The Poet and the Flea
G.E. Gallas is a multi-talented screenwriter, author and illustrator from San Francisco. Her artworks include paintings, pencil drawings, and mixed media pictures. Among her written work are screenplays ‘Who is Laurence Harvey?’ which advanced to the second round of the PAGE 2012 screenwriting awards, and ‘The Golden Curator’ which was highly praised by the 2013 BlueCat screenplay competition.
Yet it is within Gallas’s graphic novels that her exceptional artwork and imaginative writing combine together. The result is powerful yet charming; bold yet intricate; playful yet macabre. Her latest graphic novel, ‘The Poet and The Flea’ is a re-imagining of the life of William Blake. Blake (1757 -1827) is well known for his illustrated collection of poems ‘Songs of Innocence and of Experience’ but Gallas’s graphic novel looks beyond his work, to his life, his “powerful thoughts” and his “genuine essence”.
Illustrations in ‘The Poet and the Flea’ play around with size and shape. Her pictures are full of curves and waves; harsh angles are limited to pages that are intended to make the reader feel uneasy. Each page employs a deliberate ratio of words and pictures. The lines are thicker and darker when the characters are in a state of bleakness, or despair. The blackness and the large sections of grey engulf the characters creating a claustrophobic atmosphere. The lines are thinner and the images brighter on the pages that depict Blake’s visions. Gallas knows when to focus on the written narrative, and when to let the pictures speak for themselves.
Like periodicals of the nineteenth century, Gallas publishes her graphic novel weekly. A new page is published every Wednesday on her blog which can also be accessed through her Tumblr page. I spoke to G.E. Gallas about the work so far, and what readers can expect for future instalments:
The Poet and the Flea is a ‘re-imagined’ telling of the life of William Blake. Which elements are based on fact and how much is re-imagined?
Yes, I classify The Poet and the Flea as “reimagined” because I am infusing historically recorded events of Blake’s life with a great deal of fantastical elements. For instance, the story about William’s vision of angels (pages 7-9), whether a figment of his imagination or not, is a recorded episode of Blake’s life. Moreover, the untimely death of Blake’s younger brother as well as Blake’s relationship with his wife Kate are both significant facts that perpetuate the graphic novel. Blake’s vision of The Ghost of a Flea, whether figment or not, is also a recorded episode, but for the graphic novel I choose to extrapolate – flesh out – this creature and William’s relationship with it. In other words, I try to make the fantastical more believable by rooting The Poet and the Flea’s story in history.
Is that why you chose to re-imagine?
I chose to reimagine because I wished to explore Blake’s madness and to question whether he was mad at all. I don’t deny that he had visions and other issues, but I can’t help but wonder if there is some other medical explanation for those visions – perhaps a brain tumor or some type of condition that was unknown in the 18th century. I think that, other than his visions, Blake’s “radical” ideas are quite mind-boggling – to think that someone over 250 years ago would dare to question the church (“The Garden of Love”) or even God (“To Nobodaddy”) in written word. I also chose to reimagine in order to introduce Blake and his works to a new generation of thinkers through the accessible medium of the graphic novel – to whet their palettes per se.
When did you first come across the works of William Blake?
I feel that Blake has been in my periphery for many years – perhaps as far back as junior year of high school when I first read Allen Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California,” which I feel takes many cues from both Dante and Blake. But I never truly noticed Blake until I bought a copy of Dante’s Inferno in 2009, a Penguin Classics black-spine with a Blake illustration on the cover. That’s when everything clicked in my head – that Dante, Blake, and Ginsberg are all interconnected. And that’s really when my interest in exploring Blake’s works began.
After seeing the Dante cover, what drew you to further explore Blake’s work?
A number of components drew me to Blake. In his visual work, the unique aesthetic of his figures and their placement on the page as well as his distinct use of color fascinate me. His illuminated manuscripts are of particular interest – with the combination of words and images, I consider them a precursor to the modern graphic novel. While I’m not always fond of poetry, his verses possess a flow that generates vivid images in my head.
William Blake’s paintings are exhibited in London. Have you had the opportunity to see his paintings in person?
I have not yet had that opportunity, but hopefully will in the coming months. This year, I will be attending the Cannes Film Festival through the American Pavilion Film Program and will be stopping over in London for a few days on my way back to the States. In that time, I plan on seeing as many of Blake’s works and historical sites as humanly possible. Also, I have been invited to speak to The Blake Society while I’m there, which is an honor I am truly excited for.
Wow, what an achievement! You must be thrilled. Will you get a chance to showcase some of your work while you are there?
I’m currently discussing the details of the talk with the Chair of the Blake Society, Tim Heath. All I really know so far is that the talk might take place at 17 South Molton Street where Blake painted The Ghost of a Flea! I’m hoping to have access to a projector of some sort to throw pages of my graphic novel up on the wall. It’s pretty astonishing to think I’ll be sharing my Blakean work in one of his houses.
Indeed! Good luck with that. On your website you indicate that the completed graphic novel will be over 100 pages. Why did you choose to deliver it in installments?
Initially, I decided on installments just because that’s the way most webcomics work. But I also thought of authors such as Dickens and Dumas, publishing one chapter at a time by newspaper. Eventually, I hope The Flea will be printed in one volume.
You spent a year in Japan. Would you say your illustration style has been influenced by Japanese culture?
I wouldn’t say that my year abroad influenced my illustration style, but ever since elementary school Japan has been a big influence in my life. I was constantly drawing as a kid, and quickly got into anime, manga, and other types of comics and narrative illustration. I would say my three biggest graphic influences during my formative years were the works of Edward Gorey, Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin, and Ai Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss. Also, I give abundant credit to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces for shaping my comprehension of storytelling.
G.E. Gallas, it has been a pleasure discussing your work. Before we say goodbye, can you tell us what’s coming next?
Right now, I have my fingers in so many pies! I’m continuing my work on The Flea, of course – but I’m also working on a number of other projects and collaborations, from children’s books to zines and beyond. For instance, I’ve been working on illustrating the first 10 pages of a graphic novel called The First Reich about the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, written by the very talented Shannon Brady. On top of that, I’m hoping to see at least one of my many screenplays make it to film. Everyone keeps telling me The Flea would make a brilliant screenplay, so writing that will be my next big endeavour.