Varethane has been making webcomics since 2007, and now cannot stop. She is the Canadian creator of the high fantasy webcomic Chirault, which concluded in 2018, and is now working on a science-fantasy genre-blending webcomic called Wychwood.
Synopsis: Twenty years after the world was invaded and then rescued from a terrifying alien force, humanity has begun to master the strange magic their enemy left behind. After spearheading the wartime research efforts, an organization called Wychwood has become the leading authority on magic and is aggressively hunting for new things to study.
This is kind of a bad thing for Tiara, a delinquent who has been using a mysterious power to goof around for years without realizing the kind of attention it could attract.
Did you go to school for either art or writing? If so, what school?
I went to NSCAD (Nova Scotia College of Art & Design) and studied painting.
What is the main genre of your comic? What appeals to you about that genre?
Sci-fi is the primary genre! I enjoy complex world-building and showing technology’s impact on society, individuals, and the environment (both artificial and natural), and one of Wychwood’s settings’ primary conceits is that the use of a new technology has transformed the world in the wake of a catastrophe, and has impacted the lives of all the characters in both good and bad ways.
Are there any other genres that apply to your comic?
Fantasy also applies, both aesthetically and in some of the later elements of the story, as the line between technology, nature, and (actual) magic gets increasingly blurred. Drama and adventure are also strong components, as is post-apocalypse.
What was your inspiration for the story?
That’s a tough one, as I first came up with the story a very long time ago and it has been sitting at the back (or front) of my mind ever since. It’s changed a lot over time, and every time I read or watch something I truly love, I’m sure it’s influenced the story in some way or another. One very early influence was X-Men Evolution, which I watched and loved as it was airing.
Do you have any favorite artists or writers who influenced your style?
I’ve always been a huge fan of the work of Rumiko Takahashi, which was a huge influence on the style of my first webcomic (Chirault), in particular when it comes to character expressions but also in her lively and simple brush inking. Other influences include Wendy Pini (Elfquest) for organic and complex line work, Ashley Cope (Unsounded), whose luminous and beautiful colouring always inspires me, and Norihiro Yagio (Claymore), whose monster designs blow me away.
How long does it take you to complete one page?
I work in large batches so it’s hard to say, but… between 3 and 6 hours, I believe.
What is your process like for creating comic pages from start to finish? What tools do you use?
I do my thumbnailing in a small physical notebook, then sketch the pages in Photoshop, ink and flat them in Clip Studio, and bring them back to Photoshop to do the final shading and effects. It’s a bit of a roundabout approach, and I’m gradually learning more about Clip Studio–someday I may start doing the entire page in Clip, but currently there are still some tools I prefer Photoshop for (such as editable lettering, and layer effects like glows).
Is your comic a finished work? If not, how long do you think it’s going to be when it’s complete? Is there a definitive ending or will you just keep going for as long as possible?
The comic is not complete yet (though my previous webcomic, Chirault, is complete!). In fact, Wychwood has only just started! It’ll probably run at least another 5 years, maybe more, as the full story is likely to be at least 1000 pages. There is a definitive ending, as I outlined the whole narrative before I drew a single page, but there’s a lot of ground to cover before I get there, haha.
How many pages do you have complete at the moment?
At the moment I have 248 pages complete, and another 25 sketched. The website is only up to 155, as I’m trying to hang onto my buffer.
How long did it take you to plan the comic before even beginning to physically create it?
Either 15 years or 3 years, depending on how I choose to define it. The seeds of the story were first created a long time ago, but it was very different from its current form. All that has really been kept from the original are a few of the characters’ names, appearances, loose personalities, and the basics of their relationship dynamics–everything else is all new. I started planning the current form of the story in earnest in 2017, when I took a stab at writing it out as a NaNoWriMo challenge and made it about halfway through the narrative before realizing I wanted to make it into a comic after all.
What was the biggest hurdle you faced during the course of making your comic? If you could go back in time to the point where you just started making it and give yourself a pep talk, what would you say?
I’m pretty sure my biggest hurdles are still ahead–though technically, when I first came up with the story over a decade ago, after making a couple of rough test pages I decided I wasn’t ready to start and made a different comic (Chirault) instead. Even after finishing Chirault, I wasn’t sure if I was ready yet… but I decided it was time.
What is your favorite part about working on your comic?
I could daydream about it all day, haha. I love thinking about my characters and the world, and the plot events I’m most excited to get to. But I also love seeing how readers respond to these things, and it helps energize me even more–if my story, my dreams, can come to life in other peoples’ heads… that’s what I’m after.
What is the most difficult part about working on your comic? How do you overcome it?
Definitely marketing–I find it really tough. I can’t really say I’ve overcome it yet, I really should be more active about spreading around links to the comic and pursuing opportunities. So far I’ve been sticking to just posting it in a few comfortable spaces, and occasionally reaching a little farther. Once the comic is further along and there’s more story to share, I’ll probably be more active about it (or at least, that’s what I tell myself).
Do you have a favorite character to write for? If so, why? Tell us more about them!
I love writing Tiara, as she’s so different from myself: she has the bravery to speak her mind and make decisions quickly that I wish I had, so she’s often very cathartic to write. I find her flaws–believing she’s invulnerable, acting impulsively without thinking, and often outright recklessness–quite fun to watch, and it also keeps the plot moving at a quicker pace than it might without her.
Which character gives you the most difficulty to write for?
At the current stage of the story, probably Julian. It’s very easy for me to step into his head, but at the same time, he’s a much quieter and more understated character than the others in the core cast, and I worry that he’s overshadowed by them. His chance to shine comes a little later in the story–I just hope that it doesn’t come too late.
Do you have a favorite character to draw?
Definitely Felix, especially while his powers are activated. I designed him to be fun for me, personally, to draw, haha.
Which character gives you the most difficulty to draw?
Lizard is tough, and it doesn’t help that it took me entirely too long to put together a character sheet to use as reference (instead of looking at old sketches or previous comic pages with him in them). As more Ezyphir characters appear, though, this answer is almost definitely going to change–their designs are very complex, much more so than the humans, and wings are always a challenge.
I also have another webcomic called Chirault: http://chirault.sevensmith.net/
It’s a high fantasy adventure about a little girl that gets shrunk to be about the size of a squirrel, and the demon-hunting demon who is enlisted to help her out (mostly by virtue of being the first person to show up). It’s also complete, so you can read the whole thing right now!
I’ve done a few other short stories and anthology entries; there’s a (mostly) complete list of all my comics work up here: http://sevensmith.net/comics.html
Anything else you want the people to know about yourself or your comic?
Bear in mind the storyline will include some dark content down the line as well as violence, in case that’s an issue for any readers.
Shout out to ShadowBestie for helping me with editing/formatting this interview <3