Mirembe Mubanda, one of our young bloggers, recently got the chance to read Alexis E. Fajardo's graphic novel Kid Beowulf: The Rise of El Cid, and then talk to the author about his inspirations, his process, and writing multiple storylines.
Read the interview below!
Mirembe Mubanda: As a child, what were some of your favorite stories? Did they play a part in your inspiration to write Kid Beowulf: The Rise of El Cid?
Alexis Fajardo: I’ve always loved mythology, in particular the Greek and Norse myths. One of my favorite books growing up was the D'Aulaire’s editions of Greek and Norse mythology; they were wonderfully written and illustrated. As a young reader I was particularly drawn to the Norse myths because they were always a little bloodier than the more refined Greek myths. Those stories were a gateway to epics like Beowulf and El Cid.
MM: If you were to host a dinner party where you invited characters from different comics and graphic novels, whom would you invite, and why would you invite them?
AF: This is a hard question! Hmm…I suppose first off we would need someone to cook the meal, and I think Phoney Bone (from the graphic novel BONE) is a pretty good cook. Then of course we need some good conversation, so I would invite Delilah Dirk (from the graphic novel series, Delilah Dirk), Tintin, and Asterix to tell me about all their adventures (and we’ll need plenty of food if Obelix and Captain Haddock come along too). Finally, I don’t want to do any dishes so I think we’ll probably need Smiley Bone in the kitchen to help Phoney clean up.
MM: What was it like when the idea of writing The Rise of El Cid came to mind?
AF: When I started the Kid Beowulf series I knew I wanted Beowulf and Grendel to interact with epic heroes from other countries, Spain was always on the list because of El Cid. I was also looking forward to writing The Rise of El Cid because part of my family is from Spain, so to weave in some of that history was important to me. One of my favorite parts of creating new stories is doing all the research. I love reading the source material (in this case, the epic poem El Cid) as well as histories and other stories related to the topic. The research is fun because it means all ideas are on the table. Eventually, the hard part of writing begins when I have to whittle away at the story until the story takes shape. I knew for the Rise of El Cid, I wanted to tell the story of how a Rodrigo Díaz becomes the great knight known as “El Cid” but must stay true to himself to achieve that title.
MM: While creating Kid Beowulf: The Rise of El Cid, did you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?
AF: There are a lot of fun characters in this book but one of my favorites is Rodrigo’s friend Pedro the mute. He is small, feisty, but never says a word! He has a slate board that he communicates with by drawing pictures on it; it was fun to come up with the different things he would have to say. I am also fond of Rodrigo’s horse, Babieca and especially enjoyed creating the part of the story where the two first meet. Horses are very hard to draw though so Babieca was a challenge.
MM: On a scale of one through ten, how much is Kid Beowulf: The Rise of El Cid based on the poem El Cid? Why is it this number?
AF: In the book there is a Prologue in which I retell the original epic poem and that is a solid “10.” The rest of the book is inspired by events in the epic poem, other stories about El Cid, as well as the history of the time. My story is intended to be a prequel to the events depicted in the epic poem. The research is pretty detailed and thorough and the history is mostly accurate, at the same time it’s an original story, especially the parts involving Beowulf and Grendel!
MM: Kid Beowulf: The Rise of El Cid is the third graphic novel in the Kid Beowulf series. Which comic book did you enjoy writing the most?
AF: Even though they are all part of the same series and we follow Beowulf and Grendel from one book to the next, each book is very different from the other. Book one is very much a fantasy that has elements of magic in it. Book two is a swashbuckling adventure story with some comedy thrown in. And book three is a more serious adventure with some romance and political intrigue. Each one has its own challenges and when I’m creating them I am fully invested in that adventure; it’s only after I’m finished when I can begin to judge them. That said, book two, The Song of Roland has some of my favorite characters and sequences in it and I always like coming back to that setting.
MM: In Kid Beowulf:The Rise of El Cid there are three different story lines. Did you ever think of making only one?
AF: Ha! There are multiple storylines in all my books! I think that’s because I try to create three-dimensional characters who have a lives and stories of their own…which can sometimes complicate plots. Ideally all the different storylines come together by the end of the big story; so in the case of El Cid, we have the story of Rodrigo Díaz which is very separate from what Beowulf and Grendel are doing however by the climax of the book all their storylines intersect and (hopefully) pay off.
MM: Were any of the characters personalities based on yours or someone you know well? If so which characters and people?
AF: I have a few friends who sometimes become the inspiration for characters. Rodrigo’s close friend, Martín is inspired by a good friend of mine – in looks, personality, and facial hair.
MM: What was your process for writing the storyline and making the art?
AF: There are lots of different ways to make comics and each cartoonist has their own method. For me I like to write out full scripts that I then draw out. There are several stages to creating the art: pencils, inks, color, and letters. I pencil and ink on paper after which I scan the artwork into the computer and color and letter digitally. I also have a colorist who helps me color the book. Comics are deceptively complex to make, it sort of like putting together a giant puzzle.
MM: Kid Beowulf:The Rise of El Cid, has many different types of scenes, some happy, others action-packed. Which type of scene do you like to write the most?
AF: Every scene has its own challenges. Action scenes and fight scenes can take a long time because I have to choreograph the action and make sure it reads clearly on the page. At the same time, the slower, more emotional scenes are the glue that keeps the story interesting so it’s important to make those resonate too. I love writing stories and the thing I want to do most is create a good story that keeps the reader excited, engaged, and entertained. I want my reader to race to finish a book because they are invested and then I want them to read it all over again because they enjoyed it so much the first time.
Thank you so much to Alexis E. Fajardo for doing the interview with Stone Soup, and to Mirembe for asking great questions! Check out the Kid Beowulf website to read more about the books.
Have you read any of these books, or do you want to ask Mirembe about the experience of being an interviewer? Leave a comment below!