We have had the pleasure to interview the German artist Daniel Lieske, author of the webcomic The Wormworld Saga. In the 2010, after a long gestation time, the author has finished the first chapter of his comic, which has been later followed by other four. This webcomic, an ongoing publishing project, is a product of great artistic value which has also shown the ability to exploit at their best the possibilities offered by the Web and the most recent technologies.
Here is a brief biography of the author :
Daniel Lieske is born in 1977 in Germany, next to the Teutoburg Forest. His passion for comic books rises quite early, during his school years. For ten years he worked in the videogame industry, but then he quitted his job to dedicate himself full-time to The Wormworld Saga. He is the founder of digitalartforum.de. He currently lives with his family in Warendorf, a small German city. Here you can find more information about Daniel Lieske and his projects.
When and how did The Wormwold Saga begin as a project?
As a self-taught artist I spent a lot of time painting for the sake of painting alone and not caring much about the subject. Several years I simply created random fantasy themed artwork just to get better at painting. I reached a certain level of quality in my artwork through that but all my illustrations of that time essentially were meaningless. I came to a point where I realized that in order to grow as an artist I had to infuse meaning into my artwork.
That’s when I started to gather ideas about a distant world and a Great Worm lying dormant under a mountain and a dark lord whose evil plan it is to wake him up. These rough ideas started to emerge in 2003 and they are the core elements of the Wormworld Saga up until today. Over the years I gathered more and more ideas around this core element. I invented characters and locations and connected them to each other. In 2006 I found my protagonist when I painted “The Journey Begins” which shows a young boy in an old attic sitting in front of a magical painting. I decided that he would be the hero who has to stop the dark lord and his evil schemes. In 2009 I had filled several notebooks with ideas for the story and decided that it was time for the next step. I created the first chapter of the Wormworld Saga digital graphic novel in 2010 so in that year my collection of ideas turned into a real project with the distinct goal to produce and publish the whole story as a comic.
Are there comic books, films, novels or authors that have specially left a mark and inspired you?
I guess that as an artist you are constantly inspired by tons of other creators. But there are certain artists that I consider to be particularly influential as their work changed something in me and made me walk into new directions. The first artist I have to mention is Katsuhiro Otomo, who’s manga Akira changed the way I was looking at comics. Before Akira I was used to read Asterix and comics were funny – and sometimes clever – short stories for me. Akira showed me that a comic can become an epic artwork with deep characters and a complex story. From that day on I knew that you could do anything with a comic. Later in my life I discovered the anime films of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli . Films like Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle showed me that there are other ways to tell a story than it’s done in classic western fantasy tales and Hollywood movies. I’m also strongly influenced by the artistry that shows in the background paintings of these films. I’m a big fan of Kazuo Oga in particular who painted a lot of my favorite backgrounds from the Ghibli films. I also owe a big deal to Ridley Scott who’s cinematography greatly influences the way I’m thinking about scene design and lighting. Light plays an important role in my artwork and although I’m obviously not aiming for photorealism I always try to use the light as if I was looking through a camera.
Reading The Wormworld Saga made me think about the richness the German culture has in terms of fairy tales and mythical stories. What is your relationship with these two currents?
To be honest, I’ve got a big problem with most classic fairy tales because they often are one-dimensional and draw a distinct line between good and evil. Sometimes they also are right away cruel. The same goes for many mythical stories. Of course, this simplicity lends a certain archaic quality to these stories and archaic elements tend to be very strong devices in a story. You will find archaic elements in the Wormworld Saga, too. The fire theme for example is very archaic and is depicted as pure evil in the first chapters of the Wormworld Saga. However, my goal is to transform these archaic elements to differentiated elements over the course of the story and thereby portrait my own development from a lover of simple fantasy to differentiated storytelling. Apart from that I try to incorporate some elements from German folklore into the Wormworld Saga like the Wolpertinger or the Scrat. I find it interesting to mix these with elements from Indian culture which gives the Wormworld a distinct flavor.
The protagonist of the story, Jonas, is a boy approaching adolescence, and in whom every reader can find something of himself or herself. Jonas faces his own problems (his mother’s death, the difficult relationship with his father, a terrible school report) by seeking refuge in games, in fantasy, and grasping firmly to his childhood. How much of you are there in Jonas? What does childhood represent to you?
I would say that you’ll find parts of me in every character of the Wormworld Saga. I share a few biographical details with Jonas – like the joy of drawing or the adventures in the forests – but he’s very different from me in other aspects. I’ve never been bad in school for example and I’ve never experienced pressure from my parents. I’ve also never lost a family member in a tragic fashion so the main factors of Jonas’ life are very different from that of my own life. However, I share a lot of his emotions although on a very different level. His decision to step into the magical painting resembles my own decision to quit my job in order to work on the Wormworld Saga. Just like him I’ve entered a world of uncertainty and danger and just like him I’m struggling against my fear. Jonas’ quest to overcome his fear is my own quest right at the moment. The central question of the Wormworld Saga is “what’s stronger than fear?” and I’m working hard to come up with a satisfying answer to that question in my very own interest. I think we remain to be children through our whole life. We only disguise as adults. In our hearts we are struggling with the same old fears that we encountered as children.
I believe that your illustrations are realized completely with digital tools. Can you tell us more about the process you follow to draw The Wormwold Saga, from a technical point of view?
Since I’ve spent 10 years working in the computer games industry I had the opportunity to learn to use the computer as a drawing and painting medium. It’s a very effective way to create artwork. I use a graphic tablet and a digital pen to draw on the computer so my technique still relies completely on traditional drawing and painting skills. The computer enables me to work much faster though because I don’t have to wait for paint to dry and I don’t need to clean brushes anymore. Every panel of the Wormworld Saga is firstly drawn and colored on the computer and then I normally perform some post processing like glow effects and color corrections. All this work is done in Adobe Photoshop. The different panels are then layouted which incorporates the design of word balloons and sound effects. Everything is then exported as a huge HTML file and that gets published on the website.
From the moment Jonas “enters” the great forest, in the third chapter, there is a succession of spectacular landscapes and panoramic views in which you give the best of you as an artist. How is The Wormwold Saga setting born, and what are its characteristics?
The most important aspect of the Wormworld Saga for me is the story. However, it also serves as an adventure trip for myself as I send the characters through environments that I have fantasized about for a long time. It begins in the real world with the massive attic of Grannie’s farmhouse and continues with the gigantic plants and creatures of the Great Forest. The overgrown ruins of Ankal Aasha, the river that flows through the jungle – these are all settings I’d like to visit myself. And the story will continue to be filled with new settings that I’m looking forward to explore visually.
You decided to tell your story in a format that perfectly adapts to the digital reading platforms (especially tablets and smartphones), using the vertical scrolling. I think that this choice has been made not only for readability reasons, but also because it offers graphical opportunities that go beyond the limits of the physical restriction of paper pages, right?
The main reason for me to use the “infinite canvas” (a term coined by the American comic artist Scott McCloud) is, that I hate to turn pages on the screen. It’s just not necessary and the reason why you see so much page turning in web comics even today is that most classic internet business models are built around the page format. From a creative standpoint, the infinite canvas offers a lot of benefits. You avoid annoying loading times between pages and you have much more freedom in story pacing because you don’t have to aim at the mini cliffhanger at the end of each double spread. I also enjoy the possibility to “fade” between scenes and to create virtual camera tracks. It was a great thrill to design sequences like the Draconia chase in Chapter 3 or the nightmare at the beginning of Chapter 5. I’m still experimenting with the possibilities and it’s a lot of fun to do that.
There is however a paper version of The Wormwold Saga available in German, in which are collected the first three chapters. What is the main difference between the two versions?
After the Wormworld Saga had made quite an impact on the internet I was approached by publishers who wanted to publish the story in book form. I never really thought about a printed version of the Wormworld Saga and at first I was skeptical if it would work. The layout had to be changed quite a bit but in the end I was really happy with the result. I don’t think that when you read the book you will notice that the original layout was different. After all you could turn any page layout into an infinite canvas layout by simply putting all pages beneath each other.
How did you use Kickstarter?
I’ve had two kickstarter campaigns so far. The aim of the first one was the funding of the Wormworld Saga App which worked out very well. The app development was fully financed and the app was released 6 months later and has already attracted over 150 thousand users. The second campaign helped me to open up a fan shop on the Wormworld Saga website. All in all my kickstarter campaigns have grossed over 40 thousand dollars and all of that money was reinvested to support the Wormworld Saga over the long run.
What do you think about crowdfunding?
For creatives crowdfunding is a fascinating new possibility to raise money for a specific project. It definitely was an important factor for my own project and I see many artists building successful business models based on crowdfunding. Doing a kickstarter campaign is a lot of work though and the money doesn’t come in easily. If you plan to go that route definitely prepare for a lot of work and a lot of stuff to be learned. Also, the 30 days or so that a typical campaign runs is a nerve wracking time. You wake up in the morning and the first thing you do is checking the funding progress. The goal always looks so incredibly far away. I guess I will experiment more with crowdfunding in the future but I’m not exactly looking forward to it. Of course, if everything goes right it’s a great feeling.
The first chapter of The Wormwold Saga has been translated in 25 languages. 21 of these translations have been realized by your fans, which is another sign of the attachment of your readers to the project – beside the success of the two Kickstarter campaigns we just talked about. What is the communication strategy you adopt?
The translation work of the fans is one of the most rewarding aspects of the Wormworld Saga project. I’m really grateful for the effort that the translators put into their work. Since my work is also suitable for children – although I’m not particularly aiming at a young audience – it’s very helpful to have the translations so that younger readers with less foreign language skills are able to read my story. Concerning my communication strategy I would say that I try to be present and reachable for my fans – they can comment on the Wormworld Saga Facebook page and on my blog – but I don’t stress myself out to deliver a constant stream of communication. I think that my readers have a lot of other things to do in their lifes and I’m happy if they listen when I have to say something noteworthy. If there’s nothing interesting to tell I don’t make up things only to keep people “engaged”.
Have you already decided how long will The Wormworld Saga last?
The Wormworld Saga is a quite ambitious story. It’s designed as a trilogy with three journeys into the Wormworld. The story steadily grows in complexity with each part and for the grand final I’ve got some pretty epic stuff planned. Each part of the trilogy will consist of up to 20 chapters. So I’ve got plenty of work ahead!
What are your plans for the future?
With such a huge story in front of me my biggest goal is to be able to finish it someday. It’s a huge challenge to work on a project like the Wormworld Saga and I’m trying to concentrate on the immediate future and how to produce the chapters that are coming up next. You can’t look at the far goal or it will make you crazy. Concentration on the next steps is important.
We thank Daniel Lieske for availability