Do you like your stories filled with pirates, bandits, and tiny monsters? How about the start of a graphic novel series that’s wildly inventive in both its art and larger creative goals? Then step right up for A House Divided: The Accursed Inheritance of Henrietta Achilles. The new series is the perfect slice of escapism during these trying times, and I was lucky enough to chat with both the writer and artist about the auspicious project.
Writer Haiko Hörnig and artist Marius Pawlitza’s lifelong friendship and love for role-playing games serve as central the inspiration behind the 4-part series. As such, we talked about RPGs and layout design tips, plus how the project came together and larger themes and motifs, among other topics and tidbits. (And if you haven’t already, check out our exclusive preview).
A House Divided: The Accursed Inheritance of Henrietta Achilles is available now on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
AIPT: Your love of role-playing games is noted in the press release which has me wondering, have you ever played in the world of A House Divided?
Haiko Hörnig: That’s a great idea! I’d love to set an adventure in Henrietta’s gigantic magical house! While we haven’t played in the setting of A House Divided yet, we did steal several ideas and characters from our own D&D homebrew campaign. Some of the soldiers were actually inspired by player characters from our table.
Marius Pawlitza: In the story, our hero Henrietta learns that she is the only living relative of the deceased wizard Ornun Zol, who leaves her a gigantic, magical house. When Haiko and I talked about the kind of person Ornun Zol was, we frequently used D&D terms to describe him.
I went so far as to create a character sheet for him based on the D&D 5th Edition rules. Later, I used this concept for the gnome wizard I play right now in our Ravenloft campaign. Does that count?
AIPT: I’m in love with the art style in this book! The backgrounds are gorgeous, the characters incredibly animated with strong emotional responses right out of Ren and Stimpy! What are the inspirations in your visual look in the book?
MP: Thank you! Probably our greatest inspirations were classic Disney and Studio Ghibli movies, like Beauty and the Beast, Spirited Away, and also Dreamworks’ How To Train Your Dragon (still one of my favorite movies of all time), with their rich atmosphere and detailed worlds.
HH: When we started to develop the visual language of our story, we wanted something that kinda looked like traditional animation: The characters have bold outlines, and the backgrounds are beautifully painted. This helps the characters to really stand out!
Some of the more cartoony expressions were also inspired by our love of mangas. You have to be careful, though, and find the right balance of silly and serious.
MP: The influence might not be immediately obvious, but I admire the art of Masashi Kishimoto (Naruto) and Kentarō Miura (Berzerk). Both are insanely skilled artists and I love their lines. Especially Kishimoto’s skill to create so much emotion and energy with so few lines. I’m aiming for that.
AIPT: So often fantasy worlds can have remnants of other things, how did you approach creating this world and making it so unique and vividly real?
HH: Some people like to start with the world-building and create whole fictional ecosystems before they write a single scene. That’s totally fine, of course. I’m just more interested in a character’s journey than, let’s say, fleshing out the complete population of the surrounding lands. So the world-building had to serve the story we wanted to tell, and not the other way around.
MP: You always draw from your influences, and I think creativity is the ability to combine, separate, and transform those influences into something new. I think a strong idea is the backbone of every good story and I feel privileged that my best friend and writer-buddy is also one of the most talented idea-machines I know.
When Haiko works out the script for a book, I eagerly await his first draft to see what stages or rooms we need. The best way I can support him in this phase is to create as much concept art as I can manage, which means: new environment/room designs, item designs, character designs, etc. Then we talk about it; eventually, we make changes or new ideas emerge.
AIPT: There is a line on the second page where a character says, “The worse the storm, the more beautiful the rainbow that follows” which struck me as incredibly poignant given the pandemic we’re facing today. What inspired the hardships that start this book?
HH: I agree, it feels surprisingly timely. These words will stay with Henrietta through the events of the next three books. I wanted Henrietta (and our readers) to know that bad situations won’t last forever, even if things are looking grim right now. This is something that’s easy to forget while we’re all still in these trying times.
AIPT: I love the panel work and pacing from the layout design. How do you approach a page when it comes to building the layout?
HH: I truly love the layout phase! This is where the comic really comes to life!
MP: I love it too! The layouts are also the only parts of the comic that are still drawn on paper. First, we discuss how we want to approach the scene and how it should end. How we can build tension and how fast we want the time to pass. In a fast-paced action scene, we usually have lots of panels with little dialogue. Important scenes get more space. A lot of the time, we go with what feels right in the moment.
In this phase, we also sometimes come up with small background jokes like animals interacting with or watching the characters. We both start sketching rough panels (yes! I have a writer who can also draw!) and make changes, talk, cut out new panels and paste them over older ones. It feels good to hold a physical storyboard in your hands after you’re done! It also looks a bit messy, quick sketches, tape, outstanding sticky panels. We call it our “Frankenboard”. It might not be pretty, but it gets the job done.
AIPT: When you were little, what did you think you’d be when you grew up?
HH: For the longest time, I actually wanted to become a comic book artist! But then I met Marius and he was just way better than me. So I focused on the writing part.
MP: I didn’t think at all! That’s probably the reason why I found myself doing a Dental Technician apprenticeship at 16. I couldn’t imagine doing that eight hours a day for the rest of my life, but the people I worked with were great – they helped me survive the apprenticeship. It was after that time I started looking for something I was passionate about. Ironically, according to legends (my parents), I started drawing when I was four years old and never stopped since. You could say I already found my dream job at age four, it just took a while until I realized it.