Niki Smith is joining us to talk about her graphic novel The Deep & Dark Blue. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The Witch Boy meets The Legend of Korra in this breathtaking, epic graphic novel.
After a terrible political coup usurps their noble house, Hawke and Grayson flee to stay alive and assume new identities, Hanna and Grayce. Desperation and chance lead them to the Communion of Blue, an order of magical women who spin the threads of reality to their will.
As the twins learn more about the Communion, and themselves, they begin to hatch a plan to avenge their family and retake their royal home. While Hawke wants to return to his old life, Grayce struggles to keep the threads of her new life from unraveling, and realizes she wants to stay in the one place that will allow her to finally live as a girl.
What’s Niki’s favorite bit?
I devoured stories that played with gender as a kid. Mulan, disguising herself as a male soldier to keep her father safe. Tamora Pierce’s Alanna, eager to serve as a knight, even if she had to take a new name to do it. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night— the trope goes back centuries, and I love it in all its forms. But what I never saw was the reverse: it was always a character yearning to live the life of a boy. The life of a girl was full of boring needlework: tedious and something to escape.
But what if it weren’t? What if “women’s work” wasn’t just something to dread? The more I researched, the more I wanted to write a system of magic with its roots deep in fiber and textile arts… so I did! The Deep & Dark Blue is about twins on the run, disguising themselves and joining a sisterhood of women who weave living bloodline tapestries, healers who use cat’s cradle to knit bone— all powered by a mysterious, deep blue dye. Grayce, a young trans girl who finds a family in this sisterhood, becomes a spinner, using a small, carved drop spindle to control the wind and manipulate the world around her.
Spindles have been around for thousands of years, back to Neolithic times. Small enough to fit into a pocket and simple enough for a child to use, spinning was ingrained in every part of life: it gave us thread, rope, and cloth, and it’s not at all surprising that the spindle found its way into religion and mythology around the world.
In ancient Greece, the three Fates, the Moirai, assigned destinies to every mortal at birth. One goddess spun the thread of life, the next measured its length, and the third severed it. In Norse mythology, you’ll find the same three goddesses, the Norns, spinning the threads of mortals’ lives at the base of Yggdrasil. I moved to Munich a few years ago and my favorite tourist spot is the incredibly gaudy and Baroque Asam Church— and there, again, I found the spindle and thread of life.
The conclusion of Plato’s Republic describes the orbit of the celestial bodies revolving around the Earth, a model of the workings of the then-known universe. At the heart: the “Spindle of Necessity.” Held by Ananke, the primordial deity, and spun by the three Fates: the cosmos exists on a spindle.
Spindles show up in folklore and fairytales everywhere. Disney tells us that Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger on a spinning wheel, but the tale is from an era before spinning wheels— her curse was the sharp point of a drop spindle. Witches may ride broomsticks nowadays, but in medieval Europe they rode distaffs: the wooden staffs that held their wool for spinning…
Working as a spinster meant a woman could support herself without needing to marry— a wild concept! And one not generally appreciated by the rest of the folks in town.
I wove that into The Deep & Dark Blue: a self-sufficient enclave of women, working a mysterious magic through fiber arts. A tight-knit sisterhood that a young girl yearns to be a part of, and when the chance comes, she seizes it.