When Ethan M. Aldridge, a 26-year-old watercolor illustrator residing in Wilton Manors, Florida, began posting his webcomic on Tumblr, he was only trying to keep himself busy. At the time he was waiting for the final edits of a book he illustrated for the author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek.
Little did he know his side-project would become his debut novel.
I thought my agent was messing with me,” he said when he learned his comic was going to become a book. “At first, I could not believe it, but my secondary emotion was panic.”
Aldridge said that when he was younger, he often sat around dreaming over various picture books such as “The Dragons Are Singing Tonight” by Jack Prelutsky and “The Houdini’s Box” by Brian Selznick.
“I remember thinking how cool it was that someone was drawing dragons,” he said, adding he realized at 16 that he could do it for a living.
To pursue his dreams, Aldridge moved out from his hometown in Utah to New York City. There he began selling his work at various conventions and doing commissions.
While exhibiting his artwork at a New York City comic con, Andrew Eliopulos, a children’s editor from HarperCollins, was captivated across the convention room by Aldridge’s piece on “The Night Circus,” a fantasy novel written by American author Erin Morgenstern. He offered a two-book deal to Aldridge for his story.
At the time the comic was only on its second chapter.
“Ethan blends the magical and the mundane in a way that makes the most extraordinary things seem possible,” said Eliopulos. “As I read more of ‘Estranged,’ what captured my attention beyond that breathtaking artwork was the emotional core of the story.”
Aldridge’s specialty is watercolor art. He takes inspiration from techniques popularized by Victorian illustrator Arthur Rackham, who’s famed for his illustrations on fairy tales during the early 1900s.
Aldridge draws influence from many folklore and fantasy stories. In the case of “Estranged” he wanted to explore the classic Irish folklore of changelings. What would happen, he asked, if parents did not notice their child was a fairy folk instead of human.
“You never get anything from the changeling perspective,” he said. “I was way more interested in what the kids themselves thought about this.”
His graphic novel is about Edmund, a changeling who was swapped at birth with a human named Childe. Edmund lives in the human world, where he keeps his fairy powers hidden from his parents and older sister. Meanwhile, Childe lives among the fairyfolk in an underground world hidden in the tunnels, where he is seen almost as a trophy at the royal palace.
When a cruel sorceress seizes the throne, Childe and Edmund unite on a dangerous quest to save both their worlds.
“I have these years and years and years’ worth of sketchbooks or random drawings and story ideas,” he said at a Stork Cafe in Wilton Manors, Florida. “At some point, they all came together in this story I wanted to tell.”
Edmund and Childe represent different aspects of their creator. Edmund represents how the artist felt in his early teens, growing up in a small town as a gay kid filled with confusion, anger, and frustration.
Childe, on the other hand, reflects his outward personality, reserved and tending to keep things inside.
While characters are a remembrance of who Aldridge was in Utah, they found their home when he moved to New York for the first time. There he found a place for his complex fantasy world.
“The entire [New York City] underground structure runs for miles— and cause it’s so fast growing there are a ton of tunnels and stations that are completely abandoned that have not been used for years,” he said. “It just seemed like a good place to hide fairies.”
Aldridge accomplished being able to draw dragons for a living; to him, it still seems unreal.
“I have to pretend to be this very well put together author and illustrator,” said Aldridge.
Aldridge will return to his fantasy world as he begins work on the sequel— introducing his characters to their next adventure.
“Estranged” is scheduled to be published on Aug. 7. The webcomic is available at http://estrangedstory.tumblr.com/