Meet talented graphic novelist Brooke Burgess, the imagination behind Broken Saints
Not quite sure what a graphic novel is? Try “picture book for adults” or “comic book for grown-ups.” But graphic novels are not really comic books. They are like comic books in that they use pictures and bubble text to tell a story, and are fun and easy to read. But that’s where the similarities end. These animated novels are far more sophisticated than their comic cousins. They include extended narratives of fantasy, horror, adventure, memoirs or humor, with plots that can be up to 300 pages long.
Often, graphic novels have nothing to do with superheroes or fantastic creatures, but take a step further to depict real-life events, like Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel and winner of a 1992 Pulitzer Prize, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. This novel uses pictures and animation to portray the experiences of a Holocaust survivor.
Graphic novels can also have deeper, more symbolic storylines that try to answer important questions about life and the world we live in. Broken Saints, a graphic novel written and produced by Brooke Burgess and winner of the 2003 Audience Award at the Sundance Online Film Festival, is a haunting tale of “modern society and the emptiness we all feel in the face of corporate power and greed” – a far cry from your childhood Archie comics. The thing about the graphic novel is that there is both text to read and pictures to look at. This union of pictures and words does more to enhance the story than plain text could ever do on its own.
Back to the beginning of the story
Brooke’s story begins when he was a teen. And like so many teens, Brooke was struggling between his creative nature and his jock-friendly high school. As a result of always trying to fit in, Brooke was an obnoxious, loud student and a big performer at school.
But when he went home, lonely and confused, Brooke would escape to his drawing, writing, and comic books. “My parents didn’t understand me,” he says, “I had too many questions for them about life and what was wrong with the world. They thought I was a big freak.”
For Brooke, the journey towards writing a best-selling graphic novel started with his first real job as a young teenager: a supervisor at an arcade. “I used to watch the kids come by and get their escape in the games,” Brooke says quietly, “That’s the thing about video games; you can control what’s happening during the game, unlike in real life.”
Brooke left the arcade to attend the University of Windsor and studied journalism, earning an Honours BA in Communication and English.Although he was an excellent student with top grades, Brooke never fully understood the world and still felt a need to escape. So he opened a small video game store at a time when PlayStation was just released and Nintendo was growing in popularity. It was this store that led to a chance encounter with an executive producer from Electronic Arts Games (EA), publisher of video games in North America.
In four years, Brooke had moved up the ranks at EA to become a game producer. For most people, that would have been more than sufficient. But the artist and writer in Brooke, still searching for answers about life and what was wrong with the world, needed to escape again.
“I felt increasingly dissatisfied,” Brooke reveals about his distaste for the corporate world, “I even tried to get myself fired.” The fact is Brooke had a higher calling, and it needed his undivided attention. He left EA and decided to travel.
After living among different cultures for almost six months, Brooke began to understand what was missing in his western world: love and community. He had finally found his answers and knew just the tools with which to tell the world. He would use pictures, drawings, and animation to help his audience better understand his story.
As the writer of Broken Saints, Brooke hooked up with two other creative geniuses, illustrator Andrew West, a friend he knew from his video game store days, and digital whiz kid Ian Kirby. The three of them wrote, illustrated, and directed a story about finding what they felt had been missing in their lives. Before they knew it, Broken Saints had gathered a huge following and became a massive success. Originally an online venture, Broken Saints has recently been released on DVD and is now an even bigger hit.
Brooke Burgess’ Broken Saints is just one of the many examples of the graphic novel world that has grown in popularity over the years. Frank Miller started at age 17, and is one of the most well-known graphic novelists of our time, with works like Daredevil and the ground-breaking Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. But it was Sin City, a graphic novel written by Miller, recently brought to life as a box-office sensation that launched graphic novels onto centre stage. Miller’s other hit, Elektra, and Mike Mignola’s Hellboy are other examples of graphic novels turned into motion picture magic.
Whether you write or draw, or do both, graphic novels are a wonderful way to express yourself, tell your story, and make a difference to readers. Graphic novelists come from all walks of life and many have no formal training in the art.
Marjane Satrapi, author of the graphic novel Persepolis, which describes her childhood in Iran, learned how to write her graphic novel by doing it. Writing a graphic novel is fun too, “You can act and think like a kid, and get paid to do it,” Brooke discloses. But if you’re serious about creating a graphic novel, it’s important to know how to use a computer. Design programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, and Flash are essential in this industry, and there are many schools across Canada that offer design and animation courses to get you started in the right direction.
The first step, however, is doing your research by reading others’ works. Brooke suggests The Watchmen by Alan Moore and The Sandman Series by Neil Gaiman – a couple of his favourites. Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, a graphic novel about comic books, is also a must-read for any budding novelists.
But before you start your graphic novel, find a story to tell or a message to send. Brooke sent his message through Broken Saints, and strongly suggests aspiring novelists do the same. “Write something important,” he urges. “Do something with purpose in life. Make sure that you felt like you made a difference.” And most importantly, “Be proud of what you do.”
Written by Faze contributor Mandy Abrahams