Confronting the Tyranny of Evil Men – An Interview with IAN MONDRICK and BENJAMIN Æ FILBY
CBY Interview Content Editor Jimmy Gaspero welcomed writer Ian Mondrick and artist Benjamin Æ Filby into the Yeti Cave to discuss their TOMB series with the newest issue, Tomb of the Black Horse currently funding on Kickstarter.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Ian and Benjamin, thank you so much for joining me in the Yeti Cave to discuss your TOMB series, which includes Tomb of the White Horse, Tomb of the Red Horse, and currently on Kickstarter, Tomb of the Black Horse. Welcome! How are the two of you doing?
BENJAMIN Æ FILBY: Doing alright, thanks! Very tired, but very good!
IAN MONDRICK: I’m good!
CBY: Let’s start with your origin stories as comics creators. Have comics always been a part of your life, what got you into reading comics, and what made you want to make comics?
BENJAMIN: Comics have been a rather big presence throughout my life - both of my parents collected comics, and my dad reads pretty much everything that comes out to this day! So likely, I got into reading comics from them. When I was little, I'd make a short comic here and there, but it was only really when I was at university that I got back into reading them, and wanting to make them.
My degree was in illustration. Over the course of 3 years, I realized what drew me to that specific area of art was how it was focused on narrative and storytelling, however that could be put across visually. In my opinion, comics is one of the greatest narrative mediums, and it just seems to work with how I tell stories.
IAN: Stories are the building blocks of communication and communication is the exchange of information between people (I’m sure there’s a cleaner way of saying that). Well, comics are perfectly suited to do both – visual stories told collaboratively. Sharing the vision of a story with someone, getting to tell it together, (hopefully) entertaining people while making them think, communicating your messages to an audience. Creating stories that can be re-told. I like the idea of people reading TOMB, and then re-telling our stories to non-comic readers, giving them a new life outside of comics.
CBY: What do you both do when not making comics?
IAN: I’m a husband and a father, and I work for a company that sells mead (alcohol made from fermented honey).
BENJAMIN: I manage an art supplies and stationery store, plenty of inspiration (and bristol board) around!
CBY: I absolutely loved Tomb of the White Horse and Tomb of the Red Horse. I can’t get enough when the Book of Revelations is referenced or interpreted as a springboard for a story. I was raised Catholic, and although I’m not particularly religious at this point in my life, I find it a fascinating text. What was the genesis of this comic series?
IAN: For me, it started as a little ghost story I started telling to co-workers at a previous job. My father introduced me to The Twilight Zone at an early age, and one of his favorite episodes was The Howling Man – a story about the devil trapped in a closet. That was the initial seed maybe, but the story that would become White Horse took shape because I just couldn’t stop playing with it. It went through many, many changes before reaching the final form, and that was thanks in large part to Benjamin’s input and Danny Lore’s help on edits.
BENJAMIN: I can remember once Ian and I had worked on our first comic together, we were talking about projects we had in mind for the future. At the time I was working on creating a very weird sci-fi/action/'90s satire, wherein the villains were all misfits of science that represented the four horsemen of the apocalypse - I always thought it was a great structure, there's escalation in each part, and they're all very distinct in theme - there's a lot to explore with each horseman.
During this chat was also the first time I heard the story that would eventually become Tomb of the White Horse and absolutely loved it! I think the genesis of the series really was the mixing of our creative minds and something really resonant has come from it.
"Not all of my main characters are villains, but my villains are always main characters."
CBY: As these are horror comics, generally speaking (they are much more), what is the scariest comic you have ever read or the movie that scared you the most, or both?
IAN: There were a lot of movies that scared me as a kid, but it doesn’t work the same way now. Once you begin to see behind the curtain, learn how movies are made and the tricks directors use to scare you, they kind of lose their teeth, at least to me. But there are themes and ideas that I find haunting, movies like Possessor and Hereditary leave me chilled to the bone, but not particularly scared.
BENJAMIN: Similar to Ian, I was frightened by a lot as a child, but not so much nowadays. Quite often when I'm watching horror movies it's in more of a work research capacity - I'm looking at angles, pacing and thinking of what I'll make next.
Now, my answer is unfortunately neither a movie or comic, but it remains to be one of my favourite horror experiences, and that is P.T. by Hideo Kojima et al.
CBY: How did the two of you come together, and what would you say is the other’s greatest strength as a collaborator that makes this comic partnership work?
IAN: My earliest memory of Ben is lucking into a Xenomorph sketch he was raffling off on Twitter one day. That sparked a conversation between us, and he later went on to draw a short comic called Win Tremendous that I included in my first anthology, Curio. (Which is a part of our first stretch goal in the Black Horse campaign!)
BENJAMIN: Essentially that! I think that first 10-page story we did really set a good foundation of how we work together. There's a lot of input brought to the table from both sides and it truly feels like a collaboration. One of the key things that I think Ian has in his writing is the sense of emotion that comes across in the script, you really feel what the characters are feeling on the page, and I think that allows me to tap into something special when making the book's visuals.
CBY: Benjamin, in Tomb of the White Horse, when the “tomb” is first fully revealed after the character Taylor pulls the packaging and bibles away, there is a fantastic full page, low-angle view of it. Can you talk to me about the creation of that page and the build-up to it, because that full-page reveal just knocked me back.
BENJAMIN: Thank you so much! That was a really fun page to make. With the book and even the series as whole, I think that dread has been a constant force within it. In stories, a good twist will have you talking about it for a while, but when it's something that you can see right there from the start, and it's looming, ever-present throughout, that'll have you thinking about it for a long time after. That was my goal with White Horse, to have the threat always there, and to build up the tension incrementally, with reveals that let out some of the pressure, but all eventually build up to the final revelation. If you look through the pages leading up to it, the package is in just about every panel, and often staged above most or all of the characters, the mystery of what's inside starts to permeate everything.
For the full-page reveal, I wanted the Tomb to serve as the first big crescendo of dread, it's inorganic, powerful and looming. Ian did a fantastic job at laying out the pacing leading up to it and Lesley Atlansky absolutely crushed it with the apocalyptically hellish colours to really sell the malevolence of the box.
CBY: I think it’s smart that the TOMB series stand on their own as individual issues, but read together perhaps tell a richer, more complex story, if that’s fair. What influenced that decision and why was that important to you?
IAN: It was a desire to do a type of anthology horror series that was more than just thematically connected. And even though the events that connect these stories are tangential, I think (and hope) when the series is finished you’ll have a great understanding about what Benjamin and I were doing here beyond telling four spooky stories.
CBY: Benjamin, for the pages in Tomb of the White Horse where the characters see scenes from their life after touching the “tomb,” what were your influences in creating those pages? I really like how Lesley Atlansky colored those pages. Were there conversations about how those pages should look or is what we see on the page how Lesley intercepted those scenes?
BENJAMIN: We wanted something really jarring for those segments, so felt a stylistic shift was in order to both differentiate from the characters' present reality, and to really show the frantic terror that the Tomb brings. I'm a big fan of Francis Bacon's paintings. They have that ability to just cut through all context and cognition and hit you with an emotional response, so those pages were very much my attempt to channel that. With regards to Lesley's interpretation and colour work, that was all her, I don't recall giving any notes aside from "go for it!" and it paid off so well - Ian and I really enjoy the exchange of creative voices each book brings, and encourage everybody to go with their instincts to make the finished book the best it can be.
CBY: Switching to Tomb of the Red Horse, which one of you is the Hunter S. Thompson fan?
IAN: Y’know, I looked over the script and gave NO descriptions of the character you’re referring to, so I’m gonna have to go with Benjamin on this one (although I was a fan of HST when I was younger).
BENJAMIN: Haha! I read Fear and Loathing in my teens, but that reference was completely by accident! I posed for that character (I often shoot my own photo reference) but then felt I needed to change some of the clothing so it didn't just look like me – hadn't clocked it until reading this!
CBY: Ian, you previously wrote an article for Comic Book Yeti titled the “5 Comics That Made Tomb of the Red Horse,” which I will link to here, but for this entire series, do you have separate comics or movies that are reference points for each different issue, whether there are tropes you are playing with, ideas you are hinting at, or things that have influenced you?
IAN: It usually starts with a mood I’m going for, or something surprising I’ve seen in a movie or comic that I want to recreate in my own way. For Tomb of the Red Horse, there’s an '80s movie about nuclear war called Miracle Mile that I was always a huge fan of, mostly because of the ending. I won’t spoil my book or that movie here, but I knew I wanted the end of Red Horse to have the same kind of impact. But it’s a bit harder to pinpoint my influences with Black Horse. I'll confess here that I wanted to write a similar article this time around, but found myself stumped when I went to list them out.
CBY: There is a slightly different creative team for Tomb of the Red Horse with Dearbhla Kelly on colours and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou lettering. How did the two of them come to be involved in this series? Their work is tremendous, especially combined with both of your talents, the second half of this issue is terrifying. Were there any pages or panels in particular that once completed surprised even the two of you with how they turned out?
IAN: We decided early on that we’d like to work with a variety of people on the books, giving a different air and feel to each of them. But we’ve broken that rule where we’ve seen fit, in order to make the books as dynamic and immersive as possible.
BENJAMIN: I've been a big fan of both Dearbhla and Hass' work for a while, and thought the opportunity of new creative collaborators for Red Horse was a great time to reach out and ask them!
Dearbhla's colours throughout are great, I specifically like something I refer to as "impossible red" the pinkish bright red that bleeds through The Mass in the tunnel and in elements of the later pages – great work.
There is a panel towards the end of the book where a sound effect by Hass absolutely MAKES the panel, and I'm so so pleased with it. That, and the choice made with the last line of the book. Brilliant!
CBY: If I were to paint these comics with a broad emotional brush (other than fear), Tomb of the White Horse is grief and Tomb of the Red Horse is anger. What can readers expect from Tomb of the Black Horse?
IAN: Outrage. (as in ‘righteous fury’ not ‘I want a refund’)
BENJAMIN: I'd say similar to what Ian said, it's that rage that's very still and all-consuming. I'd also say it's a lot about sacrifice.
CBY: When you set out to script this series, Ian, are there moments in your own life you ever draw from or is it more the emotion of it and drawing on times you felt fear, or anxiety or grief, or anger, especially the collective anger so many feel about the state of the world?
IAN: Deep down this is a warning, a eulogy prepared for America in advance, damning the powers that be as well as the people who make communication and progress so difficult. Fools who can’t see past their own egos. Mindless mobs, incited and weaponized by demagogues. And the 1%, who squeeze the last drops of blood from the working class. Not all of my main characters are villains, but my villains are always main characters.
CBY: Damn. Do you have a favorite movie or television quote referencing the Book of Revelations? Mine is Johnny Ringo’s line in Tombstone: “He was quoting the Bible, Revelations. 'Behold the pale horse. The man who sat on him was Death... and Hell followed with him...'”
BENJAMIN: I haven't got one from Revelations, but possibly my favourite Bible verse in media is Dean Pelton's frequent "Jesus wept!", and the misquote it came from in Community.
IAN: I actually don’t! It’s probably a little played out, but when I think of scripture in movies, I think of Ezekiel 25:17 from Pulp Fiction.
CBY: I can’t get enough of your newsletter, Ian, The Blind Box. It’s very unique. For anyone that isn’t familiar, you team up with an artist that draws a picture and you write a short story about the picture or influenced by it. I still haven’t recovered from Fishilla. How did you decide that this is what you wanted your newsletter to be?
IAN: Thanks so much! I realized the importance of having a newsletter, a way to connect directly with people that want to read your work, but had to leverage that against a desire to NOT talk about myself. There are so many indie comic artists out there, but don’t have the time or money to work with them all, so I decided to fit these things into an equation that became THE BLIND BOX. I also wanted to reverse the traditional process, and let the artist’s imagination drive my work, rather than the other way around, and it has been a TON of fun. And regarding STRONG BIRD VS. FISHILLA: You’re welcome.
CBY: Are there any comic creators working today whose work inspires/influences you?
IAN: Totally. Again, too many artists to name, but writers like W. Maxwell Prince, Grant Stoye, Jarred Lujan… they’re all doing great work and I’m learning from all of them.
BENJAMIN: Everybody that I have worked with up to this point inspires me, there are a lot more I could name but if we're going for a shortlist of artists that are a big influence I'd say Chris Samnee, Iain Laurie and Clark Bint – all great artists.
CBY: If you were the curator for a comics museum, which 3 books do you want to make absolutely sure are included?
IAN: If it’s MY museum, then I’m going for the Mutter Museum of comics: Weird and horrifying. Mystery Society, Ice Cream Man, The Manhattan Projects.
BENJAMIN: Three copies of We3.
CBY: Any other projects CBY readers should check out?
IAN: SO many. Fell Hound has AND WE LOVE YOU, J Michael Donohue has MORSELS, Mark Bouchard has LEAF PEEPERS coming up in the beginning of March, John Sollitto has VERITAS on Zoop, Grant Lankard has BEOWULF ending shortly, also ANCHOR by Madeline Kelly just launched and looks VERY cool…I’m sure there’s a bunch I’m missing.
BENJAMIN: I've got a big list of projects I'd like to recommend, but for now I'd encourage everyone to check out Jordan Thomas' METALLIC DYNAMITE which will be on Kickstarter soon. Also Umar Ditta and co's LAD: THE HOMECOMING and DISORDER by Erika Price.
CBY: Where can you be found online?
IAN: @Ian_Face on twitter. And ianmondrick.com if you want to sign up for The Blind Box!
BENJAMIN: @baefilby on Twitter, @benjaminaefilby and @tomb_comic on Instagram.
CBY: Thank you so much, Ian and Benjamin! I cannot wait to read Tomb of the Black Horse.
IAN: You are SO welcome and thanks for the opportunity, Jimmy!
BENJAMIN: Cheers Jimmy!