Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Q&A with Ray Fawkes

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One Soul by Ray Fawkes

Ray Fawkes is the author of prose fiction, several graphic novels and games. His latest work, One Soul, which he has both written and illustrated, launches this Wednesday at the Lillian H. Smith library branch.

Fawkes speaks to Open Book about how he got started, finding an audience and some of his influences along the way.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book, One Soul.

Ray Fawkes:

One Soul is a book about 18 different people’s lives, from birth until death, throughout human history and around the world. Their lives unfold simultaneously in the book, and the narrative winds through all of them, back and forth, tying them into one single story — a story about the experiences, both common and unique to those lives, and the questions they raise.

OB:

Aside from the story, how do you feel One Soul is different from any of your other work so far?

RF:

One Soul is far greater in scope than anything else I’ve ever written, to start with — both in terms of narrative complexity and the thematic ground covered. It’s the most ambitious piece I’ve conceived of to date, and the one that I believe displays the most unfiltered text of my fictional designs.

OB:

Why did you decide to bring 18 individual stories into the narrative of One Soul?

RF:

From the beginning, I knew that several simultaneous threads would have to be woven together to make this story work — the lives of the different characters needed to help demonstrate some of the different features of the plot, including, but not limited to, the commonality of certain experiences and the tendency for patterns of significance to appear to arise from events that could rationally be considered random.

The number 18 was born of a strictly structural decision. I decided to utilize a nine-panel grid for the story, one that was proportionally convenient on the page — allowing me to split every page into three equal rows and columns, so that no single position was larger than any other. Since I wanted each position on the grid to feature only one character’s story in every double-page spread, I had to double it to 18 panels.

OB:

What were some of the challenges you faced bringing these 18 stories together?

RF:

The main challenge, really, was finding a way to keep the threads distinct enough that they wouldn’t blur into one another in the readers’ minds, while allowing the voice of the book to flow from one thread to the next without jarring leaps in tone or language. That was solved only with careful work—many passes over the text to ensure that everything worked exactly the way I wanted it to, and that all of the text was pared down to the exact rhythm I intended.

OB:

Although attitudes are changing, it seems that graphic novels still aren’t taken as seriously as fiction novels. Why do you think this is? How do you address this in reference to your own work?

RF:

I think it’s because graphic novels are still considered upstarts in this part of the world — they’re comic books, really, and comic books bear a stigma that separates them from serious literature. That’s largely because of their terrible North American pedigree, really — most people think of them as children’s readers with helpful pictures or superhero fights-and-tights fare.

But I don’t address it in reference to my work at all, really. Why should I concern myself with other peoples’ artistic prejudices? It’s my job as an artist to create my work — not to do academic battle over its proper categorization. If I wanted to do that, I’d be a critic.

OB:

The graphic novel industry is difficult to get into, let alone the literary industry as a whole. How did you get into it?

RF:

To tell the truth, it’s not quite as difficult to get into comics as it is to get into, say, prose fiction. All you really have to do is make a comic book, duplicate your work on a printer or photocopier and set about trying to sell it to an audience. That’s exactly what I did, with my first published stories, about ten years ago.

The difficult part is finding an audience and getting your work out to it. The only way to accomplish that, I believe, is with hard work and dedication to learning the craft, just as with any entertainment art.

OB:

Which works by others, graphic novels or otherwise, would you say have most influenced you as an artist and writer?

RF:

In the world of graphic novels, I’ve been very inspired by the works of independent creators like Los Bros Hernandez (Love and Rockets) and Charles Burns (Black Hole). In fiction, I’ve always enjoyed and admired the books of Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy and Will Self. The films of the Coen Brothers and the plays of David Mamet and Arthur Miller have also influenced me.

It’s impossible to go into the artists who have inspired me visually here — I’d end up with a laundry list of painters, illustrators, comic book artists and more. We’d lose the readers by the time I got onto the 11th or 12th name, never mind the 14th or 15th.

OB:

What are you working on next?

RF:

I'm working on another full-length piece next, similar in size to One Soul. It’s equally ambitious, I think, but of a completely different character. One Soul is about life, death and faith. This next one’s going to be about love.

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