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Inverloch's Sarah Ellerton Tells All

by Janet Houck

With Inverloch set to make its Seven Seas debut in May, Gomanga.com sat down with writer and artist Sarah Ellerton. Learn about this gorgeous epic fantasy manga with thousands of fans already, as we get the scoop firsthand about the first volume's omake and the ongoing adventure online!

Sarah, thanks for sitting down with us to talk about Inverloch! First off, how did you discover manga? What are some of your favorite series?

SE: I first became interested in Japanese art style from the Final Fantasy series of videogames. From there, I looked into anime, which lead further on to manga. I've only read a handful of manga, but my favourite books are Record of Lodoss War - The Grey Witch, Card Captor Sakura and Rurouni Kenshin.

Can you tell us a little about yourself? What's a day in the life of Sarah Ellerton like? When you're not working on the webcomic, what else do you do to fill your spare time?

SE: I work part time doing web programming and database development. I also do a bit of archery (both recurve and crossbow) and recently, I started learning street latin dancing. Other than that, it's all comic time!

How long have you been drawing, and what made you want to do a webcomic entirely cel-shaded in color? So many webcomic artists prefer to leave their work in pencil or black and white.

SE: I've been imitating Disney-style animal cartooning since I was ten, but I started attempting to draw humans in 1997. In 1998, I shifted to the computer, colouring over my sketches using Photoshop. I spent the next several years learning how to use Photoshop to imitate airbrush style, during which time I drew well over a hundred character portraits and poses. I suppose the reason why I decided to keep my comic in colour was because that was the way I was used to working. I had no experience with screentones, and I wasn't very good at keeping my pencil sketches neat. Plus I felt that because I only intended my comic to be viewed on the web, there was no logical reason to restrict myself to black and white, print style. Besides, I think full colour comics look much nicer!

Can you tell us a little about your method for writing and drawing?

SE: With writing, I have a full script completed, which is in a format very similar to a play. I tend to edit it at least once a week. Usually I only alter small lines of dialogue; sometimes I'll have a flash of inspiration in the middle of the night and quickly edit the script the next morning to add in the new ideas. I find that having a script already written is far easier than writing on the fly, as a lot of web comic artists do. It leaves me plenty of time to revise and edit my script.

When I draw, I quickly sketch out a set of tiny page thumbnails, then draw up the larger images. I actually draw each frame individually; I don't draw everything on paper laid out as it will be on the final page - the rearranging, scaling and moving of the sketches happens in Photoshop. After the sketches are placed how I want them, I do the outlines, colours, and finally the backgrounds.

You wrote the script for Inverloch back in December 2003, and started drawing in June 2004. How has the original script and your drawing style changed since then?

SE: The script hasn't changed too much - the plot is basically the same, although many of the details and interactions have changed. I think I've improved the natural feel of conversations a lot better - I'm rather embarrassed at some of the speech that still remains in the first volume. The only major change I made since the first draft of the script was the ending, which was almost completely rewritten just before I started drawing.

My drawing style has really developed a lot since the beginning. In fact, some of the characters are almost unrecognisable from their first appearances. I've lost a lot of the heavy manga influence that I had, and my own drawing style has really come through. I was never really happy with my style at the beginning, but now I think it's distinct enough from other artists to stand on its own. Most of all, I think I've really improved with drawing emotions and expressions. That's one of the comments I've been recently getting a lot. I'm always tempted to completely redraw the first volume or two, but I simply don't have enough time.

Who is your favorite character to draw and write dialogue for?

SE: Probably Varden. He's got an odd sense of humour, and he has a way of twisting words around to get information out of people without them realising.

You've described Inverloch previously as "written by a female, and [it] will always be a story targeted at females." How do you see yourself reaching out to this audience? Do you see yourself as writing and drawing a shoujo manga, or a fantasy epic, or a combination of both?

SE: I wouldn't call Inverloch a shoujo manga, even though my target audience is females. It doesn't have the romantic focus or girl power that most people would associate with shoujo. My story is more character driven, and for the first half at least, it lacks the kind of action that would draw in male readers. I suppose it's a combination of shoujo and fantasy epic. The shoujo side shows itself closer to the end :)

As it is, Inverloch draws deeply upon the rich traditions of fantasy. What were your inspirations?

SE: Interestingly enough, the main inspiration wasn't a traditional fantasy book or film (although I can't tell you what it is, because that would probably give away the ending!). I'm actually more inspired by movies - Disney animation features, to be precise - since to be honest, I've read very few fantasy books. For this reason, Inverloch flows more like a movie than a traditional comic should, and it takes a while to pick up and get going. I love simple, light-hearted fantasy stories more than brooding war-centered epics.

Did you always see it being published one day?

SE: I never dreamed it! It was just something to do in my spare time, somewhere further to take my art rather than just drawing fanart pictures of other people's characters. I never even expected it to become popular.

Your original schedule calls for the comic to be finished online in December; are you on track, and how many published volumes can we expect to see?

SE: I have a little under 300 pages left to draw; providing I can continue to complete six pages per week, then it will be finished by December. There are 5 volumes of about 150 pages each, and I'm hoping the first volume sells well enough in stores that Seven Seas will continue to publish the remaining four volumes.

You offer exclusive artwork as a voting incentive for online readers of the manga. Will any of this artwork be included in the first volume as bonus material?

SE: I'll gather up a selection of my favourite old sketches, and probably draw up some extra exclusive pieces for the first volume. I also plan to redraw the first five-page scene in my current style.

Can you give us a hint of where the story's going to go next as the series continues online? The tension between Leiella and Varden is killing me!

SE: Unfortunately, the Varden and Lei'ella fans are going to have to wait - the next volume focuses more on Neirenn's character development, and it progresses the overall story forward in a big way. However, you can expect that Lei'ella will be losing the cloak pretty soon - how Varden will take that remains to be seen!

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