In a world teeming with webcomics which deals with various slice of life issues, Chris Welsh and Ammar Al-Chababi’s “Wart- A cosmic horror comic” is not only a breath of fresh air,but for horror connoisseurs who have a fondness for Lovecraftian influences, it’s almost literally an oasis in a desert. Dealing with the hapless Wart Bellamy, who has been ripped from his reality and tossed into an other-wordly “Asylum for the Belligerently Insane”, it bursts to the seams with monsters, cults, ghosts, rats and mad doctors- all classic elements of a good gothic horror story.
What makes Wart different though is the vein of light-heartedness that runs throughout, especially evident in Al-Chababi’s breezy art style and Welsh’s hilarious dialogues which often border on the campy. Both the collaborators have also made the rather unusual decision to go on Kickstarter to fund the publication of the collected pages of Wart into two books, even as they serialize it every week on their website (http://www.wartcomic.com). Book One, which collects the first 3 10-page “parts” of the book is already out, whereas Book Two, which collects parts 4 and 5, is expected by March 2015. If you are still skeptical about this weirdly fun comic and its ability to keep you hooked, all you need to do is read up this interview with the creators themselves.
ST: Where did the idea for “Wart- A Cosmic Horror Comic” germinate? How did you get in touch with each other?
AMMAR: After reading a lot of Lovecraft stories I wanted to create a comic set in a cosmic horror universe. I wrote a very short story and some character designs. But I knew that I needed help in the writing department! Having a creative team really appealed to me.
I started (and ended) my search on Reddit. I posted I was in need of a writer for a Lovecraftian horror comic. I got several replies and all submitted their work. Chris work was by far the best and I loved the fact he had a witty way of writing.
We started mailing back and forth and very organically the story evolved. I started with a small idea and Chris quickly came with the title and the whole dimension jumping that is so important to the story.
CHRIS: As Ammar said, the original idea was his. I just twisted it into something much bigger and filled it out. When I saw his original post on Reddit I thought to myself ‘Can I write a comic? I’m pretty sure I can write a comic…’ so I sent him some short stories. I guess he saw something in them because he we are!
ST: “Wart” shows a lot of Lovecraftian influences, but also blends in plenty of dark humour. Tell us more about the influences for both of you, on your writing and your drawing style.
AMMAR: With the art I tried a few different things. At the time I just finished a course on digital painting so I tried that first. It didn’t turn out how I wanted and was way to time consuming.
My second attempt was a more Hellboy-like style. Mixed a bit with another big inspiration of my Norm Breyfogle and his excellent use of shadows.
In time I’ve been experimenting with different things and you see the comic evolving in just a couple of parts.
CHRIS: My influences are all over the place. I read a lot of horror – Stephen King, Clive Barker, Lovecraft, MR James – but my favourite authors are Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. I enjoy a book most when it has a sense of humour, even if the story itself is somewhat grim or hopeless.
ST: What was the idea behind going on Kickstarter to fund its printing and not shop the comic to a more mainstream publisher?
CHRIS: When we started WART we decided to make it a webcomic – printing it and taking it to comic conventions, or pitching it to a company, simply didn’t occur to us at the time. We updated it a page a week, and that felt manageable and sensible. We also liked that it was all us – we made every decision about WART and learned a lot about comic creation (and the business behind it) in the process.
As time passed and WART found fans, we printed a very small run of books and took them to comic conventions around the UK. The plan was to have some fun, sell some books, and see how it went. They sold out quickly and we realised we needed more – Kickstarter seemed like a great way to fund that, and reachan audience of people who love comics but not necessarily webcomics. We’re not just asking for cash though – anybody who pledges gets a lot of great stuff in return.
Finding a mainstream publisher for something that is already available online seems unlikely, but it’s something we’re considering for future projects.
ST: Since you collaborate via the net, sitting in different locations, what is the creative process like? Are there any particular challenges?
AMMAR: The biggest challenge is that it’s really hard to have a beer with each other! We email a lot and keep extensive documents of everything we think of in Google Docs.
When we start a new part we talk about what will happen. Chris will write a first draft of the script. We change a couple of small things here and there so we have a finished script. Chris provides his insights on panel placements, sounds effects and special effects.
I just start at page one and start sketching. Sometimes during sketching things might shift a bit from the script but that hardly happens.
Once a sketch is done I send it to Chris and then I start drawing all the line-art and shadows. Coloring is next and last lettering.
Once the page is finished I send it to Chris. When everyone is happy we’ll post it online! rinse and repeat.
Because we don’t have crazy time differences communication isn’t much of a problem.
CHRIS: I actually think it’s crazy how few challenges we face. Maybe the fact we communicate exclusively via email helps, but we’ve never really argued about anything WART-related. Everything is very smooth and I don’t worry about pitching a dozen terrible ideas to find the one idea we will actually go with. From the very start it felt like a very collaborative situation.
Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring comic writers and artists?
AMMAR: For aspiring comic artists: practise, practise, practise! I’m still doing it. Learn about anatomy, perspective and story telling.
Also important: define your own style. Use other people’s style as an inspiration but don’t just copy what they are doing.
CHRIS: Stop ‘aspiring’ to make something and make something. The first thing might suck but the second thing will suck slightly less. By the fifth or sixth thing, you might have something people like.
Also, read a lot of comics and pay attention to things like pacing, page layout, how the story flows through each panel on a page. Think about what makes your favourite comic good, think about how you would make it better, or what you would do differently. Make notes.