Back at the end of March I was lucky enough to read a preview of Sea of Sorrows, the latest tale from the superstar team of Rich Douek and Alex Cormack, the creative partnership who previously brought us Road Of Bones. Unfortunately, due in no small part to the challenges this year has presented the release of the first issue of this series has been pushed back to the middle of November.
When I reviewed the first issue I gave it a perfect 5/5 score and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to put some questions to Rich and Alex, and hopefully remind you just how good this series is and why you should definitely be picking it up when it finally hits the stands.
BIG COMIC PAGE: First and foremost I hope you’re both keeping well and safe in the current climate! It’s been a while since this title was first previewed, could you refresh our readers memories with a quick introduction to the story?
RICH DOUEK: Sea of Sorrows reunites the team from Road of Bones – myself, Alex Cormack, and letterer Justin Birch, to tell an all new horrific tale. It’s a deep sea thriller set in the 1920s, where a crew of salvage divers go after a sunken WWI U-boat full of gold. Tension rises on the ship as crew members scheme against each other, but a greater danger lurks beneath the waves that might mean the end of them all.
BCP: I know that for Road of Bones there was a lot of historical research involved, and I’m sure we’ve all heard stories of sunken U-Boats full of Nazi gold and the treasure hunters looking for them, so are there specific historical events that you’ve drawn on for Sea of Sorrows?
RICH: There actually is! In the early days of WWI, the United States was neutral, and open to selling materials to both the Allied and the Central powers (this was the Kaiser’s Germany, not Hitler’s). But, with England blockading the Atlantic, the only way Germany could secure the goods was with blockade running U-boats. They constructed several for that purpose, but one of them, the Bremen, was lost at sea and presumably sunk, though no confirmed kill was ever recorded. In the real world, it was probably depth charges or mines, but it formed the perfect scenario for our horror story to play out.
BCP: What I really loved about Road of Bones was that the supernatural aspects of the story were almost incidental (and I don’t want to give away too much of their significance in case we enter spoiler territory), which to be fair gave them a much greater impact when they did arrive. The story was in itself taut, harrowing and terrifying and an incredible study of how the human psyche reacts to extremes of stress and physical duress and could have easily stood alone without the addition of the admittedly terrifying Domovik. Are we likely to see the same weight placed on the *human* horror in sea of Sorrows, or is this going to be much more of a traditional horror story?
RICH: Part of our goal with Sea of Sorrows was to avoid treading the exact same ground we did in Road of Bones – while still keeping the elements that we loved about it. So I do think that while we’ll have all those same elements of psychological, historical, and supernatural horror, they’ll come together in a new and different way. I think that at the end of the day, you’ll be able to draw parallels between both stories, while they will still feel unique and distinct from each other. That’s the goal, anyway!
ALEX CORMACK: I’ve said before I like to think of these books like the Cornetto Trilogy, ROAD OF BONES is SHAUN OF THE DEAD and SEA OF SORROWS is HOT FUZZ, they’re completely different movies but at the same time kind of sequels.
BCP: Sea Of Sorrows has a somewhat expanded cast than Road of Bones, but in terms of a more claustrophobic, deadly and nerve rending stage, I can’t think of one I’d less like to be stuck on. Was there a conscious effort to challenge your protagonists more absolutely and more immediately in this series and, given the powder keg of deceit and distrust that is already fermenting in the first pages, can we expect to see our intrepid treasure hunters going through a similar spiral into madness on an individual basis?
RICH: Oh, they’ll definitely be put through the wringer – and many of them in ways you might not expect. One of the great things about setting a horror story on a ship is that there’s nowhere to run! Not from the monster, and not from your own demons, either. And while in a different sort of story, you might have the crew band together and fight, for these people, and the scars they bear from the world they live in… well, it’s not likely to happen.
ALEX: This question just makes me excited to talk to you again after the book is done!
BCP: All things Lovecraft have been making a serious resurgence over the last couple of years but while this issue has a definite sense of creeping and insidious terror, it’s not Lovecraft. I’ve been a huge fan of William Hope Hodgson for decades, and this feels much more like a story that would be at home in his worlds. This also feels very much like the old adventure/thriller movies of the 50’s & 60’s that I used to watch as a kid. What other influences can we expect to see in this series?
RICH: Visually, I know Alex is drawing on a lot of great classics. For me, I felt really inspired by movies like Alien, and The Thing, and Jaws – where the best drama comes as much from the interactions between the crew as much as it does from the monster.
ALEX: I took a lot of inspiration from movies such as KING KONG, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, and DRACULA. I wanted the cast to look like we could have Humphrey Bogart or Edward G Robinson pop in a scene and it wouldn’t be out of place. Some background characters are drawn straight from the KING KONG crew and others looks are based on characters from the aforementioned movies. I’ll have to read some William Hope Hodgson now!
BCP: The ocean has always been something of a dichotomy for me and growing up on the North East coast of England, I’ve always been both fascinated and terrified by deep water. The scenes in this issue that are set underwater are hauntingly beautiful and utterly terrifying at the same time, both in the framing and pacing of the scenes and the artwork. Obviously, we can see on the page the end result of the process, but what did you draw on to create such an intense, alien, and claustrophobic atmosphere?
ALEX: Growing up my family would go to Cape Cod in the summers and we would always swim in the ocean, so I also had a fascination and fear of what’s out there in the water (especially one summer watching JAWS for the first time, seeing the kid named Alex get eaten then my mother walks in turns the tv off and says we’re going to the beach). When designing the underwater scenes I really wanted to give the feeling that this world goes on forever in every direction but you can only see about five feet around you and what could be out there watching and what’s out there plotting. My favorite example of this is early on when a shark comes from nowhere, I wanted that feeling every time we are underwater. Also going with the connection of ROAD OF BONES I also like the idea of one wilderness being so white and the other black.
BCP: Last year you both appeared on my personal best of horror and best of 2019 lists, taking spots for best writer & best artist, so clearly for me, this is a title that I’m hugely excited about. Given that Road of Bones was (for me) flawless, I’m interested to know how much do you feed off each other’s ideas and how much does that change the initial concept to what we get on the printed page?
RICH: I think that with Sea of Sorrows, Alex and I are even more in sync than we were with Road of Bones, because now we have a much better feel for how the other works. We run a lot of ideas past each other and build on them – it might start with a description from me that turns into a sketch from Alex – then I’ll see something there that I really like, and work to bring it more forward in the script. The creature design for this book is one area I think we really vibed on, just building off each other’s ideas. I think people are going to love it, especially the surprises we have in store as the story goes on.
ALEX: Thanks for that by the way, it was great seeing us on your list!
BCP: And finally, for anyone out there that’s on the fence (despite my gushing praise), what would you say to encourage them to pick this up?
RICH: If you’re looking for a great excuse to never set foot on a boat again, I think Sea of Sorrows will provide more than enough nightmare fuel to keep you safe and sound on dry land for the rest of your days.
ALEX: I like to stick to the Jerky Boys method, grab ‘em by the head, smash it into the book and say “you’re going to buy this F’n book!” It’s worked so far.
SEA OF SORROWS #1 hits shelves on November 18th 2020, with retailer incentive covers by Katie Sawatsky and Erica Rose Levine.
The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek