“A lot of people say ‘screenwriters make comics because they can’t make films’ – but that’s not the case. I always wanted to write comics,” Thomas J. Campbell, the writer […]
“A lot of people say ‘screenwriters make comics because they can’t make films’ – but that’s not the case. I always wanted to write comics,” Thomas J. Campbell, the writer of Lovecraftian survival horror comic Abyssal Albion, tells me. “I started pitching ideas back and forth with a friend of mine, Gav Chuckie Steel – who’s a director – and we started making these small horror films. The first one we did was a folk horror with Lovecraftian elements because, well, that’s what I do and then we made another one that was full on cosmic horror. Then I wanted to write a comic that could be set in the same world, that would be interconnected with these two shorts. So that inspired part of it as well, as to why I decided to write this particular story.”
Abyssal Albion’s story is immediately compelling: a young brother and sister are making their way across a post-apocalyptic Britain, following a cataclysmic event that has seen the gods and monsters of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos rising from their slumber. The first issue is focused very much on a woodland environment (with creatures from the appropriate corners of the Mythos), with the second issue taking us – and our protagonists – to a place that features elements which tend to be what most people associate Lovecraft’s stories with. As Campbell reveals, “Issue 2 is going to go to the coast, with Deep Ones. It was one of these things where I wasn’t sure if I should bring them in now – whenever you think of Lovecraft, you think of the sea, monsters from the deep – but I thought you know what, I’ve done the woods, let’s just get it straight out there so people know this is what’s in this world: Deep Ones, the Church of Dagon – potentially Dagon himself!”
Judging from the cover of issue 2, these aren’t going to be the more explicitly fish-like, overtly aquatic Deep Ones we may be used to seeing or imagining, with a much rougher, slightly more human and punkier look. That sort of rough, punky edge is exactly the kind of look that Campbell wanted for the series overall, it turns out – right from the start of his collaboration with series artist, Wayne Lowden: “I found Wayne on Reddit. I posted there and said ‘look, I’ve never done anything before, but I have this idea…’ and Wayne reached out to me, thankfully. He sent me a couple of examples of his work and he’s got this style that’s unique, quite punky and I absolutely adored it. I didn’t want it to be clean, I wanted it to have a bit of roughness to it; it’s post-apocalyptic, I didn’t want everyone looking pristine – and his work just fit so perfectly with that. As soon as I saw his work, I said this is the guy, I need this guy working on it. He’s fantastic. Wayne does storyboarding for films as well, so he kind of adds a cinematic look to it, which works well for me, having written short film. You know when you see something and you think: ‘that’s it, that’s how I want it’? Even the way he’s done the creatures; it’s not your typical Lovecraft. I mean, we have tentacles and everyone associates Lovecraft with that, but there’s something horrifying about the way he does it. He’s captured the feel of the world that I wanted to throw out there. Immensely so.”
Being the first comic work that Campbell had done – though not his first time writing horror – was the process of collaborating with an artist a difficult one? Apparently not. “It’s been brilliant collaborating with Wayne,” Campbell tells me.” He’s quite forward; he’s not afraid to say ‘you know what, this doesn’t work’ – and though it’s my baby I’m not overly precious about it, I know my limitations and I love working collaboratively with people where you can give good feedback and know neither person is going to get offended. I feel comfortable enough to tell him when I think something he’s drawn isn’t quite right and he’s ok to tell me if something from the script doesn’t work when it’s put on paper. He’s very down to earth and it’s quite nice to have that level of collaboration.” I suspect that working on the two aforementioned film shorts must have been helpful in that regard – and Campbell agrees. “It’s great that I’d worked with other people in film beforehand, because that’s a huge collaborative effort – everyone wants to have their input. You write the script, send it to the Director and already the Director is saying ‘hmm, let’s change this’, then when you get on set, the actors themselves are like ‘well, can I say it this way’ – so I’m used to that level of collaboration and I’ve learned not to be so precious about everything.”
Even something that readers perhaps don’t think about very often – lettering and sound effects – requires more collaboration and thought than they may suspect, as Campbell informs me: “It being my first comic, Wayne put me in touch with Ken Reynolds, our letterer. Ken’s been so accommodating too; when I sent him the first issue and said look, here’s the script as I’ve got it – if you’ve got any feedback on how you see it, please let me know. Initially I wasn’t even sure about sound effects – I didn’t know whether I should include them or not. So he sent me a version without sound effects and I asked him if he thought it would work if they were in there; he said yes and when we added some in, it just brought it to life even more. Used sparingly, it works well – it’s that sort of thing you get from collaborating with other people.”
The overall comic does have a great atmosphere and – despite the first issue’s brevity – there’s already been a great amount of worldbuilding, which is something that Campbell was keen to achieve; it seems as if the plan is for readers to explore the post-apocalyptic setting along with the protagonists – and to keep it focused on UK-based environments. “My initial idea was for each issue to be in a separate location – the first one in the woods, the second at the coast, the third in a small village and then city; what I want to do is to keep it to British locales,” Campbell says. The uniquely British feel is important, with Campbell using issue 2’s setting as an example: “The seaside, fish and chips – it doesn’t get more British than that, does it?”
We’re likely to see beyond this – with plans to expand beyond the woods and the coast too. “The initial plan was for four or five issues, but depending on how they go I will absolutely try to keep going,” Campbell divulges. “I don’t want to drag it out but I don’t think there’s going to be enough room to tell the stories I want to tell as it is! I’ve got it outlined to four but – without giving too much away – I’m probably going to carry it on depending on how the next few go.”
At the time of writing, it looks as if issue 2’s Kickstarter campaign is well on track to reaching its funding goal, with a few weeks left until the crowdfunding push concludes. “The campaign is going really well – I’m pleased with it so far. We seem to be getting really good reception from reviews, which seems to have done the world of good – lots of people are responding quite positively to that. Last time, it was largely close friends and family who backed it because no one knew who we were or what we were doing. This time it’s mostly been people who’ve found us, who’ve read the first issue online somewhere – so that’s been quite different. We seem to have a bit of a fanbase, rather than it just being my mum chipping in fifty quid to help out!”
It must have been quite a different experience the first time then? “Last time, I felt it was quite solitary,” Campbell admits. “I didn’t reach out to many people and didn’t really engage with the comic community as such; I think I’ve become a bit more confident in that. Even if we didn’t meet the goal, I’d still say this has been a great experience, just for the fact that I’ve been able to discuss things with other people – I’ve met so many interesting people going through the same things as myself, it’s been incredible.”
You can check out the Kickstarter campaign for Abyssal Albion issue 2 here.
Additionally, the two short films that Thomas J. Campbell wrote for Deadbolt Films can be found here.
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