We’re back with a new interview on our website. Today we’re sitting down once again with Sebastiano Brocchi, whom we met some time ago about the project titled Symmes. However, those of you who are familiar with Sebastiano’s work are well aware of how much of a versatile artist he is.
A lot of you might have already heard of the Pirin saga, the biggest and most complex work by the author. Well, this saga is about to be expanded into an artbook that will see several authors collaborate at the same time.
But let’s start from the beginning and find out more about this project together.
First of all, welcome back Sebastiano, we hope you’re as happy of being back with us as we are of having you.
Thank you, it’s always a great pleasure and honour to be the guest of an interesting, rich, and culturally multifaceted publication such as Vampire’s Tears.
Can you give us a broad idea of your Saga so that those who haven’t heard of it yet can have an inkling of what it is?
King Helewen is one of the few survivors of an ancient and glorious civilisation made up of semi-gods and born from the union between a fairy and a mortal man: the Pirin, a lineage of great beauty, longevity, and youth, characterised by white hair and golden eyes and that used to live in a blessed and thriving realm, defended by the high peaks of the mountains of a legendary East (the historical and geographic references do not reflect our world, but rather an alternative other world and one of its continents in particular: the land of Gaimat, where the events of the story take place).
The prophecies of the land talk about the search for the predestined one who shall wear the Sacra Corona of Sibereht and become the King of the World, and the events of the story seem to be directing the eyes of such destiny on the twin sons of King Helewen, Nhalbar and Nothal, as possible candidates to the title. However, the twins are exact opposites in everything and without any middle ground, like light and darkness, to the point that their oracles predict both amazing wonders and horrifying misfortunes, the ruin and salvation of the world.
This is more or less the main storyline of a saga that turns out to be a real knot of plots, a labyrinth of complexities like a high fantasy One Thousand and One Nights, with the difference that every single story, every piece of the puzzle, contributes to a bigger, cohesive picture. A picture that only becomes clear at the end of the journey, which is why one can’t let themselves be fooled by the branching and convoluted appearance of the plot.
In reality, the trilogy that makes up the main body of the saga has very clear narrative differences between its volumes. The first, Le Memorie di Helewen, has a distinct fairytale feel to it and tries to outline a sort of mythical passage, to build the background that will lead to bigger events. It is mostly in the following books, Hairam Regina and Le Gesta di Nhalbar that we dive – so to say – into the “heart” of the action, plunge much deeper into the psychology of the characters, and leave behind the entanglement of the single stories to really concentrate on the most important characters that act as protagonists to what we could even describe an Epic in prose, inspired by the great classics of epic literature but also by sacred texts of several civilisations.
How does Pirin’s world come to life?
The desire for mapping out this saga has its roots in the mind of a still teenaged Sebastiano, one who has fallen in love with some of the shiniest gems of the fantasy/sci-fi cinematic imagery (from Star Wars to Lord of The Rings…), and since then that teenager has never stopped imagining and trying to outline, also through illustration, an alternate universe examined in its most different aspects, from its geography to its languages, to its races with their customs and traditions.
Linking back to what I was saying earlier, this fantasy world definitely owes a lot to my love for ancient literature even more than contemporary fantasy (save for some prominent exceptions like The Neverending Story). It is also undeniable that a strong mystical and symbolic impression marks the entire saga: it’s almost never just imagination for the sake of it, every character, every place, every story, even the artefacts and the creatures we meet, all have a message that they bring with them in more or less obvious ways. The ways one can read the story have layers: one can see it as just entertainment if they’re looking for an escape of the mind toward magical and suggestive places, but they can also choose to go beyond that and try to grasp the depts of the human and spiritural implications of these stories.
As we know, from the world of Pirin we didn’t only get novels, but also a videogame. Would you like to tell us about it?
Right at the same time as the first novel in the saga was being published (the first edition of Le Memorie di Helewen came out in 2012) I had the luck of starting a beautiful and deep friendship with Stefano and Tania Maccarinelli who were at the head of a small but passionate and enterprising indie software house in the Italian Switzerland called Stelex Software. My friends read the first book and it made a strong impression on them, so the idea of a videogame adaptation for my saga came to be in a very spontaneous way, almost like a “natural” evolution of the meeting between our respective creative departments.
So, after a few years of non-stop and totally “artisanal” (the game is completely hand-drawn, without any 3D computer graphic aid that is very popular in mainstream titles) work, in 2018 the point-and-click graphic adventure Eselmir and the five magical gifts finally came to light. The videogame is inspired by the Pirin saga in that it takes place in the same world, includes some of the characters we meet in the novel, and it is possible to walk through some of the places that are described in it, but it is a lone-standing story with its own original protagonist that does not follow the events of the trilogy in any way and that can also be played by those who are not familiar with the literary version yet.
Having made the obligatory premises, namely that it is a “niche” game directed especially to the most loyal fans of the genre, I can proudly say that Elsemir gained several very positive reviews from more or less the entire world, and even a nomination for Best Writing – Drama at the Aggie Awards, a kind of Academy Award for videogames.
A fun fact about the game is that the Italian voice acting cast has the honour of including two very well-known names: the singer Angelo Branduardi, whose experience with the game is his first and only videogame work and who lent his suggestive and charismatic voice to king Helewen, and the actress Gia Lionello, the astounding voice of the Goddess Monusadah.
With all this out of the way, let’s get to the new project. From the way you described it, it seems like a collection of artworks realised by a lot of different hands, is that right?
Exactly, by an amazing team of nine artists to be precise. Aside from me, we have Paolo Andreatta, Michele D’Angelo, Marco Pennacchietti, Andrea Piparo, Giuseppe Rava, Anna Schilirò, Miriam Tritto, and Alessandra Valenti. They’re all well-known and well-loved illustrators, some in the Italian business and some even internationally, and all especially passionate about fantasy art or, in the case of Rava, in the subject of historiographical illustration.
How was this idea born? Why bring together so many artists on a single project? Why publish it now? Do you think of it as a sort of summation of your previous works?
First of all, the Pirin saga has alway had a very deep, I’d even say intrinsic, connection to the art world. It’s a saga in which literature comes to be and develops at the same time as illustration and visual content, that both represent one of its biggest and most peculiar assets. However, inside the novels they are meant to enrich, because of the very nature of the novels, the potential of the artistic elements tends to be “sacrificed” because of the available space, the page formatting, the print quality, etcetera… all this in comparison to the treatment they can get from an actual artbook, where everything is designed to enhance the pictures, the layouts, the chromatic composition.
Furthermore, it needs saying that the saga, from 2012 until today, has grown considerably. We have a trilogy that in its entirety exceeds 1800 pages, a videogame that reaches 15 hours of gameplay, a series of spin-off stories for another 400 pages of adventures, and very soon could be joined by its first comic book. That is why this artbook can be seen as a “visual guide” to find one’s way around the places and civilisations of Gaimat.
However, I wanted this journey not to be marked only by my own view and my own style. To truly get a life of its own, a saga needs to become a shared property, told by different voices or, as is the case, by the hand of different artists, each one of which can bring their own personal touch, their own personal magic, their own peculiar talent in giving shape to the elements of that imaginary universe.
How did you choose your partners?
We were basically all already friends on social media, or I already had the possibility of appreciating their art for a while, learning their distinctive traits, grasping their potential. But obviously, it ended up becoming a choice that went in both directions: I didn’t want to take on the role of the “commissioner” towards artists because they might then end up not participating in the project because of their enthusiasm and interest in the saga, because of its narrative value and its visual contents that can boast their own unique and recognisable styles in the vast environment of this type of literature. That is why we chose to embark on this project as co-authors: the artists aren’t giving their time to the realisation of the illustrations only to then watch them “fly away” to their own destinies, but rather they are the “developers” of this editorial adventure in the same capacity as I am.
I was very lucky to form a group of amazing professionals who worked with talent and dedication, each bringing the best of their abilities.
How exactly is this work split? Or rather, did you make various thematic areas or did you sort the works by author?
The piece is first and foremost ideated as an exploration of the civilisations, and that is how it is structured, sorted into thematic areas split between the different peoples and fantasy races that inhabit the lands of Gaimat. Some of the races are the more “traditional” ones that we associate with high fantasy, such as Elves, Dwarves, etc… while still being reframed in very deep ways to acquire traits and characteristics that won’t make them get lost in the crowd. Other populations are very specifically conceived for the saga, while still keeping and reinventing some of the peculiarities of historical civilisations.
One last question that we have to ask. Are there any other projects that you intend on working on and that are linked to this specific universe?
I mentioned earlier a comic book: it will be titled La Vita di An and it could almost be seen as a missing piece, a link between the events of the novels, the videogame (for which it makes in many ways an ideal sequel), and the spin-off stories in Tasar. I hope that the comic book will be released soon, possibly by the end of the year but more likely in the first half of 2021. I also want to mention that the trilogy is currently being translated by the capable Giovanni Carmine Costabile, this year the English version of the first book has been released under the title Memoirs of Helewen and very soon the second volume Hairam the Queen will come out and finally it’ll be the turn of the last of the books with its English title The Gests of Nhalbar.
But I can assure readers that something else is already cooking. I and some other creative types are currently working on some very interesting projects that might expand the saga in unpredictable ways in the next few years and on many fronts, not just the literary one.