An avid reader of comics and a fan of most things nerd, Carly Berkowitz follows the local and indie comics scene regularly. She is also an undercover superhero.
Eric Menge and Julie Wright are two of the creative team behind the comic Snow by Night, a historical fantasy comic that takes place on the colonial frontier. Here, our own Carly Berkowitz gets a chance to talk to both Menge and Wright about the inspiration behind both the story and the art of Snow by Night.
When asked about Snow by Night at an anime convention, consumers might be told that the comic is a tale of a colonial magical girl. At a literary or comic convention however, the pitch gets a little more detailed. Directly put, Snow by Night is a tale of colonial American fantasy, set around the time of the French and Indian War.
The main (and titular) character, Snow by Night, is a Native American spirit called a manitou, and is the daughter of Winter. The comic revolves around her, other spirits, and the mortal lives she touches on a quest to find her heart.
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According to Eric Menge, author and creator of Snow by Night, the idea was born of a desire to do something different with fantasy and magic. As a experienced fantasy writer, he wanted bring the story a little closer to home without compromising the magical elements.
“Most fantasy is set in a European medieval-esque world,” explained Menge. “When I wanted to do my own project which was this webcomic, I wanted to break out of the normal mold and go to someplace that I didn’t think was explored quite as much.”
As a history buff living in Virginia, Menge not only felt that North America so rarely made a fantasy setting, but that there was so much potential for magic and mystery there that was going to waste. In addition to that, Menge wanted to touch on time periods of North American history that are barely explored, even in some history classes.
“I wanted to tell a fantasy story that was set not somewhere else, but here, in a fantasy version of North America, with a fantasy version of our history,” Menge said. “It’s a fantasy re-telling of the French and Indian War.”
Snow by Night herself came after Menge visited a friend in Quebec. After being dazzled by the snowfall, he was inspired with the idea of the ‘daughter of Winter.
“I decided that anywhere that snows that much has to be magical,” Menge said.
With the story and inspiration in mind, Menge connected with artist Brittany Michel and together they produced 8 chapters of the comic. Michel later left the cast to pursue a career as a voice actor, and Menge conscripted artist Julie Wright after meeting her at convention.
Once she took the reigns, Wright, who has experience working with other historical fantasy comics, saw the chance to take advantage of the rich culture and setting of the comic in her character designs.
“I drew off a lot more Native American inspiration,” Wright said. “I saw initially Snow’s design and thought that was a great opportunity to have her herald back to the culture in which she was originally inspired from.”
According to Wright, balancing the fantasy aspect with respectful representation is important when delving into historical fantasy.
“The biggest thing that I have had with working with these other projects was that there is fantasy but there’s always an element of realism to everything that is done,” Wright explained. “Just because you’re in colonial Canada with Native American spirits doesn’t mean that you want to necessarily be insensitive to sometimes how they’re portrayed or depicted.”
Menge also stressed the importance of correct representation, explaining that not only did he have contacts within the Native American community, but that he also worked with native artists to make sure the culture was presented in both a fantastical and respectful way. The most common advice Menge received was to present Native Americans as full characters, with depth rather than stereotypes.
“American Indians are people, treat them like people,” Menge said. “If they’re characters, make them three-dimensional, they’re not stoic, wooden figures with a single tear dripping down the center of their eye when they see you throw a piece of trash away.”
Currently, the story of Snow by Night is building steam. Plot points are coming together through both the main comic and smaller, visual vignettes that are building to further dramatic events leading up to a fictional fantasy version of the French and Indian war.
“We’re going to war,” explained Menge. “The frontier is now going to be a battlefield as well as a cultural frontier and a magical frontier.”
And with war brewing on the horizon, characters will be forced to change and adapt to suit the more volatile times. Whether they change for better or for worse has yet to be revealed.
“One thing I really like about fiction is making my characters make choices – deep, deep affecting choices – so there’s going to be a lot of choices by the characters for good and for bad,” Menge said.
Wright says that she too is looking forward to the future of the comic, both visually and narratively.
“I like to see character epiphanies and what not, so I am definitely looking forward to those particular moments because I feel like they’ll also resonate with the reader,” said Wright.
Moreover, with the coming turmoil, Wright will truly have a chance to expand the comic visually, and explore new character designs and settings on a grander scale.
“I feel like doing action scenes, whenever there is fighting and what not, that kind of gives an opportunity to break apart the panels and kind of break away from the norm so I definitely look forward to doing those,” Wright explained. “I like doing creature design so without saying too much I definitely look forward to some of the manitou designs that I’ll be able to put down whole, in all of it’s glory, into the comic.”
Overall, Snow by Night is an intriguing read with a detailed plot an well-developed characters. Readers don’t have to be history buffs to follow along, and the fantasy element keeps the story far from being dry. However, while the story is building drama currently, the comic begins on the slow side as it carefully introduces the world and all within it. Also, as entertaining and relevant as the vignettes are, sometimes it is difficult for the casual reader to tie them into the main storyline until much later.
That being said, Snow by Night is a fascinating story paralleling a part of history rarely touched in modern fiction with a fantasy twist and an art style that matches the subject matter well – all done with respect to the native cultures it draws from.
Carly Berkowitz is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow her on Twitter: @CaptainComic