Creator2Creator: An Interview with Chris Mole & Katie Fleming of THE BLACK RUBRIC
Last November, Matt Ligeti, the Comic Book Yeti got to meet Chris Mole & Katie Fleming in person at Thought Bubble. When we found out they were working together on a new comic whose Kickstarter launches today, we knew we had to find out more.
Comic book writer and Comic Book Yeti contributor, Jarred Luján has the scoop.
JARRED LUJÁN: Chris and Katie, thanks so much for joining us. So, first and foremost, could you introduce yourselves? Who are you? What do you do? What did you contribute on this project?
CHRIS MOLE: I’m Chris Mole – I’m a writer and musician from beautiful Sheffield, in the UK. I’ve been writing comics for about 9 years now and have been playing electric guitar in heavy metal bands for almost 15, so I’m pretty familiar with the life of an underground metal musician! I wrote the script for The Black Rubric and wrangled the whole comic together.
KATIE FLEMING: Hi, I’m Katie, I’m an illustrator based in Dublin, Ireland. I draw comic books and I was the one who drew the art for Black Rubric.
Chris approached me with something along the lines of "It’s a comedy/action-packed comic with black metal and demons" and I was immediately on board – why would I not want to draw that??
JL: The Black Rubric is such an off-the-wall idea, but it sounds like so much fun. How did it feel to develop this kind of a concept from your own respective ends?
CM: The idea for this comic has actually come from a bunch of different places! I originally planned to write some songs for a solo project called The Black Rubric back in 2005. Nothing ever came of that, mostly because the songs were terrible, but I kept them on my hard drive anyway for safekeeping.
Fast forward a decade, and I was discussing a vague idea I’d had about doing a black metal comic with a friend at work. We look at a lot of names as part of our day jobs (pensions admin for a big corporation), and we discovered the name Attila and thought it’d work for the singer of this super-serious Satanic band who accidentally unleash demons on the earth.
I threw a bunch of ideas into a blender and started on a script, but then it got pushed out of the to-do pile by some other projects until 2018, when I took a trip to see the amazing Zeal & Ardor live at Church in Leeds. They were transcendental, and it ignited my desire to go back and weave a couple of disparate creative projects together: I decided to do a comic and some music under the moniker The Black Rubric, since I felt a lot more confident in my skill at both disciplines at that point. I went back to the script, finished it off and then started looking for an artist! It’s a little crazy to think about how long this one has been (technically) in the gestation stages…
KF: Chris approached me with something along the lines of "It’s a comedy/action-packed comic with black metal and demons" and I was immediately on board – why would I not want to draw that?? I had a lot of fun designing the characters and stuff, but I actually had a lot of fun with visualizing the sound? The band obviously plays a lot of music in this comic so I had to think of ways to be able to show that to the reader which was an interesting challenge!
JL: When creating something with such a niche culture involved, how deep into the black metal rabbit hole did you go? Or did you already have a background with it?
CM: It might be apparent from my previous answers, but I’m a die-hard fan already. The first black metal album I listened to was Emperor’s “Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk” back in college. At the time, I thought it was just impenetrable noise, so the friend who’d loaned it to me tried a few other bands to get me into it; that worked, and now I absolutely love this stupid, incredible genre of music. It has such scope and potential for a wide variety of different sounds all under the same umbrella – from new Behemoth which has more of a mainstream sound, to sweeping atmospheric bands like Sojourner and the cacophonous horror-soundtrack style of Lychgate. I could honestly talk about it all day!
For the comic, I didn’t need to dig too deep when trying to write the interaction between the band and their lifestyles. While the band I was in for ten years (Northern Oak) wasn’t a traditional black metal band, we played a lot of gigs with bands that were and that lifestyle is still very familiar to me. I have plenty of experience of trying to change into your “stage outfit” in a variety of shitty toilet cubicles!
KF: My knowledge of the fashion and style came from my grimy teens, where I would go to any gigs I could get a ticket to and try to hang out with the cool kids. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have to delve back into the black metal scene a little bit to see what had changed since I had been around! It was a fun experience to go back to those roots and explore that sub-genre again.
JL: Writing/drawing comedy is something so complex. How did you two navigate that? From a writing and visual element, how do you think doing jokes/punchlines in comics work best?
CM: With The Black Rubric, I think we’ve taken quite a low-key approach to the humour and comedy of it. It’s less about delivering punchlines and jokes (although there are definitely some in there) and more about the inherent absurdity of the situation. Black metal is a very self-serious genre, and when you take a step back and look at it critically, parts of it are hilarious. I love the music and the style, but a singer wearing bad corpsepaint and doing his croaky “black metal voice” to talk to the crowd and the sound guy between songs absolutely cracks me up.
So, with that in mind, it was less about trying to set up jokes – although I think Katie’s done a fantastic job with the comedic timing in the more explicitly funny bits and left enough space for the comedy to land – and more about leaning into the silliness of the whole endeavour. Pacing is a huge component of making comedy work in a comic, as is the case with stand-up or comedy TV shows, anything like that. You have to leave just enough time for the joke to work, both in the dialogue and the art, and it’s definitely something I need to build more experience of.
KF: I feel comfortable drawing a more comedic script. I had experience drawing for Aaron Fever’s webcomic, Ship Wrecked, so it’s something (I would like to think) is one of my strong points as an artist. Chris gave me a solid script from day 1 so it wasn’t very hard at all for me to get what he was asking for! The band have a great dynamic from the get-go, you can immediately get a feel for each of their personalities and how punchlines are going to land between them.
"It’s a ridiculous, fun comic and it’s an authentic love letter to a weird little corner of music from a group of people who know what they’re parodying!"
JL: If someone was on the fence about backing this Kickstarter, what would you tell them to sell them on it?
CM: I’d probably thrust Katie’s pages at them and let her art do the selling! Beyond that, it’s a subculture that I think a lot of comics fans may not be too familiar with, and we’ve taken it in a pretty over-the-top direction that I think is a lot of fun. I haven’t seen another comic in this vein. The closest I can think of is Beelzebubs (by J.P Ahonen), but that has its own unique vibe. So I’d say that it’s not something you see every day. It’s a ridiculous, fun comic and it’s an authentic love letter to a weird little corner of music from a group of people who know what they’re parodying!
KF: For a comic based on a black metal band it’s very open and doesn’t need you to be part of that subculture to jump in and enjoy it. It has really cool demons in it so why wouldn't you read it?
JL: When it comes to The Black Rubric, who do you think is the audience that would enjoy this?
CM: Thus far, every comics or metal friend that I’ve shown it to has cackled maniacally and loved the idea, so I’d say our audience is anybody who loves black metal (or just heavy music in general), as well as people who like ridiculous Satanism and musical madness in their comics. It’s not family-friendly (since metalheads tend to be a creative bunch when it comes to swearing) but it’s a pretty lighthearted book; we’re not trying to tell a hugely emotive or serious story, but I think people will dig the journey that the band go on over the course of it.
JL: So far, what’s been your favorite experience while working on the book?
CM: I have a couple! First up: seeing the first few final pages come in from Hassan (Otsmane-Elhaou, letterer) was an absolute thrill. He’s so, so good at his job, and made such incredibly smart choices when it comes to balloon style and font; they perfectly complement and elevate the art and I’m very excited to read through the rest of the issue.
Tied with that is the extremely fun experience that was shooting the Kickstarter video: I recruited some friends of mine (who are in an “Easy-Listening Metal” band called Bleating Apocalypse – they’re something else, definitely check them out) to put on corpsepaint and come out to the woods and hills of the Peak District near my city, then filmed them running around, reacting to thin air and generally channeling the spirit of early '90s black metal music videos. They all committed to it with 100% enthusiasm, which was fantastic, and I’m inordinately proud of the finished result since it looks exactly how I imagined it! We actually uploaded it separately to Youtube before the campaign launched to show people what sort of vibe we’d be going for: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqYJNwfamTs&t=1s.
KF: Watching the Kickstarter trailer that Chris made... It’s actually incredible, you need to watch it immediately after reading this interview.
JL: What would your own black metal band’s name be?
CM: I can cheat a bit with this question because I’m already in a black metal band called Child of Ash – we have a demo up at https://childofash.bandcamp.com/!
That aside, coming up with fake black metal band names is one of my favourite things. You want to be able to reference as many obscure (or made-up) bands as possible in conversation to prove that you’re more “kvlt” than anybody else.
Here’s a couple, see if you can guess which are actually real bands: Necrocrusher, Infernvm Mustar, Frost, The Enochian Cult...
KF: Uhhh, probably something to do with Werewolves. Hmmm..."Deathly Lycanthropy"?
JL: Thank you both again for talking about The Black Rubric with us. Where can folks find you guys, and the Kickstarter, online?
CM: I have a website up at www.chrismole.co.uk, my Twitter handle is @ChrisManji and the Kickstarter is at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/chrismole/the-black-rubric-the-comic!
I also want to take this opportunity to share a Spotify playlist that I made as a soundtrack for the comic, containing some of the (in my opinion) most essential black metal tracks: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3yU38joa2nw6RPBktTN4bq?si=bHfIJ0TQSFSiS3KO1sHChA
KF: My Twitter is @katiecanartgood and searching for "The Black Rubric" should bring you to the Kickstarter when it launches!