Guardian cartoonist, professional storyboarder and illustrator Nick Hayes talks us through turning Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner into a bestselling graphic novel…
I was messing around with a couple of poems, but then I had this bombshell idea to do The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. That sea theme informed on the whole style of this book – I wanted big, sweeping oceans and the swirl motif was the essence of that. The central area is a whirlpool, the book is about tsunami-style waves rolling over each other and the whole narrative is a sort of spiral.
I wanted to find the visual theme first, because that would map out the structure of the story. Once I knew I wanted big seascapes and storm scenes, I could see how the narrative would break down. So I wrote the text and then storyboarded it all. That took about a year, but I was also working for Age Concern at the time.
I experimented with lots of different styles, but usually the one you end up with and the one you prefer is the one that you’re most comfortable with. There are thousands of separate images in this book, so it had to be a motif that I was passionate about.
I got the inspiration for the swirls by going to the British Museum and seeing a statue of Laocoon, who was this Greek prophet who gets swallowed by a couple of sea serpents. His beard was just like loads of little Mr Whippy ice creams – little swirls.
It struck me that what I wanted wasn’t realism – I didn’t want to do a Joe Sacco or Craig Thompson – I wanted to make it look a bit more mythological. That’s why I didn’t give the characters eyeballs – it made them look more like the Greek statues and therefore more mythic.
I thought that the swirling motif would be a unifying thing in the book. The swirls are in his beard, the sea, the whirlpool, the clouds, the trees etc. It made everything slot into place.
The initial storyboarding was about rhythm as much as it was to do with the substance of the images. Some pages have no words, others have lots – I wanted to work out how to fit it all in while guiding the rhythm of the reader.
I did the images in pen and ink, with cross-hatching. I wanted to get a screen-printed vibe, so I’d draw the ‘above’ image first (the nose, the face, the jumper), then flip the paper over, put it up to the window (or light) and then loosely paint in all the areas I wanted in another colour, and then layer them on Photoshop. Although it’s done on Photoshop, it still has a very hand-drawn aesthetic.
Work out how many panels you can do a day without exhausting yourself is my advice to someone approaching a book or graphic novel like this is. It’s a relentless, day-after-day process and you need to stay enthusiastic about it. It took me about a year and a half to draw, non-stop. Especially when you’re having to do other work on the side. So try to find a way that you can enjoy every day you’re doing it.
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To see more of Nick's work, visit his website.
The Rime of the Modern Mariner is available on Amazon.