2013 Preview: And Then Emily Was Gone

I’ve had quite a bit of fun this week, laying out my various upcoming comics projects and sharing a selection of awesome artwork I’ve received from my talented collaborators.  For today’s final entry in my little 2013 Preview series, I’ve got something special for you.  Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a huge fan of artist Iain Laurie.  A hero of the Scottish comics scene, Iain Laurie has blown me away with his unique, visionary artwork on the likes of Roachwell, Mothwicke and Horror Mountain (the latter ranking at number four on my list of the top 10 comics of 2012, up there alongside the best of DC, Marvel and Image), and I’d rank him as one of my favourite artists: not a patronising “one of my favourite indie artists”, but one of my favourite artists in comics, full stop.  Well, in 2013, I shall be ticking one of the items off my comics bucket list and doing a comic with Iain Laurie!

Initially, the two of us were scheduled to collaborate on a different project, something large-scale that still must be kept top secret.  That project is still in the mix with a major publisher, but is in something of a holding pattern at the moment, and could be for some time.  So, rather than just waiting for that to materialise and for us to finally get the greenlight on that, Iain and I decided to come up with something else to work on together in the downtime.  Iain fired three great story ideas my way, one of which was called And Then Emily Was Gone and revolved around the mystery of a missing girl on a remote Highland community.  I loved all three ideas, and due to my vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself, I decided to combine elements of them all into a single intricate narrative, taking the title from the aforementioned story outline.  From this, And Then Emily Was Gone was born.

AndThenEmilyWasGonePromoGreg Hellinger was once a brilliant detective, specialising in finding missing people who had seemingly vanished from the face of the earth.  But five years ago, he started seeing monsters.  Plagued constantly by nightmarish visions he is unable to comprehend, Hellinger left the police and has retreated into a life of squallor and seclusion, slowly being driven mad by the demons that haunt him.  But one night, a teenage girl shows up at his door, asking for help.  The girl is called Fiona, and she has fled from her home on the Scottish island of Merksay, in Orkney.  Her friend Emily has gone missing, but what happened to her?  Is she a runaway, as the authorities believe?  Has she fallen victim to an ancient supernatural evil, as Fiona fears?  Or is it a monster of the human variety that lies at the heart of this mystery?

Mystery.  That’s the key word that is at the core of And Then Emily Was Gone.  I’m a huge fan of Twin Peaks: there’s a strong case to be made for it being the greatest TV show of all time, and I think it’s fascinating to look at the phenomenom created around that shows central mystery of “Who killed Laura Palmer?”  I think the serialised nature of the comic medium makes it a perfect place to present such an ongoing mystery, and I would love to emulate that with And Then Emily Was Gone.  I talked yesterday about how Bad Sun could be my most narratively ambitious project yet in terms of its scale, but And Then Emily Was Gone could in fact be just as ambitious in its scope.  While I do have a 6-issue arc in mind to introduce us to this dark, eerie world, this is a mystery that could easily unfold over 10, 20, maybe even more issues, depending on just how deeply I want to explore its various dark, murky corners.

Not that the homage to Twin Peaks ends with the mystery element.  I remember seeing not just Twin Peaks, but other works of movie maestro David Lynch – the likes of Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet and Lost Highway – in relatively quick succession, and they just blew my mind and changed the way I thought about storytelling.  And while my approach to narrative has been mostly straightforward since branching out into comic, I’ve been very curious to experiment with something more off-kilter.  One of my favourite quotes regarding Lynch’s work was how it could exist “in the twilight realm between the crime and horror genres,” and that’s where I see And Then Emily Was Gone existing.  More recent British output such as Kill List and Utopia has also been chucked into the melting pot of influence, hopefully resulting in a comic that’s going to feel deeply strange and unsettling, with even innocuous interactions laced with an impalpable menace and a cloud of dread hanging over the narrative.  Or it’ll just be crap.  Either way, at least it’s going to look stunning!

Iain has been bombarding me with fantastic character sketches and designs, but I simply can’t wait to start seeing his sequentials.  The first issue script is written, and it’s going to me amazing seeing Mr. Laurie bring it to life.  As is the case with Bad Sun, the plan is to compile a submission package and shop And Then Emily Was Gone out to publishers.  But, as is also the case with Bad Sun, there is also a plan in place to get the first issue of this series ready to launch at Glasgow Comic Con in July.

Which brings me to an announcement.  I am now confirmed for Glasgow Comic Con on 13th-14th July, at the CCA in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow.  I’ll be in attendance, sharing a table with both Chris Connelly and Iain Laurie.  This is very exciting news for me, as – and I was shocked to discover this – Glasgow Comic Con 2013 will mark Iain Laurie’s first ever official appearance at a comic convention!  So, rush in your droves to our table, get sketches, get copies of his other fantastic comics, and pick up And Then Emily Was Gone!

UPDATE: I’m now able to share with you guys a sneak peek at a couple of mind-blowing interior pages for the first issue, as drawn by Iain Laurie.  Take a glimpse inside the nightmarish world of Greg Hellinger…

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REVIEW: Iain Laurie’s Horror Mountain

Surely one of the great injustices of the comics industry today is that Iain Laurie isn’t given the recognition he deserves.  A veteran of the Scottish independent comics scene, Laurie has spent many years plying his craft and developing an eerie, unique art style that seems to channel the essence of Cronenberg and Lynch onto the comic page.  Those in the know are already avid fans – the testimonials on the back cover of this most recent work include gushing praise from the likes of Frank Quitely and Jeff Lemire – but Laurie’s work has yet to catch onto a wider readership.  Some might speculate that it’s because the work is too dark, too twisted, too unusual, but I disagree – I’m of the belief that quality rises to the top, regardless of style, and that there is absolutely a big audience in the comics world for Laurie’s brand of art.  No, I think it’s just a matter of exposure, and Laurie being given a platform big enough to expose more readers to the amazing work he’s been doing for ages.  All I can say is that, since I discovered his work a year ago through Roachwell – the gloriously mental comic written by Craig Collins – Iain Laurie has become one of my favourite artists.  And I don’t mean that in a condescending, “One of my favourite up-and-coming indy artists” way, either.  I mean one of my favourites, full stop.

As a result, anything he works on is pretty much a guaranteed read from me from now on, and so I was very excited to get my hands on a copy of Iain Laurie’s Horror Mountain at Glasgow Comic Con.  Here, the Edinburgh-based creator transitions from artist to full-blown cartoonist, taking on scripting duties as well. and the result is perhaps his most Laurian (Laurie-ish?  Laurish?) project yet.  A collection of gruesome short stories, filled to the brim with fascinatingly ugly people, cancerous growths and hideously deformed creatures with multiple eyes, the apparent use of  stream-of-consciousness plotting creates the sense of being given an express ticket into Laurie’s warped subconscious.

As you’d expect from a book called Horror Mountain, some of these twisted tales are rather unnerving, poking at deeply-routed psychological gag reflexes and making us recoil at the seething body horror and soul-crushing bleakness.  But what you might not be prepared for is how hilarious some of it is.  With titles such as “Fuck Off, Space Monkey” and “A Dinner With Captain Tits” brandished on some of the shorts, it’s clear that Laurie isn’t taking himself entirely seriously, and a strong vein of savage dark humour can certainly be picked up on running through the book.  The comedic highlight for me was “Jamestown”, about a small community of tortured souls that can only communicate with one another through the slogans used in junk mail and annoying banner ads.  “Teen XXX need spanking,” sobs one devastated old man into his drunk.  A sympathetic friend places a hand on his shoulder and says, “You have received an invite to fuck hard.”

While with Horror Mountain, Iain Laurie proves to be a talented writer who does not lose direction without the macabre vision of a Craig Collins or a Fraser Campbell guiding him, the highlight remains his beautiful art, if “beautiful” is a word that can be used to describe such horrific tableaus.  I’m not the most knowledgable person in the world when it comes to critiquing art.  I’m a writer, and so I can go into some detail with relative ease when discussing the writing of a comic in my reviews, but when it comes to the art I too often resort to saying what famous artist the artist in question is reminiscent of.  That’s very hard to do with Iain Laurie, as he has developed a style unlike anything else on the shelves.  He’s almost become a genre unto himself, and it created a bit of a chicken-and-egg conundrum for me where I wondered if his deranged art was dictated by the maniacal scripts he was illustrating, or if said scripts were shaped with Laurie’s distinct style in mind: a question further complicated by this example of what happens when Laurie is left to his own devices.  Still, I find myself very curious indeed to see what Laurie would come with were his stylings applied to something more mainstream, what kind of fascinating middle ground would emerge?  That’s right, I want to see Iain Laurie draw Batman.

The very limited print run of Iain Laurie’s Horror Mountain has surely sold out by now, but you can still order the book online for $3.  That’s right, you can have your third eye opened for a measly 3 quid!  I can’t recommend this book, or indeed all of Iain’s work, highly enough.  Check it out now… if you dare!

Iain Laurie’s Horror Mountain is now on sale via Graphic Eye.