Books

Sherwin Tjia imagines what it would be like to fall forever

In the graphic novel Plummet, the earth has disappeared and his main character Amelia must survive a lifetime of freefall.
Plummet is a graphic novel by Sherwin Tjia. (Conundrum Press)

In the graphic novel PlummetAmelia "Mel" Eichenwald wakes up to discover that the Earth has disappeared and left her in an endless state of freefall. Surrounded by falling knick-knacks, homes and a few other humans — some friendly and some not — Mel must figure out a way to survive in this strange gravity-centric reality.

Sherwin Tjia is an illustrator from Montreal. He spoke to CBC Books about Plummet, his 11th book.

From thumbnail to final draft: the making of Plummet by Sherwin Tjia. (Sherwin Tjia, Conundrum Press)

The time it takes to fall

"[The idea for Plummet came] largely from watching TV on 9/11 and seeing people jumping. It's so strange, the events of that day. A plane crashing into a building is not relatable to people, but we can all relate to seeing people caught between choking to death on smoke or jumping to your doom. I think everybody asked themselves that question — what would I do if I was in that position?

"Some of the footage from that day was zoomed in so close on these tiny people in the cracks in that building. You were there with them. When people actually jumped, your heart stops. You know what's going to happen, but you don't want it to happen. I've heard that in moments of stress, time dilates. It slows. It slows impossibly so that people can remember every moment of it.

I've heard that in moments of stress, time dilates. It slows. It slows impossibly so that people can remember every moment of it.- Sherwin Tija

"I thought that would be an interesting premise for a book. It took me a long time to find the story behind the premise. Ultimately, I put myself in the main character's place and imagined what would be interesting about falling forever. I make reference to the opposite of that, the Rapture, which is like rising forever until you reach heaven. A lot of religious imagery portrays people falling to hell. But I sometimes wonder how long is that fall? Does it take an hour? Or will it take forever? Or is that hell — to be falling forever? I wasn't entirely sure how to answer that."

An excerpt from Plummet by Sherwin Tjia. (Sherwin Tjia, Conundrum Press)

The long trip

"I was feeling my way through this book rather than planning my way through it. I'm a planner, that is my natural tendency. In almost everything I've ever made, I've figured out the whole narrative beforehand. For this one, I had the premise, but not the story. I needed to figure out how to tell a compelling narrative with this person.

I don't know where the ending is because that's part of the premise — there might not be an ending.- Sherwin Tija

"It's a road trip — that's the narrative framework for this story. But usually with a road trip story, there's a mission — 'We have to spread my dad's ashes at the top of the mountain' or 'We have to go to Memphis for Elvis's birthday.' But there are all these challenges along the way. With this narrative, it's difficult because I don't know what's going to happen. I don't know where the ending is because that's part of the premise — there might not be an ending."

The first draft of Plummet by Sherwin Tjia was 500 pages. (Sherwin Tjia, Conundrum Press)

The edge of reality

"I thought it would be an easy graphic novel to make. I thought I could make it fast, largely because I didn't have to draw any background. If you talk to any graphic novelist, half of your time is figuring out your background. You're going to take a great deal of pleasure out of drawing your characters, but then you have to figure out what's in the background or figure out the camera angle in your panel. How do I draw pages so that they're visually delightful and also very clear?

I think that's why it's so compelling to watch people fall — it is something just beyond the edge of most of our everyday reality.- Sherwin Tija

"I thought a lot of the novelty and delight would be in seeing characters from different angles, but there's something so compelling about watching someone fall through space. We all understand gravity, but we understand it in a limited way. Our framework for gravity is our everyday lives, unless you are a skydiver. I think that's why it's so compelling to watch people fall — it is something just beyond the edge of most of our everyday reality."

An excerpt from Plummet by Sherwin Tjia. (Sherwin Tjia, Conundrum Press)

Sherwin Tjia's comments have been edited for length and clarity. You can see more interviews from the How I Wrote It series here.

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