After making an impressive debut on the local small press scene last year, And Then Emily Was Gone – a disturbingly surreal horror series from the minds of John Lees and Iain Laurie – saw its worldwide release through publisher ComixTribe back in July.
With a staggeringly positive reception pretty much across the board, and the final issue set for release on the 17th of December (although ComiXology did slip up by making the digital copy available a couple of weeks in advance), we decided that the time was right to sit down both of the series’ Scottish creators and have a chat about all things Emily.
Here’s how it went.
Ross Sweeney: So the final issue has seen a somewhat earlier than expected digital release, with the book itself in stores shortly. We at BCP least reckon it’s been a rousing success in terms of reception – how are you guys feeling now that it’s drawing to a close? Any lessons learned? Regrets? Unexpected triumphs?
John Lees: Well, one lesson would apparently be to keep a closer eye on the release schedule! Really, though, I think the whole thing has been an unexpected triumph of sorts. Iain and I were both so proud of this comic right from the beginning, but when you’re dealing with something so peculiar and particular, I did wonder if this was something only we would like! So for it to even get a worldwide release was a success for us. And when every issue has sold out at distributor level, and it’s had so much positive critical reception – including from you guys, which is greatly appreciated – it’s all a bit mind-blowing, really.
Iain Laurie: Absolutely. Pretty much every page has been a learning experience for me, and the reception for what’s pretty much my first book has been insane. We’ve been so lucky.
RS: The reception is well deserved! Was the series always going to be a 5-issue arc? Whilst it strikes an enigmatically complete chord in the final panels – it had me sat thinking about it for days afterwards – is there anything that was left on the cutting room floor in the editing process? Would you expand on the mythology going forward? Sequels?!
IL: Well John will tell you it was originally supposed to be what? 25 issues? Ongoing?
JL: The very earliest plans had an outline for a 25-issue epic. Once Iain stopped laughing, I cut that down to 5 issues. Actually, very little of the meat of the story was lost in that process, suggesting that compressing it down was likely for the best. I’d say one of the most glaring things left on the cutting room floor was the character of Louise, Vin’s pal from issues #1 and #2. She had a whole arc of her own mapped out, but instead she just vanishes after issue #2. As for further expansions of the mythology in the future…. wait and see!
RS: When- and whatever that is, it can’t come soon enough! John, you’ve said in other interviews that you wrote the series with Iain in mind. How much collaboration would you guys say there was with regard to the creature design? Were they conceived at script level, or did Iain just go to town? Or indeed, was it a balance between the two creative extremes?
JL: I’m sure Iain can talk in more detail than me about the creature design. I will confirm it was all written specifically for Iain, we created the concept, world and characters together before I got to the script stage. In terms of creature design, I’d say that while I might have had some key elements I wanted featured in the script, mainly it was then filtered through Iain and he made it his own come its creation.
IL: Most of them are just me doing my thing.The ‘mother superior’ in #4 was alarmingly detailed in the script though!
JL: Yes, that issue #4 description was VERY detailed. I never imagined I would write about rotten, seeping, drooping vaginal flaps in such depth!
RS: Lovely! So Iain – precisely where in the deep recesses of your imagination did these creatures spawn from? They’re gorgeously disturbing, particularly, as you say, the Mother Superior! JUICY! Were you inspired by anything in particular, or are these things literally the stuff of your nightmares?
IL: John Carpenters THE THING was and is a big influence. Ralph Steadman, Francis Bacon and old Ken Reid cartoons, that all feeds into it.The monsters I draw are pretty instinctual – I don’t question it too much, and they just show up on the page.
RS: And now in my nightmares. Cheers for that. It’s all seemingly grounded in Celtic mythology; John, what would you say were YOUR primary influences when it came to the writing?
JL: The work of Iain Laurie, as touched on before! But also the films of David Lynch, and TWIN PEAKS of course. The films of Ben Wheatley, particularly KILL LIST, informed the uncomfortable, genre-shifting quality of the comic. British rural horror like THE WICKER MAN, old M.R. James ghost stories, Junji Ito manga horror, there’s a whole bunch of stuff in the melting pot.
IL: We’re both big fans of rural horror.
RS: It’s certainly uncomfortable, and that’s part of what makes it so impressive – it’s no mean feat to get that across in the comic form; it’s been noted many a time that horror is perhaps the trickiest thing to get right the medium, and there are so few folk getting it right. Were you guys conscious of the potential pitfalls when it came to getting that tone across?
JL: I think that we’re fortunate in that we’ve been able to slip into a movement of quality horror comics that have emerged over the past year or two. So, there’s definitely a growing interest there.
IL: I don’t think we really thought it through.We just wanted to work together and it grew organically from the stuff we liked.
JL: But yeah, it is notoriously tricky to make a comic scary, so I basically tried to work from the starting point of writing what creeped me out.
RS: So does that mean you’ve actually met folk like the creepy-as-balls denizens that haunted The Jaunty Tart?
IL: All of those are people I’ve seen in the street or on the bus!
RS: Even the guy with the hair-lip?! Yikes.
IL: Yeah, pretty much! I’ve always been fascinated by odd faces and shapes of people. Peter Howson is a big influence and he’s the king of that stuff for me.
RS: Well, it brought a heck of lot of unique character to the book, particularly in the final issue. Speaking of which, as said, it ends on a pretty open-to-interpretation note – is there a creator-approved way of looking at it? Or should we fuck off and make up our own minds?
IL: Definitely fuck off. We pretty know much what happens, but it’s left up to you.
JL: When I wrote that ending, I wrote it in the knowledge that at least half the people who read it would most likely hate it. But I stand by it, and my thinking is based on a Ben Wheatley quote about his tips for making good horror: “explain as little as possible”. I loved the idea of a mystery where by the end you’re left feeling a bit like you know less than when you started, and I didn’t want to neatly tie everything up in a bow with a happy ending. The best horror leaves you ill at ease long after you finish the story, so hopefully I’ve achieved that.
RS: Most definitely – it’s one to be savoured, we’ll get to encouraging everyone to make their own damn minds up, however long that’ll take! To close off, we’ve got the obligatory comics-at-large questions. First up, favourite comics of all time. Go!
IL: That’s a tough one… A VELVET GLOVE CAST IN IRON, FLEX MENTALLO, THE INVISIBLES, BATMAN, particularly THE LONG HALLOWEEN and YEAR ONE, the Moore/Davis CAPTAIN BRITAIN, WATCHMEN, Grant Morrison’s DOOM PATROL…so many!
JL: THE SANDMAN, SCALPED, THE KILLING JOKE, Alan Moore’s SWAMP THING, ALL STAR SUPERMAN, ZOT!, DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN, so much more! I have a top 100 list drafted out somewhere…
RS: We’ll have to seek that out! What are you guys reading right now? Anything we should really be on top of?
JL: SOUTHERN BASTARDS by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour is probably the best ongoing on the shelves today. If Marvel/DC superheroes are more your thing, they don’t get much better month-in, month-out than DAREDEVIL by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee. And if you enjoyed AND THEN EMILY WAS GONE and are looking for more horror, seek out a graphic novel called THROUGH THE WOODS, by Emily Carroll.
IL: I’m loving THE MULTIVERSITY one-shots, as well as Morrison and Fraser Irving’s ANNIHILATOR; then there’s of course Scott Snyder, with Greg Capullo on BATMAN, and Jock on WYTCHES – all incredible.
RS: Noted. And last but not least, care to drop us any tantalising hints as to your upcoming projects?
IL: Our next thing stars a character you’ve already met in EMILY.That tantalising enough?
RS: Precisely on the peak of that, sir. John?
JL: My next book due out in summer 2015 is OXYMORON: THE LOVELIEST NIGHTMARE. All I’ll say about that is, imagine The Joker showed up in a Gotham City where Batman didn’t exist to stop him. As for the next thing Iain and I are planning…. if EMILY was our twisted ode to the crime/mystery genre, then this will be our version of fantasy. And that’s all you’re getting!
RS: Damn it, how can you tease us like that?! But thanks so much for your time, guys.
AND THEN EMILY WAS GONE’s collected trade is in stores in January, and you can read Ceej’s issue-by-issue reviews right here.
The Writer of this piece was: Ross Sweeney
Ross tweets from @Rostopher24