Is 2014 Comics’ Summer of Horror?

EmilyInterviewTeaserOver the past couple of months, it feels like I have been immersed in horror. Over the course of this month in particular, it’s starting to seem like my every spare moment has been dedicated to talking up my horror comic series, And Then Emily Was Gone. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid my social media PR onslaught, here’s the series synopsis:

Greg Hellinger is a man who sees monsters. Driven to the brink of madness by monstrous apparitions, he is tasked with finding a missing girl called Emily. Hellinger’s search takes him to a remote community in the Scottish Orkney Islands, where strange and terrifying things are happening…

Equal parts Twin Peaks, True Detective and The Wicker Man, with an atmospheric rural Scottish setting, And Then Emily Was Gone is a comic I’m really proud to have written, and artist Iain Laurie, colorist Megan Wilson and letterer Colin Bell have all done stellar work. The five-issue miniseries will be released monthly by ComixTribe, with the first issue hitting comic shops in July. That means this is the month it’s in the Diamond Previews catalogue available for order, and that’s left me thinking a lot about the marketability for this weird little book. From the early stages, there was concern that there might not be an audience in the comic market for this kind of morbid, gruesome story, that this might sit as something of an oddity among the more bombastic, action-orientated fare available in Previews. But recently, it’s started to occur to me that something dark is afoot in the comics world. Horror comics are on the rise, and now And Then Emily Was Gone is feeling less like a strange curio and more like a small part of a big movement.

EMILY 0108Just look at the new releases on the shelf of your local comic shop this week. Wednesday 7th May marked the launch of two new horror titles: Nailbiter and The Woods. Nailbiter is an Image Comics series from writer Joshua Williamson and artist Mike Henderson, about a small town in the American heartland that has been the birthplace of 16 prolific serial killers, and the disquieting secrets that town may hold. It was first announced at Image Expo in January, and did not seem like the most high-profile unveiling of that weekend. But over the past couple of months, I’ve watched buzz steadily built, first as people were floored by the blood-drenched preview art coming from Mike Henderson, then as the word-of-mouth started slipping out from those who’d read advance copies and were blown away. There was something palpable in the air that Nailbiter was going to be very special indeed, possibly the latest Image #1 to make a big splash. It says a lot that in the week that both Marvel and DC’s big crossover events of the year debuted – Original Sin and Future’s End respectively – the coverage and “book of the week” accolades going to Nailbiter threatened to upstage both of them. And having read the first issue myself, I can assure you it’s worthy of the hype. Mike Henderson’s moody artwork is a revelation, and while Joshua Williamson already turned heads last year with his impressive work on Ghosted, but Nailbiter sees him up his writing game once more. A single issue efficiently presents us with a well-realised world with intriguing/disturbing characters, and a steady accumulation of dread literally visualised on the page with a recurring THUMP-THUMP, THUMP-THUMP, THUMP-THUMP heartbeat growing ever more prevalent.

Nailbiter1

But as impressive as Nailbiter was, in my humble opinion The Woods just about matched it step-for-step. From Boom! Studios – the latest addition to their slate of quality original content as they become ever more serious in emerging as a match for Image’s dominance of the creator-owned market – from writer James Tynion IV and artist Michael Dialynas, The Woods tells the story of a high school filled with pupils and staff which is suddenly and without explanation teleported to an alien world, at which point the people in the dramatically relocated building very quickly find themselves having to fight for their lives against monstrous alien beasts out to hunt them. The plot very quickly becomes gripping, and drew me in as a reader both in terms of the immediate tension presented in the high-stakes nature of the characters’ plight, and in a more overarching sense of thinking of the larger mystery behind how and why the school was brought to this world. But what really made The Woods stand out was the characters. Amongst the 513 people caught in this extra-terrestrial event, a small core ensemble of characters quickly emerge as figures to care about and get emotionally invested, already been drawn as real, likeable kids whose safety we are going to fear for. It’s very much cut from the same cloth as Manga horror classic Drifting Classroom, pushing the same buttons of intense claustrophobia, child endangerment and what sides of human nature will emerge out in the wilderness, but with enough of an American twist to give it its own identity.

TheWoods1So, two horror comics debut in the same week, both are quality books with buzz and critical acclaim behind them. What is it indicative of, if anything? It’s not like the comic medium is any stranger to horror. There’s in fact a rich history of horror comics. The biggest creator-owned comic in the industry today is The Walking Dead, ostensibly a horror comic, though I’d argue it’s evolved into more of a sweeping post-apocalyptic epic. And in recent years we’ve had our share of modern classics in the genre: Locke & Key, Severed, Echoes. But what stands out as different this year is the density with which these horror titles are hitting, and the splash they’re making. Nailbiter and The Woods both seem poised to go from strength to strength, but there are more debuts on the horizon. Spread, written by Justin Jordan and drawn by Kyle Strahm, is built around the delicious high-concept of “The Thing meets Lone Wolf and Cub,” and boasts some truly blood-curdling imagery. It caused a sensation at last year’s New York Comic Con, and now Image Comics have picked it up and have it slated for a July release. It got a major spotlight in this month’s Previews, and is already starting to build something of a social media steamroller behind it as that advance buzz brews. Watch this become one of the sleeper hits of the summer.

Spread1As the summer continues to roll on into August and beyond, some of the biggest names in comics will be getting in on the action. Writer Scott Snyder and artist Jock – the creative team behind one of the most celebrated Batman stories of the past decade, The Black Mirror – are reteaming for Image Comics to bring us Wytches. Now, Snyder is no stranger to the horror genre. One could argue he cut his teeth in the genre, with both his breakthrough Vertigo hit American Vampire (which since its Second Cycle relaunch has really seemed to bring the horror to the fore) and the aforementioned Severed. Even his mainstream DC work on the likes of Batman and Swamp Thing has had a fair share of horror elements injected into it, and The Wake was rich in horror trappings before morphing into an equally compelling but tonally distinct entity in its second half. So it makes a statement when Snyder talks about Wytches being the darkest and scariest he’s ever gone. This is something that’s quite fascinating for me, as horror is still something of a frontier in comics, and creators are still experimenting with how best to use the medium to scare the reader. Snyder has already been amongst the most successful, with Severed in particular making for harrowing reading, so when some of the best in the field are pushing at the forefront and striving to go further than they ever have, it suggests it’s an exciting time to be a fan of horror comics.

Wytches1Pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in a horror comic is also on the agenda for Nameless, another Image Comics offering. This also sees the reunion of the creative team of an acclaimed Batman run, this time Batman Inc, as artist Chris Burnham pairs up once more with writer and comics legend Grant Morrison. Details of this series have been sparse, and we don’t even have a concrete release date yet, but Burnham has talked about this being “the ultimate horror comic,” while Morrison has suggested that his ambition is to capture the zeitgeist and use Nameless to project a definitive statement about what frightens us on a primal level in modern society – “doing hopefully for now what H.P. Lovecraft did for the wartime generation,” as Morrison puts it – and considering that when Morrison set out to make the definitive statement on the superhero he gave us All Star Superman, we should all be very afraid at what he has in store for us with Nameless.

Nameless1But even with these big name talents with debuts lined up, there is one horror comic that I’m looking forward to more than any other. Ever since I first heard about it last year, there has been a graphic novel pencilled in as one of my premiere comic events of the year. The graphic novel I’m talking about is Through the Woods, by writer/artist Emily Carroll. When last I heard, it was set for a July release, but the marketing has been quite low-profile. But those who know about it are very excited about it indeed, as Emily Carroll is arguably the current master of the horror comic. His Face All Red is one of the single greatest horror stories to emerge from any medium in recent years. Like all the best horror, it stays with you long after you’ve finished reading, makes you think, makes you ask questions then leaves you troubled in the late hours by the implied answers. Her work has been a big inspiration to me in terms of opening my eyes to what kind of horror was possible in comic form. And up until now, her output has all been in the form of free webcomics. Through the Woods marks Emily Carroll’s first foray into the realm of print, with His Face All Red being collected with some new stories. Any horror fan should be marking this down as an essential purchase. In the grand picture of “the summer of horror” and the rise of horror in comics, Through the Woods could end up being the most important book of all.

ThroughTheWoods1There’s a quote from actor/writer Mark Gatiss I particularly like, spoken at the beginning of the BBC documentary series, A History of Horror:

The cinema is where we come to share a collective dream, and horror films are the most dreamlike of all, perhaps because they engage with our nightmares.

Just as horror films at their best have a unique power with the way they utilise the tools of that medium in the most visceral and potent of ways, I think that the comic medium has the same potential for engaging the senses. It’s a visual medium, and a well-crafted image can be seared on a reader’s psyche, yet despite the notable works in the field I feel like much of that potential remains untapped. Recently, I feel like horror cinema has lost much of its edge, and there haven’t been that many genuinely great horror films over the past several years. So, I talked about the frontier before, and I believe that more and more comics could become the proving ground where we go to scare ourselves in the most inventive and rewarding manner. For years I’ve felt like the horror market for comics could be huge, and this year it feels like we could be taking major steps in that direction. I don’t claim to be anywhere on the level of all these exciting works making their way to comic shops in the coming weeks and months, but if all the “summer of horror” does indeed prove to be a significant movement in the comics industry, I’m proud that And Then Emily Was Gone can be part of it.

Emily1BRossmo

And Then Emily Was Gone #1 is released in July.  Pre-order your copy now, Previews order code MAY141251.  For more info, follow the Facebook page or check out the official blog.

Through the Woods is released in July.  Pre-order your copy now, Previews order code APR141272

Spread #1 is released in July.  Pre-order your copy now, Previews order code MAY140579

Wytches is released in August.  Nameless does not yet have a release date. 

Nailbiter #1 and The Woods #1 are available to buy now from all quality comic shops.

And Then Emily Was Gone #2 Debuts at Thought Bubble!

coverAnd Then Emily Was Gone 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…

Since its launch in local markets here in Glasgow back in July, the first issue of And Then Emily Was Gone has enjoyed great success.  It got nominated for 4 SICBA awards at this year’s Glasgow Comic Con, the only comic to get nominated for every category.  And upon making its US debut at this month’s New York Comic Con, And Then Emily Was Gone #1 completely sold out at the show!

The comic has enjoyed a wealth of positive reviews:

Forbidden Planet

Big Comic Page

Broken Frontier

Comic Booked

The Off-Panel Podcast

Comics Anonymous

It’s even had some very nice testimonials from ace comics creators:

“This is a weird comic, but in a wonderful way. Best of all, it’s a comic with its own vision, a unique and bold vision.”

– Michael Moreci, Hoax Hunters, Skybreaker

“This was a wonderful, twisted little surprise. A David Lynch air throughout, it made me feel itchy and uncomfortable, which is the highest praise I can bestow. John Lees’ script is tight and mysterious, with a few curve-balls that really add to the sense of hyper-reality. The off-kilter energy. The real stand-out is Iain Lawrie on art duties. Equal parts Paul Pope, Nick Pitarra and Morgan Jeske (this reminded me frequently of Jeske and Ales Kot’s Change). Despite the content raw as a picked scab, the presentation and print quality is supremely professional. Extremely impressive. Find a copy.”

– Owen Michael Johnson, Raygun Roads

Super awesome, super creepy, super good. I really love the work of everyone involved on the book…”

– Nick Pitarra, The Manhattan Projects, The Red Wing

“This book is amazing, the first issue was ultra creepy.”

– Riley Rossmo, Proof, Green Wake, Cowboy Ninja Viking, Bedlam, Drumhellar

“It’s a masterclass in comics. it’s literate and the art? The art NEVER fails to impress. You just got to find out what happens next… BONNIE SHAW? GREG HILLINGER? THE BOX? What the fuck? It’s a movie for the mind ***** FIVE STARS.”

– Shaky Kane, The Bulletproof Coffin

“…reads really well, the artwork is just fantastic, intriguing premise, quirky and atmospheric and claustrophobic as I would expect – really impressed!”

– Frank Quitely, All Star Superman, We3, Jupiter’s Legacy

And now, the And Then Emily Was Gone bandwagon will be rolling into Leeds in time for the Thought Bubble comic convention on Saturday 23rd-Sunday 24th November.  Not only will the acclaimed cult hit first issue be available for the first time in England, but making its worldwide debut will be And Then Emily Was Gone #2!

Emily2CoverIn this second chapter, Hellinger and Fiona begin to investigate Emily’s disappearance on the island of Merksay, with its highly eccentric locals and terrifying hidden places.  Plus, we find out what’s in the box!

Both writer John Lees (that’s me!) and artist Iain Laurie will be at Thought Bubble, selling copies of And Then Emily Was Gone #1 & #2.  You’ll be able to find us at Royal Armouries Hall, Table 2.  Iain will be signing and sketching throughout the weekend, and I’ll be relentlessly shilling And Then Emily Was Gone, along with my other comics: The Standard, Bad Sun and Black Leaf.  Letterer Colin Bell will also be in attendance at the show, I believe tabling with creator Neil Slorance at Table 69 in New Dock Hall.

If you haven’t yet been exposed to the unique visual stylings of Iain Laurie, here’s a couple of snippets of artwork from the first issue:

Page3Page7And for those who missed them last time they were posted, here are some character profiles shared previously on this blog:

HELLINGER

Once, Greg Hellinger was a rising star of the police Missing Persons Bureau.  Gifted with a brilliant analytical mind, Hellinger had the inate ability to find the thread left behind by people thought long gone, and track them down.  Solving a series of high-profile disappearances gained Hellinger some degree of fame and noteriety, and it seemed like his reputation and legacy was secure.

Then, five years ago, Hellinger started seeing monsters.

Plagued constantly by nightmarish apparitions that follow him wherever he goes, terrifying visions he is unable to fully comprehend, Greg has lost just about everything: his career, his family, his reputation, and even his sanity is barely intact.  Medical experts have no explanation for these visions, other than them being hallucinations caused by some unspecified massive nervous breakdown.  Now, Hellinger lives a life of seclusion, a haunted, broken man.

But one more case is waiting to be solved, Hellinger’s greatest challenge yet.  The disappearance of a 17-year-old girl called Emily Munro.  Can he solve this mystery, and in the process find answers to what is happening to him?  Or will Greg Hellinger discover that, as far as he has fallen, there are greater depths of horror and madness for him to plummet into?

Hellinger3FIONA

17-year-old Fiona Tulloch has lived her whole life in Merksay, a small island community in Orkney.  A bright, inquisitive girl, Fiona has always felt like she never really fit in with the isolated, sheltered existence of the Merksay islanders.  Save for her best friend, Emily, Fiona has never really connected with other people, preferring to lose herself in the world of her detective novels and dream of a more exciting life.

But when Emily goes missing, Fiona begins to see Merksay in an unsettling new light.  She starts to believe that perhaps that her difficulty in fitting in wasn’t something wrong with her, but rather something deeply wrong with the island and its people.  The more she delves into Merksay’s history, the more unsafe she feels: terrible things are happening in Merksay, and have been for some time.  And so, armed with her quick wit and many years worth of learned experience from trashy crime fiction, she decides to escape, fleeing the island and heading for the Scottish mainland.

But Fiona knows she can’t run away forever.  She needs to go back to Merksay.  She needs to find Emily, or find out what happened to her.  She needs someone to help her do it.  She needs Greg Hellinger…

Fiona1VIN

Vin Eckland is what some people may charitably refer to as a “hipster douchebag.”  His favourite pastimes include ironically watching Saturday morning cartoons, knitting novelty animals and playing quirky tunes on his tiny little ukelele.  He lives a life of leisure, often accompanied by Louise: his best friend since childhood.  He’s still recovering from the bad breakup of a long-term relationship, but has recently started dating again.

Vin has an interesting job.

VinEckland2BONNIE SHAW

There’s no such thing as Bonnie Shaw…

BonnieShaw1And Then Emily Was Gone #1 & #2 will be on-sale at Thought Bubble in Royal Armouries Hall, Table 2.  For more updates and information, keep reading this blog, and follow the creator on Twitter: John Lees (@johnlees927), Iain Laurie (@IainLaurie), Colin Bell (@colinbell) and Megan Wilson (@MeganEngiNerd).

Coming Soon: And Then Emily Was Gone #2!

Since its launch in local markets here in Glasgow back in July, the first issue of And Then Emily Was Gone has enjoyed great success.  It got nominated for 4 SICBA awards at this year’s Glasgow Comic Con, the only comic to get nominated for every category.  It has enjoyed a wealth of positive reviews:

Forbidden Planet

Big Comic Page

Broken Frontier

Comic Booked

The Off-Panel Podcast

Comics Anonymous

It’s even had some very nice testimonials from ace comics creators:

“This is a weird comic, but in a wonderful way. Best of all, it’s a comic with its own vision, a unique and bold vision.”

– Michael Moreci, Hoax Hunters, Skybreaker

“This was a wonderful, twisted little surprise. A David Lynch air throughout, it made me feel itchy and uncomfortable, which is the highest praise I can bestow. John Lees’ script is tight and mysterious, with a few curve-balls that really add to the sense of hyper-reality. The off-kilter energy. The real stand-out is Iain Lawrie on art duties. Equal parts Paul Pope, Nick Pitarra and Morgan Jeske (this reminded me frequently of Jeske and Ales Kot’s Change). Despite the content raw as a picked scab, the presentation and print quality is supremely professional. Extremely impressive. Find a copy.”

– Owen Michael Johnson, Raygun Roads

Super awesome, super creepy, super good. I really love the work of everyone involved on the book…”

– Nick Pitarra, The Manhattan Projects, The Red Wing

“This book is amazing, the first issue was ultra creepy.”

– Riley Rossmo, Proof, Green Wake, Cowboy Ninja Viking, Bedlam, Drumhellar

“It’s a masterclass in comics. it’s literate and the art? The art NEVER fails to impress. You just got to find out what happens next… BONNIE SHAW? GREG HILLINGER? THE BOX? What the fuck? It’s a movie for the mind ***** FIVE STARS.”

– Shaky Kane, The Bulletproof Coffin

“…reads really well, the artwork is just fantastic, intriguing premise, quirky and atmospheric and claustrophobic as I would expect – really impressed!”

– Frank Quitely, All Star Superman, We3, Jupiter’s Legacy

 

And after a sellout of our first print run, artist Iain Laurie and I are restocked and ready for our next convention: Thought Bubble in Leeds, on 23rd-24th November.  But it won’t just be more of issue #1 we’ll be bringing.  Nope, issue #2 is now finished, and ready for the show.  Here’s a sneak peek of the cover, drawn by Iain and colored by the magnificent Megan Wilson:

Emily2Cover

In this second chapter, Hellinger and Fiona begin to investigate Emily’s disappearance on the island of Merksay, with its very strange locals and terrifying hidden places.  Plus, we find out what’s in the box!