After the publishing of Maddie in America – Volume 6 and the conclusion of what I like to call the ‘Maddie’ series, I couldn’t help but feel myself reminiscing about the long, sometimes arduous, but overall satisfying process I went through from when the series was just a spark of inspiration in May 2013 to its completion in November 2017.
The original idea for Maddie on the Island Hue came to me when I was visiting the Isle of Rùm in the Scottish Hebrides with my University in May 2013. For that I had the option of either a trip across the Scottish Highlands or a tour of China. I chose Scotland for two reasons; one being my family’s connection to the Highlands (my Dad’s ancestors having fought and thoroughly thrashed at the Battle of Culloden Moor in 1746), and also because I didn’t have the money to afford the trip to China (as a student I wasn’t exactly Scrooge McDuck). As it turns out, going to Scotland was not only brilliant because of the things I saw and did, but also because the group that went to China got in trouble with the authorities after getting drunk and starting a mini-riot aboard an overnight train.
Anyway, at first I thought I’d hate going to the Isle of Rùm because it was so remote, thinking of it as some kind of boggy marsh into which I would sink. However, after the first few days I really came to appreciate the natural beauty that this island exhibited, as well as the very nice people who lived there and weren’t too dissimilar to those on the mainland.
So, where did the story come from. Well, my first thought was to set the story on Rùm, as the idea of setting what was originally going to be a novella on an island in the Outer Hebrides I felt was both somewhat unique and presented interesting challenges to the characters involved. I owe my trip to Rùm as a way of helping me to overcome what was a very prominent creative block I’d been suffering from since about 2011. During this dark period of my life, nothing I drew ever seemed to satisfy me and I lost all enthusiasm to create artwork. Without artwork, my first and second years at university were certainly bland, finding myself stuck playing tawdry train simulators or wandering the streets of Preston looking for something to do. However, the trip to Rùm opened my eyes to the absolute beauty of this incredible part of the world, and I felt an unbelievable desire to capture such beauty in my drawings.
Thus, the setting of my then unnamed project was chosen, though I changed it to the fictional island of Hue (which was also situated much further north in the Hebrides than Rùm) to allow me a bit more creative freedom to make the island the way I wanted it to be for the story. From then on it has been non-stop drawing, starting with some questionable fanart and railway/aviation drawings, but eventually leading to the comic series we all know today.
As for the story itself, my idea of making it a novella quickly evolved into a graphic novel when I began to home my ability at drawing human bodies and creating my own art style with regard to faces. At the same time, while I consider myself something of a competent writer, being able to describe scenes and situations through concise but detailed wordplay, I’ve always been more inclined to present stories via a visual medium, and no medium, I feel, is better than 2D animation/artistry.
From old Disney films to the works of Studio Ghibli, I adore 2D animation as I feel it allows for much more charming character designs and a generally more expressive feel. 3D animation, while spectacular when done right, has always struck me as rather samey, same textures, designs, looks. 2D animation on the other hand I feel not only requires a lot more work (even flash-based animation) because it has to be drawn rather than rendered, but also because it allows for a wider scope of individual styles.
The style I derived for myself, particularly when it came to faces and heads, came down to something of a cross between the animation styles of British pre-school show Charlie & Lola (which I used to quite like for its innocent tone and cutesy animation), and American cash-cow Equestria Girls (which had its merits but, now that I look back, wasn’t anything too special. It was just refreshing to see a reasonably high quality 2D animated series come around after the start of the 2010’s).
However, one thing I note about modern, computer-based art styles, especially with people, is that they usually consist of incredibly thin body dimensions, spindly little arms and legs offset by massive heads. I was more a fan of realistic body proportions, with arms showing actual muscle and contortions in the profile rather than just dead straight lines which made the characters look like wandering skeletons. I also wanted to bring the heads of characters into proportion, but not so much that the head’s looked too small for the bodies. When doing that questionable fanart I was mentioning earlier, I experimented with the idea of increasing the body mass of the characters I was drawing so that their proportions matched those similar to actual humans. Sometimes this worked, other times it went horribly wrong.
At the same time, the questionable fanart I was doing also helped develop my taste for slice-of-life stories, of which I’ve always been a fan. I like the idea of taking stories involving enchantment and supernatural properties and setting them in the suburban realm, largely because it’s easy to relate to, but also because I find it amusing to watch characters with superhuman abilities having to deal with everyday matters and chores. I will be the first to admit that doing fanart and writing fanfiction is nothing to be ashamed of for writers who want to develop their craft. Taking preexisting characters and writing stories based around them and further developing their traits is a fantastic way of homing one’s skills.
Anyway, after about a year of creating questionable fanart and angering pretty much everyone on deviantart with my stringent standards, I felt that my decision to turn my idea for a story into reality came about in July 2014.
It was while I was sat at home on summer holiday watching The Vikings (1958) with my Mum and Brother that I first drew the promotional image you see above, Maddie Grey a hummin’ and a strummin’ on her acoustic guitar high above the Isle of Hue and the Scottish mainland beyond.
Okay, now, can we please get on to why you decided to write the story you wrote!
Originally, Maddie on the Island Hue was meant to be an all-out comedy, an episodic series of short comics which would follow Maddie as she continues to adjust to life on the remote little island. Some of these early ideas included Maddie manning a small lighthouse and almost causing a maritime disaster over the radio with ships in the channel, or another one where she attempts to help farm sheep only to end up in a muddy mess by the end. Indeed, many of the original comedic traits that were to be the backbone of the series did end up in the final work, including Maddie’s car getting stuck in the mud, the shower being outside in the garden, her and Andy’s first wild ride in the Range Rover and her listening at the door to Andy’s confession.
The characters were also radically different to try and befit the more comedic tone. Maddie was meant to be a bit more bad tempered and harder to adjust to island life, Andy and Matt remained largely the same (except Matt was meant to be in his 20’s before I decided he should be the youngest of the bunch), but the biggest differences were Siobhan and Ebony. The two girls were, as in the final work, meant to be gay in some form or another, but in the original instance both would’ve been Lesbians; Lesbians who hated each other’s guts in some cruel twist of irony. Their personalities were somewhat similar but, again, not fully the same. Ebony in particular was meant to be a bit more comedic, acting a lot more flirtatious around Maddie and teasing her with her sexuality. Siobhan was generally the same, being very repressed but more open. Why the two girls hated each other I didn’t know, again, it was more to create one simple ironic joke which, to be honest, wasn’t that funny to begin with.
Some of the more comedic moments within the story lend their origin to pop culture, a few Top Gear jokes certainly slipped into the mix, as well as jokes from the likes of Rik Mayall comedies such as Bottom and The New Statesman.
So, how did Maddie on the Island Hue evolve from a daft situational comedy to a serious coming-of-age drama about love, sexuality and commentary on social norms?
This came down to two reasons; one being that comedies are far too easy to do and there’s a million of them out on the market, and two, I wanted to create what I felt would be the perfect love story for the multiple parts of my personality, while at the same time being an exploration of humanity.
As I’ve stated multiple times, a majority of what’s illustrated within my comics is based off my own personal experiences. While I’ve not led an adventurous life so far, it has been, as is the case with most people, a life filled with laughter and sorrow. No life is perfect, in to each some rain must fall, and in mine there’s certainly been a lot of rain (but it helps the flowers grow so there’s that).
From the loss of Maddie’s Grandma and her subsequent personal battles to the almost self-loathing Siobhan feels for herself due to her sexuality and the trauma of her parent’s divorce, these are all based on real things that really happened to me or at least to people I knew. I basically wanted to personify my recollections in the form of the characters, thereby breaking down my personality into those who inhabit the comic and the world I’d created for them.
Most of all though, I wanted to convey morals in a way which, hopefully, doesn’t talk down to the audience. I wanted conversations to seem real and feel real, the way friends would talk to each other, or how a parent would sit down and discuss problems with their child. One thing I often find rather jarring in romantic drama’s similar to mine is that the dialogue seems very much like the product of a writer, there’s an almost inexplicable feeling you get in the back of your mind which is almost off-putting. You find yourself asking the question “That’s a bit of a weird thing to say” or “What people talk like this?”. Simply put, in order to make the characters seem real I had to make the dialogue seem real, and from the way people have responded I appear to have succeeded mostly, with people saying how ‘human’ the characters seem to be, each with their own strengths and flaws expressed almost entirely through dialogue.
With that in mind, I’ll bring us round to my final consideration, the setting.
The ‘Maddie’ series is set entirely in 1985, starting in July and ending in November. The reason I chose 1985 is because I personally feel that, for people growing up, it must’ve been a great time to be alive. My parents often have fond memories of living through the 80’s, when the economy was booming thanks to corporate banking, technology was on the border between oversized and unreliable to more compact and better quality (cars, phones, TV’s, etc), music was great, movies were great, we still had a sense of style and the evil that is Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist to lock our youth indoors and make them become socially introverted prima donnas who, when they’re not spouting impotent rage over stupid things like the layout changing, are spouting impotent rage over things they have absolutely no understanding of, such as world politics.
Yes, do you remember a time when, in order to make friends, you had to actually go outside and actually talk to people?
I do! 😀
But my fervent hatred of social media, which I feel is the modern day equivalent of the lead in the water pipes that drove the Romans mad, isn’t entirely why I set the series in 1985. I feel it was a more innocent and optimistic time, we had goals and visions, ideas to shape the future and make the new millennium a beautiful and Utopian place. Sure none of that came to pass, but back then nobody really cared if it did or not. The dark, drug fuelled days of the 1970’s were over and the world was expanding outwards.
But even though it was a mostly happy time, not everything was hunky dory, hence Siobhan and Ebony’s story.
Indeed while the Gay Rights movement had been gathering momentum since the late 1960’s, escaping the distorted views that the likes of McCarthyism had imprinted on society, one hurdle was very much traded for another in the 1980’s, especially by 1985. The AIDS epidemic, plus the ever vigorous efforts of religious zealots to try and stop the onslaught of more liberal thinking, slanted the views of the world against homosexuality, thus resulting in the mindset Siobhan and Ebony have imprinted on their personalities. This isn’t helped by their location being somewhat isolated from the rest of society, with their only real information being based entirely on what snippets they receive from the mainland. They’re not ignorant to the concept that there may be a Gay Rights movement, but it wasn’t exactly well advertised back in the day, hence why they feel they have to hide themselves away.
So there you are, mindset of the ‘Maddie’ series, explained in far too many words to count! 😀
It has been one heck of an adventure to do this story, but I feel that it was one that was truly worth it. To look through the entire series once again and think back to when the images on screen were once ideas in my head is just the most satisfying feeling an artist could have, as well as being able to publish my work and put it on sale. Most of all I was able to turn another dream into reality, and create what I feel was my perfect story, a story that played by my own rules and appealed to my own sense of what’s right and wrong.
Overall, it’s been a fantastic journey, an epic voyage, an affirmation of my own strange slanted view on how the world works and what it takes to see out a vision. 🙂