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Comics - and Jane Austen - are for Everyone!

Jane Austen is for everyone, as the founder of Duniath Comics and freelance comic artist and illustrator Georgie Castilla says. He loves all things nineteenth-century, including Jane Austen’s novels, which he often draws inspiration from in his artwork. We spoke with him about his work and his latest project, one that will excite any Austen fan - a graphic novel inspired by Emma!

 

1. Can you tell me about your background as an illustrator?


I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. I started creating comics at a very young age just for fun, or maybe as a survival strategy. I was a very lonely kid who had to create his own world to escape heavy bullying at school, and somehow the characters coming out of my colored pencils and markers became my greatest companions. They were part of a world in which I didn’t have to hide. They were my safe space. I am not sure I have much of a “background” as an illustrator because I never pursued it as a career professionally speaking. Theater has been my biggest love and my actual field of work; however, I like to think of myself as a Renaissance man who loves to have a bag full of tricks. I write musical theater for a living, but you’ll also find me performing, baking, sewing, or making comics.


After completing a BFA in Theater, I pursued a degree in Historical Fashion, which had me doodling ladies in period garments on a daily basis. Eventually, these sketches started acquiring a more “cartoony” look as I took great fun in stylizing them. I guess the art of illustration has always been a part of me, quite naturally, and nowadays is something I do on the side in between theatrical projects.


2. How would you say your style differs from other comic artists and illustrators?

It’s the skies. It’s gotta be the skies! Hahaha! Allow me to elaborate. The truth is there is no short, easy answer to this question because the search for style is a journey that passes through several phases of transformation. I've always been heavily influenced by classic comics such as Archie, Blondie, and Calvin and Hobbes, in which simplicity has always given us dynamic, beautiful, and hilarious characters that have remained in our hearts for generations. When I started doodling the characters that later became my slice-of-life comic Your Sense & My Sensibility, I opted for a simple, sharp, cute, cartoony style that in no time began to define Duniath Comics' own style. I decided to start coloring my lineart a shade slightly darker than the color inside of it, instead of leaving it black like most comics. Pastels have always been my thing, so it was just natural to embrace them as my signature palette. My characters consistently have rosy cheeks, their eyes have no pupils, and the small irises always go in a gradient from dark at the top to light at the bottom. They are a bit messy, a little careless, and unapologetically cutesy. During one of my identity crises, I asked a dear friend — who happens to be a very successful comics artist — what he thought made my art stand out. Without hesitation, he replied, “It’s the skies, man! Those gorgeous pink, lavender, and coral skies no one else has. You make them look so effortless and organic, so attuned to your essence, that if any of your characters tell me the sky is pink I’ll believe them.”


3. Where do you draw your inspiration from when you're creating your comics?


The world of Duniath Comics is inspired by an obsession with all things Georgian, Regency, and Victorian; an adoration for every shade of pink; a soft spot for a touch of fantasy; and an undying love for Jane Austen’s works.


4. What sparked your interest in all things Georgian, Regency, and Victorian?


It all began with fashion. Being involved with theater from a young age, I was constantly in costume. All those Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Calderón de la Barca, and Moliére comedies and dramas got me into historical fashion and being raised by a mother who fed me a love for the classics caused me to be very much a Romanticism nerd by the age of 14. By the time I finished my BFA in Theater and moved to Europe to pursue a degree in Historical Fashion, I was already immersed in Austen, the Brontë sisters, Dickens, Dumas, Victor Hugo, and all things 19th century.


5. Out of all Jane Austen's novels, why did you decide to write a graphic novel inspired by Emma? How does this project differ from other ones you have worked on?


Being involved with a few big Jane Austen–related organizations, I was discouraged by the lack of representation people who looked like me had in their membership. I wanted to spread the message that Jane Austen is for everyone and not only elderly White women. I have a gift, so why not use it to make a difference, even if it’s a small one? Why not make Austen accessible for the unexpected reader?


Emma has always been my favorite Austen, so it felt natural to start with that one. (Yes, there is a plan to eventually adapt all six novels to graphic novels, with Northanger Abbey getting ready to step forward once Emma is out in the world.) I’d say this project differs from all others because it’s HUGE. Emma is not precisely a short book, and adapting it to the world of panels and speech balloons has been quite the challenge. This one is a very ambitious project, and being a one-man production is taking way longer than planned. I want to believe all will be worth it in the end. This is of course Duniath Comics’ take on Austen, a world of pastel colors in which the sky is pink, Harriet Smith can be a Black young lady, Jane Fairfax can be Asian, and Mr. Knightley is allowed to be of mixed race. My world, my rules. Being a great observer of the world around her, I’d like to think Jane Austen would smile at this. (Hear Georgie talk about this project episode 14 of The Thing About Austen!)


6. In your experience, what are some of the best parts about working with a genre often associated with younger readers and why?


…To answer your question, the best part about working with comics is debunking the myth of the medium being something only youngsters care about. That being said, I do love how comics, mangas, and graphic novels are constantly being used to get the young ones interested in the big works of literature. Classics Illustrated ran from 1941 to 1969 adapting literary classics such as Les Misérables, Moby-Dick, and Hamlet. Modern companies like Manga Classics and SelfMadeHero have picked up that mantle to keep retelling these timeless works to cater to a new generation. With comics being a very visual and dynamic medium, they make for a friendlier port of entry. I look forward to Duniath Comics hopefully opening a few more doors to the world of classic literature for readers of all ages. After all, Jane Austen is for everyone.

 

Georgie enjoyed JASP2022 so much that he plans to join us at JASP2023 - will you? Register today for a fun-fill June 15-18 on UNC-Chapel Hill's campus!






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