"To kill is not an easy thing.”

Geis, pronounced gesh, is a Gaelic word for a taboo or a curse. It’s also the title of Alexis Deacon’s ongoing medieval fantasy adventure series which has now reached volume two.

In volume two, Geis, A Game Without Rules, a power struggle is played out via a series of games. An ensemble cast of characters play out a drama of family disputes, sorcery and violence. It’s a proper adventure story that is both satisfying in and of itself and leaves you waiting for the conclusion.

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Deacon, who has made his name as a children’s illustrator, has clearly drawn on the example of French bande dessinee for Geis. Here he tells Graphic Content about its origins, gaming and the difficult second volume syndrome.

Tell us the origins of Geis?

As with every story I make, the origins of Geis are many and various. My stories are a collection of the things in my brain that I feel belong together. 

It’s like cooking; we have cupboards with various ingredients and some of them taste good together and some of them don’t.

Geis began as an excuse to draw some interesting characters I found in a photographic history of the Russian Empire. These characters seemed to fit alongside a narrative I had been pondering about two different energies we all contain. There is the energy that will take from others to feed itself and the energy that will give to others from itself. 

It seems that our current society defines success as taking from others. I wanted to question that.

This is an entertaining and powerful narrative for the reader. What's the fun of these books for you as creator?

I have so much fun making these stories. I think what I like so much about them is that I feel sympathy for all the characters and live through them a little bit.  

I would never be as evil as the Sorceress or as ruthless as Nemas, or even as selfless as Io or as innocent as Artur. But I really enjoy pretending!

I also love drawing the world, designing the spaces and the costumes and the bodies and the faces. It gives me so much pleasure to invent things and this story requires a lot of invention.

Second parts are always difficult. But they can also be the best part (Empire Strikes Back is, let’s face it, the only good Star Wars film). What are the challenges of serial storytelling?

Well, each part has its challenges. I would argue that based on beloved trilogies we all know, such as The Godfather, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, the third part seems to be the hardest.  

You have far less room to play when the story needs to wrap up. Also, these parts can tend to get bloated with the baggage of the previous episodes. The second is interesting because you need to keep the antagonists as strong as possible going in to the conclusion.  People will lose interest if there is no more challenge for the heroes.  

I tried to introduce the full cast in part two so that I can narrow the focus down to the central conflict in the third instalment. Because of that the biggest challenge I faced was trying to introduce many new characters at once and give them all enough time on the page.

There are a lot of (sometimes violent) games being played in this volume. Are games a viable metaphor for life? Or is their promotion of a winner-takes-all outcome a clear and present danger?

Interesting question. I suppose I see the game in Geis as an equivalent of our own social structure. We are told that anyone can be a winner if they work hard enough but is that really true?  Is real power available to everyone or only to those who run the game?  

Also, what does it actually mean ‘to win’? Do we really want ‘to win’? How many of us ever stop to consider whether the choices we make are our own or merely given to us.  

Finally are we content to play a game with a small chance of winning if that means that by definition the most common social experience will be that of loss?


Board games or video games?

Really, I like games in all forms. I get easily addicted to computer games, especially the roleplaying kind, for the same reasons that I love writing the Geis books. 

I have a deep love for board games though. They rely on the player’s imagination to bring them to life and are so immersive and absorbing as a result.  They feel very personal.  

Reading has this same virtue.  It requires you to invest a piece of yourself to complete the experience.

I have actually made a board game of my own with a friend.  Perhaps we will publish it one day … As soon as we stop changing the rules every time we play!

There's a lovely European feel to the Geis books. What influences are feeding into them?

They are very influenced by French practitioners. I love that BD format, familiar to UK readers in the Tintin and Asterix books. If you haven’t read many French comics I recommend the work of Joann Sfar, Christophe Blain, Bastien Vives and Riad Sattouf to name a few.  

You can also find traces of Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland and the caricature of Honore Daumier.

Is this a very different creative experience to working on children's books?

It is in lots of ways. Firstly, the sheer volume of work creates a logistical challenge for you, the creator, not to mention your editors and designers. 

Images and text are picked over and deconstructed much less than in children’s picture book publishing.  As a result you get something that is more raw, less polished but perhaps closer to the artist’s original voice, for good or bad.  

The same goes for the images themselves.  The reader’s relationship with them is going to be very different. A parent and child might spend a minute or more looking at a single page in a picture book. In a comic your readers are going to move swiftly from one image to the next. The flow between the pictures can be more important than the content of the individual images.

What can we expect in volume three?

Geis was originally envisaged as taking you from the world outside, to the castle, to a single room and then finally to inside the characters own minds… I’ve written book three now and whilst it doesn’t exactly do that, but that does give you some idea of what to expect.  You can also look forward to the same incessant pace and constant peril that we’ve had since the outset. The stakes are real in this contest!

What do you love about the comic strip form?

I have been a fan of this format ever since my earliest childhood. I learned to read by reading the Beano, for example. The comic strip is so perfect for a certain kind of story, where the visual imagination of the creator is as important as the narrative in making the experience.  

There are some stories that need to be told in a certain visual universe in order to make sense. Think of Calvin and Hobbes or Tintin or Krazy Kat, for example. 

You understand the nature of the world you are in through the drawings. The same narratives would be a fraction of themselves without the images.

Unlike film and television, which have some similar qualities, comic strips can be made by anybody with a pen and some paper. As a result the worlds created are often deeply personal and authentic. That has always appealed to me a great deal.

Geis A Game Without Rules, by Alexis Deacon, is published by Nobrow Press, priced £15.99