In the sea of words that is the internet, a writer can feel quite lost.
I found myself turning out story after story for readers anaethetized by the daily barrage of email, their attention falling away by the end of the second paragraph to a gleaming Facebook update. I knew it was time to make my storytelling visual but, unable to even draw stickmen, I needed help.
Then I found Nadine.
We met on a forum and I discovered her favourite creation: Viola, a girl with blazing red hair who was usually drawn with her eyes closed beside an Arabic haiku. I found myself intrigued and bewitched by this enigmatic character and I intuited that the only way to unravel the mystery would be to write stories for her.
I knew from the start that Viola was a traveller. I imagined her wandering from planet to planet, finding strange reflections of humanity in the inhabitants of each one. Sometimes funny, sometimes strange, each world would be a piece in the puzzle that might never form a complete picture.
Nadine and I asked ourselves why Viola was travelling and at first we thought she might be a blind princess, lost in space. Nadine herself comes from Lebanon and she told me that growing up in such a conflicted country, there were many things to which she had simply learned to close her eyes. But now she had left Lebanon and was curious to see all she could. So it was we suddenly understood that Viola must come from a world where everyone kept their eyes closed; we saw them sat under trees with their gaze fastened within in search of Inner Truth. Perhaps, we mused, Viola had committed the crime of opening her eyes and had been banished as a result.
Thus Wandering Viola was born.
As a writer it’s a common experience for me to feel the wonder of a story that seems to already exist before I set pen to paper. But to discover the thread of a tale together with someone else was entirely new to me. Then to see the stories come alive under Nadine’s pen was another kind of magic altogether. Nadine and I still haven’t met in person but through Wandering Viola I’ve already shared more with her than with many of my oldest friends.
The genre of an innocent traveller visiting strange other worlds is an old one. Just think of Arabian Nights, Gulliver’s Travels or The Little Prince. It’s a vehicle that allows us an expression ranging from the satirical to the mystical. Take, for example, our most recent comic, With Strings Attached, which takes an ironic look at the age of digital communication; arriving on a rather desolate planet, Viola meets a sinister man who is absorbed in communicating with distant friends by pulling on multiple strings. Encouraged to try it out, she complains that it’s boring, to which he replies:
“Talking to one person normally is! Try more strings!”
I knew Viola was a traveller because I’ve been on the road 18 years now – all my adult life. I’ve seen and experienced countless amazing things but almost always alone. I’m no longer so keen to roam the roads of this planet but through this comic I’m finding another way to wander. And the great thing is that Nadine comes with me.