|CHRIS ARRANT PRESENTS PRINCESS DIANA’S STORY
BY JENNIFER M. CONTINO
Although a lot of people know Chris Arrant for his writing about the comic medium, he’s also been writing comics for several years. But nothing as high profile as getting the chance to tell the story of Diana Princess of Wales for the Female Force Princess Diana issue. He told us what it was like working on Diana’s life story, and the challenges of fitting everything he wanted to into the special.
THE PULSE: Most people might know you for your comics reporting, but you’ve written a few comics before the Female Force Princess Diana, right?
CHRIS ARRANT: Writing has been something I’ve always wanted to do ‘ all the way back to a small-press comic I did during high school in the mid-90s called CCU Presents. But yes, I’m primarily known for comics reporting ‘ which I’ve been doing regularly since 2003.
I’ve been working on comics for some time, but only in recent years has it reached fruition. I went to school for illustration and have some half-aborted comics projects, but it really started coming together for me in 2006. It was that that year I self-published an anthology called Four Stories with four stories (duh!) written by me and illustrated by 4 artists: Joanna Estep, Eric Adams, Jessica Hickman and Matt Bayne. I self-published 500 copies and gave it out as freebies at San Diego Comicon and it really opened doors for me.
I followed that up with a webcomic called 1 Way Ticket with artist Dan Warner. While it’s currently on hiatus, it really taught me a lot of valuable lessons ‘ lessons I put to use in my comics writing and reporting, and ones I hope to put to use when Dan and I get a chance to finish that story.
Self-publishing Four Stories and 1 Way Ticket got me the attention of the editors of Negative Burn, 24Seven Vol. 2 and Comic Book Tattoo ‘ all of which I had short stories published in.
After those were all published, I approached several publishers about doing longer work ‘ I love doing anthology work, but I really wanted to sink my teeth into larger work. I have several creator-owned projects I’m trying to get off the ground, and while that is being developed I hooked up with Darren Davis at Bluewater Productions. Because of my journalism background, he thought I’d be a good match to do one of the Female Force one-shots and I chose Diana, Princess of Wales as my subject.
THE PULSE: Speaking of your journalism background, how do you keep that side of your work different from the comic writing bit? I mean, every time you do a story with a publisher you work with now, are you worried people might think there is some kind of bias?
ARRANT: This is something I’m highly aware of, and I have talks with all my editors about it ‘ both my comics journalism editors Matt Brady (Newsarama), Rhett Thomas (Marvel’s Marvel Spotlight) and Calvin Reid (PW Comics Week); as well as my actual comic editors —- in this case Darren at Bluewater, and formerly Rantz Hoseley at Comic Book Tattoo and Ivan Brandon at 24Seven Vol. 2.
I actively endeavor to keep my comics writing separate from my comics journalism ‘ going to the extent of avoid covering an entire company if I’m actively writing for them, and after if I do cover them in comics journalism I try to put in a disclaimer.
My comics editors have been really great though ‘ no one’s asked for any favors or ‘ins’ at the news sources I write for. At most, I maybe assist on marketing strategy ideas for the books I’m working on. That’s what my day job is anyway ‘ I own a marketing & graphic design firm here in Florida.
Am I worried people might feel there is some kind of bias? It does enter my mind, but if I spent too much time worrying about what other people think then I’m not working. I try to be completely frank with my editors, and we work it out together.
THE PULSE: Sounds like you got it covered. So did you have a choice out of the Female Force to work on? If so, why choose Princess Diana?
ARRANT: Yes, Darren presented several different options inside the Female Force line and I ultimately decided upon Princess Diana. Darren puts a lot of thought into who to cover – and who not to cover in the FF series – but I thought that Diana would be right up my alley. It took a couple days of thinking to get my head into it, but after reading some essays and watching some videos it really sunk in that doing a commemorative biography of Diana Princess of Wales would be ideal for me.
THE PULSE: Did you know a lot about Princess Diana or did you start to discover more about her after she was killed like a lot of us?
ARRANT: Prior to working on this book I had only read one book on Diana. Several years ago I read Andrew Morton’s book on Diana after her death. I was fascinated by the celebrity status she attained and the tragic ending of her life. My mother was a lifelong fan of her work, but it wasn’t until I read Diana Her True Story that I could see why people grew so attached to her.
THE PULSE: What were some of the things you were surprised to learn about Princess Diana?
ARRANT: Princess Diana’s life was many things, but I was most surprised by is the amazing amount of willpower and intelligence she showed. Although she has famously called herself “thick as a plank” and is haunted by low scores in school, Diana’s ability to talk, negotiate and maneuver in the company she kept of royals, politicians and celebrity showed amazing tenacity and resourcefulness. Diana took the mantle of princess and broadened it to speak on important issues she saw in her travels, and forced the public to speak about such formerly taboo things such as AIDS.
And personally, her “comeback” after the very public divorce with Prince Charles was amazing. In examining her life as a whole I’m amazed by the flow of her life which simulated a three-act structure of a great play.
THE PULSE: So how did you figure out what to include here and what needed to be left out? After all you only had so many pages to tell your story ….
ARRANT: After Bluewater Publisher Darren and I agreed on the tone of the book, I wrote a very detailed timeline of all the events in Diana’s life, from her birth to the day of her funeral. All in all it amounted to over 300 entries into this timeline, and then around that I began identifying themes and narratives that were inherent in the course of her life. After all that was done, I pinpointed all of the must-have moments of the book – both in imagery and in substance, that really define Diana’s life. Using those moments, I did a very rough breakdown of the 22-pages into 1-page increments and used that as a roadmap to what the final book turned out to be.
My wife will tell you I’m all about using analogies to describe something, so imagine writing this book as if you’re planning a road trip. You have X days and you know what your big destination is, but you also look for smaller things to see on your way to and from the big destination. And along the way you might see something you hadn’t planned on and decide to stop, which is exactly what happened when writing the final script. Along the way there were two spots were I went off my outline to include some moments that were originally on the cutting room floor.
THE PULSE: Like what? What are some things we might see here that haven’t been too touched upon?
ARRANT: Well, Diana’s life has been covered in a number of articles, books, television series and movies so I can’t claim that I found any new territory. But in chronicling the defining moments of Diana’s life, the themes that began to appear really pushed me as a writer to explore the more personal side of her life, especially her interactions with her former husband and children. I strove to get to the bottom of why Diana might’ve fallen for Charles in the first place – was it because he was a Prince, or was their a real connection there?
And with her children, the fact that she was a mother was well-known but getting past all the lights and media scrutiny, I researched very in-depth to discover and portray the real moments between a mother and her sons that some people might not know about.
THE PULSE: Were you able to talk to anyone who knew Diana?
ARRANT: Although I tried on several occasions and with several different people, unfortunately no I wasn’t about to talk with anyone who knew Diana closely. Instead I relied on second-hand information shown in books, articles and video pieces done on Diana.
THE PULSE: Do you think being able to talk to someone would have made things different in the long run?
ARRANT: Definitely. As a journalist, the quality of your sources and the ability to talk to them first hand really enriches the strength of a piece. But while I didn’t have first-hand access to any individuals close to Diana, I relied on the next best thing available.
THE PULSE: Right. You said your mom was a fan, what does she think of you working on this project?
ARRANT: Actually, she doesn’t know. I’ve been trying to keep a tight lid on it here on the home front so when the book finally comes out I can present her an actual copy of the book. She’s not very internet-savvy, so I think my secret is safe. [laughs]
What do you think she’ll think?
THE PULSE: She’s a mom. She’ll be very proud! What did working on this project teach you about the ins and outs of the industry that you really hadn’t known yet?
ARRANT: Although I’ve done several comics before, this is my first full-length comic book. Short stories are like writing a perfect three-minute song, while doing a full-length comic is like doing a Led Zeppelin-esque epic 8 or 9 minute song. Every page was measured so I didn’t use too much bravado or pomp, while still delivering the goods and building up for those high moments. I learned a lot about pacing with this book.
THE PULSE: What was the editorial process like? Did they like what you did basically or were there a lot of changes being asked for? What’s that like?
ARRANT: Working as a comics journalist, I’ve heard and read a lot of horror stories about editorial changes. And even though I don’t work in comics full-time, I work with editors every day as a journalist and in a similar situation with clients as a graphic designer. For Female Force: Princess Diana, Darren was very hands-off to the editorial: we worked closely together in the beginning to figure out the shape and tone of the books, but once that was settled he gave me free range to write a great 22 page comic commemorating Princess Diana. Internally I went through several drafts, but Darren approved the one draft I sent to him – the final. And no rewrites!
THE PULSE: Who brought this story to life?
ARRANT: Andrew Yerrakadu did an amazing job drawing this book. Andrew’s done some work in the past online and with some smaller publishers, but for both of us this is our biggest project to date. You wouldn’t know it from looking, but he’s an attorney who works on comics by night. That sounds like a superhero, doesn’t it?
And rounding out the art team on this is colorist Kristy Swan and lettering by DigitalCAPS. Coloring might look easy to some, but it’s hard to do what Kristy does, especially with this kind of story where you’re balancing these real events while striving to create something that lives up to the image of Diana.
THE PULSE: What other projects are you working on?
ARRANT: I’ve got several projects in the works, including a full-length graphic novel of the short story Eric Adams and I did called Stuart which ran in Negative Burn and my self-published book Four Stories. I’ve also got a three-issue miniseries I’m hoping to get off the ground this month, I’m just looking for the right artist to make it sing.
Besides that, Darren and I are already talk about what I can do next for BlueWater — I’d really love the chance to do an issue of Vincent Price Presents.
We’d like to thank Chris for letting us use this interview and fabulous preview of photos to promote the book and if you would like to order it please let us know. firstname.lastname@example.org