SQUIRE and How to Build a World, Together, a guest post by Nadia Shammas and Sara Alfageeh
SQUIRE was the joint partnership of Sara Alfageeh and myself. There’s a lot of misconceptions about how comics are created, primarily that the writer dictates and the artist is simply a tool who does what they’re told. Really, the artist takes on the lion’s share of the work. They take the script and translate it into a visual storytelling language. It’s a form of writing on its own, but visual literacy is highly undervalued by the culture in many ways. It takes many people and many steps to create a graphic novel. The truth is that authorship is a shared thing: SQUIRE simply couldn’t exist without both Sara and my contribution to the world.
We started with concept art that Sara had made for a school project. From there, I wanted to take inspiration from the groundwork she had already laid down. Virtually nothing stayed the same from the original concept, which was magical in nature. But the environments, the general trope of the small feisty kid with the large grumpy mentor, all of that sung to our fantasy-loving hearts, and so we kept it. We wanted to make sure this entire project was infused with the tropes that we returned to as young readers, and the rest of the characters started to fill in. We had the nerdy history lover, the one who seemed to know everything and appeared to be completely unassuming in a fight. We had the tank, a girl who could break through any obstacles. We had the legacy kid with a chip on his shoulder and a lot to prove. And finally, we had the terrifying lady general, tall and eloquent and sharp.
Then, we layered them with the world we created. Geography, class, even how many siblings they had all came into consideration. We both researched Ottoman history, and Sara herself took a trip in the development of SQUIRE to Jordan and Turkey with her family, taking live reference photos and inspiration from which to build the world. We spent hours on the phone talking about how the world functions, how trade routes work, how each country involved in the story’s main conflict would have rectified their histories. At one point, I scribbled a rudimentary map based on the Middle East rearranged, and Sara fleshed it out into a real one so that we could see exactly where our characters come from. We wanted the characters to feel distinctly developed from their experiences, so that they are shaped by the world of SQUIRE and that life experience informs how they react to everything around them. Conflicts are made when those viewpoints are challenged, or intersect with one another. People can change the world, but people always need to feel like they’re from that world too.
The best thing about knowing the genres you love, the tropes that you love, is knowing when to break convention. Aiza, our scrappy main character, is not a prodigy. She’s not a chosen one. She goofs off in training, she fails often, she has a bigger bark than she has bite. But her desire to do good is true, and that makes her a hero more than if she brought down the entire Empire herself. It’s more complicated than that, after all. No one person can bring down an Empire, an entire system, in one sweeping speech or moment. It’s an ongoing process, a collective dedication to goodness, and that’s what Aiza inspires in others. That’s her greatest power.
The world of SQUIRE reflects Sara and myself in the way that it reflects everything we loved and everything we lived. We both loved fantasy, but knew how often we were left out of those fantasies, if not problematically included as mystics or bellydancers or barbarians. We put in small constants of our heritage, little things we always had around: olive oil, fig trees, favorite dishes. We made sure that characters looked as varied as our own families. We named characters after our own family members, too. Before even delving into this together, we shared our references, and the script ended up being filled with those references when trying to angle for the exact feeling of a scene. There were multiple times I would put in fight scene videos from shows both Sara and I enjoyed, and I would specifically write to Sara “make this anime as hell” as a note to which Sara took and ran with. She extended fight scenes, she fixed pacing, she added or condensed pages and conversations where we needed the flow to work in a way I couldn’t anticipate as the non-artist side of the project. It was a thrill watching Sara get bolder, too, watching her play with panel layouts, especially during the fiery ending of the book. I feel that we both found our voice as creators while making this project together. We both feel we’ve made the book we would have loved to hand to our younger selves. It’s a world that, together, reflected the best parts of ourselves. We’re both happy, now, to share that world with everyone else.
Meet the authors
Nadia Shammas is a Palestinian American writer from Brooklyn, NY. She’s best known for creating CORPUS: A Comic Anthology of Bodily Ailments as well as being the writer of Ms. Marvel: Stretched Thin. Her work often focuses on identity, memory, and decolonizing genre tropes. When she’s not writing, she’s trying to perfect her cold brew recipe and win the love of her cats, Lilith and Dash. Visit her online at www.nadiashammas.com
Sara Alfageeh is a Jordanian American illustrator and creative director from Boston. She’s passionate about history, nuances in visual storytelling, and the spaces where art and identity intersect. She’s known for her work for Marvel Comics, Star Wars, and children’s publishing. While that’s cool and all—she really just wants to draw girls with swords. Visit her online at www.sara-alfa.com
From two incredible rising talents comes the fantasy graphic novel Molly Knox Ostertag calls “instantly compelling.”
Aiza has always dreamt of becoming a Knight. It’s the highest military honor in the once-great Bayt-Sajji Empire, and as a member of the subjugated Ornu people, Knighthood is her only path to full citizenship. Ravaged by famine and mounting tensions, Bayt-Sajji finds itself on the brink of war once again, so Aiza can finally enlist in the competitive Squire training program.
It’s not how she imagined it, though. Aiza must navigate new friendships, rivalries, and rigorous training under the unyielding General Hende, all while hiding her Ornu background. As the pressure mounts, Aiza realizes that the “greater good” that Bayt-Sajji’s military promises might not include her, and that the recruits might be in greater danger than she ever imagined.
In this breathtaking and timely story, Aiza will have to choose, once and for all: loyalty to her heart and heritage, or loyalty to the Empire.
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/08/2022
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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