By Olly MacNamee
With the imminent release of Rowans Ruin this October 7th, from BOOM! Studios, we caught up with the two Mikes behind this creepy comic series, to delve deeper into the secrets of Rowans Rise, the historical setting of Stratford-Upon-Avon and the influences on both creators on this promising project steeped in horror and suspense tradition.
Mike Perkins: Not as such in a direct way but I guess for any Brit the Hammer House of Horror feel has been imprinted upon our DNA.
Mike Carey: Yeah, absolutely. We grew up with those bump-in-the-night classics. A lot of our reference points are more recent than that, but there’s a geological layer in our heads that’s entirely composed of 70s fright fests. The spooky house story is a horror archetype that’s endlessly being reinvented, as witnessed in the last few years by movies such as Silent House, Housebound and The House At the End of Time. Damn. We should have had the word “house” in our title…
OM: America is often portrayed as a land without a history. It would seem that part of the pull for Katie to spend her summer in England is the history, the tradition, and the superstitions of the past. Would that be a correct assumption to make? She seems a crystal-clear modernist with a yearning for the opaque past.
MP: It’s undoubtedly the biggest pull for Katie – that sense of history, the knowledge that Shakespeare used to walk the exact same streets. When I was starting out in my career I would head down to London perhaps once a month and, for me, there was a thrill inherent in walking in the same footsteps as Aubrey Beardsley. Throughout the UK there’s a palpable presence of following in someone else’s footsteps. Living over here in The States when people tell me they’ve visited England invariably their next sentence will be “there’s so much history” which is not really that surprising when you consider that the main settlement of people in Florida, apart from St. Augustine, is really only no more than just over a 100 years. Of course, for Katie another huge attraction is the house, Rowans Rise, itself.
MC: Yeah, it seems like a deal that’s too good to be true. And of course it is.
The story starts off by referencing that big gulf of historic time and then it pulls focus towards the more recent past. There’s a sense in which Katie isn’t seeing the wood for the trees, because she’s beguiled by all the history around her.
OM: The narrative devices are rather unusual. We are given text messages, written notes, even a blog. What’s the reason for this way of presenting Katie’s story? I remember this device working well in the novel Dracula; juxtaposing the modern world with the ancient. Coincidental or design?
MP: I’ll bow to Mike’s answer in this but it’s incredibly flattering to be thought of in the same sentence as Dracula!
MC: We were just trying to find an elegant solution to the narration problem. There were a lot of aspects of the story that were crying out for a first person commentary, but we didn’t want to go with straight narrative caps. We wanted more of a sense of the to-and-fro of voices and perspectives behind what on the surface is just Katie’s story. This seemed to be a good way of getting that effect – making readers aware that there’s a web of relationships here that’s going to continue to be relevant as we go on.
["Jackpot” variant cover by Mike Perkins]
OM: With both of you hailing from England (Mike Perkins was born and bred in Wolverhampton and Mike Carey was once an English teacher), was this the reasoning behind the setting of Stratford-Upon-Avon, or is there more to it than just Shakespeare?
MP: I love Stratford upon Avon. Whenever I get the chance I stay there for a couple of weeks in a place just over the river from the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre and my knowledge of this place has played in to the story. I would say that throughout Rowans Ruin Stratford itself is a character in it’s own right. When Mike and I first discussed collaborating on the book it was while we were wandering along The Severn and taking a circuit around the centre of Stratford. I have a whole history of Rowans Rise running around in my head, that can perhaps be explored at some other point and Shakespeare plays a part in that.
MC: Yeah, Shakespeare is a nice bit of added value, really. We have Katie visiting a performance of Hamlet later on, and kind of taking to heart what he says about the motives of ghosts. But the place as a whole is incredibly atmospheric – a wonderful stage for a dark, creepy story. You’ve got the glossy look that it presents to tourists, the way it camps up its own history and serves it in bite-sized portions, but you’ve also got the genuine presence of the past. Buildings from the sixteenth century turned into up-market restaurants; tiny workers’ cottages, whole rows of them knocked together to make a single glamorous buy-to-let. It’s a place where it’s easy to be overwhelmed – and yet unlike London it’s actually very tiny and concentrated.
MC: We definitely don’t shrink from the grimmer parts of the story.
MP: I would say it definitely goes down some dark, dark paths. We experience the setting through Katie’s eyes – this sense of wonder- but as the darkness starts to creep into the periphery of her vision then the terror, the supernatural, the fear and numerous suspicions cling on to, and burrow into, her- mentally and physically.
MC: But yeah, there are sunny uplands too. I’m a big fan of emotionally warm horror – horror that lets you care about its characters. That’s why I love Joe Hill’s work so much. Katie is delving down into the heart of darkness but she’s got a great support machine in her parents’ love and in some of the characters she meets in the series. You need chiaroscuro in horror.
[V[Variant cover by Andre De Freitas]p>
OM: What trials and tribulations can we expect for Katie given how dramatically the first issue opens? What happened in the six months previous to the opening pages?
MP: All will be revealed over the next few issues. It’s not just a horror story it’s a tale of mystery too and Katie, along with the reader, will be confused as to who is under suspicion and what sense of tragedy plays into the oppressive feeling she experiences in Rowans Rise itself.
MC: Yeah, that’s it exactly. There’s a puzzle to be solved here, and we have to approach it by a very specific route. Katie is trying to interrogate the past and figure out how it explains the things that are happening to her now. It’s not as easy as she thinks it’s going to be, and the answer doesn’t come cheaply.
OM: Dr Faustus, Stratford-Upon-Avon, what next? Can we expect to see more from Carey and Perkins in the future? Any more literary inspired comics or any bucket list wishes you both want to fulfill?
MP: Of course! Mike and I, from the outset of our careers and collaborations have talked about a Macbeth adaptation…and one day…one day…we’ll get around to it. Until then we both enjoy working together and have the desire to do so on numerous projects as far as we can see.
MC: There are some people who I will always want to work with and always seek out, as long as I’m writing in comics at all. Mike is definitely one of them. He was there when I was taking my first stumbling steps as a writer, and he didn’t laugh out loud at my terribly overwrought scripts. He’s been there ever since. Collaborating with him is always pure pleasure.
Bucket list wishes? I’d love to do a second arc for our Spellbinders series at Marvel. We had such great stuff lined up for that book!
Preview Rowans Ruin below, courtesy of Boom!
Rowans Ruin is out next Wednesday, October 7th, available at all good comic book stores or directly from BOOM! Studios here.
Olly MacNamee teaches English and Media, for his sins, in a school somewhere in Birmingham. Some days, even he doesn’t know where it is. Follow him on twitter @ollymacnamee or read about his exploits at email@example.com. Or don’t. You can also read his articles fairly frequently at www.bleedingcool.com too.
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