Talking ‘By Water: The Felix Manz Story’ With Writer, Jason Landsel

Martin Luther may have started the Reformation, but the Anabaptists would become involved as well. For the first book in their Heroes of the Radical Reformation trilogy, By Water: The Felix Manz Story, writer, Jason Landsel, scriptwriter, Richard Mommsen, and artist, Sankha Banerjee focus on Felix Manz, an Anabaptist who was killed for his convictions (the title both refers to the Anabaptist belief in adult baptism and the death sentence Manz was given). To explain more about the series, Landsel answered some questions recently:

Rachel Bellwoar: By Water is meant to be the first book in a trilogy called Heroes of the Radical Reformation. In choosing to focus on Felix Manz, was that a decision that made the most sense chronologically or were there other reasons why you wanted to open the series with him?

Jason Landsel: Our intention in creating the trilogy – starting with By Water was to tell the stories of men and women from the little known Radical Reformation, a faction of Protestant Reformation of the 16th century in Europe. Felix Manz and his young and revolutionary companions in Zurich, Switzerland started this branch of the reformation in 1525 when they cut ties with the state church. Felix Manz was their first martyr executed by the Protestant government. We want to tell the story of the radical movement Felix and others started from the beginning, and show the movement’s development, its struggles, hardships and victories in the following two volumes.

Bellwoar: Religion can be a very daunting subject to approach. What were some of the biggest challenges in terms of making Manz’s story more accessible to readers who might not be familiar with the history?

Landsel: Yes, it is and while there is definitely, a strong religious theme to this story, Felix and his companion’s courage and vision – their ideals are matters we still aspire to today and should appeal to a wider audience: the nonviolent struggle for economic justice, peaceful social reform, and freedom of conscience. We also tried in the art especially to keep the story alive and stimulating by giving deeper glimpses into the world and mentality of 16th century Europe, which I find fascinating.

Bellwoar: “Script” isn’t necessarily a credit you see all the time with graphic novels. Can you speak a little to what the collaboration process was like on this project (as well as with artist, Sankha Banerjee)?

Landsel: I had written the book, done the research and a lot of concept art for the different spreads and characters in the book. Richard [Mommsen] came on board later in the project as he has a background in script writing for video and stage production and he helped to refine the text more to fit the graphic novel format. And I had a terrific time working together with Sankha on creating the art. I initially provided him with all the reference material from my research, photos I had taken traveling in Europe, my sketches and so on and he turned all that into the panels in the book working closely together. It was a great collaboration.

Bellwoar: One thing that’s great about the way By Water begins is you get to see Felix express doubts and be skeptical. Did it take a while to land on his voice?

Landsel: That evolution of Felix becoming who he really is an important aspect to the story, we wanted to show that lifelong process. How he starts out as a bullied kid on the streets of Zurich, looking for a father figure in his life and some stability and direction. How he evolves as a young man studying in Paris, experiences betrayal from people he trusts back home and eventually finds the confidence to follow his own convictions. By the end, he is defiant and unafraid in the face of certain death.

Bellwoar: A major turning point is when Felix splits from his mentor, Ulrich Zwingli. How do you think history will remember Ulrich, and was it always your intention to explore his backstory, too?

Landsel: The stories of Zwingli and Felix are much intertwined; they were literally neighbors for much of the story. We wanted and needed to show Zwingli’s backstory as his efforts to reform Zurich inspired and motivated Felix initially. Zwingli is championed as the founder of Swiss Protestantism and a significant figure in Swiss history. What we wanted to show in our story is the difference in the choice of path Zwingli and Felix each take. Zwingli being willing to make compromises, seeking power and influence, willing to sacrifice the life of a former co-worker to secure that. Felix rejecting all that, staying true to his conviction, helping others find theirs, and being willing to face hardships and ultimately surrender his life.

Albrecht Dürer

Bellwoar: My favorite image in the book is actually the first one, after the half-title page, where there’s what looks like a pregnant woman standing in the ocean while fireballs are raining down. Could you explain that image a little and why you wanted to open with it? 

Landsel: I came up with that image while writing the book and had done a drawing of it, which I shared with Sankha. The purpose of the spread is to set the mood for the time the reader is stepping into. Europe was in turmoil, with wars and plague, people questioning and challenging the old institutions, predictions of the apocalypse. There was a feeling that the world was about to be transformed in some way and the image in the woman is from a woodcut by Erhard Schon prophesying the German Peasants war in 1524. Much of the other imagery in that spread is taken from The Augsburg Book of Miracles, the works of Hieronymus Bosch, and Albrecht Dürer’s Apocalypse inspired pieces. All artwork from the time that I liked a lot and discovered researching the story.

Bellwoar: Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Jason!

By Water: The Felix Manz Story goes on sale March 21st from Plough.

Martin Luther may have started the Reformation, but the Anabaptists would become involved as well. For the first book inCOMICONRead More

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