Interview: Sarah Burgess Falls Into ‘The Summer of Blake Sinclair’

After several years and countless surprising twists and turns in the lives of the main characters, Sarah Burgess’ long-running webcomic ‘The Summer of Blake Sinclair’ has come to an end. But now readers can start all over again, right from the start, as Burgess has brought the series to print via publishers ZetaBella.

Described by her as a cheesy student drama, the series is a lot more than just that – it’s a sprawling, vivid depiction of university life, with a cast who wander in and out of each others lives, trailing baggage, problems, love and laughter in their wake. A while back I listed it as one of the 24 Webcomics we spotlighted on The Beat as something special – with the launch of the series in print, I reached out to Sarah to find out more about the making of the series, and how it made the long journey to print.

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Steve: What is The Summer of Blake Sinclair about?

Sarah: It’s essentially a gentle drama about university students during their summer. The themes of the story are the exploration of ‘truth’ and identity, and it revolves around the relationships/stories of 5 characters- the main character being Blake Sinclair. Each character connects in some way to Blake, who whilst being the main character is quite flawed and lost as a human being!

Steve: Where did the idea for it come from? Does any of this draw from your own experiences as a student, perhaps?

Sarah: It’s definitely evolved, but the idea was originally an exploration of ‘generation Y’ (Hipster culture) which I think heavily reflects the identity and problems people my age and younger are going through. It’s most certainly based on my experiences of ‘hipster’ subculture which I was really a part of during college and university – and totally based on my personal experiences, relationships and worries as a twenty-something!

Steve: When you first came to the project, did you have any idea it would expand into this huge thing, this massive comic series with so many intercrossing characters?

Sarah: Not at all- in fact when I first came up with it, it was really basic and more like a simple ‘revenge’ love story. But the more I explored the idea of subcultures and identity the more I wanted to add interlocking stories and characters.

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Steve: Over time, do you think your focus changed? Did you have some main characters who faded away, or supporting characters you wanted to write more of?

Sarah: Although it might (hopefully) appear that the shift of focus on characters changes over time naturally, this was all pre-planned- I really wanted to portray how friend groups can shift, grow and change over time. One of the intentions of the comic was to have characters start off with strong relationships in one area, and finish in a completely different area. There are loads of side characters who have their separate backstories- I really want to do extra stories on them.

Steve: How pre-planned is the story? It’s thoroughly focused on character foremost – have there been points where the characters have naturally reached a point that surprised you?

Sarah: The main backbone of the story and the journey each character goes through is pre-planned – but the details, or how they get to each point in the story, wasn’t planned. Before I started drawing it, I really developed each character’s personality, and after that their reactions and interactions seem to just happen! I think most artists agree that sometimes your characters wind up controlling the story.

There are loads of crazy climaxes in this story which for real I wasn’t thinking would happen when I first planned the idea… Characters are scary.

Steve: What made you decide to put the series up online, and tell it as a webcomic?

Sarah: I guess I’ve grown up in a world where posting your stories online is normal! (like web comics are such a given to me!) I really didn’t put any thought behind it – it was just a personal project I really wanted to work hard on, and putting stuff online is good practice for your development I think. It’s really useful having both instant encouragement and thoughts on the story which really help you develop how clear and well told your comics can be.

Steve: How have you found the process of working, writing, drawing, creating the comic and getting it up for the internet deadline every week? Do you think that, over time, you’ve developed and changed the way you approach making the comics, as a result of having that constant deadline ahead of you? 

Sarah: When I started this, I had just finished university and had no jobs as an illustrator, so there was a sudden lack of routine and solidarity in my life. Doing this project and keeping to deadlines really helped me feel more stable in such an unstable environment- if you’re starting out as an artist I definitely recommend it just to keep from falling into a dry spell.

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It also has probably taught me to work much quicker, and as I said I think learn much more quickly. Imagine without the constant feedback that online comics allow, artists wouldn’t be able to evolve their style as quickly. It definitely also gives me more stamina, and the drive to draw bigger stories!

Steve: How did ZetaBella get involved in publishing the series in print? Was this always something you’d wanted to do with the series?

Sarah: Blake Sinclair was always intended as a personal project to develop my way of telling stories. I never expected it to get readers! I’ve tried selling and printing it myself but it was too expensive for me to make and people to buy, and people kept requesting it in cheaper but bigger volumes- thus I took it to ZetaBella. I was really surprised when they were stoked to publish it..!!

Steve: How many collections are planned for the series?

Sarah: There will be 4 volumes… the last volume might be kind of big…!

Steve: The series has just concluded chapter 16 online – do you have an end point set in place, at this point? 

Sarah: I sure do- the next chapter (chapter 17) will be the last one. It will end in a way that concludes all of the character’s stories. I may do some short stories afterwards involving the side characters.

Steve: What have you most enjoyed about making the series?

Sarah: I think what I’ve enjoyed most is the discussion on the characters between readers- sometimes people have had varying opinions and interpretations of the subjects and characters- when debate comes up it’s really exciting! Also this comic was partly done to work through understanding some personal issues, so it’s been enjoyably therapeutic.

Steve: What will you be working on once this series concludes? Do you have any other plans in mind?

Sarah: I plan to do a bunch of short stories after this, and slowly work on plans for bigger stories. I’m also collaborating with writer Hannah K. Chapman on a pretty epic comic!

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Many thanks to Sarah for her time! The Summer of Blake Sinclair should be available right now on Amazon, and will be heading to select book and comic shops across the rest of this year. You can also find Sarah on Tumblr here, on Twitter here, and her website here.

 

Comments

  1. What a nice interview. It’s nice to see (as one of Sarah’s readers) that there are future plans in store for us!

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