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Darkness comes to roost in Abigail Jill Harding's PARLIAMENT OF ROOKS

Abigail Jill Harding sits down in the Yeti Cave with Interviews Editor, Andrew Irvin, to discuss the dark and brooding tale of Parliament of Rooks, a fresh Comixology Original release, available now!

 

COMIC BOOK YETI: Welcome, Abigail, and thanks for stopping by the Yeti Cave today! From the first pages, it’s clear Parliament of Rooks is a love story of sorts, but fixed within the “happily ever after” mould. At core, do you think horror stories and love stories can co-exist in a meaningful and mutually satisfactory manner? From your perspective as a storyteller, does tragedy ultimately heighten or undermine romance?

 


ABIGAIL JILL HARDING: It all simmers down to the tone of the ‘Ever After’ and the message conveyed. There are ‘happily ever afters’ but not all ‘ever afters’ are happy. It is a wish to live happily ever after, a desire we as a species dream off, a lot. I think what horror brings to the table, it can be bittersweet, sad and absolutely horrific, real as it can be in a fantastically ideal setting. Horror doesn’t shy from the reality of life dabbling with the darkest of reflections and the fears we struggle with every day. Love stories that have ghosts in them, often the ghosts are vessels of hidden, forbidden truth. I think tragedy allows for characters to have added dimensions in romance stories, a history, it can shape their behavior and goals, conventional or otherwise. I’d go as far as to say it only makes a romance story more potent.



CBY: Tell me a bit about how you came to involve Richard Starkings in the project; he’s listed as providing lettering, design, and editorial support. How did you two meet and decide to work on this project together? You’re now two volumes into your other collaboration available through Comixology, Ask for Mercy, as well - what differs between the two titles in the manner you and Richard collaborate?

 

AJH: So Richard and I have worked together for a few years now. First meeting at a signing at Travelling Man in York just before Thought Bubble Festival in 2015. When I showed my portfolio to him at the festival. He asked if I wanted to work on an issue of ELEPHANTMEN, which I did and things just went from there really. Of course, we did Ask for Mercy with a co-creator/ collaborative working dynamic, what I like to call ‘The Tennis Court of Ideas and Inspiration.’ We’d bounce ideas back and forth, you know? I find it a very healthy and productive way of figuring out a story and its characters.

Parliament of Rooks was something I started developing in the background not long after SDCC in 2018 and while working with Richard on Ask for Mercy. Then when we were wrapping up the third season and going into the Fourth he said “you’re gonna do ROOKS right?!” I replied “can I? Would that be even possible?” Richard offered to letter, edit and put the book together with Comicraft and we spoke to the guys at Comixology and here we are.


Parliament of Rooks however, has been a different affair. The story rather kept close to my chest until much later in the process. I’d lay out the basic idea to Richard how the chapters go. When I present the pages and script, he would go through it, then come back to me with a proof of the issue with notes and suggestions about panels, and script changes if needed etc. The editorial process for me, has been a very valuable lesson. With Parliament of Rooks being my writing debut, having that extra opinion really matters because sometimes I get too wrapped up in it and repeat myself. Other things like making sure the story is heading in the right direction and to good pace has been really important. I’ve been really getting to grips with the ‘show and don’t tell’ rule. Richard has been so generous and such a brilliant mentor. It’s crazy to be drawing comics but now writing one too? Insane.



CBY: It sounds fantastic to have such a supportive collaborator to work with and provide guidance. I wanted to make mention of the distinctly gothic style, with the corvidae imagery evocative of the proto-horror writing of Poe. It’s not just in the spooky subject matter that you allow to channel through, but the architecture depicted, flying buttresses and all. What reference material was central to your process from both a narrative and artistic standpoint? Is there anything you drew upon you’d like to cite here?

 


AJH: From the architectural standpoint, I was making the most of actively going out on road-trips to key areas around Yorkshire, making sketches and taking photos of interest.  Fountains Abbey, Reivaulx Abbey, Whitby, Castle Howard, Robin Hood’s bay, Bambrough and Alnwick Castle to name a few. Merevale Hall in Warwickshire, is the main inspiration for Ravenscar hall.  

I needed to visit these locations to really get a feel for everything, think about the characters in these locations.

I stayed with some friends last year who live outside of London and we went to St. Paul’s Cathedral and The Tower of London for inspiration.

I can’t deny that Bloodborne has also found some influence in the comic, I’m so bad at that game. But I really appreciate the level of detail in the rich lore and the game’s aesthetics.

 

The York Press has a photo archive of York which has been invaluable and incredibly fascinating to study, there was a very short but very intense industrial period in York that saw a lot of factories and power-stations come and go in the last 150 years that I wanted to include in the overall feel of Eborvik.



CBY: Ah, the historic preservation of York is definitey fertile ground for inspiration, and we'll return to that topic in a bit. Now, I know you’ve just made mention of some influences, but there are a number of panels that evoke a range of other film and animation images, from the old Universal horror release of The Wolf Man to Howl’s Moving Castle. It slips between various mythologies and monstrous/demonic folklore with a quality that keeps it from drawing too much from any one well. What else am I missing? Any hidden gems you’d like readers to keep their eyes peeled to find within the book?

 


AJH: There MAY be a nod to The Company of Wolves and The Wicker Man. The latter being my favourite horror film.

I did a little bit of research on witchcraft and the regional folklore and looked into some more well-known stories of York, Guy Fawkes was born there, Dick Turpin died there. It has a very colourful but an incredibly dark past. There’s some subtle nods to British rural folklore and festive traditions as well. There’s been a renaissance of these festivals cropping up all over the country in recent years. York Minster’s Great East Window serves as loose inspiration, both literally and in narrative.

 

 

CBY: I think you've certainly demonstrated with this comic that color and darkness need not be mutually exclusive, and we'll get to that in a few moments. Now, there are a number of small nods to the greater worldbuilding exercise you’ve undertaken – building the Kingdom of Eborvik and making mention of the Four Vales – what sort of scope do you have in mind for the length of this narrative arc, and are there other stories within this world you’ve been building for potential subsequent titles? 

 


AJH: The Four Vales is a nod to the four sub counties that make up Yorkshire. I believe it to be in part my love for The Lord of the Rings films and the transportive nature of those films (which I love) worked its way into this comic. I got to world build to a smaller extent in the final season of Ask for Mercy, the previous seasons had been historical or modern backdrops. So I feel it a strong responsibility to allow the readers to explore and get to know this new world I am presenting to them. So far this narrative is self-contained, though who knows what the future holds, right?



CBY: There's clearly room to grow! The book is largely in black and white, but you accent a number of panels/pages with warm colors - usually a vibrant reddish orange - what went into locking down the hue you’ve chosen to create the impact on the reader you intended (instead of, for instance, a dark blue, royal purple, or murky green?) You let a few other colors slide into specific panels - why just these small points of inclusion and not a more broadly colored book?

 


AJH: A few years ago I went through a period of finding and watching Vincent Price films and Dragonwyck and The Tingler, with the notorious bathtub scene, stood out for me. Red as a colour fascinates me, it is often associated with love and passion, but also blood and hell. It is intense, shocking, especially in a world depicted in monochrome. I find there is an otherworldly-ness about photographs and film shot in monochrome. An ethereal quality that cannot be replicated in the same way in colour. I pictured this book really like I was watching a black and white film from the golden age of cinema with German expressionist influence.

When colour appears in this comic it plays a significant role both symbolically, emotionally and metaphorically. Consider the term ‘Seeing red’ for example. (Another little hint for the readers to look out for.) Though I know I am in no way the only one who has done this, Guy Davis’s, The Marquis, I discovered used colour in a similar way.



CBY: The golden age film noir and the German Expressionism influences definitely resonate on the page. On the note of stylistic choices and your inking and line work, can you unpack for our readers your illustration process, and the tools and techniques you use? Your greyscale gradient brush strokes add both accent and depth to many panels. What goes into achieving the look you’ve captured in this comic?

 


AJH: I use photoshop for digital page layouts, print them out on low quality A3 paper. Using a light board, I then place higher quality A3 watercolour paper over the top of it and pencil over the digital layout. Once I’m happy with the pencils I move straight to inking, which I use with both technical pens, paint brushes and brush pens. It can be chaotic, I will be honest. I then scan the finished pages into the computer and digitally clean up and ‘colour’. The limited colour palette means I have been focusing almost entirely on light values and shadows. So making sure the characters are rendered with lighting in mind has been key. I’ve been using digital brushes that resemble chalk, watercolour brush marks and white splashes to suggest weather like snow, or even dust and ambience in an enclosed space.



CBY: Ah, that all makes sense, given the elements that appeared drawn on the page intermingling with digital touches. Noting your home turf in Yorkshire, once traversing the streets of Eborvik, the gothic arches and palatial grandeur give way to a very familiar cobblestone and wattle & daub aesthetic I know is a landmark feature of old York. These scenes are also interspersed with imagery of forests, which led me to wonder - what do you prefer drawing; natural or constructed background elements?


 

AJH: Natural settings for sure, trees are so much easier to draw that buildings. With depicting Eborvik after York, it has been a really wonderful to do both. Drawing architecture isn’t my strong point, but I love and appreciate a ‘pleasantly shaped’ building. It pushes my own desire to get better at drawing architecture if I pick out buildings I like and go from there.



CBY: Further regarding what you prefer to depict, I was a bit curious about both the character and clothing design - how many iterations did you go through before landing on the various appearances depicted? There are a range of intricate and opulent costume choices, and I’m keen to learn, what kind of background research and reference material was involved in the process of getting the looks accurate to the fictionalized early industrial period you constructed, and what advice would you give to other writers and artists trying to draw upon the wealth of historic material out there, even if not writing work fixed in specific eras? 

 


AJH: Regarding iterations, I think it depends on the character and their role in the story. Darius was set in stone almost immediately as the story developed around him. When you have muses that inspire your character’s looks the process evolves from there. I wanted the outfits to be an extension of the characters’ personality so there are stylizations dotted throughout the book. Whether it be crescent moons, feathers or flowers.

 

The joy of creating a fictional world means you can make the time, the fashion the culture whatever you want it to be. Cooling towers from modern power stations weren’t around in the 1800s, but in Eborvik they do!  For ‘Rooks’ the inspiration for the clothing designs was quite broad, spanning from Georgian to Regency and into late Victorian. Also with the changing weather I needed to adapt the costumes to suit the environment. Taking into account the comic being black and white, it’s vital I take extra care in showing the changing seasons and how these characters engage with the environment.



CBY: So when you’re not thinking about Parliament of Rooks, what other sort of unrelated comics (and other media) are you into lately? What should our readers check out once they’ve given your comic a read?

 


AJH: I’m making my way through Si Spurrier and Matias Bergara’s CODA recently with that fine Deluxe Edition that was printed this year. I’ve been a fan of both creators for some time now and really enjoying the stories they have been making together. An absolutely breathtaking example of world building and scale.

I just finished watching Blue Eye Samurai, wow what a series that is. Just such a beautifully animated piece with a complex cast, I love stories where the characters drive the plot and this is definitely one. A brilliantly executed revenge turn enlightenment story.

 

 

CBY: Abigail, thank you for joining us! If you’ve got portfolio, publication, and social media links we didn’t cover above that you’d like to share below, this is the place to include them!

 


AJH: Thank you so much for having me, it has been a pleasure!

 

 

 

 


 

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