Interview with Jonathan King

Jonathan King’s first graphic novel for children, The Inkberg Enigma, has just been released. It is a brilliant graphic novel filled with mystery, adventure and secrets. You can read my full review here on the blog.

I really love The Inkberg Enigma (it’s one of my favourite children’s graphic novels of 2020) so I wanted to ask Jonathan my burning questions about the story. Read on to find out about Jonathan’s inspirations for the story, the process of creating a graphic novel and some of the Easter Eggs you can find in the story.

Reading The Inkberg Enigma made me feel like I was 10 again, reading Tintin. Did you set out to create the kind of story that you would have loved as a kid?

Yes, I absolutely did. Tintin was huge for me as a kid: The Black Island was the first one I read, but I devoured them all over the years. I knew from the outset that I wanted it to be an adventure with fantastic elements. I think I decided fairly early that it wouldn’t be a globe-trotting kind of thing – that Tintin often did – but digging into the secrets and corners of one location. That’s what I love about stories – that can show us how our own world has hidden wonders.

The Inkberg Enigma is set in the fictional town of Aurora. Being a Christchurch local I immediately recognised Lyttelton in your illustrations. Did Lyttelton inspire the setting?

Lyttelton – and Diamond Harbour access the water – definitely the primary inspiration for the setting. I have family in Diamond Harbour and Lyttelton, and have spent quite a bit of time there. I love the self-contained nature of the two of them (in my story there’s no Christchurch just over the hill). And I’ve always had a connection to places by the sea – with their attached nautical influence, like Lyttelton has, of hotels, seamen’s union buildings, antique shops with diver’s helmets in the window (which I really did see in Lyttelton!). Other influences are Cannery Row in Monterey in California – where John Steinbeck set his book of that name — Astoria in Oregon (where The Goonies was filmed) and, for the castle, Larnach Castle in Dunedin.

I love that the main character in The Inkberg Enigma, Miro, sells off treasures from his attic to get money to buy books. Is this something you would have done as a kid?

I don’t know if I would go quite as far as Miro does! But I do remember what it felt like to be obsessed with things – like Star Wars figures or comics – and doing anything to complete collections. 

Mr Hunter is one of the creepiest characters in the story. I’ve been wondering where he got his huge scar from?

I think Mr Hunter has been involved in some very dangerous situations at sea over the years – but ignored or buried them, to continue the regime of (what they think is) control over the sea and the creatures below. I think there’s a climate change metaphor in there too …

The kids at my school often complain about how long it takes a creator to release a new graphic novel. To put it in to perspective for them can you explain the process of creating The Inkberg Enigma and how long it took you to pull the story together.

It takes a long time for new ones to come out because it takes a loooooong time to draw them! Unlike commercial monthly comics – which usually have a writer, a penciller, an inker, a colourist, a letterer – a graphic novel is usually the work of just one or two people. It took me about three years from start to finish. Part of that was finding the story. I had the world and the kids in the story pretty early … but the story they were in and the relationship between them took a while to find; I made a false start and pencilled / roughed about 40 pages … that I abandoned. But once I cracked the relationship between the kids, the stay was clear. Then I just had to draw it all. Certainly a detailed, clear line style slows things down. I’d love to try a looser (faster!!) style in the future.

Did you experiment much with the character designs before settling on their final look?

I think their look came quite quickly. Learning how to draw it consistently took a little while longer!

The name of the bookshop in the story is a nod to your film adaptation of Maurice Gee’s Under the Mountain that you wrote, directed and produced. Are there other Easter eggs for readers to look out for in The Inkberg Enigma?

I’m thrilled you spotted that. Yes, there are others: a number of Tintin props, I think. The books in the bookshop Miro looks at are favourites of mine. The museum building is based on the jailhouse in Goonies (a real building in Astoria!) I’m sure there’s other odds and ends!

How does your film background influence your comics?

I’m not sure. Probably it does n terms of story structure – something I’ve spent a long time thinking about. I probably think it terms of close ups and wide shots … and even the ‘lens’ that I frame images in: a wide angle lens sees something differently from a ‘long’ lens. Certainly telling the story with pictures is as important as words. 

Would you like to make a movie of The Inkberg Enigma?

All the way through making I didn’t think that I did: it was only ever meant to be a comic. Now that it’s finished, it’s its own thing … yeah, I kinda would actually! 🙂 

There are so few comics and graphic novels published in NZ for kids and teens, even though these books are some of the most popular with kids in our libraries. Do you have plans to write more for this age group?

I’m sure one of the reasons that there are so few is that for something takes so long, it’s really hard to get enough income to justify the time it takes (though I must acknowledge the support I ad from Creative NZ). Some cool local creators are Katie O’Neill’s Tea Dragon Society books, Ant Sang’s Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas, Roger Langridge’s Abigail & The Snowman and, of course, bob Kerr and Stephen Ballantyne’s Terry Teo books. 
I would love to write more for this age group. Having done a book that took years to draw, I’d love to write book that’s just words – a mystery perhaps! And, yes, before long I’ll do another graphic novel. 

Check out my review of Jonathan’s graphic novel, The Inkberg Enigma. Available now from Gecko Press.

The Inkberg Enigma by Jonathan King

The Inkberg Enigma is a brilliant graphic novel from New Zealand comic creator and film maker, Jonathan King. Reading this made me feel like I was 10 years old again, devouring Tintin and wanting to be him.

Miro is a book-obsessed boy living an adventurous life through the stories of Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Real-life adventure finds him though when Zia, a girl from his school, drags him in to a town mystery. Miro is reluctant to get involved but, as Mira says, ‘this is how you have adventures. You find cool things and you do them…you don’t just read books about them!’ Their town of Aurora has been built on the prosperous fishing in their harbour. When Miro and Zia see something that they are not supposed to, they set out to discover the truth behind the legacy of Aurora and the shady characters who run the town.

The Inkberg Enigma is filled with adventure, mystery, and secrets. It’s also just the right amount of spooky and sinister that keeps you turning the pages. I flew through the story the first time and have since read it again to fully appreciate the story and the artwork.

I love all the characters, from the book-loving Miro and the ever-curious Zia to the sinister mayor of Aurora, Mr Hunter. Miro reminds me a lot of myself because he sells artefacts that he finds in his attic just so he can buy more books. His habit gets so bad that he has a whole spare room full of books! He’d also rather read about adventures than have them in real life.

Jonathan’s illustrations are fantastic, from his characters to the images of the town of Aurora. As a Christchurch local I immediately recognised Lyttelton as Aurora, from the town streets to the museum and the harbour. I really like the flow of the illustrations, with the scene on the boat being my favourite. Jonathan doesn’t let the panels limit the story either, with some really clever sections where the illustrations move out of the panels.

The Inkberg Enigma is one of my favourite kids graphic novels of 2020 and I’ll be recommending it to everyone. I really hope there will be more stories with Miro and Zia.

The Inkberg Enigma is released in August from the wonderful Gecko Press. Stay tuned for my interview with Jonathan King.