Most writers, contemplating the end of a hugely popular fantasy series that has represented nearly a decade’s worth of work, would feel a little wistful. Not Scott Chantler.
Based in Waterloo, Ontario, Chantler is the creator of the Three Thieves graphic novel series about a young acrobat named Dessa and her two best friends, an elf-like juggler named Topper and a powerful giant named Fisk. The trio has spent six volumes on the run from a group of tyrannical knights called the Queen’s Dragons, while trying to find out the truth about Dessa’s origins and the disappearance of her brother. The Iron Hand, the seventh and final volume in the series, appears this month. When asked if he wishes he were still writing and drawing the adventures, Chantler is unequivocal: “I don’t think I could’ve gone another week. I really enjoyed the series and I loved the characters … but I think seven books is about right.”
Chantler first pitched the series to Kids Can Press back in 2007, and aside from 2010’s Two Generals, the beautiful graphic memoir about his grandfather’s experiences in the Second World War, his creative life has been all Three Thieves, all the time. “Just about every scene in Book 7 was something that I had in mind back in 2007,” he says. “To be able to write and draw those scenes was really, really satisfying.”
Chantler says that at some point, deep in the creation of the series, “it felt like I was beginning to repeat myself.” That sense of repetition is not at all evident in the books themselves, however; the series maintains a fairly hectic narrative pace while becoming consistently deeper in both tone and theme. What starts out as a pleasurably lightweight romp about three charming misfits using their talents to stay one step ahead of their dark-intentioned pursuers gradually turns into a story about a young girl becoming an adult and having to face certain inescapable realities.
Realities like, say, death. At the end of the penultimate volume, The Dark Island, Dessa’s giant friend sacrifices himself to save a group of children. Possibly the most remarkable thing Chantler does in the final book is to make Fisk’s death stick. “Death is not something I play around with just to yank the reader’s chain,” says Chantler. “I think comics in particular do that too much, where death is done and undone so easily it means nothing. When I drop a character in the ocean, I mean it.”
Chantler says he has at least nine ideas for new projects in the works, including a graphic novel for adults about jazz in the 1920s, and another YA graphic adventure series – though one he plans to keep to a more manageable three volumes. He also has ideas for books he would write but not draw, something he has never done before. “I really like what Jeff Lemire has done with his career,” he says, “in that he draws the ones that are his favourites, or the ones that he feels are most appropriate for him.”
The one thing Chantler is definitely not contemplating is anything set within the world of the Three Thieves – despite the new book’s ambiguous ending. He is adamant he is done with those characters, citing one of the most notorious examples of a creator refusing to leave well enough alone: “When I was a kid, before there was an official backstory for Star Wars, me and my friends kind of made it up with our action figures,” he says. “The backstory was a lot more interesting in my head than that prequel trilogy.”