Danita Stallard has taken her creative gifts and poured them into her latest project – her first published graphic novel, a book based in northern Manitoba with several local touches.
Stallard has released Flann! Volume 1: The Petrified Forest, a novel more than 100 pages in length featuring exclusively original art.
“I’m very excited about it. It’s an actual book. When it’s in my binder, it’s just my artwork then – it’s just the pages. When I actually have it with a shiny cover and it has real pages that are all evenly cut, it’s real,” she said.
The story begins with the disappearance of a cryptozoological researcher, who goes missing in the northern Manitoba wilderness while tracking down a mythical creature. The researcher’s cousin heads into the woods to locate him, with the help of a possibly deranged prospector. Stallard won’t give away the ending, but suggests there are other creatures lurking deep in the Canadian shield.
“He was after something. There’s something in the woods,” she said.
Always an artistic soul, Stallard has been interested in self-expression through visuals since childhood. At one point, Stallard worked as a graphic designer with The Reminder.
“I was the kid that would come in early to class and leave a comic strip on the board for the class. I’ve always been a doodler and I’ve always loved sharing stories. It’s always made sense to put together the story and the pictures. Why not marry them?” she said.
Stallard estimated the book took around nine months to create, going from rough storyboards to a final, glossy product. During that process, the story morphed into a longer, more northern-based tale.
Stallard has plans for two sequels to her new novel, emphasizing other aspects of the north.
“I’ve got two more of these yet, for sure. I wanted to set one in the woods, one in the lakes and one in the mines. It’s kind of my love story to the area,” she said.
“I’ve got book two all planned out and I’ve been doing sketches. Book three is coming together, too. It’s kind of a vague idea on the horizon.”
Finding inspiration in the woods around her residence, Stallard is open about how she uses Flin Flon’s unique history and location to her creative advantage.
“There’s so much inspiration out there and I think sometimes people forget how lucky we’ve got it in the woods out here. You can go out at night where we live and see the Milky Way. That’s not something you can get in populated areas. You get into your daily routine and you can forget sometimes that there’s a whole wide woods out there to explore and adventure,” she said.
In addition to working on a potential pair of sequels, Stallard continues to sell small paintings at arts and craft shows, is working on a novel separate from the Flann! Project and helps with youth arts courses.
The graphic novel is the first time Stallard has released a project of this scope. In addition to sharing her work with others, she hopes releasing the book could spur other local artists and writers to pursue getting their work published.
“When you’re doing artsy stuff, you get a lot of people saying, ‘I could have done that,’ or ‘I was going to do that.’ My response has always been, ‘Why not?’ It’s that fear, that I’m going to be the one in charge. In arts, you’re putting a piece of yourself on a piece of paper or a canvas or whatever medium. You’re basically handing that piece of paper to an audience and saying, ‘Judge me.’ That can be intimidating,” she said.
“I did some work at the high school and a lot of kids were saying ‘I would never show anybody my sketchbook.’ You go through that phase, because you have to build up confidence in your work. When you get to the point where you want to share, that fear isn’t there anymore. It’s more of an excitement. It’s like, ‘Yeah! Look at what I did!’”
Stallard’s new graphic novel can be purchased at the Flin Flon Public Library and at her website, flittermouse.ca.
“I printed up posters and I’m putting them up and people would ask, ‘What are you doing? What’s on the poster?’” she said. “I can go, ‘Haven’t you heard? I wrote a book!’ Authors are real people. They exist. The books don’t just appear out of nowhere.”