If you are in a horror story it might not be the smartest move to open a door and wade into an unfamiliar setting. However, in the world of comics creators open that door to new genres all the time. This time out writer Rich Douek is opening the door to the world of horror comics with “Road of Bones” from IDW Comics. He does not make this journey alone and is teaming up with artist Alex Cormack, and letterer Justin Birchare this May for a four-issue comic book miniseries set in 1950s deep in the frozen tundra of Siberia.
The story is that of “Roman Morozov, a man sentenced to 25 years in a Siberian Gulag.” The series follows ” his escape with the help of a Domovic, a supernatural creature from Slavic folklore.” To learn more about this series mixing history, horror and folklore we are able to talk to writer Rich Douek. Rich discusses why he wanted to write horror, mixing research and storytelling and working with IDW again. You can read our interview with Rich below and be sure to check out “Road of Bones” in stores this May 22nd.
For readers who might be interested in picking up this new series, what is “Road of Bones?” How did this story come about for you?
Rich Douek: “Road of Bones” starts out as a prison escape story, but quickly descends into a horrific tale of survival in one of the world’s harshest climates. Roman, the main character, leaps at the chance to escape his hellish existence in a brutal Gulag work camp, only to find that his fellow escapees have their own sinister reasons for bringing him along – to top it off, he’s tormented by visions of a mythological creature from his childhood folklore, that may be seeking to help him – or may have even darker intentions.
As for how it came about, I was researching prison escapes in general, and I stumbled upon a lot of really brutal, horrible tales of life in the Gulag. The more I researched, the more I realized there was a story to tell here – and once I had the basics down, it just wouldn’t let me go.
This series is your first real foray into horror comics. Why was this a genre you wanted to dive into? How was the experience been so far?
RD: While I’ve never written a horror comic previous to this, I’ve always been a fan of the genre. I love literary horror like H.P. Lovecraft, and Stephen King, which led me to comics like “Hellboy,” “Locke & Key,” “30 Days of Night,” and more recently, books like “Wytches” and “Gideon Falls.” What I think attracts me to horror in comics is you get this amazing blend of creepy visuals, and suspenseful storytelling – a lot of the enjoyment for me is how this sense of dread builds up in your head as you read. It’s a lot different from say, a horror movie, where you have monsters jumping out at you. So far, I’ve loved writing it!
To build on that how do you approach horror in comics? What makes a good horror comic?
RD: For me, it’s been about building that atmosphere of tension, and dread around the characters and the situation they’re in. In “Road of Bones,” the characters are walking a path that leads someplace horrific – and the further they go, the more they can see the inevitability of it – and yet it’s the only road open to them – so as much as you might wish it was different, you can see yourself making the same choices.
And that, for me, is what makes a great horror comic – more than a cool monster design, or a ton of blood and gore – it’s that feeling where you can empathize with the characters enough to feel just as trapped as they are – if I can evoke that, even for a moment, I think I’ve done a good job.
The series centers around a prisoner named Roman. Who is he and why do you think readers will be invested in his struggle?
RD: I think people will relate to Roman because he is, honestly, a regular person. He’s not a criminal, or a radical political thinker who is imprisoned for his agenda. He’s just a guy who told a joke about Stalin at a dinner party. And unfortunately for him, in the Soviet Union at the time, a joke like that could land you 20 years of hard labor, in the type of work camp where the average life expectancy was 6 months.
While I don’t think the majority of readers have had the experience of being sent to a brutal prison camp over nothing – I do think most people can empathize with the situation he’s in – being unfairly treated, and leaping at any chance to escape that treatment.
What sort of antagonist/situations can readers expect to see in this series that Roman may face?
RD: Well, in the first issue, we see the brutal conditions of the camp itself, which they do escape – but they’re escaping into one of the harshest environments on the planet – there’s no readily available food or water, temperatures are freezing, and they have harsh, mountain terrain to cross for even a chance at reaching freedom.
So that tends to wear on a person – and the conflicts that come up between these three men stuck together is a huge part of the story. Then there’s also the supernatural element, the Domovik creature that seems to be helping Roman – is it a real entity, or is Roman simply going mad?
With a series that incorporates some real historical elements was there an attempt to research and explore 1950s Russian Gulags and integrate that into the series?
RD: I did a lot of research – some nonfiction books like The Gulag Archipelago, and one amazing semi-fictional one called A Day in the Life of Ivan Desinovich, written by an actual prisoner who survived (which I highly recommend). I also read as much as I could find about life in the camps, and pulled out what elements I could. The conflict between the prison gangs, for instance – the Vor and the Suka, was an actual historical event that went on for years, called (and I’m not making this up), the Bitch Wars. So yes, this is obviously fiction, but I did try to incorporate as much as I could about the harsh realities of the Gulag.
Without spoiling anything there seems to be a mix of horror, history and something supernatural at play. How do you juggle all those elements?
RD: It’s a question of balance, for sure. At various points of me drafting the story, it was weighted more one way or the other – so maybe the first time I wrote it out, the supernatural elements were too prominent. And then to correct that, in the next draft, they were almost gone. So I had to put some back. It’s a process, but you eventually get to a point where it all feels right.
We cant talk about this series without talking about Alex’s art. How has the creative process been working with Alex? What does he bring to the series that only he could?
RD: Alex is an amazing talent. I’ve known him for years through his work at Comixtribe, and it was his work on their indie horror book, Sink, that convinced me to approach him about this. What I love about Alex’s work is that he manages to build a world, and a mood, in even the quiet moments of the story. The big, horrific scenes, he can do with ease, but he also brings a real humanity and emotion to the characters even when they are just sitting around talking. As I said before, building an atmosphere was hugely important to me for this book, and I don’t think anyone could have done it quite the way Alex did.Continued below
I also want to talk a little bit about Justin Birch, our letterer – I’d worked with him before on some short stories, and found that he’s always looking for ways to elevate and bring interesting elements to the work. He’s also been a dream to work with, and a great addition to our team.
You previously published “Gutter Magic” with IDW and even done some work with “TMNT.” Why is IDW the best place for this new series?
RD: I know when people think of IDW, they often do think about TMNT, or Transformers, or the other licensed books they have – but IDW has a deep, rich history of putting out some of the best horror comics on the shelves – “30 Days of Night,” “Locke & Key,” “The October Faction,” I mean, I could go on and on. So there was never a doubt in my mind that “Road of Bones” would find a great home there alongside books like that. And seeing some of the creator owned books that are coming out this year as part of their 20th anniversary, of which “Road of Bones” is one, I think they are well on their way to reestablishing themselves as a great home for creator-owned work.
What do you hope readers take away from this first issue and from the series as a whole?
RD: There’s a lot of things I’d hope they take away – a sense of enjoyment, for sure, and maybe a thought or two about totalitarianism and humanity, how one grinds the other down. I hope that from the first issue, they’re intrigued enough to keep up with the rest of the series. But above all, I hope they get the chills.