Back around the time of the Thought Bubble 2013 festival, I had the pleasure of getting an advance copy of the first 2 issues of John Lees & Iain Laurie’s truly twisted “And Then Emily Was Gone.” I wrote a spoiler-free review recommending the 2nd issue, which you can find here. The book is genuinely creepy, engages the reader, and leave you wondering what could possibly happen next. It’s really not like anything on the shelves today.
Our friends at ComixTribe must have liked the book too, because they decided to pick up the title and publish the full 5-issue miniseries on a monthly basis.
The book is solicited in this month’s Previews, so definitely ask your retailer to pre-order you a copy before it’s too late. You don’t want to miss it:
AND THEN EMILY WAS GONE tells the story of a haunted former police detective who goes in search of a missing girl, and finds Hell instead. The first issue will make its direct market debut later this summer, with subsequent issues releasing monthly, a first for ComixTribe.
We sat down with John & Iain to discuss the series, their love of the medium, and what it takes to get your projects published. They were also kind enough to share some gorgeous exclusive pages – for the first time in color – from the very 1st issue. Definitely check those out after reading the enlightening discussion we had.
“And Then Emily Was Gone” certainly feels like a labor of love. How long as the story been kicking around? What led to its genesis as a comic book?
John Lees: The genesis of “And Then Emily Was Gone” came from two things, I’d say. First is my continuing obsession with horror, and my chase to capture that special formula for successfully making comics scary. I’ve always loved superheroes, and my first comic “The Standard” quite thoroughly scratched that itch in terms of letting me play in that sandbox. But I’ve loved horror for just as long, and that’s the gift that keeps on giving as a writer, where I want to keep on exploring it from new angles. Second was a longstanding desire of mine to work with Iain Laurie. He’s been one of my favourite artists for years now, and this comic was very much me trying to write what I hoped would be the ultimate Iain Laurie Experience for comic readers. Iain just crafts such unbelievable imagery, he has a style like no one else out there right now, and I’m eager to expose his twisted genius to as many comic readers as possible. And yes, “labor of love” is definitely a term you could use to describe this series! I recall after writing the first issue over a feverish few days in a mad outburst of creativity, I read through it and thought it could be the most defiantly unmarketable thing I’d ever written, but also perhaps the script I’m most proud of. It was a period where, for other projects, I’d been thinking quite intensively about mass market appeal and how to appeal to wide demographics, and this story felt like an outlet to write a comic where the primary audience was ME. What kind of comic would have ME salivating if I saw it on a comic shop shelf myself, mainstream acceptance be damned? Fortunately, in the time since we’ve had lots of great feedback to suggest there is a market for this kind of story! As far as how long “And Then Emily Was Gone” has been kicking about, I’d say it actually had a relatively short gestation period between conception and creation. Iain and I first started seriously talking about the story and developing it at the beginning of 2013, and by summer of that year we’d self-published black-and-white editions of the first issue in local markets here in Glasgow.
Iain Laurie: Yeah I think John covered everything there. For me, most of the stuff I’d done previously like “Powwkipsie” and “Iain Laurie’s Horror Mountain”, or the stuff I did with Craig Collins like “Metrodome” were all quite weird and experimental comics so I wanted to see if I could apply some of the oddness I was getting known for to a structured narrative. And Johns so good at that. It was a no-brainer really.Continued below
Why is comics the best medium to tell this story? What makes a great medium to work in, in general?
IL: It’s just a great medium. It’s like film or animation but without their drawbacks and stresses. You can do pretty much anything.
JL: Comics are a showcase for the impossible. In the world of comics, there is no special effects budget, no limitations on where your story can go save for the imagination and vision of the creators. And though we may live in an age where, with enough money, anything can be brought to life on film, the act of making it physically tangible inevitably grounds it to some degree, so it can work within the confines of the medium. There is no such caveat in comics, where the alien can share the page with the everyday with no compromise to narrow the divide. And a comic like “And Then Emily Was Gone” really makes the most of this, with Iain Laurie’s surreal, nightmarish imagery infecting the reality around it, and with even innocuous people and places imbued with a malevolent presence even the most austere of cinematic camera angles couldn’t hope to achieve. Telling this story as a comic lets us show reader the world as seen through the twisted eyes of Iain Laurie!
How do John Lees and Iain Laurie come together to work on this?
IL: I had seen “The Standard” back in 2011 and was quite blown away by its ambition. It looked like a proper comic which can be a rare thing in the small press scene and I just thought that if I wanted to up my game a bit I needed to work with John.
JL: As I touched on above, I’ve been a huge fan of Iain’s for years now, going back to when I first discovered “Roachwell” back in 2011. Then I read “Iain Laurie’s Horror Mountain” the following year in summer 2012, which was legitimately one of the best comics from anybody in 2012. There was a real tangible sense of an immensely talented artist hitting a whole new level, and I was foaming at the mouth to work with the guy! It looked like I was going to get my wish when the two of us paired up in what would have been a large-scale British comics anthology attached to a major publisher, a project that was in gestation for quite some time. But when said publisher pulled out, Iain and I had the option of either sticking with the project as alternative publishing ventures were pursued, or breaking away to do our own thing. We opted for the latter option. At this point, Iain sent me three story ideas – one about an affable hitman, one about a detective with supernatural visions, and one called “And Then Emily Was Gone” which was about a missing girl on the Orkney Islands. I took those ideas and blended them all together into this strange purée, leaving Iain and I with a story that hopefully has both our creative fingerprints all over it.
John and Iain, what types of art and stories have influenced the work that’s gone into “And Then Emily Was Gone”?
JL: Iain can talk more about the art influences than me, though I must say that Iain Laurie’s own “Powwkipsie” was a big inspiration for some of the more horrific imagery I attempted to craft in my scripts. As for story influences, it’s something of a hodgepodge of the weird and Gothic. “Twin Peaks” is the obvious cultural touchstone. Iain and I are both Lynch aficionados, and are in agreement about “Twin Peaks” being one if the greatest TV shows ever. There was a real desire to capture that off-kilter, dreamlike quality Lynch handles so well. There’s a good deal of “The Wicker Man” – the seminal British horror classic, not the Nicolas Cage abomination – in the mix as well. Iain and I are both huge admirers of English director Ben Wheatley (we joke about him being the dream choice to direct the “And Then Emily Was Gone” feature film), and there’s definitely an element of his blackly comic filmography here, particularly “Kill List”. British TV series “The League of Gentlemen”, legendary Victorian horror writer M.R. James… I could go on!Continued below
IL: Everything I do is beholden to David Lynch. Hes my absolute hero and his work is a constant daily inspiration for me. There are other things though, most of which John has mentioned but also British comedians Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, Scottish artist Peter Howson, satirist Chris Morris. Those people drive everything I do. In terms of drawing Charles Burns, Dan Clowes, Frank Quitely, Paul Pope, Rafael Grampa..they’re all in there.
What’s the process like of creating something with an uncertain future in publication?
JL: Very frustrating! I mentioned earlier that the time between us developing the idea and the first issue being finished was only a few months, but the time between that first issue being completed and us finally teaming up with a publisher was much longer. It’s something not everyone anticipates, that once you’ve made the comic, so much time goes into chasing up publishers, or sitting around waiting to hear a reply to your latest submission. It leaves you in a kind of limbo. Here we had this book that people had started to become aware of and were interested in. But you are reluctant to just go ahead and set up an online store so people can buy it online, as you’re not sure if having already sold it once will make it a less appealing product for a publisher to pick up. In our case, we decided to hold out for a publisher with Diamond distribution. So, outside of cons and your local markets, people can’t buy your book, and all you can tell them is that hopefully you’ll have news on when they can soon. And you’re even left second-guessing whether to produce more of the comic yourself, in case it impedes with any plans of the publishers you’re waiting to hear back from. You have to be careful not to give in to that niggling worry that your creation is rotting on the fine while you straddle the no man’s land between self-publication and publisher-distribution.
IL: You hope there’s an audience but its a fools game trying second guess that. My first priority is to make something I like and am happy with and hope there’s enough other people like me out there who agree.
How did ComixTribe get involved?
JL: They mainly got involved because Tyler James and the ComixTribe crew are awesome! I had been incredibly happy working with ComixTribe on “The Standard”: I was treated very well by hose guys, and they helped me a lot in guiding me through the unknown terrain of making my first comic. Coming to them with “And Then Emily Was a Gone ” didn’t really occur to me at first, as ComixTribe have been building up a stellar reputation for their inventive subversions of the superhero genre, and this weird Scottish mystery-horror didn’t seem to fit into that wheelhouse. But at last year’s New York Comic Con, Tyler generously invited me to sell some of my self-published copies of “And Then Emily Was Gone” from the ComixTribe table, and it did really well. I sold out of all my stock, and readers seemed to respond to it really positively. I think that was what first placed the seed in our minds that this partnership could work. So, a couple of months later, we made it official.
Did you have to pitch the rest of the story to them? What is the process of taking a creator-owned work and releasing it through an independent publisher?
JL: Every publisher has their own submission guidelines, if they accept submissions at all, and I’d say a key part of the process for creators is to research what the publishers they’re pitching to are looking for, both in terms of content and format. Tyler wrote a pretty comprehensive article on what ComixTribe would be looking for in a submission a couple of years back, that’s out there for those looking for it. But for me, I went through everything in those submission guidelines and gave as full a pitch as possible. I didn’t want to just be asking a friend to do me a favour and publish my comic. I wanted to demonstrate that “And Then Emily Was Gone” had as much to offer ComixTribe as they had to offer us. For example, I presented the notion that this could be ComixTribe’s first monthly book, given that Iain is an incredibly fast artist. And given that 3 and a half out of 5 issues are already drawn 3 months before the first issue’s release, I’d say we’re well on track to keep that promise!Continued below
What advice would you both give to aspiring creators who wouldn’t mind taking the route you took to get this released?
IL: Just do your own thing. Don’t get to obsessed with what’s mainstream or what will sell. That road lies madness.
JL: One thing I’d say is to make sure you absolutely love the comic you’re working on, and believe in it fully. You can’t think of this as some stop-gap to tide you over until you get to do the 100-issue “Batman” run you REALLY want to do. You’ll need patience, as you may have to go through weeks or even months of anxious waiting to hear back from publishers. They may never reply at all, and if they do it may be with a rejection. That can hurt, when you have a book you think is amazing and others don’t feel the same way. But you can’t let it dissuade you. If you’re not passionate about your comic, if you don’t firmly believe that it will blow people away once you eventually find the right home to get it out there to the world, those setbacks will be the end of you. As you pitch your comic over and over, whether it be to punters on the convention floor or to exasperated editors who have already had to listen to 1000 other on-the-spot proposals from people in the same position as you, you’ll find yourself ruthlessly dissecting your own story, really asking yourself if this idea is truly good enough to stand out from the crowd. Your comic needs to be able to hold up under all that internal scrutiny. It’s a whole lot of time and a whole lot of work, so if you’re going to do it, do it for a comic you love.
In one sentence, give readers ONE reason to put this book on their pull list.
IL & JL: There isn’t anything out there like it, it’s a weird, trippy, horrifying comic unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced.
For those who are familiar with the book, without spoiling too much, tease us on what’s next for “And Then Emily Was Gone.”
JL: The only people who will be familiar with the book already are readers in and around Glasgow, Scotland, and some attendees of last year’s New York Comic Con and Thought Bubble. The rest will have to discover the series when it debuts worldwide July 2014! But for those who are familiar, as of writing it’ll have been the first two issues you’ll likely have read. From here, expect things to get much weirder, and more frightening. Right from the beginning, “And Then Emily Was Gone” has been a comic where nothing quite sits right, where everything has an uneasy, sinister quality. As the story unfolds, prepare for us to veer further away from the relative safety of the world as we understand it and deeper into full-on nightmare.
IL: Full-on, unsettling horror and uneasy laughs.
Anything else you’d like readers to know, John?
JL: ”And Then Emily Was Gone” #1 is released in July, but it will be available for comic shops to order in May’s Previews. So, if you want to check out the comic, make sure to ask your LCS to order it IN MAY. Diamond order code is MAY141251 F. We’re going to have a great 50/50 variant cover scheme throughout the 5-issue miniseries. Each issue will have one cover by Iain Laurie, and one cover by an awesome guest artist. And we have an incredible roster of talent lined up.
Riley Rossmo has drawn up a fantastic, instantly-iconic cover for issue #1. The brilliant Nick Pitarra – who has been an invaluable, tireless advocate for the comic – has crafted a badass cover for issue #2. And I only recently had a spectacular issue #3 cover from Garry Brown land in my inbox. It’s amazing to have artists of this calibre lend their support to the comic, and it’ll hopefully be something special to help “And Then Emily Was Gone ” stand out from the crowd.
Finally, make sure to check out our official blog. As well as the latest news and updates, there’s also some cool in-world story content, expanding on the mythology of Merksay island and delving into old Orkney folklore that may prove significant to unravelling the mystery of the comic! You can also follow us on Facebook.Continued below
“And Then Emily Was Gone” #1, now in colour, hits stores this July. Be sure to check it out in this month’s previews and ask your retailer to pre-order a copy.