Robin Hoelzemann dives into the depths of independent web comics.
So, what is Curia Regis?
Curia Regis ( CR) is an 18th century-inspired fictional history about trying to steal a country. It follows Maren, a courtier about to have her loyalties and ethics tested, and Jacques, an heir to a contested throne, as they try and make the future they want a reality.
What inspired the series? What attracted you to this style of story?
CR is a kind of experiment. I love stories. All stories, in any format. Many of my favourites are in a subset of the fantasy genre called a ‘fantasy of manners’. Books in that subgenre are an eclectic mix of Jane Austen-esque social construct, and adventures dramas such as the
When I started Curia Regis, that kind of thing didn’t really exist in comics. I wanted to see if I could build a story around emotional beats, focusing in on conversations and interpersonal conflicts while the political landscape escalates in the background. A couple of years after I first started drafting the story, I discovered things like
Strangers In Paradise, and the comics scene started expanding so quickly. I’m excited to be one of a new generation of storytellers who
Below: At 190 pages and spanning 11 chapters, Volume One of Curia Regis is a gripping read. First released in 2016, it quickly establishing a loyal army of fans are making new things accessible to readers looking for something a little different.
How would you classify it? Historical drama?
Fictional history. The world itself is built very loosely on 18thcentury France, but I wouldn’t even go so far as to call it alternate history. It’s entirely made up. Talk to us a little about your process? What does a week on
Curia Regis look like?
When I’m knee-deep in a chapter of
Curia Regis, my weeks all start to look oddly similar. I have a different day job, so I work in batches to get as much output as efficiently as possible. Weekends are spent on tasks that require a lot of mental input: pencilling pages or writing. Weekday evenings, when I need a little more flexibility, are spent inking or flatting the comic. The more brainpower something needs, the more likely I am to do it. When I have a dedicated ten-hour chunk I can invest in teasing out the details.
What advantages does going the webcomic route offer?
Knowing you have readers waiting for the next page of the story is great for keeping motivated. It also teaches new creators to schedule, which is vital if they intend to have a future career that includes work for hire or deadlines of any kind. You learn to figure efficiencies into your workflow, and get a feel for when you need to stop working on a page and move on. It also helps you build up a body of work that shows you can work sequentially.
In some ways it has simplified the answer to “How can I break into comics?” Put your work online. Get it out of your head and out there for people to see it.
What disadvantages, if any?
I think this is going to depend heavily on the person. For me, the webcomics format has some major disadvantages that tie back to how long it took me to complete the first volume of the comic.
I worked on Volume One of CR across a period of five years, and it shows. I felt limited in how much I could change the writing or plot in retrospect, because the material was already out there. I can’t go back and strip out scenes that I don’t think work anymore; I can’t condense the plot and make things neater. I can’t apply five years of learning backwards. It’s more difficult to edit your own work when you’re working page by page, and I do think long-form stories suffer for it.
In all honesty there are always going to be things about Volume One that I wish I could go back and remove, because I feel like they weaken the narrative. At the same time, it’s an interesting challenge to have that framework there and unchangeable. Webcomics do keep you moving forward.
Does the story have an endpoint?
Absolutely. The ending for CR was in my mind the day I started writing the first chapter. At this point, most of the key character scenes for the second half of the story are locked down, and I’m smoothing out the ruffles. The stakes are high for Maren, Jacques and the gang, and if you’ve read Volume One, we already know a few of their endings aren’t flexible.
Has anything changed between planning and getting it on the page?
On a micro level, every page of
Curia Regis goes through multiple iterations. I write every chapter in prose first. It helps me visualise scenes and character interactions. In the next stage I write it again as a script and things change. Then when I’m laying out the pages, things change again, and again when I’m adding the dialogue. Then it’s bound to change again when I’m proofing for print.
Then there are those characters that just take over. Master manipulator Carolina (Lina), for example, was never meant to have such a big role. I wound up redrawing and writing the full first chapter of Volume One partially because she needed to be introduced earlier to explain the focus she was drawing later on. Sometimes it just feels right to shape a story around certain characters – all the planning in the world won’t save you from that!
How was your experience with Kickstarter?
Brilliant and terrifying. I’ve described it to friends as an emotional rollercoaster. I am incredibly grateful to everyone who promoted and pledged for the book, and I’d recommend it to anyone who needs a little help in getting a project funded.
My advice to anyone thinking of taking the plunge is to do as much prep work as you possibly can, be prepared to keep your head in the game for the full 30+ days it requires, and for the love of God, remember to include postage and a financial buffer!
What sort of research is required?
In the initial writing stages, it can take quite a bit of digging around social structure, military history, architecture, art, and on one memorable occasion, whether or not matchbooks were around in the 1740s (spoiler: they weren’t). Just because it’s fictional history doesn’t mean I don’t want the comic to have a firm, believable foundation. Rooting it in a time period helps. From there I can tweak, add in a few modern twists, and generally work it into something I’m comfortable with.
What’s next on deck for you?
At the moment, I’m gnashing out the details for Volume 2. It’s the second half of the story, so there’s a lot of loose ends to be tied up in a neat little package, and I’m determined to do it right.
To keep sharp in the meantime, and to stop burning out on one project, I’m working on a dark fairy tale about a wolf witch that a forest people say comes alive at night. I expect the full story to be available at Thought Bubble in Leeds this September, but readers can follow along as I work on it on Patreon. www.whatido.co.uk
“Get your work out of your head so people can see it” Robin Hoelzemann
Below: Jacques II is the leader of the revolution
Above: Maren is the highest ranking revolutionary