A House Divided, a series of fantasy graphic novels full of humor and intrigue, is the result of a longstanding collaboration between writer Haiko Hörnig and artist Marius Pawlitza. The project has spanned years of active creation and has origins years before that work started, in the duo’s longtime friendship. To celebrate the release of the climactic, heartfelt final volume, The Lost Daughter, the Lerner Blog spoke with Hörnig and Pawlitza about how far they have come with the series and surprises along the way.
Lerner Blog: I know that A House Divided has partial origins in sessions of role-playing games, but I’m curious how much of those initial elements made it into the finished story.
Haiko Hörnig: Marius and I met through Dungeons & Dragons when we were 10 or 11 years old. Over the years, we played through countless campaigns, and while A House Divided isn’t based on a particular adventure, there are some details and nods that made it into the graphic novel. For instance, some of our rogues and soldiers were directly inspired by characters played by our friends, while others, like our charming bandit Flemming, are very much based on the types of characters we enjoy playing.
Marius Pawlitza: I know Haiko not only as a writer but also as a dungeon master, and I can definitely see parallels with way Haiko led D&D sessions and interacted with us players. I’d say the spirit of our game sessions is perfectly captured and embodied in A House Divided. There are also some very concrete D&D Easter eggs placed throughout the story!
L: After you set out to tell Henrietta’s story as a series of graphic novels, what changed most from your original plans for the narrative?
H: The setting, a gigantic magical house that serves as a battleground for various factions, was pretty much there from the start. Soldiers fighting in the living room and a young girl right in the middle of this conflict. That’s how I pitched the initial idea to Marius.
As for changes, the biggest was probably simply the scope of the story! We had always planed to tell the story over the course of three books, not four. And we certainly never thought it would take us almost eight years to finish it. We always had a rough plan for the story, but over the course of those years, a lot of the details inevitably changed. Funnily enough, the idea for the final page came to me early on and basically remained unchanged.
M: Some designs changed a lot along the way. As we worked on one book after another over a long time span, it was impossible to sort out everything at once. Developing characters is sometimes a very organic process, and we tried to sow some seeds very early on. In the end, some designs grew as planed, some sprouts needed to be cut, and some grew in very unexpected directions. I think the design of “the Firstborn” took the longest and changed the most. We also tried a lot of approaches for Ornun Zol’s secret vault before we were satisfied.
L: What surprised you the most while telling the story? Maybe this was realizing you needed to make a change of plans, or maybe it was just how the scripting or drawing of a moment gave it a different tone than the one you had in your head.
H: I clearly remember a particular moment that happened during the writing of vol. 2. I was stuck and cursed myself for not planning more things out in advance. Suddenly, something clicked and the story kinda unfolded itself in front of me! Until then, I never believed it whenever other writers would speak about how their characters would have “a life of their own” and would “talk” to them. But here I was, in a moment of need, and the story just started moving in a different direction and surprised even me. It felt like pure magic! (And has happened only once again since then.)
M: On average, one volume of A House Divided has 100 fully colored pages, plus extra pages. Even with the help of our coloring assistants, this required a great deal of effort—on average, it took a year of pure production time. (Not counting the conceptual work). This is something I had not expected. It was a huge surprise, how hard it was to find enough time to finish our ambitious project. Dedicating myself to our story was a surprisingly personal journey about getting through hard work and learning new things.
L: The two of you are close collaborators, so I’m also curious if there were any moments when you realized you had different perspectives on a character or diverging opinions on where the story should go.
H: Over the course of four books, I only remember two instances were we had different views on specific ideas. One was the design of “Broken Flemming,” as we called him. We weren’t sure how graphic we wanted to get with his physical injuries. There was the idea of giving him the full Skeletor-like skull face, and we argued about the pros and cons for a bit.
M: The other one was about Henrietta’s father. I’m a big fan of the classic archetype of the paladin—a faithful and honorable fighter with divine powers—and I wanted to see one in A House Divided. We had rough ideas how Henrietta’s dad could fill this role, but after a while, we realized it just didn’t fit. It took me a very long time to let this idea go. Unexpectedly, I discovered the spirit of a paladin in two other characters of our story: Haiko managed to give both Captain Booner and Nate Flemming noble, paladin-like sides, which I appreciated.
What characters or moments seem to have resonated with readers the most?
H: We get great feedback for many of our side characters, and that’s fantastic, but I’m especially proud that a lot of readers really seem to empathize with Henrietta. A fan once told me we shouldn’t be so hard on her and make her life a little easier. I loved hearing that! It means your readers are invested. Obviously, in the next book we made her life even harder. 🙂 I can’t wait to hear the feedback to vol. 4!
M: Before COVID, when we still went to conventions, fans asked for sketches of Henrietta and Flemming the most. Followed by Cornelius the Kobold King. (But don’t tell Cornelius he just made third place!)
The Lost Daughter, the fourth and final volume of A House Divided, is available May 17, 2022.
Did you know? Each volume of A House Divided features the recipe for a dish that would be right at home in the world of the books! Read our previous post highlighting these culinary creations.
New to the series? Watch the book trailer!