A motorcyclist and former rock band roadie turned Anglican minister, G. P. Taylor has been hailed as “hotter than Potter” and “the new C. S. Lewis” in the United Kingdom. Now the best-selling fantasy author continues to break new ground with his visually inventive Dopple Ganger Chronicles—an effort which required a whole team to bring it to life.
With a series title like The Dopple Ganger Chronicles, one would expect a twisting, turning plot and characters with dual natures—and the three books in the series deliver. The latest volume to hit shelves is The Great Mogul Diamond (SaltRiver).
The story centers around Sadie and Saskia Dopple (a pair of twins, identical except one has a purple right eye and one has a purple left eye) and Erik Ganger, a former thief who is now their friend. All three are orphans, but now they have a new life solving mysteries and righting wrongs.
But the plot and characters are not the only things with multiple qualities. The very format of the books themselves mixes different mediums. Author and creator G.P. Taylor came up with the format after his many visits to schools teaching creative writing. “I was talking to kids in the school and they said they didn’t like reading. I asked them why and they said ‘There’s too many words.’ I said, ‘What do you want?’ and they said ‘We want books with pictures.’”
Taylor looked at countries like Japan, which has a very high reading age. “The children and young people continue to read a lot longer there, and more children read.” He found those children started reading Manga—Japanese comics—and continued reading later on.
So he came up with the idea of the “illustro-novel.” He wanted it to be something different. “It wasn’t just an illustrated story. There’s more to it. It had to have not just text, it had to have graphics. And not just [comics]—it had to have more than that.”
Joseph Sapulich, the artist of the first Dopple Ganger book, The First Escape, loved that added element. “I was excited to work on this project when I realized that the format, simply put, combines a novel with an illustrated graphic novel.”
This fusion of comic books and chapter books required a complicated creative procedure. Erik Peterson came to the series at the beginning of book three, joining fellow Tyndale staff member Stephen Vosloo. Peterson was taking over Vosloo’s position of “designer” (Vosloo was the designer for book one and book two, The Secret of Indigo Moon, and had now stepped into the position of art director) and he found an intricate, although streamlined, process.
For the first step, Peterson and Vosloo storyboarded Taylor’s manuscript as if it was a movie. “The manuscript had normal storytelling narrative and sequential [comic book style] text written in a screenplay style,” Peterson explains. “We came up with the visuals and sketched ideas.”
The storyboards were then turned over to an illustrator and an “adaptor.” The illustrator worked on the single black-and-white illustrations, while the adaptor, an artist more familiar with comic book styled storytelling, drew the full-color sequential pages. Then Peterson stepped in and worked on the design with the illustrations and text.
The end result is a book that alternates between pages of full text, pages that look like a comic book, pages that use photographs altered to look like an illustration, and pages that may even have a single word — all used to tell the story and create a certain mood. “We were excited,” Vosloo says, “because it was so different. The typography itself, we wanted to be used as an art itself.”
During the artistic process, Taylor was mostly absent. “I come up with storyline, I come up with plots, and I come up with characters,” Taylor says. “I provide them with a script from which they do their job. You know, they’re professionals and I would never tell them how to do their job. You spoil the recipe if you do that.”
As a result, Taylor says the final product has “always been a joyful surprise. When I opened the first page of book one it was just brilliant. And I’ve been surprised ever since. And the proof is that I get so many letters from schools where it has actually gotten children who have been reluctant readers back into books.”
He received many of these letters from teachers, parents and children. “Minds aren’t conditioned to think in words. Pictures are very important as far as learning.”
Growing up, he came from a working class background. “There were no chapter books in my house,” Taylor says. “Comic books were something I just had. My favorite comic was called Sparky. I had a big pile of these Sparky comics by my bed, and I would read them, and they were very important to me as a young child.”
Both Vosloo and Peterson shared similar experiences. As a kid, Vosloo was a very reluctant reader—but did read the French comics series Asterix.
Peterson didn’t read comics, but enjoyed children’s picture books. “One book in particular, The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base, was just filled with elaborate images. That made an impression on me.”
Peterson hopes the Dopple Ganger Chronicles will have the same effect on young readers today. “I like the idea of having a child discover things in an illustration,” he says. “And I hope there’s something about the story and art that lingers. I want the reader to have some sort of visceral reaction to the story and visuals.”
Sapulich also hopes the format will help reluctant readers fall in love with reading. “But more importantly,” he adds, “having Christian content within the story is what thrills me most.”
Vosloo agrees. “I love seeing the faith journey of the characters and I love seeing them wrestle with what they’re seeing and who they’re hearing. We want to draw the reader into the text and pull the reader in with an emotional response. We just constantly want to reinforce the text with that emotional experience.”
Which is another dual nature of the series: In addition to the literacy aspect of the series, there is also a spiritual component as well. With each book, Peterson explains, there is a progression of the character’s faith journey. “And as the faith element grows more prominent and as they meet the Christ figure…”
At this, Vosloo interrupts: “And we spent a lot of time developing the Man of Good-Bye Friday, which is ironic because he only appears once. So we spent an abnormal amount of time because we wanted him to be cool but not your traditional [metaphorical Christ-figure].”
“I don’t seek to proselytize,” Taylor says. “But the books do have spiritual value to them. I think in this day and age when faith is so low on the agenda of so many young people, I actually just want to put it back on the agenda and just get them to try and think about some of the bigger questions of life.”