Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of By Water! For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the premise of this story, and what was its inspiration?
Jason Landsel: The story takes place in the canton of Zurich, Switzerland, during the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation, which was not a just religious movement but a social and political revolution that swept across Europe. People were drained by centuries of political and religious corruption and wanted to create something new—they wanted freedom. By Water tells the story of a young man named Felix Manz, the illegitimate son of a Zurich priest, who after studying at the University in Paris returns home and gets caught up in the reforms spearheaded by Ulrich Zwingli. Manz finds a father figure in Zwingli but ends up drowned on Zwingli’s orders after they part ways. So, it’s a true story of friendship and betrayal; it is about people who were willing to sacrifice everything, even their lives, to establish their vision of a new society. I find it inspiring even 500 years later.
BD: How would you describe your shared creative process in working with artist Sankha Banerjee to bring this story to life?
JL: It was a great collaboration. I traveled to the European locations researching our story and also collected a lot of reference material—art, photography from my trip, sketches I had made. Sankha did a wonderful job turning all those into the final art. There was regular back-and-forth as we developed the pages; even with the challenges posed by the global pandemic, we managed to keep going. I’m already working with Sankha on the next book in the series.
BD: As an avid researcher of the history of social and religious radicalism, what can you tell us about your approach to the research necessary for this series and ensuring the accuracy of relaying the revolution’s history with readers?
JL: I did extensive reading for starters—over twenty books looking at different angles to this story, not just the specific Reformation history. I studied the art, the politics, and many cultural aspects of sixteenth-century Europe. All of these play a role in telling a story like this well, in building a believable world that readers can be drawn into for a moment. Even before you meet the characters, the opening spread puts you in a medieval mindset – here be demons, prophesies, and looming apocalypse. I am a big fan of museums, as well, visiting several in Zurich, Innsbruck, and other European cities and The Met in New York City.
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that this story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
JL: I hope that even if readers are not familiar with Reformation history they will be encouraged to dare to imagine and work toward a society where there is more community and sharing with each other—that our story motivates people who care about peace and freedom of religion and expression, people who are not afraid to speak out against religious and political corruption in our day. I think the characters in this story would want their lives and sacrifices to have that effect. I also have a personal connection to the story, as my wife is a descendant of these reformers, so bringing this legacy alive for our kids was important to me.
BD: What made Plough Publishing House the perfect home for this project and your collaboration with the creative team?
JL: I had already contributed to Plough’s print magazine, Plough Quarterly, as an illustrator and writer. And Plough has published a number of books by Radical Reformation writers, as well as several successful historical graphic novels, most notably Mandela and the General and Freiheit!: The White Rose Graphic Novel.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
JL: Yes, we are working on the sequel to By Water right now. It’s titled By Fire and continues the Anabaptist story, taking the reader from the city of Zurich to the Alps in the Tyrol. I think it’s an even more dramatic story. The third volume in the trilogy will be By Sword. Yup, these people were drowned, burned at the stake, and beheaded because they refused to budge from their convictions. But water, fire, and sword are also important spiritual symbols and visual motifs throughout the books.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about By Water: The Felix Manz Story?
JL: You can have a look inside the book at Plough.com. I also post regularly about the book project and my research on Instagram (@jasonlandsel).