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Interview: Mark Abnett talks about This Land: The Search for Māui

Born and raised in New Zealand, Mark Abnett is now based in Scotland. Mark is passionate about storytelling that can help bring the heritage and history of Aotearoa to life through the highly visual medium of comics. He also won the Netflix-owned Millarworld Talent Contest in 2016 with his Hit-Girl Story Mindy’s ABCs, published by Image Comics in America. Mark is the owner and creator of Mark Abnett Comics. Mark talks to NZ Booklovers about This Land: The Search for Māui.

What inspired you to write this book?

As I began my journey into Comics storytelling I started to look at what I would be passionate about and what I could do with my own time and money that could create something that would have resonated with me when I was young.

My recollection of Māori legends was limited to Peter Gossage’s picture books in primary school. I had virtually no grasp of Te Reo aside from kia ora and kapai so why was that?

Looking at Aotearoa from afar (I'm currently based in Scotland) I see so many potential opportunities where my younger self could have been exposed and educated in the history of my country rather than it been given lip service and more than often treated with conscious/unconscious racism.

I'm interested in telling stories inspired by the histories and information recorded in the storytelling traditions of the indigenous people of Aotearoa. This is important to the identity of all New Zealanders whether we're Māori, Pākeha, or Tauiwi.

I've created a new world where our people are using the lessons and legends of the past to guide them (literally in some cases) to a better tomorrow.

I grew up with Tintin and Asterix books and somehow still remember French and Latin words from those books and believe that comics are the perfect medium to subtly introduce te Reo Māori for another generation. Not only for the children of New Zealand but potentially for a global audience as well.

What research was involved?

Back in 2016 when I first started this journey I was shocked at how few texts were out there regarding the Māori Atua/ Gods. And being based in Scotland didn’t make it any easier!

My main sources were:

  • Māori Myths & Legendary Tales by A.W.Reed

  • Legends of the Māori by Maui Pomare and James Cowan

  • Māori Religion and Mythology by Edward Shortland

along with many, many hours pouring over the internet reading from

There were several strange coincidences such as naming the inciting incident that gifted everyone’s powers “The Fever”.

When it came to creating the new map for Te Riu-A-Māui (the newly arisen continent around the edges of New Zealand / Aotearoa where our story takes place) I decided that I wanted to have 5 peninsulas similar to the tail of the Sting ray that Maui pulled from the sea.

Guess what a group of Sting Rays is called? A Fever!

What was your routine or process when writing this book, and how did you work with P.R. Dedelis the illustrator?

The book was created and funded independently by myself so I was not in a position to hire P.R full time but worked with him to find a balance that worked for both of us with 1 -2 pages a week being drawn over 3 years.

My style of comics writing is similar to that of writer Kieron Gillen who offers this advice to his artists before working with them which I have adapted. I tend to write very descriptive scripts, often suggesting compositions and framing advice with rough layouts to get my ideas across. I do this for two reasons:

  1. To ensure there is a solution. I don't mind if the artist goes a different way, helps that I know there is a way the artist can do what I’m asking.

  2. To give the artist as much information as I can about the content of the story and what's important in it.

I don't care about the specific execution, but I do care about the story's emotional content coming across.

I also have hundreds of folders of world-building designs and rules to make sure everything matches up and the world is fully formed. There are hundreds of little details you won’t even notice but everything is there for a reason!

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

This is an easy one. For the emotional scenes the music of Waiata/Anthems

and for the action scenes anything by Alien Weaponry!

If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?

This is a tricky one as any comic creator will tell you if you set out to make a comic as a movie pitch you are bound to fail. Whilst plenty of movies have been made into TV series and movies a comic should exist in its own world with its own creative goals and objectives.If you are simply trying to sell a pitch for a movie you wouldn’t be telling the best story for the medium.

But obviously, if heaven forbid it was to take off I would have a diverse all-New Zealand cast made up of experienced and up-and-coming actors. Produced by Chelsea Winstanly with writers such as Steph Matuku and artists like Michel Mulipola, Ben Stenbeck and Ross Murray working on designs and storyboards alongside my comic collaborators Hekiera Mareroa, Te Haunui Tuna, Seb Wikaraka Peni.

Oh, and of course, my old mates Matt Walker and Jacqueline Geurts would have to play a role in the production whether it is on screen or behind the camera directing and coordinating stunts.

Mmm. Maybe I have thought about it after all!

What did you enjoy the most about writing this graphic novel?

Comics are an incredibly collaborative medium. Every time a page of art comes in from PR or the colours are laid down by Liezl my brain starts whirling with new ideas on how to improve and progress the story. You can keep editing and fine-tuning the script right up to before the book is signed off and goes to print (much to the chagrin of my incredible editor Penny Scown!)

But seeing the art come through and seeing the interpretation of my ideas come to life is the biggest buzz and I hope I never lose that thrill.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I’m not sure I have.

I have a plan for the larger story and the world I’ve created with THIS LAND and many smaller stories to tell. But if it is just meant to be This Land: The Search for Maui that sees print and gets into the hands of Tamariki (children) young and old that’s reward enough. I’ll celebrate properly when Scholastic U.S. picks it up ;)

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

I’m going to stick to my comic roots and talk about 2 authors who just turn everything they touch into gold.

The first is Al Ewing a British Author who currently writes X-Men Red, Defenders Beyond from Marvel and his creator-owned Series “We Only Find them When They’re Dead” which is about mining the corpses of impossibly huge corpses of deceased gods floating in space and has an electric emotional core to it with political scandals and family rivalries and intrigue.

The second is my fellow Millarworld alum Deniz Camp who is currently making waves in the indie comic scene and has released a story called 20th Century Men

It is a beautiful book and a hell of a read. The best way I can describe it is his description. At the end of the 20th century, superheroes, geniuses, madmen, and activists rush towards WWIII. A Soviet ‘iron’ hero, a superpowered American president, an insane cyborg soldier, an Afghan woman hellbent on building a better life for her people-these strange yet familiar beings collide in a story that mixes history, politics, and comic book mythology into something new.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

Currently completing the finishing touches on THIS LAND Book 2 and working on 3 other books at the moment which are in various stages of scripts, artwork and development. Comics and graphic novels take a very long time to be created and are an incredibly expensive process. If THIS LAND becomes as successful as we hope there could be plenty more in the future!

Scholastic New Zealand


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