Mirabilis is a fantasy adventure story for young adults which opens New Year’s Day 1901, when a green comet appears in the sky. As it gets bigger, the line between reality and fantasy blurs. Soon there are mermaids in the Thames, elves in Parliament and a dragon roosting on Big Ben. But then the comet rounds the sun and starts to fade. Will the world be able to go back to a life without magic?
The full-colour graphic novel was originally serialized in The DFC, the weekly print comic published by Random House UK, who financed the production and has been released as a digital edition for iPad.
Published by Random House, The DFC treated several thousand devoted subscribers to the very best in British graphic fiction, with stories by top-name talent like Phillip Pullman and Harry Potter artist Adam Brockbank.
The biggest single project among all The DFC's ongoing stories was unquestionably Mirabilis, a hugely ambitious comics saga planned to span almost 200 issues. Billed as "a modern Tintin", Mirabilis's planned 800 pages equals more than a dozen volumes of Herge's classic comic series.
When The DFC closed, Mirabilis creators Dave Morris and Leo Hartas had barely begun to tell their epic yarn. The next two installments appeared on the Mirabilis website (www.mirabilis-yearofwonders.com) and drew almost 8000 hits. That's when Hartas and Morris realized they could be onto something.
"We couldn't bear to end our story there," explains Morris, a bestselling UK author and a mentor with the American Film Institute. "You have a duty both to your readers and to the characters you've created not to leave them in the middle of a cliff-hanger."
"The question was how to finance the project," says Hartas, the award-winning illustrator who draws the Mirabilis comic. "It's a recession and nobody was investing in anything. Then we decided, to hell with it – rather than looking around for new work, we'd just get our heads down and complete the story."
|Dragon Rides - art for Mirabilis by Leo Hartas|
The new Mirabilis
The first season of Mirabilis is now ready. Mirabilis: Winter is a whopping 200-page book whose eight chapters comprise the first act of Mirabilis's year of wonders. Morris and Hartas had several discussions with David Fickling, The DFC's ebullient editor, about releasing it through his book imprint. But the tortuously slow progress of print publishing meant that the first volume wouldn't appear until late 2012 – and Fickling and his Random House paymasters couldn't commit to future books until they saw the sales figures.
"In the end, much as we would have loved to stay with the Fickling label, we decided to keep doing it our way," says Hartas. "We just wanted to get the work out there in front of readers as soon as possible."
Two events provided the key to achieving that ambitious goal. First with the release of the iPad, which allowed Morris and Hartas to launch a digital version of the comic in time for Christmas 2010, and then in a deal with Print Media Productions, who have signed up Mirabilis: Winter for release as two prestige-format hardback volumes that will be in UK bookshops in 2011.
Morris and Hartas had already had offers from digital publishers to release Mirabilis on iPhone, but were reluctant because the small screen didn't do justice to the fabulous full-colour artwork. "A graphic novel page is not merely a storyboard sequence of panels," says Morris. "On a phone screen you lose too much of the full reading experience of a printed book. The iPad, though, that's another matter."
Teaming up with Brighton-based TDB Software, Morris and Hartas drew on both their creative and entrepreneurial experience to set up Mirabilis on iPad through their own Mirus Entertainment label. The Mirabilis app is free and comes with the first 25-page chapter already loaded. Subsequent chapters are $1.99 and have been crafted to evoke the experience of collecting a set of comic books, right down to the covers and letters page.
"A comic is more than just a novel with pictures," says Hartas. "It's about community, it's about being drawn into a completely immersive fantasy world."
As inveterate comic and book collectors, Morris and Hartas were not content for their story to only appear digitally. “That’s why the offer from Print Media Productions came at such an ideal time,” says Hartas. “Print Media have their own print works in Europe, meaning that we can work closely with our editor, John Freeman and publisher Ivo Milicevic, to get the production quality tuned to perfection without the long delays that other publishers have to suffer with books being printed out in the Far East.”
The first volume was printed last week in Bosnia, and Dave and Leo were involved in pre-production every step of the way.
The Print Media edition of Mirabilis: Winter is being published as two top-quality hardback books, each of 112 pages, at the large-format album size traditional for European graphic novels that can be seen in a series like Charley’s War and the company's first graphic album release, The Iron Moon.
Mirabilis: Year of Wonders Volume 1 is now being solicited by Diamond (Order Code FEB111949), joining Keith Page and Stephen Walsh's Iron Moon title as the first graphic album projects from the new British company.
• More information on the Print Media web page: www.stripmagazine.co.uk
• Mirabilis: Winter Book One can be ordered via Diamond Previews, Order Code FEB111949.
• Mirabilis on iTunes . Versions for Graphic.ly and Comics+ will be announced soon
• Learn more at www.mirabilis-yearofwonders.com