Spotlight: The Order of Belfry
The world is filled with many comic books, most of which are about superheroes and magical beings. These stories are fabulous in their own right, but there is just something so exhilarating and refreshing about comics that write their own path. That is exactly the case with the The Order of Belfry, a coming-of-age story featuring–wait for it–lady knights.
Idina Rotvel is the youngest daughter of the royal family of Cervidae. Propelled by her teenage impulsiveness, Idina attempts to rescue her brother from the clutches of the enemy kingdom of Rosoideae. Following her failure, her parents send her away to the Castle Of Belfry. The story goes that this castle is meant to keep certain women of the court away from the war. Yet, in reality a secret society of lady knights known as the Order of Belfry operates from within its walls.
While the inner workings of the Order will remain a mystery to its future readers until the comic’s release, we were lucky to get writer Barbara Perez and artist MJ Barros to discuss the making of this project with us. Continue reading to discover all we know to date about Idina and her lady knight friends.
TNL: We’d love to know how the two of you came to collaborate on The Order of Belfry. How did you find each other? What brought the two of you together?
Barbara: Initially, MJ came to me with the idea. She’d done an illustration with some characters – who would come to become Idina and Adelaide. I was very encouraging in creating more illustrations or a project at large for them. At the time, I had no idea it would happen with me included. I’ve always admired MJ’s storytelling skills. We had wanted to work together for a while since we have a lot of common interests, but things hadn’t aligned until now. After I read her preliminary notes and saw the character concepts, I was sold!
MJ: Ha-ha! Barbara has said almost everything. I have several years of experience in making comics and know how difficult it can be. When I decided to do this comic, I knew I would need help. I started thinking about the people I knew and the first person who came to mind was Barbara. Maybe it was destiny… or maybe the fact that she is an amazing writer and person, and I must say that she was the right choice. I think with this kind of project it is always good to have a partner, and having Barbara working on the scripts helps me to focus on the art and storytelling.
TNL: Can you tell us a little bit about your character, Idina Rotvel? From what we know, she promises to be quite different from what we usually get in comics.
Barbara: Idina is the scrappy princess type; she’s feisty but needs polishing. The story is about everyone at large, but it follows Idina to allow the reader to see her grow and evolve along with the Order and the war between the kingdoms. Even though we see it in the prologue, I don’t think many of us can grasp what it really means to have a war weighing down on your family.
Many factors come into play like being the current monarchs, the death of the heir apparent (Idina’s oldest brother), and the kidnapping of Prince Hans, the sibling she is closest to and (and next in line). All of these things are currently in her head and then throw in becoming the newest member of The Order of Belfry. Idina is looking for her opportunity, not to prove something, but to stand for something and defend everything she cares about.
MJ: Idina is a terrible teen (as all of us were in our youth.) But she’s also a noble woman, a good person full of hope and high ideals. I like her because she is reckless but not an a idiot. She will learn from her mistakes, and that is the fun part of the story. In some ways she’s a pretty classic heroine, but she’s also strong and stubborn enough to face her destiny.
TNL: Which personal aspects from you, both writer and artist, are portrayed in the storyline or the characters themselves?
Barbara: There’s a little bit of me in everything I write, but we’ve yet to see the rest of the Order in action. I think they have the most resemblances to me, especially with the way they interact with each other. We want to create relatable characters, in different ways and for different people, without making any of them stereotypes or cliches. I’m excited to see how readers perceive their interactions as the story develops.
MJ: Idina is me. Ha-ha-ha! Well, I think each character and their interactions have a little of me and Barbara in them. But Idina reminds me a lot of when I was her age (I’m 30 now.) This is a story about love but also about duty, and friendship, and inevitably those subjects are based on our experiences. I think that the most personal issue in the story is my vision of love. This is important because we try to represent love naturally, as something that you build and feed, not the idealization of love that is so common in girl-love stories.
TNL: What inspired you to write about lady knights? Was it your love for Gwendoline Christie and Brienne of Tarth/Capt. Phasma?
Barbara: The world needs more lady knights and every single one that exists inspires us. I think The Order of Belfry is our love song (ha-ha!) to them. Additionally, it helps with the need for more. There can never be enough lady knights.
MJ: Lady knights are awesome! I’ve also been obsessed with knighthood since I was a child. I have a history degree and focused a lot on medieval times and knights, the crusades, the war, and the construction of an ethos around the idea of honor and duty to a lord, king, or order of God. I like a lot of strong, fictional ladies like Brienne and Daenerys, Morgana, Katniss, etc., but for me historical women like Queen Dido of Carthage, or Leonor of Aquitania, Queen Elizabeth, Agrippina from Rome, Violeta Parra, or Gabriela Mistral are more inspirational.
I think in some ways the figure of the lady knight is an idealization of the strength and the courage of women. It’s good because it gives us the chance to tell a story in a more stylistic way. It’s visually attractive, but we can’t forget that we are writing and developing this story over the shoulders of hundred of brave women and following the path marked by a lot of queer people who fought and continue fighting today for equality, recognition and dignity. The people who I see everyday, the people who fight, the people who die just for being a woman, being queer, and being of color are my inspiration to write about Lady Knights.
TNL: What is The Order of Belfry? How does it function, and why do think it’ll grip your audience?
Barbara: They are a secret elite team, aiding Cervidae in the war against Rosoideae. That’s the simple definition. In Cervidae’s eyes, they are a rogue team, as they are acting outside of the kingdom’s army. At the heart of it, they are believers. That’s what we hope grips readers, that all these characters came together for a common goal despite their different walks of life.
MJ: The Order is a secret group that fights against the Rosoideae kingdom, as Barbara said, but it’s also a safe place for the characters to grow up, know themselves, and love. That is the most relevant thing at least for me. This comic is a romantic comic and, yes, war is an important issue, but love is at the center of the plot. We hope our readers can find in the comic a mirror for their own lives. We are trying to write about different approaches to romance and love, and we hope the readers can feel tied to the characters and find in The Order their own safe place.
TNL: Being so far apart (Chile and Maryland) how do you formulate a schedule that works for both of you? Does this system translate to mapping out the story as well?
Barbara: Any good project needs a good schedule. We meet weekly for about an hour through video conference and talk about our current goals, go over scripts and layout comments, and plan for what’s ahead. Outside of that, we are always sending each other notes throughout the week.
MJ: Honestly, Chile is in the last corner of the world… literally. I’m pretty used to working remotely with different clients and collaborators from all over the world. Thanks to the internet we have Skype to talk, Google Drive to manage all of the files, and Dropbox to share all the folders. The only thing I miss is the chance to share good coffee with Barbara while we talk about the plot and the art, but I’m sure we will have that opportunity in the future.
TNL: What have been some of your favorite moments while working on this project?
Barbara: The reception! All the readers that have left comments and helped us spread the word. Nothing brings more joy to a creator than knowing that your work interests and excites others!
MJ: For me there are two moments. The first was finding Barbara because she has been an amazing collaborator. There is a veteran chilean comic artist, Gonzalo Martínez, who always says “A creative team is like a marriage, you must find the right person to build a long term relationship” and I’m pretty happy with this creative marriage with Barbara. The second has been the reader’s feedback. Each like, each new subscriber, each comment is like manna falling from heaven for me. The feedback feeds me and gives me a lot of enthusiasm to do each page!
TNL: What are some of the biggest drawbacks you’ve faced? Were there any moments where you felt like throwing the towel?
Barbara: Anything worth doing takes work. I don’t think we have ever felt like we are not doing this for a reason. Having that in mind helps against feeling blocked or stuck in projects, too. We know that The Order of Belfry means something to us and that fuels our efforts despite any obstacles that may come our way.
MJ: Hmmm, that’s a hard question, because the answer is “never” and “all the time.” On one hand I’m always tired because I work on 3 comics at the same time, I have a husband and son, and I’m a teacher at a digital animation school. It feels like I never have extra time. Usually I start to work on Belfry pages at night, after 8 or 10 hours of work at other comic projects. I keep drawing until 2:00 A.M.
It’s a lot of work but I love to tell stories. This is not my first project, so I know that it’s always hard and it takes time to find your place. I don’t panic about that. I know I can improve on a lot of things (like my horses… I know my horses are bad) but I feel happy because the project is growing, and people are interested in the characters and the story. I’m thankful to have the chance to share my stories with the world and know there are people who enjoy them.
TNL: What comics or artists do you enjoy? Are there any in particular that influenced your art style or writing?
Barbara: These lists are always harder to produce when we most need them. For comics however, I follow The Wicked + The Divine very closely, and I loved Rob Williams’ Ghost Rider arc. Another series I read is Spider-Gwen, which was a great inspiration when I first started to get into comic writing.
MJ: I enjoy everything but if I have to choose I’d have to say my biggest influences come from the anime of my childhood (Utena, Evangelion, and Sailor Moon) and artists like Stuart Immonen, Becky Cloonan, Mike Mignola, Jake Wyatt, Kriss Anka, and Fiona Staples. I also enjoy a lot of television shows like Steven Universe, Orphan Black, and Penny Dreadful, and video games like
Overwatch, the Uncharted series, and The Last of Us.
TNL: Without giving away any spoilers, can you give us a hint as to what’s in store for Idina?
Barbara: Couple more bruises on her way to the top, that’s for sure. But there’s a lot of good things coming her way too, we promise!
MJ: Romance! And… Romance! Ha-ha-ha! I can tell you that we will see Idina grown up, learn from her mistakes and fall in love.
TNL: What’s the biggest takeaway you want your future readers to get from this story?
Barbara: There’s a lot of determination throughout the story. All our characters are trying to overcome something whether in their past or in their current lives. If this inspires readers to be perseverant in their own lives, then we’ve done an amazing thing.
MJ: That they find themselves in the story and find courage to fight their own battles and be themselves. The world could use some brave and noble people (now more than ever!)
TNL: Lastly, where can our readers go if they want to keep up with Idina and her lady knight friends?
Barbara & MJ: Our official hashtag is #BelfryKnights, which can be tracked on Tumblr and Twitter. Our Tumblr has all news regarding the comics. All current pages are on our Tapastic (updates every Wednesday!). If anyone is interested in exclusive content and early updates, we also have a Patreon.
Lastly, because we are so dedicated to all of you Nerds, we have an exclusive image to share with you. Brace yourselves, because this is the first time Idina’s turnaround is gracing the interwebs:
MJ Barros is a Chilean comic artist. She’s worked as a comic writer and editor in Chile since 2008, and started as a comic artist in 2011. She’s worked as a freelance comic artist for clients in Chile, Canada, and USA. She’s the author of Corazon de Obsidiana and she’s currently the artist for Campaigners, available through Comixology. Her portfolio can be found here.
Barbara Perez Marquez is a Dominican American writer living in Baltimore, MD. She writes short stories, comics, and fiction. Her work has been featured in two anthologies in 2016: Buff Babe Zine Vol. 2 and 1001 Knights. She’s also worked as an editor for books and zines, most recently including Star Wars Fanzine: The Fans Awaken. Her portfolio can be found here.