The struggle for Cuba’s independence from Spain in the late 1800s has been lucidly sketched out in the form a pictorially-rich graphic novel by comic book and graphic novel veterans writer Warren Ellis and artist Michael Allred. The duo paired up with Bacardi to create a unique attitude for the brand called ‘The Spirit of Bacardi’, which illustrates the stormy history of the Bacardi family and the ceaseless struggle of Emilio Bacardi’s son, Facundo Bacardi Masso against the Spanish colonial rule.
READ THE NOVEL: The Spirit of Bacardi
The artists, Warren Ellis and Michael Allred are behind some of the best graphic novels and comics from the DC and Marvel stable such as Wolverine, Iron Man, Superman, Thor and Green Lantern. Ellis has written the bestselling detective thriller called Gun Machine, while Allred is known for his immense contribution to Batman and Silver Surfer comics. Besides, he has his own popular comic series named ‘Madman’.
When Ellis and Allred decided to create this unique property for Bacardi, the brand had a crazy idea too: they told them to add drops of Bacardi rum in their inks for creating illustrations. The novel is also unlike any other graphic novel. It’s quite big in size (42 x 29.7cm, a little smaller than A2 sheet) and can easily qualify as a collectors’s item. Excerpts from the interview:
What is the main idea behind this graphic novel? Do you have any special plans?
For 152 years, Bacardi has been a brand with incredible stories to tell. Since 1862, the Bacardí family has faced earthquakes, fire, revolution, prohibition, and exile, none of which could tame their irrepressible spirit. To bring these stories to life, Bacardi has collaborated with two of the most iconic names in the world of graphic novels – writer Warren Ellis and artist Michael Allred – to create The Spirit of Bacardi is a graphic novel that tells the stories behind the iconic brand and its origins in Cuba. This marks the first time a brand is using this unique method of telling stories through the medium of a graphic novel, this is testament to Bacardi’s aim to create unique properties and memorable experiences for consumers the world over.
How many days/months did it take for its completion?
Total time was around six weeks to develop.
What’s your target audience?
We are targeting young people who share similar values of freedom, passion and irrepressibility and we are increasingly trying to reach out to Millennials (Generation Y) who are faced with challenges and uncertainties but prevail over their troubles. This desire to capture the minds of a group of potential consumers has led brands to increasingly branch out in their marketing efforts; instead of confining themselves to traditional, more or less straightforward approaches like TV ads, radio, print, and more, companies are turning to off-beat approaches both in digital formats (social, in particular, is very popular) and other areas; experience-based marketing has made a comeback, and product placement is getting a revamp for the new generation, showing up in Vine videos and YouTube skits to reach audiences.
Is it true that a bit of rum was added to Allred’s ink for the novel? Or is it only a marketing gimmick?
Bacardi suggested it and it seemed like a fun idea adding Bacardi rum to make it a real part of the graphic novel’s DNA. I didn’t change anything otherwise but loved the idea.
Graphic novels are all about a perfect blend of art, characters and a story. How did you achieve this? What were the challenges you faced as designers/writers?
Graphic novels are the purest form of visual narrative. Depends on the job, to be honest. In this instance, I knew Mike’s work intimately, and he’s been doing this as long as I have, so it was mostly a case of being available to answer questions, making a couple of suggestions on the rough layouts, and then staying the hell out of his way to let him do his job. I’m usually pretty hands-on with design, but this was a work-for-hire job for Bacardi, who had very strong ideas about the design of the beast, so I didn’t really have to worry about that this time!
You guys have worked on some of the biggest comic projects globally. Ellis, you have worked on the bestseller Gun machine among others and Allred, you have worked on popular comics like silver surfer, batman etc. How was this experience different?
It’s about the early life and work of Emilio Bacardi, son of the company founder, who risked both his privilege and his safety to support Cuban independence and, in the aftermath, worked to bring local democracy to Santiago de Cuba in the face of resistance from the American occupation and elements of the rebel army. What really hooked me was when Bacardi sent me material from the Bacardi Archive, and I found parts of the open letter Emilio wrote between his release from prison and his return to Santiago de Cuba. He spoke of “obligation” – the deeply held sense that those in positions of power and privilege were obligated to serve only the people. That fascinated me, and that was my way into the piece.