The story of an ex-policeman searching for a young girl’s missing friend on an isolated Scottish island, And Then Emily Was Gone is a unique and compelling new horror comic series from Caledonian comic creators John Lees and Iain Laurie, debuting on the world stage in July via US publisher Comixtribe. A departure from the superheroic antics of award-winning writer Lees’ previous book The Standard and artist Laurie’s first release on the global comic market, it’s a tale of mystery, dark humour and grotesque horror which combine to breed something truly different from your average release. Both Iain and John were kind enough to answer some questions about the book, their process and speculate on how they might cast any future adaptation for the silver or small screen.
Sam Read – This is a very common question, but is often revealing; what are your earliest memories/experiences of comics?
John Lees – This is tricky for me, as my memories are foggy of what exactly came first. I loved Batman as a character before I got into reading comics, I know that much – I had the tie-in action figures for the movie back when that came out. As for comics themselves… I remember reading and loving the old Sonic the Comic series that used to come out fortnightly in the UK. And you had these hardcover annuals that would collect various types of comics stories – from cartoon strips to US superhero reprints – all together in a single volume. I also remember reading Judge Dredd and 2000AD, probably when I was far too young to know what was going on. I recall Batman: Knightfall as being one of the first proper, in-canon American superhero comics I read in its entirety.
Iain Laurie – My earliest memory of comics was my dad bringing me home a copy of Marvel Rampage, a UK reprint of 70s Marvel comics. I was a big fan of the Batman TV show so he knew I’d like that and that was me hooked. I was never a big kids comics fan although I remember being blown away by Ken Reid’s stuff and used to copy that a lot. But I only became a proper comics fan after seeing Alan Davis’ Captain Britain stuff. That was the first instance of being aware of a comic artist and following his work.
SR – Could you tell us a bit more about And Then Emily Was Gone, both from the perspective of what you are aiming to do with the writing and art?
JL – I think I was quite pointedly trying to write something for Iain to draw. I’m a huge fan of his, and love his work, so I wanted this to be a showcase for the kind of stuff I knew he could excel at visualising. I also wanted to write a horror comic that would creep me out as a reader, and so hopefully creep out other readers!
IL – For me it was an experiment to see if I could apply all the stuff I’d learned doing more experimental comics like my own Powwkipsie or Horror Mountain, or the stuff I did with Craig Collins and apply it to a more conventional narrative. And also to see if I could actually draw a five issue comic. That’s a big challenge. In terms of aesthetics I tried to mix a lot of things together, mostly influences from film, and try and make something that looked like a creepy European fairy tale. Plus I really wanted to work with John. I’ve been a fan since The Standard and I think he’s amazing. I was cagey about doing a big thing like this but I knew if John was writing it it would at least be half decent!
SR – With And Then Emily Was Gone you’re taking readers into some dark, dark places; could you share some works of fiction that have done that for both of you?
JL – The first thing that springs to mind is the Winkies Diner scene from Mulholland Drive. Arguably the most terrifying scene ever committed to film. In general, the “dark places” David Lynch goes to in his work had a big impact on And Then Emily Was Gone: from the mystery man at the party in Lost Highway to the Black Lodge sequence in Twin Peaks. Just that nightmare logic.
On a similar vibe, John Carpenter’s under-seen and little-remembered In The Mouth of Madness has a creepy vibe that has really stuck with me years since I last saw it – it might be dated if I were to revisit it now! And finally there’s the “family dinner” scene from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which I like to hold up as an example of how sometimes the most horrific horror is just one degree shy of being hilarious, once you enter that realm of pure hysteria.
IL – I was a big Stephen King fan growing up so that’s influenced what I think of when I think of dark. David Lynch’s films. He’s my hero so everything I do is indebted to him. Dan Clowes’ A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron, Dennis Potter and Nigel Kneale stuff, Al Colombia, Ben Wheatley films, The Shining… so many.
SR – Both of you have collaborated with other writers/artists before, but this is your first work together; what lessons or knowledge have you both picked up from one another during this collaboration?
JL – Though it’s something I’ve learned before, I think working with Iain has really reiterated it: it’s amazing just how much the artist adds to the page, how they can take what was in the script and push it further, make it better. There’s a panel in page ten of the first issue where in the script it says, “Close-up of Hellinger, looking worried.” And you should see the stunning visual Iain crafted out of that…
IL – I’ve learned that John thinks I’m a better and more competent artist than I actually am!
SR – With horror being a rich and storied genre within comics, what horror titles, old or new, would you recommend to those looking for something to fill the gap between issues of And Then Emily Was Gone?
JL – If you can seek it out, I’d recommend the work of Manga cartoonist Junji Ito. Uzumaki is perhaps his most famous work, but the short stories in the various collections he’s released – Human Chair, The Woman Next Door, GraveMan, plenty of others – are great too. They have a real skincrawling quality built on atmosphere that is somewhat in line with what we’re trying to do with And Then Emily Was Gone. As for American stuff, Echoes by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Rahsan Ekedal and Severed by Scott Snyder, Scott Tuft and Attila Futaki spring to mind.
IL – Well the Dan Clowes book I mentioned above, Charles Burns’ Black Hole, any Al Colombia stuff, I really like Joshua Williamsons books Ghosted and Nailbiter, American Vampire, Curse, any of the old Wolfman/Colan Tomb Of Dracula.
SR – Finally; if And Then Emily Was Gone was picked up for film/television tomorrow, which actors would you both demand fill the roles of the main cast? Conflicting opinions are welcome/encouraged.
IL – Ooh, I love this question… although its set in Scotland I keep thinking of US actors so I’d go with John Cusack or Mark Ruffalo as Greg, Adam Driver as Vin, Nick Offerman as Gordon for the main roles, and Jonathan Glazer or Ben Wheatley to direct.
JL – I’d love to see Peter Mullan as Hellinger, actually. He may be a bit older and look different to Greg as he appears in the comics, but Peter Mullan is one of the best actors around, and he’s Glaswegian… so I’d be all for that. If I were to cast Fiona based on teenage actresses around right now, I’d go for Maisie Williams, aka Arya Stark from Game of Thrones – depending on how good her Orkney accent is! As for Vin Eckland…. is James McAvoy too big a name for us to nab now? Maybe Brian McCardie for Gordon Munro. I know I’d love for Ben Wheatley to direct it!
IL – If it has to be set in the UK then I’d go for Ken Stott as Greg, Matt Smith as Vin and James Cosmo as Gordon. We agree on Wheatley though!
Thanks to both John and Iain.
The first issue will be released this July and can be preordered using the Diamond code MAY141251.