Above the Grave (Graphic Novel) + Exclusive Blog Q&A with the artists/authors Mitchell Hall and Andrew de Zilva

Rick Mastertine is having a bad first day on the job. He’s getting grief from his “customers”, staff and boss. His place of employment? He’s the new chief warden of Mako, the world’s super villain prison, located deep in the Namibian desert and converted from an old diamond mine.

Can Rick uncover the true secret of Mako, while preventing an ingenious jailbreak by the likes of the shape-shifting Mister Twister, luck manipulating Russian Roulette, sentient tree Davine and brilliant crocodile-man hybrid Crocitis?

Image from: Above the Grave

Blog Q&A Exclusive with artists/authors – Mitchell Hall and Andrew de Zilva…

When did you both decide to co-write your comic book “Above the Grave” and how did you come to this decision?

M: I mentioned it to Andrew and at that stage had it as an issued comic mini-series. Andrew liked the idea of the story and expanded out the story and wrote it out in a Screenplay format.

A: This would have started about ten years ago. Mitchell has oodles of story ideas but there was something about this concept that really grabbed me, plus I thought the characters were fun and distinctive. It goes deeper than that though, as Mitchell established some themes that resonated with me. For example, at the time I was a supervisor and on one level Rick, as the warden, is a middle manager so I could identify with his issues working at Mako! The tone was also right up my alley, it’s really a big, brash action-comedy. I stayed true to those aspects while expanding the story with among other things Rick’s redemption arc and I introduced a few more characters to drive the expanded plot.

How do you structure the content, for example, does one write while the other illustrates and do you go through several drafts of writing and illustrations before you get to your finished product?

A: With the story, there was a baton passing from Mitchell to myself. Once I took the baton, I ensured I kept Mitchell’s authorial voice throughout the many subsequent drafts. Only once I thought the story was nailed down did I begin drawing because I knew it would be a lot of effort to redraw pages. However, I ended up redrawing about 40% of the panels anyway because this was the first comic I ever drew and I learned many lessons about comic storytelling as I went along! This, by the way, was only possible because I drew it digitally.

It looks like a lot of work went into “Above the Grave” was this a long journey just to put content together for publication?

M: Oh it was a LONG Journey. From concept to writing and Andrew learning on the job and drawing it at the same time took many years.

A: To be honest, at first I was too scared to want to draw it myself. I had always liked drawing but to bring this story to fruition, I was only too aware it meant I would have to draw many things I had never drawn before and the volume of drawings needed was going to be huge, something in the order of 500 panels. But thanks to Mitchell’s encouragement (and prodding), I took the plunge. It was really intimidating sitting with that first blank page in front of me on the drawing table knowing I had 136 pages to do. In fact, I might have even said to myself I’ll just do the first 20 then we’ll get someone else to do the rest. But you know what they say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

After I finished drawing there was still the lettering to do! Not a glamorous part of creating comics, I can tell you.

Now that’s it’s done, we couldn’t be prouder.

What was the inspiration for the characters you use and the storyline in “Above the Grave”?

M: Inspiration came from seeing a prison line up of Villains in a Spiderman cartoon and hearing a radio news broadcast many years ago about the South African Government considering building an underground prison.

A: I’ve always liked reading the news and I know Mitchell is an avid book reader. Mitchell came up with some really bold concepts for characters and I filled in their back stories from things that floated around in my head. The references to Russia and North Korea for example. But they’re from years ago, it’s just that those countries have stayed topical. It’s true afterall that the more things change the more things stay the same. As for the character designs, that was nothing but hard work, lots of google picture searches and constant iteration. Especially Da Vine, I swear I will never draw another plant/human hybrid for the rest of my life!

What else do you have in the pipeline that us comic geeks can keep an eye out for? Is this a series by any chance?
M: While we have ideas for upcoming projects the focus right now is just letting people know about Above The Grave from conventions to getting the book into stores.

A: I’m going to work on some fan art of other popular properties to try to attract attention at cons. It’s hard trying to sell an original story.

Some illustrators really don’t enjoy drawing – especially as scenes can get repetitive, did you really enjoy writing/illustrating this comic book?

A: This is what I would say to people who are thinking of drawing a comic: If you do 100-odd pages you will find out just how much you really like drawing! Seriously, drawing a comic is nothing like drawing a pin-up or even other kinds of picture books. It’s fun but it is certainly repetitive and there are times when it feels like a horrible grind. The only thing that keeps you going is that promise of the finished product and getting your story out there. The other process I adhered to that made it easier for me to reach the finish line is that I made sure to keep up momentum and do all the pages, even if the art was terrible to begin with. Then I went back and improved them A LOT. Working that way, I knew I could have quit at any time and still had at least something in hand. As it turned out, I never quit because I saw constant improvement in myself that drove me to cut no corners and do every page to a high standard. I see no reason to be modest about this lol.

If you stumbled into writer’s block (or illustrator’s block) how did you overcome it?

M: For myself and very luckily never had an issue with writer’s block. Just going forward and focus on the next part of the story without getting too far ahead.

A: Luckily that was not an issue with this project. It was a miracle how it came together. Sometimes your brain’s neurons just work!

For those who are thinking to branch out into publishing comic books, what would your best piece of advice be?

M: It’s a hard journey, break things into small areas that you have to complete. I know for myself that it would of been such a harder journey if it didn’t find such a great collaborative partner. If i don’t cross paths with Andrew. Above the Grave doesn’t happen. PERIOD.

A: I would definitely advise any aspiring creators not to do 136 pages! The most important thing is to FINISH. If you just finish you will be ahead of 99.9% of other people. We all know about the proverbial screenplay sitting in a drawer. So choose a manageable story!

Getting to know you….

When you’re not writing/illustrating, what would you be doing?
M: Plotting ideas, playing guitar, game and watching television.

A: I was illustrating in most of my spare time for the duration of this project so I listened to a lot of podcasts. When I had forced breaks because I needed to recharge my drawing tablet I spent the time reading stories about all kinds of things online. Because the internet is random! You never know what will give you an idea later on down the line.

Who are your role models when it comes to your writing/illustrating journey?
M: Paul Hogan, John Cornell, Matthew Reilly and Kevin Smith.

A: Jim Lee for drawing. His longevity in the comics industry is astounding as well.

What are your favourite comic books? (graphic novels or manga included in this question)
M: Watchmen, Superman: Red Son, Guardian Devil (Daredevil)

A: For me it all began with Asterix and Tintin. (I actually homage the artist of Asterix, Albert Uderzo, with a character named after him in ATG.) Then in high school I loved the X-Men. Y: The Last Man opened my eyes to what’s possible in the medium as it’s not a humour or superhero story. I like Red Son as well.

Besides comic books, what is your favourite genre to read?
M: Music Biographies, True Crime, Horror, Self Help.

A: I don’t read many books these day but I like to read long-form journalism and sites like io9 for nerds. I used to read action adventure novels like James Bond and Jurassic Park. But I read more fact than fiction overall.

Where is your ultimate holiday destination?
M: San Diego during Comic con.

A: Disney World when the Star Wars hotel is completed in 2021!

If you had the power to adapt “Above the Grave” to a TV show, Stage Show or Movie, which would you choose and why?
M: …. Let’s go the movie! Let’s go HUGE! Lol

A: …. $200 million major motion picture! Actually, ATG began as a comic, then it was written as a screenplay for a reason that I forget, then it became a comic again. That’s why it’s 136 pages, it’s very cinematic for a comic.

Special thanks to Mitchell and Andrew for taking the time for our Blog Q&A and for also attending as our special guests for the Read3r’z Re-Vu Comics Day Exclusive… It’s so exciting to meet friends with hidden talents and amazing achievements!!! Hope to see more from you both in the future!!!

-Q&A and content compiled by Annie

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The Three Secret Cities by Matthew Reilly

BOOK 5 IN THE JACK WEST JR SERIES…

HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE FOUR KINGDOMS SCORNED.
THE HUNT FOR JACK WEST JR HAS BEGUN.

A SHADOW WORLD BEHIND THE REAL WORLD

A WORLD WITH ITS OWN HISTORY, RULES AND PRISONS

THAT IS REACHING INTO OUR WORLD … EXPLOSIVELY

We are nearing the end of Matthew Reilly’s amazing septology, we have searched for and found the Seven ancient wonders and the Six sacred stones, discovered the identity of the Five  greatest warriors and fought the battle of all battles during the games of the four legendary kingdoms.

Now, having just arrived home in Australia’s vast outback, battle weary and scarred, all Jack West wants to do is rest and see his wife Zoe and spend time with his friends and family.

But merely three days later, Jack is woken by Zoe.
His new mate from the underworld- Hades, needs his help with the news that ” the world has gone to shit. ”
And so, the adventure and search for the Three secret cities and the three immortal weapons begins.
But Jack and his team are not the only ones searching..as, within the cities are the means for empowering the three weapons used to prevent the Omega event and prevent the worlds complete destruction. And, it is said, he who holds them all, rules the world.

Jack must find them first and prevent life on earth from being completely destroyed in the most unimaginable way.
So together, Jack and his team and his new mates, Hades and Iolanthe from the underworld race around the world in a desperate search for clues to the locations of the three secret cities whilst being terrorised by those who are fueled by greed. Already knowing the whereabouts of one weapon, their first stop is New York city.
For fans of Jack West – buckle up, grab a pillow to punch and some tissues…there will be destruction, there will be casualties – much loved characters will die.

Matthew Reilly doesn’t disappoint with this fast paced, action packed adventure- the fifth of his adventure septology. Loved it and if you haven’t already become addicted to Jack West’s adventures, do yourselves a favour and get reading. I couldn’t put much else without spoiling the plot for readers.  And MR fans hate spoilers…

Special thanks to Pan Macmillan Publishers for sending me an Advanced Review Copy of this book.
-Kay

Mirage by Somaiya Daud

The crown of Dihya had been stripped from me, my face changed, my body broken.
But I was not a slave and I was not a spare.
I was my mother’s daughter, and I would survive and endure. I would find my way back home.

This is another book I will be adding to my shelf of “2018 book loves” although a book shelved in the Young Adult section, this is a book that can be thoroughly enjoyed by adults and teens alike. I call this a culturally infused, intergalactic adventure that captivated me from page one right to the very end leaving me yearning for the next installment (whenever that is, as this was just released!)

In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon. But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects as Amani is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place. As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty—and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection…because one wrong move could lead to her death

I fell in love with the world it was set in, the map of all the planets that’s included in this book and I just loved the concept of a village girl being kidnapped to be a stand in body double for a cruel throne. The plot was really fast paced and exhilarating, I found I read this book in just a couple of days. The characters in this book are amazing. Interestingly, the emotional confusion some of the characters felt made me as a reader question how I felt about certain characters too. The cultural references and metaphors used throughout the story was something I was able to relate to and understand which was pretty cool. The twists throughout the book made me gasp, even cringe.

This is a 10/10 debut novel. I definitely recommend this to readers who love fantasy fiction or intergalactic adventure – cultural infusion is an added bonus.

Brilliant.. Unique.. and so many other awesome things I have run out of adjectives for.. please read this!!

Special thanks to Date a Book YA – Hachette Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

And the Ocean was our Sky by Patrick Ness, Illustrated by Rovina Cai

A Moby Dick retelling – told from the whale’s perspective!!!

‘With harpoons strapped to their backs, the proud whales of Bathsheba’s pod live for the hunt, fighting in the ongoing war against the world of men. When they attack a ship bobbing on the surface of the Abyss, they expect to find easy prey. Instead, they find the trail of a myth, a monster, perhaps the devil himself… As their relentless Captain leads the chase, they embark on a final, vengeful hunt, one that will forever change the worlds of both whales and men…’

Beautiful – Lyrical – Interesting…

A thought provoking story with amazing illustrations that really brought this story to life and really makes the reader see things in a different light.. It was an interesting experience to read the story from the whale’s perspective but it does take some time to get your head around it at first as it’s not everyday that your storyteller is a whale. A Moby Dick retelling that takes you into the eyes of a whale who is part of a family that are proud protectors of the ocean and live for the hunt as they are constantly hunted by humans.. The story was so beautifully written and the illustrations really bring the story out – I believe both author and illustrator nailed it with this one, I can definitely see this book shelved as modern classics..

Special thanks to Walker Books for sending me a review copy of this book, it was great!
-Annie

Longbourn: Dragon Entail: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Maria Grace

This is the sequel to Book 1: Pemberley: Mr Darcy’s Dragon

In this story, Darcy thought his problems were over when Pemberley hatched and successfully imprinted on humans. But baby dragons prove far more difficult than any dragon lore prepared him for. Only Elizabeth Bennet’s notes offer him any help. Elizabeth, though, has problems of her own. After the Bennet family dragon sent Pemberley away, life at Longbourn was supposed to return to normal… or so they thought..

Dragons.. Dragons and more Dragons..

Misunderstandings got cleared up – Collins got threatened by quite a few dragons in “Longbourn: Dragon Entail”. I am so hoping that they follow through in the next book. Collins is still a massive pain in the arse – please let him get eaten.

Meanwhile, Pemberley is growing up, she’s even started throwing a couple of tantrums.

A great Jane Austen meets Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern.  A must read for fans of Pride and Prejudice and those who love alternate stories and retellings..

-Meredith

Jane Doe and the Cradle of all Worlds by Jeremy Lachlan

“Simple minds fear what is different…”

Indeed this is one unforgettable blockbuster adventure that is one of the best adventures I have read this year. I could really see this book being adapted to film!!!

Our protagonist is Jane Doe, a 14 year old girl who is burdened with a reputation she doesn’t understand, feared by residents of the island of Bluehaven for reasons she doesn’t know, denied basic right of education and was forced to live in a Basement and provide full time care for her ill father who appears to know more than he is letting on. One fateful day, a terrifying earthquake strikes the remote island of Bluehaven and Jane’s father disappears. Without warning or prep, Jane finds herself catapulted into a dangerous quest with the most unlikely of alliances – a pyromaniac, Violet and trickster, Hickory accompanying her to rescue her father who is lost and trapped between worlds – a space of shifting rooms, booby traps and secret gateways.

From the first page, right to the very end, this book was full of nothing but page turning, action packed adventure!! Something was always happening on every chapter – it was never a dull moment. What I also enjoyed were the mysteries that were within the underlying story. I also enjoyed the biggest mystery of all that did leave me gaping in the end who is Jane Doe? where did she come from? why is she here? why do people fear her? At only 14 years old how could all this happen to her? As a character, I admired that even though she was vulnerable, Jane still had the courage and determination to find the truth that will ultimately set her free during this life threatening quest. Throughout the book I read and loved how the plot had elements of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and to my delight, elements of my all time favourite TV show Grimm (yes Grimm – think keys).

I would recommend this readers from aged 10+ as some scenes may frighten younger readers. I would also recommend this book to those who, like me, read and loved Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend. The action pace, the mystery, the intrigue, the magic and the wonder that holds you captive right to the very end that will leave you gaping and wanting to know more.. Yes this book just came out and I need the sequel sooner rather than later!!

Special thanks to Hardie Grant Egmont for sending me a review copy of this book, I thoroughly enjoyed it!!!
-Annie

Pemberley: Mr Darcy’s Dragon by Maria Grace

For the Jane Austen fans: This is book 1 in Jane Austen’s Dragons Book series

Whilst England is overrun by dragons of all shapes and sizes, most people are blissfully unaware of them and the Pendragon Treaty that keeps the peace between human and dragon kind.  Only those born with preternatural hearing, like Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are able to hear and converse with dragonkind…  Elizabeth shares a unique bond with dragons, stronger than anything Darcy has ever experienced…

Pride and Prejudice and Dragons.. what more can you ask for?

..Meanwhile.. a dragon egg gets stolen and ends up somewhere in Hertfordshire. Darcy and Elizabeth need to find the egg before it hatches. While they are searching, they can’t draw attention to what they are doing. Not all humans can hear dragons talk..

One of my favourites!!

-Meredith