‘By Water: The Felix Manz Story’ Writer Jason Landsel: The Conskipper Interview

Plough Publishing House’s By Water: The Felix Manz Story is the first entry in a three-volume graphic novel series that explores the history of Europe’s Reformation, beginning with leader and martyr Felix Manz.

The little-known chapter from history details the religious upheaval in graphic novel form by writer Jason Landsel and artist Sankha Banerjee (with additional research/scriptwriting by Richard Mommsen).

Landsel discusses the origins of the new graphic novel and the challenges in adapting a historical event in the medium in this exclusive interview.

What was the genesis of By Water: the Felix Manz story?

Jason Landsel: I started thinking about this project back around the time of the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. I have always been interested in medieval and 16th century reformation history, and have wanted to do a graphic novel on the subject for some time. So I started doing some pretty intensive research over a period of a couple years, I traveled to Europe documenting the many locations included in the trilogy, I visited numerous museums and archives in Europe and the USA, wrote and storyboarded the book – doing concept sketches for the different characters and spreads for the artist.

What attracted you to the story of Felix Manz and his place in history?

Landsel: Well we wanted to tell the story of the 16th century Radical Reformation from the beginning and Felix Manz and his close associates were the instigators of this movement. ‘By Water’ takes place in Zurich, Switzerland during a time of religious and social upheaval. Felix Manz and other young radical’s were initially attracted and supported the church reforms taking place in the city but quickly parted ways with the leadership when they saw him making compromises and aligning himself with government powers. Manz and others started their own free congregation because they wanted to live lives of action – not just talk. I think their courage to stand up to political and religious corruption and their willingness to deal with the consequences should inspire us today.

What are the challenges when adapting a person’s life and a historical event, especially for the graphic novel medium?

Landsel: The process of reducing down all the fascinating material I discovered to fit in a graphic novel was a challenge. There were many anecdotes and exciting little details to this story I like that, we just could not include in this book because it would have made it too long. However, I think we managed to include enough to tell the story in a compelling and engaging manner. I also love a lot of the art from this time and we wanted to use as much of that material as we could to create a window into this unique world that Manz lived in.

What does Sankha Banerjee bring to the story as an artist and what was the collaboration like between both of you on the project? 

Landsel: It was a terrific collaboration. Sankha’s background as a graphic novelist and his interests brought a unique and fresh perspective to the project. It helped we both like certain artists like Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel, Albrecht Dürer, the apocalyptic art of the 16th century like the Augsburg Book of Miracles and we worked together to incorporate those ideas into the images. I had sketched out many concepts for the book, and collected art and photographs and could share those with Sankha to guide him in creating the spreads. It all worked out very well.  

By Water is the first in a proposed trilogy.  What can you tell us about the next installments and how they tell a complete story?

Landsel: The next two volumes – ‘By Fire’ and ‘By Sword’ will chronologically continue to tell the story of the Radical Reformation. ‘By Fire’ takes us to the South Tyrol, Italy and tells the story of Jakob and Katharina Hutter – courageous leaders who unified and advanced the radical movement. They had to flee to the Czech Republic to escape the brutal persecutions of Ferdinand I, the king of Bohemia, Hungary, and Croatia and suffered for their convictions. ‘By Sword’ will continue the story from there as the movement expands into other areas of Europe and struggles to continue.  

Future projects? 

Landsel: We will have to see, I still have quite a bit of work to do to complete this project, but I love this kind of work, and I love exploring history and telling stories – who knows!

By Water: The Felix Manz Story will be available in finer bookstores and comic shops on March 21, 2023. Stay tuned to Conskipper for more information about subsequent volumes in the trilogy.

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