Interview with Matt Gibbs and Sara Dunkerton – Creators of MULP:
It’s not secret that I liked MULP: Sceptre of the Sun, so imagine my reaction when I got to chat with the two people involved in the creation of the comic. (Muad’Dib was mentioned, excuse me while I fangirl a little.) If you’ve yet to pick up MULP, do yourself a favour and run to your local comic book store. I promise you won’t regret it. In the meantime, take a peak at the inner workings of the brilliant minds behind it.
First things first, can you two tell us a bit about yourselves? Anything goes, from the very first comic you’ve read, to your sources of inspiration and everything in between. Juicy gossip is not only acceptable, it’s practically mandatory. Keep it PG, though.
Sara Dunkerton: When I was young I absorbed myself in ancient hand-me-down Beano, Peanuts and Garfield annuals, once I’d read them from cover to cover a million times each I started drawing comics with my own made up characters. I read a lot of Manga, such as Fruits Basket, Love Hina and Chobits when I was in my teens, but it wasn’t until quite late on that I first read Batman: Hush and through that discovered the Marvel and DC universes! These days my comic collection is vast and varied, I’ll pick up anything with a great recommendation, interesting characters, gripping story or gorgeous art.
With all that background is it any wonder I pursued a career in illustrating comics? Since graduating from Bristol UWE I’ve worked on stories for anthologies such as Bayou Arcana Volume 1: Songs of Loss and Redemption, Sugar Glider Stories 2, Into the Woods: A Fairytale Anthology, and Dark Harvest: Resistance, as well as working freelance on other creative projects.
Matt Gibbs: I’m a writer and editor, working mainly in comics and games. I’ve worked on titles such as Creative Assembly’s Total War: ROME II, Sega’s Binary Domain, and Ubisoft’s Driver San Francisco. I’m also the managing editor of Improper Books, which specialises in stories that have a touch of the fairy tale, the Gothic, or the macabre about them.
As for the very first comic I read, I really can’t recall… That’s terrible isn’t it? I remember buying Marvel UK’s Spider-Man and Zoids, which I must admit was for the Zoids, as well as Transformers and Dragon’s Claws, before starting on 2000 AD, but I know I must have read other comics before those.
And now back to MULP: Sceptre of the Sun, the comic that started this all. It’s quite an interesting story, I’m a sucker for mysteries, dark pasts and noodle incidents, so I was already a little biased when I started reading, but it not only met my expectations, it surpassed them. What’s the story behind bringing this story to life?
Matt: Thank you, that’s lovely to hear. After Sara and I had collaborated on a short story for Jimmy Pearson’s Bayou Arcana anthology, we got chatting about potential long term comic projects. It soon became apparent that we both loved anthropomorphic stories, but it was one image that sparked the entire idea behind MULP – mice archaeologists digging up a human skull in the Egyptian desert. From that one image the whole story of the Sceptre of the Sun unfolded.
From that starting point, we began bouncing ideas around, about the sort of story we’d like to tell, and the characters and world we’d like to create. Quite rapidly we hit on a 1930s pulp setting. It had the right spirit of adventure for our heroes and villains to go chasing off around the globe in search of fabled treasures, very much inspired by the tone of Hergé’s Tintin or the Indiana Jones films.
While I started doing all the archaeological and historical research, writing up an outline and background material, Sara began working up concepts for our characters and the locations they would visit in the first stage of our story.
Sara: As Matt said, after working together on Promises for Bayou Arcana we both wanted to collaborate on something bigger. Matt actually asked what genre of comics I’d like to draw! What illustrator gets asked that? After chatting about what comics and stories we like to read best, Matt called me one night and presented me with that image of the mice archaeologists and a human skull – I was instantly sold! The rest is mousey history.
I’m sure you got this question a lot, but how did you decide that your characters should be mice? I liked the way the fall from grace of humanity was explained, but why mice? And since we’re on the topic of your characters, is there any specific hero/heroine that you had in mind when creating the lead characters, Jack and Vicky?
Sara: I can’t pinpoint exactly where using mice and other rodents actually occurred to us to be honest, it just seemed to naturally fit! I think after discussing our love for David Petersen’s Mouse Guard and Brian Jacques’ Redwall we were mutually agreed that our characters should be mice. Personally from a design perspective this threw up all sorts of visual delights for me to explore. From possibilities in character design and clothing, to playing with construction of buildings and vehicles, and the scale of regular objects in a mouse made environment.
Matt: As Sara said, we discovered we both loved anthropomorphic stories, everything from Bryan Talbot’s Grandville and Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido’s Blacksad to films and books such as Watership Down and The Secret of NIMH. Stories with mice have always been especially appealing to me, ever since becoming hooked on the Redwall books as a child. So mice it was!
Mice also beautifully fit the story we want to tell, the real archaeology and world myths we’ve researched, about races of giants falling from grace as you say and a smaller species taking over.
One thing that really impressed me was that no matter if the character was pivotal to the story or just bad guy number three, everyone had very distinctive features. There really aren’t two characters alike, despite belonging to the same species or clique. That’s me saying I loved the art of the comic. Sara, you dealt with that part, can you tell us something about the creative process involved?
Sara: Aww, thanks Daniela! This was actually my favourite bit about developing MULP. The nature of our story meant we have quite an ensemble cast, five heroes and six villains. With so many characters I really want to make each individual instantly recognisable so that even with a long shot you’d be able to tell one character from another, that and each character has a very strong personality that I really wanted to shine through in the design.
With regards to clothing it was really fun to customise 1930s fashion to suit each character and situation. There are various costume changes throughout the whole story where the characters need to dress appropriately for the climate etc, so not only do they have their own signature styles but the also have individual colour schemes. This means that no matter what outfit they’re wearing you know the mouse in blue and brown is Jack or the mouse in green and beige is Cornelius.
In terms of actual character design the basic look of each mouse is actually grounded in real mice species. Jack is a Yellow-Necked Mouse, Cornelius is a Hazel Dormouse, and Victoria is a Deer Mouse, etc. This dictated not only the colouring and patterning of the fur, but also the shape, size and personal quirks of each character, this is really what helps make one mouse stand apart from the other.
We even went as far to cast indigenous species of rodent for the various locations that are visited. So Egypt is populated with African Pygmys, Egyptian Spinys, and Lesser Egyptian Jerboas. I really wanted to give a feel of different mouse cultures so when the location shifts it instantly become apparent they’re in a totally different country. This even goes as far as the other creatures that inhabit the mouse world, the lizards and beetles featured in the first issue are also indigenous to Egypt, as are the types of fruit and vegetable in the market!
Matt: Sara has done an amazing job of bringing our characters and the setting of the story to life. With the main characters especially, Sara just nailed the concepts for each one from the outset. They came alive fully formed and ready to race off on an adventure from the descriptions and backgrounds we discussed.
Researching MULP is a delight for both of us. From collectively squeeing at adorable mice and rodent photo references, to looking up costumes, vehicles, and weapons of the era, and getting lost for hours researching the archaeology that underpins the story, we both love it.
Any hints as to what might happen in future issues? I know it’ll be a five parter and you’re keeping your secrets close to the vest, but any little spoilers will be appreciated. I still want to know what happened to Jack’s ear.
Matt: We don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but the next issue will see our heroes off to South America, and then from there… Sorry, but you’ll just have to wait. We know where the story is going, it is a real globetrotting adventure, but we really don’t want to spoil the fun and excitement of that journey. As for Jack’s ear, we’ve got back stories for all the major characters sketched out, which we plan to reveal as Sceptre of the Sun unfolds or in future stories. But Jack’s ear for instance, is a war wound.
Sara: If I could tell you more I would, I’m bursting with excitement! There are certainly a good few new and challenging things for me to learn how to draw in store, but that’s all part of the fun.
When is the next issue of MULP going to be available? Not that I’m impatient or anything. No. Never. Not me.
Matt: Good question. Our intention is to have the story done in a timely fashion over the next year to 18 months or so, but we also don’t want to rush it.
Sara: We will post up regular updates and things on the MULP website though, so keep an eye open for news.
What does the future hold for the two of you, other than MULP? What can we expect from you next?
Sara: Well a large chunk of my time will still be dedicated to MULP, however I’ve a couple of other things in the works, both comics and commissions related. Everything is in the early stages at the moment though so I don’t have much I can tell you.
Matt: I’m working on a couple of projects with Improper Books currently. Bevis Musson and I are planning another collaboration, something a bit more traditional this time compared with our Knight & Dragon comic. I’m also working on a darker, more mature fairy tale, which again is letting me dabble in historical research.
Anyone you would like to work with or any stories that you’ve always dreamed of seeing done, but no one ever made them come to life? Tease away, we love that.
Sara: I think if I could illustrate a story for one of David Petersen’s Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard anthologies I would probably explode! That’d be amazing! I also adore Blacksad and Beasts of Burden and would love to have a go at illustrating a story involving those characters and setting. Also, working with Bryan Talbot on a short story based on the Grandville series would be incredible too.
Matt: Same as Sara, I’d love to contribute a short to some of the anthropomorphic comics we both adore. Outside of the anthropomorphic tradition, I’ve always wanted to see Frank Herbert’s DUNE adapted into a comic. There was a Marvel one that was based on the David Lynch film, but I’d dearly love to see as full an adaptation of Dune and Dune Messiah as possible. Paul Pope did an amazing one page comic based on The Commentaries Of M’Uad Dib.
If you are curious and want to learn more about both Sara and Matt, feel free to follow them on twitter: @SaraDunkerton and @matthewgibbs, and for all things MULP, check out their web page: mulpcomic.com.
or go to their webpage for MULP