Comics hold a special place within the literary landscape. They seamlessly facilitate an enormous scope of storytelling unheard of in any other medium. Movies may present brilliant visuals but are constrained by the reality of their budget. Novels can allow a reader to journey for as far as their prose may transport them but are themselves constrained by the restrictions of the single novel form. Only comics can weave visuals tales unrestrained by the limits of time and space. There is no writer in the medium who is better utilizing the vastness of possibilities afforded by the comic book format than Corinna Bechko with her two series Invisible Republic (Image) and Angel: Season 11 (Dark Horse).
For those readers who have yet to voyage through the pages of Invisible Republic, the series is very complex with multiple moving parts but, in the end, it is about how people deal with the rise and fall of empires. In a distant potential future, far out in space, an empire rose led by Arthur McBride. The tale of its rise and fall is told in flashback, using an old journal discovered by a reporter named Croger Babb. Meanwhile, Arthur’s cousin, Maia Reveron, threatens to orchestrate the rise of a new empire. While the story beats are far more intricate and subtle, with a deep focus on characterization, that is the gist. Bechko writes the series with her husband Gabriel Hardman.
A concept as bountiful as Invisible Republic must be a complicated story to write, especially with two writers at the helm. I asked Bechko about the way in which two writers collaborate on a project.
“Every pairing is different, but for Gabriel and me we just sit down and talk it through while someone takes notes,” she replied. “Then we refine what we have into an arc, or an issue, and then finally into pages and panels. One of us will then take our notes and type them into a workable script, and then the other one will review it and make some changes. We go back and forth like that again until everyone is satisfied. We argue a case for some element staying or going, of course, but ultimately nothing gets into any issue that we’re both not 100% happy about. As to the difference between work and private life… We pretty much work whenever and wherever since we’re married and we have access to each other’s time more easily than other writing partners might.” So what is a key to working harmoniously with another writer? Making sure each writer has the opportunity to voice his/her thoughts and then finding mutual ground.”
From what I see with Invisible Republic, these two writers have mastered collaborative writing.
As with every good story, nothing is in there by accident. Every line, caption and panel has a purpose in propelling the story forward. Even the names of people and planets have meaning and a purpose. For instance, the former ruler of the old empire is named Arthur, who has renamed a planet, previously called Maidstone, Avalon. The name change to Avalon is intentional for both writers and the character of Arthur, who did the renaming.
“Very much so, and that’s quite deliberate,” Bechko confirmed. “The planet actually has a different name before Arthur comes to power but he changes it to fit his own delusions of grandeur. It’s also a time-tested way for a dictator to consolidate power. By erasing names, Arthur is in some ways erasing the past and replacing it with self-mythologizing by incorporating references that create an illusion of ancient (and therefore conferred and not taken) legitimacy.”
Invisible Republic does a phenomenal job of utilizing the writers’ knowledge of history to weave a believable tale. For examples, just research the cities of Stalingrad and Istanbul.
There is a historical precedent that can be found in the way in which an empire can rise and fall, and may rise again, as told within the pages of Invisible Republic. I asked Corinna Bechko about which aspect of the rise and fall of an empire is more fascinating to her and what the reader may be able to gleam from how it is presented within the series.
She responded, “I think it’s the cycle that is most interesting, actually. The fact that it is endlessly repeated but always in an unexpected yet inevitable way, through different circumstances. I don’t know if there are any lessons in Invisible Republic for other people, but I’ve learned a lot and broadened my understanding of history while working on it. My favorite thing about fiction is that it makes you ask questions instead of providing you with answers. I don’t know if our book rises to that task, but I hope so.”
Still, it’s the people who move empires. No matter the size of an empire, every person within it helps mould or maintain it. This is also true within the pages of Invisible Republic. Disgraced reporter Croger Babbs was the individual who found Maia’s old journal, which is the vector for which the readers receive the series’ backstory. I wondered if Bechko found Babbs to be the true hero of this story.
According to her, “I think Croger is a flawed individual who is definitely the hero of his own story in his mind! He sees something unusual in Maia though, and his natural curiosity keeps him chasing the truth. But Invisible Republic is a world of grey instead of black and white, so I don’t know if there are any actual heroes there. Well, except for Jo, the three-legged “dog.” Jo’s motives are pure, and never less than loyal. Jo always acts heroically, but then, Jo can afford to be more uncompromising than the humans!”
And dogs are just awesome!
Now that we whetted the appetite of our readers, what can they look forward to in future issues?
“We’ll learn a lot more about Maia’s past, and about the tangled family lines of some of the major players,” Bechko confided. “We’ll see Babb become a lot more involved in Avalon’s politics, and see him make some hard choices about where his loyalties lie. And we’ll see more of how Maia plans to lead, and what kind of leader she will be, in contrast to her cousin.”
Part 2 of the Corinna Bechko interview, focusing on ‘Angel: Season 11’ will be posted soon