Charlie Adlard and Robbie Morrison on White Death
- 13 May 2014
- From the section Scotland
White Death is a graphic novel written by Robbie Morrison, a Helensburgh-born comic book writer who grew up in Linwood and Houston in Renfrewshire and illustrated by Shrewsbury's Charlie Adlard, who is the artist on The Walking Dead comic. The book is based on World War One's Italian Front, which involved trench warfare high in the Trentino, Dolomite and Caporetto mountains on the borders of Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Dubbed the White War, avalanches were used as weapons, with troops on both sides deliberately triggering deadly snow slides with artillery fire.
Originally published in 1998, a new edition of White Death will be launched at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August to mark the centenary of the war. The writer and artist will also be at October's Lakes International Comic Art Festival.
Here, ahead of those events and with pages of Adlard's art and excerpts from the Morrison's script, the pair tell how White Death was created.
White Death emerged from a 1990s creative, self-publishing project called Les Cartoonistes Dangereux. The small group of writers and artists, which included Adlard and Morrison, sought to emulate the style of acclaimed French comic book artists such as Jacques Tardi and Jean "Moebius" Giraud. Adlard said: "I had been drawing the X-Files comics and when they finished I took the chance to do something different." He was experimenting with charcoal and chalk on grey paper. He said: "I had in my mind an idea for the first three and the last three pages of a book using this style. Robbie and I share similar likes and I asked him if he was interested in collaborating."
Morrison said: "I had an idea for a script. A few years earlier I had watched a documentary about avalanches and it mentioned how on the Italian Front an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 troops were killed in avalanches deliberately caused by the enemy. They had turned nature into a weapon of war. When I saw Charlie's fine art style in chalk and charcoal I thought it might work for a World War One story set in a fictional trench on the Italian Front."
"Once Robbie had come up with the story, I decided to only use the colour white for snow, and not use it for putting highlights on faces," said Adlard. "I wanted the snow to be something that really stood out." He added: "There was not a lot of material available on the Italian Front, and I didn't have a computer at the time. I researched what I could from library books. Sometimes all there was were a few lines about that war. It was important to get things right, so I collected as much reference material as possible. You can't fudge it. You can't just draw boxes for cars. Readers won't accept that."
Morrison said: "'White death' is a slang term used to describe avalanches in French and Italian alpine regions, and in my head, the avalanche became a metaphor for war - a terrifying, irresistible force that remorselessly consumes and destroys everything in its path."
Morrison added: "I'm obviously biased, but I feel the book is one of the best things Charlie's done." In 1998, there were 1,500 copies of White Death printed in English and 1,500 in French. It sold out quickly in France and a further print run was ordered. In the UK about 800 have sold over the years. In 2002, an edition was published in the US. Morrison said: "In many ways, White Death was ahead of its time. The recent boom in graphic novels will hopefully allow it to now reach a wider audience." The new edition is being printed for sale in France, Spain and the US.
"Ironically, we've not sold a version in Italian," said Adlard. "There was talk of it and emails were exchanged but nothing's happened so far." Morrison joked: "Maybe, they'd hate it." He added: "We sought to be accurate and any mistakes, as they always say, are the writer's. In writing a story like White Death there is a duty to be as realistic as possible and capture the horror and cruelty but also the humour and camaraderie. There is also a duty to be respectful as well."
Morrison, who like Adlard started his career on the Judge Dredd Megazine and 2000AD before going on to write comics scripts for Spider-Man, Batman and his own creation, 27th Century swashbuckling thief Nikolai Dante, said: "Of all the projects I've worked on, White Death is quite possibly the one that remains closest to my heart. To this day, I'm immensely proud of the book."
Adlard is the artist on The Walking Dead comic. It was reported that 383,612 copies of issue 100 were sold in 2012, a record for a graphic novel at that time. There has been a US television series based on the books since 2010. Season four's finale was watched by 15.7 million viewers in the US earlier this year. Adlard said: "If putting 'by the artist of The Walking Dead' on the cover of the new edition helps to market it, and bring it to a new audience, I'm not going to complain. White Death is dear to my heart and something I am very proud of."