Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: First and foremost, congratulations on your Eisner Award nomination this year for The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya in the Best Digital Comic category! For our readers who may be unfamiliar with the comic, how would you describe its premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Reimena Yee: Thank you! Same to you for Quince!
The Carpet Merchant is set in two eras -- 17th century Turkey and 18th century England -- and is a life epic about a carpet merchant couple, Zeynel and Ayse, with the focus on Zeynel. Volume I tells of his growth from a nervous, insecure youth to a happy settled man, then his unfortunate death and return as a vampire, forcing him and Ayse to grapple with the inevitability of leaving each other. Volume II finds Zeynel settling down in England, which presents him a set of challenges. Not only must he deal with the false, exoticised, Orientalist lens from the Europeans around him, he stumbles upon his vampiric murderer who has, apparently, come to him to seek forgiveness.
I love supernatural fiction, especially when it weaves itself in the mundane. For TCM, it initially started as a backstory for Zeynel, who is one of the main characters in my parent comic (to be discussed later). Then, it took a life of its own and became this giant, wonderful thing.
The premise of a gentle, pious person who turns into a vampire has always been a fascinating subject to explore to me. It's not an uncommon subject in vampire fiction, but I rarely see it approached in the comics medium framed through a non-Christian, non-Western POV. Especially in a Muslim POV. ESPECIALLY in a way that doesn't involve or end in violence. I just wanted a positive story about someone who rises through tragedy, grief, and sadness, because he learns to trust that God will take care of him. I can't say if I've succeeded in this goal, but I hope for the people this comic is for, it is at least meaningful in some way.
BD: The series masterfully weaves romance, historical fiction, vampires, and satire into a beautifully told and illustrated story. What can you share with us about your creative process in balancing not only the writing and illustrative duties, but thoughtfully interconnecting so many genres into one tale?
RY: It isn't so much that I am juggling different genres, but handling an onion that has these genres already built in, and I just gotta unpack it. The seed of vampire literature was planted by exposure to Middle Eastern (at the time, Ottoman) culture and stories. Lord Byron (both the person and a poem of his, The Giaour), and Robert Southey (Thalaba the Destroyer) were directly inspired by 1001 Nights. Both were heavily caught up in the Orientalist fad, which permeated into everything from fashion to literary trends. The Giaour and Thalaba were the products of that fad and were also the first early works mentioning vampires. So, the first literary vampires were Ottoman, written by white English men. What I am doing is simply taking the literary vampire back to its cultural source, which is where the satire comes in, because people did and still do have ignorant ideas about Eastern people/cultures. Additionally, vampires often symbolise The Other, and the people around them (usually the English) as Familiar. It's so funny to be able to flip it around in TCM.
As for process (since I write and draw the comic), I do the writing first. Ideally, I write the complete script, including the ending, before I start thumbnailing. It's easier for me to draw when I've a solid and secure grasp of where the story is developing, as the way I pace and compose layouts are dependent on said grasp. Both stages involve a lot of research.
BD: You recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for the first collected volume of The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya. In devoting so much time, care, and attention to crafting this story, what can you tell us about your experience in completing the first volume?
RY: I finished Volume I two years ago, and Volume II nearly a month ago (July 2018). It's still exhilarating! TCM is my first graphic novel proper that is completed. I am so proud of how TCM has developed and what it has become, not only for me, but for several of my readers who identify with Zeynel or the themes of this comic.
I am excited to continue writing more stories. They won't be as grand as TCM (I think I'm done with grandness for awhile.), but I hope they will have the same kind of heart and care.
BD: What encouraged you to utilize crowdfunding in order to bring this project to life in print?
RY: TCM is honestly a very difficult and risky story to pitch to the average traditional publisher. It's vampire fiction, it features an unabashedly POC protagonist that isn't for the white gaze (though in the blog posts I'll put in educational notes, but that's my choice in real life), it's a strange and fancy mix of unusual topics, and most damning of all, it's the first graphic novel created by an unknown from a mysterious part of Asia.
Fortunately, the environment has grown so much that crowdfunding is a viable and successful option to traditional publishing. Even Unbound - the sort-of traditional publisher that has taken a chance on TCM - is adopting crowdfunding as a model! It certainly helps to show that the comics that were once thought as niche or risky can turn into moneymakers or stories that are cherished by a respectable amount of readers.
BD: What are some of the fun backer rewards that are available to those who contribute to your campaign?
RY: In addition to a hardcover, full-colour copy of Volume I plus a little PDF booklet detailing the research behind the comic, a backer can get:
- A signed bookplate
- Exclusive postcards by myself and Katie O'Neill, Eisner-award winning creator of Tea Dragon Society
- A bookmark or a set of 4 bookmarks from artists like choo, Kaeti Vandorn and (surprise, surprise)
- A hard enamel pin of a nightingale
- An opportunity to commission me for an illustration
BD: Are there any other projects, including The World in Deeper Inspection, on which you are working that you are able to share with our readers?
RY: I am currently working on the next story for The World in Deeper Inspection (the parent comic of TCM) and a couple of middle-grade books. The MG books will veer in a completely different direction than TCM, though one of them will still have the trademark spooky that you can expect.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find out more about your work and The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya crowdfunding campaign?
RY: There are three websites: