Mirabilis is a fantasy adventure story for young adults which opens New Year’s Day 1901, when a green comet appears in the sky. As it gets bigger, the line between reality and fantasy blurs. Soon there are mermaids in the Thames, elves in Parliament and a dragon roosting on Big Ben. But then the comet rounds the sun and starts to fade. Will the world be able to go back to a life without magic?
The full-colour graphic novel was originally serialized in The DFC, the weekly print comic published by Random House UK, who financed the production and has been released as a digital edition for iPad.
"I'm a huge fan of this story," says PMP Managing Editor John Freeman. "Dave and Leo have a firm eye on every avenue for getting their wonderful story out there, and we're delighted to be part of their masterplan!"
"We couldn't be more pleased with the production design on these books," says Dave Morris. "Typography, colours and layouts all add to the reading experience, and Print Media have carried all that through with professionalism and a real eye for detail.
"The end result is not simply our comic between hard covers, but a beautiful work that we think readers will treasure."
"It's great to have another publisher showing confidence in British comics publishing," he continues. "Many people in Britain see comics as just for little kids, and are unaware of the rich diversity of creative comics talent we have in this country. We need more graphic novels with compelling characters, relatable storylines and stunning cinematic visuals to prove to those British readers who haven't yet got the message what their neighbours on the Continent have been saying for years - comics are cool!"
"We've been incredibly lucky with our publishers. Print Media really get what we're doing with Mirabilis. They see that it's part of this modern trend in comics to create not just stories but whole universes."
|A panel from Dave Morris and Leo Hartas epic Mirabilis tale|
The Origins of Mirabilis
Their parents may be more concerned about grocery bills and mortgages, but for thousands of children the biggest casualty of the recession was Britain’s brightest weekly comic The DFC.
Published by Random House, The DFC treated several thousand devoted subscribers to the very best in British graphic fiction, with stories by top-name talent like Phillip Pullman and Harry Potter artist Adam Brockbank.
The biggest single project among all The DFC's ongoing stories was unquestionably Mirabilis, a hugely ambitious comics saga planned to span almost 200 issues. Mirabilis tells the story of a magical green comet that appears in the night sky over Edwardian London, ushering in an era in which steam trains and airships combine with ghosts, goblins and Martian invaders. Billed as "a modern Tintin", Mirabilis's planned 800 pages equals more than a dozen volumes of Herge's classic comic series.
When The DFC closed in 2009, Mirabilis creators Dave Morris and Leo Hartas had barely begun to tell their epic yarn. The next two instalments appeared on the Mirabilis website (www.mirabilis-yearofwonders.com) and drew almost eight thousand hits. That's when Hartas and Morris realized they could be onto something.
"We couldn't bear to end our story there," explains Morris, a bestselling UK author and a mentor with the American Film Institute. "You have a duty both to your readers and to the characters you've created not to leave them in the middle of a cliff-hanger."
"The question was how to finance the project," says Hartas, the award-winning illustrator who draws the Mirabilis comic. "It's a recession and nobody was investing in anything. Then we decided, to hell with it – rather than looking around for new work, we'd just get our heads down and complete the story."
|Dragon Rides - art for Mirabilis by Leo Hartas|
The new Mirabilis
The first season of Mirabilis is now ready. Mirabilis: Winter is a whopping 200-page book whose eight chapters comprise the first act of Mirabilis's year of wonders. Morris and Hartas had several discussions with David Fickling, The DFC's ebullient editor, about releasing it through his book imprint. But the tortuously slow progress of print publishing meant that the first volume wouldn't appear until late 2012 – and Fickling and his Random House paymasters couldn't commit to future books until they saw the sales figures.
"In the end, much as we would have loved to stay with the Fickling label, we decided to keep doing it our way," says Hartas. "We just wanted to get the work out there in front of readers as soon as possible."
Two events provided the key to achieving that ambitious goal. First with the release of the iPad, which allowed Morris and Hartas to launch a digital version of the comic in time for Christmas 2010, and then in a deal with Print Media Productions, who have signed up Mirabilis: Winter for release as two prestige-format hardback volumes that will be in UK bookshops in 2011.
Morris and Hartas had already had offers from digital publishers to release Mirabilis on iPhone, but were reluctant because the small screen didn't do justice to the fabulous full-colour artwork. "A graphic novel page is not merely a storyboard sequence of panels," says Morris. "On a phone screen you lose too much of the full reading experience of a printed book. The iPad, though, that's another matter."
Teaming up with Brighton-based TDB Software, Morris and Hartas drew on both their creative and entrepreneurial experience to set up Mirabilis on iPad through their own Mirus Entertainment label. The Mirabilis app is free and comes with the first 25-page chapter already loaded. Subsequent chapters are $1.99 and have been crafted to evoke the experience of collecting a set of comic books, right down to the covers and letters page.
"A comic is more than just a novel with pictures," says Hartas. "It's about community, it's about being drawn into a completely immersive fantasy world."
As inveterate comic and book collectors, Morris and Hartas were not content for their story to only appear digitally. “That’s why the offer from Print Media Productions came at such an ideal time,” says Hartas. “Print Media have their own print works in Europe, meaning that we can work closely with our editor, John Freeman and publisher Ivo Milicevic, to get the production quality tuned to perfection without the long delays that other publishers have to suffer with books being printed out in the Far East.”
The Print Media edition of Mirabilis: Winter is being published as two top-quality hardback books, each of 112 pages, at the large-format album size traditional for European graphic novels that can be seen in a series like Charley’s War and the company's first graphic album release, The Iron Moon. This ensures that the books will be cherished by readers for years to come.
And what next for Hartas and Morris?
“As soon as Christmas is over we’ll be back in harness,” Hartas says. “Creating an ongoing series like this is a lot like working on a long-running TV show. You have a schedule of episodes, and things like holidays have to fit around that.”
With 600 pages of the Mirabilis epic still to go, are they daunted? “Not a bit,” says Morris. “We get to spend the next couple of years of our life immersed in the Mirabilis universe – and believe me, there’s no place we’d rather be.”
About the Authors
"I was the first boy in Britain to meet a Dalek in the flesh (so to speak) when my Dad took me to the BBC workshops one dark January night in 1964," Dave says. "That early experience probably explains quite a lot. After a childhood spent daydreaming about aliens, time travel and vampires, I discovered Marvel Comics and happily gave up all connection with reality to immerse myself in the marvellous worlds of Stan Lee, Gene Colon, John Romita, John Buscema and Neal Adams.
"Every Saturday I would head doggedly from newsagent to newsagent like a ten-year-old hunter-gatherer, searching out the latest Iron Man or Spider-Man comics, snapping up new issues for 10d each (that’s about 4p in your fancy modern digital money).
"Since those halcyon days I've written a lot of books. Really, a lot. If you put a copy of every one of my books in a suitcase then you’d need to get a friend to help you lift it and even then you'd need to have a sit down afterwards. Apart from (of course) Mirabilis, my favourites among my own books are Heart of Ice, a sci-fi interactive adventure where the Côte d’Azur is a jungle and the Sahara is covered in snow, and the Knightmare novellas. I'd say that my fantasy writing has been most influenced by Lord Dunsany, Jack Vance, Mike Mignola and Neil Gaiman, but I ought to stress that none of those fellows is personally to blame."
Leo Hartas comes from a long and distinguished line of British artistic talent. His mother introduced Brian Epstein to The Beatles while his father-in-law’s classic picture book, The Giant Jam Sandwich, has been delighting kids for almost 40 years. His own award-winning books include Haunted Castle, The Apartment Book and King Arthur’s Spaceship. As well as book illustration he has worked in concept art for television and games.
His dramatic narrative style and vivid, engaging characters ensured Mirabilis a weekly audience of over 5000 readers when it was serialized in the The DFC. As co-creator of Mirabilis, Leo is not only responsible for the artwork but also works closely with Dave on the plotlines, designs the book covers and page layouts, masterminded the Mirabilis website and is actively involved in development of the iPad version.
Leo lives with his wife, three children, two cats and numerous chickens in a sprawling medieval home that lies exactly on the Devon/Somerset border.
The Print Media Hardbacks
|Early POD trade paperback versions |
of the two books
Publisher Ivo Milicevic is keen to mix a range of new British graphic albums with some translations of European material, which will be detailed soon.
• Mirabilis: Winter Book One can be ordered via Diamond Previews, Order Code FEB111949.
• Mirabilis on iTunes
• Learn more at www.mirabilis-yearofwonders.com