bit more of the “outliner” (or “plotter”) in it. I have been learning how to write as the MBT books have gone on, discovering that some level of outlining does me well, not so much as to stifle freedom, but enough to free me from groping about the dark and wasting words on wrong directions. I do not want to fly completely blind, but I still want to adventure of the unfolding story too. So perhaps I am an outlining pantser.
Lisa Green – Which comes easier for you, illustrating or writing? Which took more training?
DMC - I think perhaps illustrating can be a little more relaxing, can be done with music or a movie playing in the background, whereas writing usually requires silence. On either hand, since I am seeking to create the best thing I can, neither comes that easily and I am at full stretch to make my creation successful.
As for “more training”, I was already able to draw even before I studied illustration at university, and the only lessons I have had in writing is reading great books constant note taking on how the Half-Continent works, a few “false start” short stories and the actual process of penning MBT.
Leah Cypess - When you're at the beginning of a story and thinking up ideas (or brainstorming), how does your illustrating and your writing play off of each other as the story develops?
DMC - It tends to happen most in words, any drawing done as an aid to ideation. Having said that, many characters both in MBT and in the new Half-Continent tale I am working on have had their start as drawings first. Truly, there is no leader in my creative process between drawing or writing, I employ both as I need them, sketching a costume, or some nicker or the floor plan of a scene as required.
Just as a side note, I find that drawing provides a more immediate effect, but I find writing provides a deeper impression.
Ello - My 11 year old daughter would like to know what is the process of illustrating like for you. What materials do you use? What is harder to draw people or monsters?
The process of drawing is much more immediately rewarding, for I have a finished product far far quicker than. As to what it might feel like, it is much like writing but freer, my mind busy in a wordless way trying to solve the problem each line and mark presents, my eyes busily searching the emerging image for how it is proceeding and what to do next, frustration or satisfaction rising or ebbing in turn as I get my marks right or wrong.
For MBT I use a dark brown pencil for the character drawings, a black gel pen for many of the appendix images. I also like to paint in acrylics, enjoy a bit of collage now and then and to colour my pencil drawings using Photoshop.
I have to admit monsters are easier to fashion, for they are entirely mine to invent and no one can argue with me that I get one wrong or not. People on the other hand, well, everyone sees people every day and knows very well what they look like, leaving me little chance for error when drawing them, thus requiring a great amount of focus. I cringe even now at the errors in my character portraits in MBT, but, alas, what can I do about them now…?
Ello - I admit I’m dying to read the next book. Is there a sneak preview of the cover, or a blurb, or any art that you can share with us?
DMC - Indeed, here is an image not used in Factotum, Monster-Blood Tattoo Book 3, depicting a sabrine adept – a person possessing a goodly portion of a sagaar’s arts but concentrating on skill in sword-play – who does appear in Book 3.
Also, here are the US covers for Books 1, 2 & 3 of the re-badged Monster-Blood Tattoo, The Foundling’s Tale.
Ello – Ok, one last question. If you had to dress up for a costume party as one of your characters, which would you go as?
DMC - Probably Fouracres, Imperial postman, or maybe Sebastipole, Lamplighters’ Agent.
Ello - Thanks so much for joining us at the Inkpot and congratulations on the publishing of your 3rd book!
DMC - Absolutely my pleasure. Thank you so much for your interest!