Can you present “Hadopelagic”?
Hadopelagic is a story influenced by atmospheric science fiction, the deep depths of the ocean and a dash of Lovecraftian horror. The story deals with what might dwell in the depths of the world’s oceans, and is a cautionary tale about humanity’s tendency to claim ownership over our surroundings- we believe that we’re the dominant force on this planet, but in Hadopelagic we quickly find out that this isn’t the case. To briefly quote Star Wars, “there’s always a bigger fish”!
How long is it? What issues will it appear in?
The story is three parts long, and will appear in Aces Weekly issues 11 and 12. Neil, Nigel and myself are all hoping for a positive response from the readers so that we can continue the story in subsequent issues!
How did the original idea come to you? What were you looking for?
The genesis of the story was actually in two words, “welcome home”; they were emblazoned across a banner advert for a videogame convention on one of the internet sites I frequent. I took those words and ran with them, initially dreaming up a story set in deep space about ‘voidwalkers’, men and women who wore bulky spacesuits and travelled out into the vacuum to gather materials and data. However, various other influences intruded from music, videogames and my own research, and contributed to me shifting the story down into the oceans of our planet. My intention was to write something which would communicate the beauty, danger and the mystery of the ocean and our symbiotic relationship with it.
How did your collaboration with Neil McClements come about?
I’ve known Neil for a few years now- we were initially paired up by Owen Watts for the first volume of his Psychedelic Journal of Time Travel anthology. I’d written a story called ‘Whiskey & Wormholes’, which was drawn by Neil, and I loved the style that he used- it was very unique, and I felt that it led to the story being one of the strongest in the anthology. We were more than happy to reunite for another collaboration for the second volume of the Psychedelic Journal, and I also asked Neil to contribute his skills to issue #2 of my own anthology, Professor Elemental Comics– he produced a stunning page of John Martin-esque apocalyptic artwork which I have a print of on my wall! We caught up at Thought Bubble in November 2013 where I was manning a table to sell Professor Elemental Comics, and got chatting about working together in future; Neil had been to speak to David Lloyd at the Aces Weekly table, and later asked me if I wanted to write a story that he would draw, for inclusion in the comic. I was obviously more than happy to say yes!
Can you isolate one panel you’re particularly proud of and explain why?
I think my favourite panel of the story is the first big reveal of the Cetacean, the submarine which picks Maddy up. In the script, I really tried to emphasise the vastness of that panel; I wanted it to look like Maddy was dwarfed by the size of a vast sea creature, but a manmade one. I also wanted it to feel like the part of a film where the logo comes up on screen, accompanied by a dramatic fanfare! The idea was to show how small humans really are compared to both forces at their own disposal (the submarine) and the natural forces of the ocean. Neil nailed absolutely all of that with the panel, and I think it’s really powerful, especially when coupled with the dialogue and title image.
How do you feel about the work appearing in a digital format? What’s the effect for you, one of the creators, when you see your page on a screen? What is gained? What is lost?
Aces Weekly is the first time my work has appeared in a purely digital format- everything else I’ve written has been done for a comic which appeared in print, and the change in format definitely alters the flow of the story. Because of the short sections in each week’s issue, we also had to try and make sure that there was a cliffhanger (or at least, a mini-cliffhanger) every couple of pages, to provide incentive for readers to follow the story; while in a print comic I would endeavour to give the reader a reason to turn the page on every single page (whether using dialogue or an artistic cue), but spread the cliffhangers out a little more so as to avoid creating a disjointed story, with Hadopelagic we had to try and compress those moments together a lot more. Seeing the story on screen is very cool, however- the way the Aces Weekly site is structured makes it really easy to read the issue. I love holding physical copies of comics that I’ve written in my hands, and there’s nothing quite like it- but the digital-only format doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the stories in the issue, and the Extras section is also a great way to use the power of digital to enhance the reader’s enjoyment of the story with behind-the-scenes info and artwork.
You are also a founding member of the band Northern Oak. Are there similarities in the way you create music and comics? Does reading comics and listening to music sometimes produce similar emotions?
There are definite similarities- I take influence from a lot of different places, for both music and writing comics. Sometimes just a snippet of text or a burst of music can spark something off in my head for a comic script, and I find the same thing with music- Northern Oak is a band heavily inspired by the natural world, and I’ve written entire songs based on a particular part of the Peak District landscape near my city before. I find that there is a crossover between music and comics, due to how big a part of my life both things are- sometimes finding the right soundtrack will really elevate my enjoyment of a particular comic. Alan Moore’s “soundtrack” additions to Watchmen (particularly the ship playing ‘All Along the Watchtower’ as Rorschach and Night Owl approach Ozymandias’ lair) were pretty much spot on in that regard!
If you’ll forgive the shameless plug, Northern Oak are actually about to release our third album ‘Of Roots and Flesh’- we’re located at www.northernoak.co.uk if you’re interested in hearing more!
What themes are important to you in your work? What are your aims when you create comics?
One of my main aims when creating comics is to be mindful of the characters that I’m creating. Comics have traditionally been a very male-dominated art form, but this is changing, and the increasing diversity of the fanbase has yet to be truly reflected by the material being created by a lot of the mainstream companies- while I can’t do much about that, I believe that I can at least try to include characters from a diverse range of ethnicities, genders and sexual preferences in my stories, in order to better reflect that diversity. In terms of important themes, my inspirations lie very much in the fantastical; I enjoy stories where the veil of normality is plucked aside to reveal a much darker or more interesting world beneath the surface, or something fantastical is introduced into a normal world (most superhero stories fall into this category!) I’m also a massive Batman fan, and I really love the way that a lot of Batman stories take something as inherently silly as a man dressing up like a giant bat and inject it into a grim, gritty city where violence is the best response to crime- it’s the introduction of the fantastical into a contemporary setting.
What do you see in comics as a genre?
Comics, in my opinion, are the perfect fusion of the written word and art. Great comics will drag you breathlessly through them, the pictures flowing like a film, but with time to pause and reflect on the small details- they can contain both the dynamism and bombast of a big-budget blockbuster and the intimate, reflective soul-gazing of a classic novel, and both are equally at home (see my absolute favourite comic ever, Akira– huge, intricate pages full of skyscrapers exploding, sitting right next to detailed discussions of human spirituality and a gallery of believable, empathic characters).
There’s an old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words”- I’d argue that a picture WITH words is worth a million!
Can you tell us the last book, comic, film, and piece of music you discovered and loved?
I recently started reading a full collection of Sherlock Holmes’ on a housemate’s Kindle while on holiday, and I’m really loving the stories- I’ve never read Sherlock Holmes before, despite being fairly familiar with the character, and it’s really interesting to see where the modern fascination with him comes from. The last comic I discovered and loved was Saga, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples- it’s a big, epic sci-fi story with a lot of heart and emotional depth. I’m sure most people reading this have read it already, but if not, pick up the first volume! The last film I discovered and loved was a film called Europa Report that I found on Netflix- it’s a science fiction thriller about a group of scientists who travel to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, to conduct experiments and discover whether there’s life beneath the surface. It’s a really tense, slow-burning film- highly recommended if you like space thrillers! And finally, the last piece of music I discovered and loved was the newest album by the Polish black/death metal band Behemoth, called ‘The Satanist’. The band have taken the sound and fury of their previous albums and infused it with lots of evil atmosphere and Satanic overtones, and there are a couple of incredibly catchy tunes on there. I was lucky enough to see them recently at a festival in France, and they were absolutely astounding live.