By Robin Jones
Welcome back to the Inter-Comics Indie Spotlight, this column aims to make you, the readers, aware of cool indie/crowd funded comic book creators and projects!
This time around we have the brilliant duo of John Lees and Iain Laurie, the talented creative team behind Comix Tribe’s new psychological thriller And Then Emily Was Gone. The story is a dark horror-mystery that tells the story of Greg Hellinger, a man who sees monsters. A former detective driven to the brink of madness by terrifying apparitions, he is tasked with finding a missing girl called Emily. Hellinger’s search takes him to a remote community in the Orkney Islands, where strange and terrible things are happening…
The book itself had been making large waves at conventions throughout the country and is now available worldwide, and has been receiving rave reviews!
Me: Where did the idea/inspiration for And Then Emily Was Gone come from?
JOHN: I’d say that And Then Emily Was Gone is very much borne out of Iain Laurie and I getting together and thinking about what kind of comic we’d love to read. I think that was very much the starting point: coming up with this idea we were sure no one but us would want to read, but to hell with it, we would love it! And so it is a hodgepodge of influences taken from our shared loves: Twin Peaks and the work of David Lynch, Kill List, The League of Gentlemen, Hammer Horror, M.R. James, a bunch of other stuff. And on my end, I was consciously writing what I hoped would be the ultimate Iain Laurie comic, with lots of riffs on some of the classic motifs that recur in his body of work.
Me: Where you both prepared for the level of critical acclaim the book has received, as every review I have read doesn’t drop below 9/10? Did you realise you were onto something special?
JOHN: I realised we were onto something special pretty early, pretty much as soon as Iain Laurie’s pages started popping up in my inbox. And so, based just on the visuals, I felt the comic certainly deserved the kind of acclaim it’s getting now. But even so, you never know if a book is going to connect with a wider audience, no matter how much you love it or how proud you are of it, so to see it being so highly praised and for that praise to be so widely circulated… yeah, it’s absolutely breathtaking, and incredibly gratifying. It means a lot.
IAIN: I’m pretty blown away by it. I’ll be honest, I did this hoping we’d sell 50-60 copies to pals and maybe at some cons so all of this has been unexpected and really appreciated.
Me: Which artists/writers have influenced your creative styles the most and have any particular creators influenced the style/story of ATEWG?
JOHN: When thinking of the writers that have influenced me, the aforementioned David Lynch and M.R. James immediately jump to mind. Lynch’s films have this dream-like quality that I hoped to capture with And Then Emily Was Gone, and the ghost stories of M.R. James have this splendid knack for taking the horrific and melding it into the everyday that I hoped to emulate. Other horror masters Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King certainly loom large too. Thinking about comics in particular, Grant Morrison is a continued inspiration in how he pushes the boundaries of what comics as a storytelling medium can do. And I’ll also give a nod to Scott Snyder for being a real maestro when it comes to generating blood-curdling dread on the comics page.
IAIN: So many for me..from comics Frank Quitely, Nick Pitarra, Rafael Grampa, Alan Davis, Ian Bertram, Paul Pope, Shaky Kane, Ken Reid and from other media people like Peter Howson, John Byrne, Edward Gorey, Ralph Steadman, Chris Morris, early Tim Burton. But the number one influence on everything I do is David Lynch. He’s my hero and everything I do is informed by his work.
Me: Just what is that sets And then Emily was gone apart from other psychological thrillers like Bedlam?
IAIN: I think the fact that it’s me and John. Our tastes and influences and way of thinking is what sets it apart I think.
JOHN: Yeah, there’s certainly a lot of me and Iain in this book. On a similar note, I also feel the Scottish setting, and the fact we’re both Scottish creators, helps give it more of a unique vibe. But more than that, we wanted to create something that felt different and somehow “off” from your average comic book, not just in the subject matter, but in the very way the book is put together: the aesthetic, the panel layouts, the choice of shots and the scene transitions.
Me: If you had to sum up ATEWG in one sentence, firstly could you and secondly, what would you say?
JOHN: I’ll take this one, since thankfully I’ve had a bit of practice at attempting this on the convention circuit. Okay, here goes. And Then Emily Was Gone is the story of a haunted police detective, plagued with horrific visions of monsters wherever he goes, whose search for a missing girl takes him to the Scottish Orkney Islands, where strange and terrifying things are happening!
Me: ATEWG is being released by up and coming publication house Comix Tribe, how did you come about working with them? Do you both have any advice for up and coming creators out there trying to get noticed?
JOHN: I already had a good relationship with ComixTribe through working with them on The Standard, so it felt like a natural choice to approach them with And Then Emily Was Gone. As for what advice I’d give, like I touched on in the first question, I’d say make the comics that you’d want to read. Don’t make something that you think other people might like in hopes that you’ll one day get to tell the story you really want to tell. That day may never come! And you’ll have to spend a lot of time at conventions pitching this comic over and over, and if you’re trying to get noticed, you’ll have to sell this to publisher after publisher and editor after editor. You better love that story. Because if you don’t love it, and believe in it 100%, how can you expect anyone else to? Tell the stories that you want to tell, now.
IAIN: The advice I’ll give is something Frank Quitely once said that I stand by- do your own thing that you’re driven to do and if you’re lucky and good, people will be drawn to it. And also be influenced by other people but try and find your own ways of doing things.
Me: What is your favourite aspect about making comics? Why comics over prose or gallery work?
IAIN: I’m really not sure..I was exposed to comics and films at a young age and i was pretty drawn to the idea of both of them, creatively. But film was a far away world whereas comics were accessible and you could make your own with felt pens and a drawing pad so I think that’s what got me started and stayed with me.
JOHN: I really enjoy the structure of writing for comics. Thinking of how you’re going to shape your narrative into a limited number of panels on a limited number of pages, how you’re going to pace the story, play to the page turns. I also love the collaborative process of working with an artist. Where my words are filtered through an artist’s visuals, and the end result is this symbiotic combination of our two creative voices… then the colourist and the letterer bring a part of themselves into the mix as well.
Me: Things must be getting pretty hectic now following the release of #01, do you still get time to read comics and if so, which titles regularly appear on your pull list?
JOHN: I read so many comics. Image Comics seems to occupy the bulk of my pull list at the moment: The Manhattan Projects, East of West, Saga, Sex Criminals, Chew, The Walking Dead, Five Ghosts, Drumhellar, Stray Bullets, Deadly Class, Southern Bastards, probably some other comics I’m forgetting. Marvel is also really on a tear right now: Thor: God of Thunder by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic is shaping up to be possibly the greatest Thor saga ever told, while Loki: Agent of Asgard fills out the Asgardian end of the Marvel Universe nicely, and I’m really digging Marvel Cosmic at the moment, Guardians of the Galaxy, Legendary Star-Lord, and Rocket Raccoon by Skottie Young. I’m still reading and enjoying Batman and Swamp Thing from DC, and Boom Studios are currently putting out some really interesting horror titles like The Woods and The Empty Man.
IAIN: My comic reading habits are the same as they were in my childhood so i tend to pick up stuff like Batman and The Avengers. Just comfort food comics. I read pretty much anything Jonathan Hickman or Grant Morrison do so I do love The Manhattan Projects and East Of West. I really like Jason Aaron’s Thor a lot. Ghosted is good fun. Mostly I wait until stuff is recommended to me. I’m more proactive with films and TV than I am with comics.
Me: Can you let on as to what is still in store for Greg Hellinger and his search for Emily in future issues, and do the pair of you have plans to work on any other titles?
IAIN: Greg’s got some weird stuff coming up. He’s my favourite character so I’ve been concerned by what John’s been putting him through. Poor guy:) After Emily we’ve got quite a few half formed ideas and two really solid ones. But we’ll wait ’til we’re done with this before getting into them.
JOHN: I would happily work with Iain until the end of time, or until Iain gets sick of me! As Iain says, we’ve talked over a few possible future projects, though there’s one in particular that I’m excited about and have already found myself thinking about quite a bit lately. As for what lies in store for Hellinger, all I’ll say is that things are going to get a lot darker… and a whole lot weirder!
Me: Finally, a hypothetical question now. Hellinger is called in to investigate the mysterious goings on in Summerisle, as in the Wicker Man film. Would he end up like Edward Woodward or would he manage to escape that fate?
JOHN: I like this question! Hellinger would fare a lot better than Edward Woodward, I think, as his unusual investigative insight would quickly alert him to the fact that something was up on Summerisle.
IAIN: That’s a great question. I think he’d survive it and I can’t tell you why because it would spoil stuff, but let’s say Greg’s got something up his sleeve that Edward Woodward didn’t. Stay tuned!
You can pick up Issue #1 of And Then Emily was Gone from Comixology here, delve into the minds of Iain and John on their Twitter accounts (Just click their names) and the comic’s own Facebook page here and finally, the guys have their own website for all things Emily here. This book is causing a stir and I highly recommend picking it up, especially if you are a fan of psychological horror stories!
Until Next time…
Rob Jones is an honourary Yorkie, but for the life of him, he can’t understand why. He writes articles, is attempting to write comics and his life ambition is to own a solid gold Donkey… For more comic news, reviews and the odd bit of sense, follow Robin on twitter @Hulksmash1985