POE, P.I.: BOOM! Tells Edgar Allan Poe's 'Other' History

Poe #1, cover B

Edgar Allan Poe is awarded many distinctions – from being one of first major writers of American literature, being a pioneer of science fiction, but also to being the inventor of detective fiction and the crime fiction that proceeded it.

In the upcoming comic book miniseries Poe from Boom! Studios, Poe’s life is envisioned as a concrete inspiration for the fictional stories he writes. As a detective himself, Edgar Allan Poe experiences first hand the horrors and humanity that he would later transcribe into seminal short stories, poems and novellas. One part Sherlock Holmes and one part Hellboy and you’ve got a glimpse of what to expect with Poe.

Writer J. Barton Mitchell is the mind behind this fictional take on Edgar Allan Poe’s life, and while he’s a newcomer to comics he’s built up his writing chops in the realm of television and movies. For more, we talked with the author by email.

Ten page preview of Poe #1 here.

Newsarama: It’s good to meet you, Barton. What can you tell us about this book, Poe?

J. Barton Mitchell: The mini-series follows Poe in 1847 Baltimore where, in addition to being a struggling writer, he's thrust into this role of a Sherlock Holmes style detective who focuses on the supernatural. The story picks up just after the death of his wife, the pain of which has unlocked in him some macabre abilities, including the power to see how people died. He becomes involved, with his brother - a Baltimore police constable - in an investigation into a string of murders. I think the story's best asset is that it weaves elements from Poe's most famous works into the plot. So, the idea is that the world Poe lives in is this world of the supernatural, and his experiences in that world are what lead him to write the stories he writes.

NRAMA: How much research did you do on the real Edgar Allan Poe in writing this story?

JBM: I did a lot of research, actually, starting with Kenneth Silverman's excellent Poe biography. A lot of who Poe was as a person found its way into the character. His tortured existence after the death of his wife, his struggles with writer's block, his intensely superstitious nature. I even used some interesting quotes of his as dialogue bits here and there. My favorite was, "I feel as if I am tied to the wing of a windmill." I read tons of Poe's work too, of course. Like everybody else, I had been exposed to the more well known pieces, but after reading Silverman's biography there were a few lesser known works that I wanted to check out as well, like "The Domain of Arnheim", which figures prominently at the end of the series. For fans of Poe's writing, there are dozens of little hidden nuggets throughout the book from one Poe story or another.

NRAMA: For long-time Edgar Allan Poe fans to interested newcomers, what can people expect from this miniseries?

Poe #1, cover A

JBM: The end goal was to make a really thrilling, epic adventure yarn that mixed together a lot of exciting supernatural set pieces with elements from some of Poe's most famous stories. The cool thing is, with Poe as the main character, you get a guy who isn't your traditional adventure hero...he's kind of small and frail, very internal, insecure in a lot of ways. So, he has to overcome all the obstacles and danger he's confronted with by thinking his way out of them, as opposed to just fighting his way out. The relationship between Poe and his brother is a key component to the story as well. William is the opposite of Poe, strong, confident, street smart, so it's a neat dynamic between the two as a team. There's even somewhat of a love story at the heart of the series that culminates in a cool way, so there's definitely something in it for everyone. Plus if you're a fan of Poe's writing, I think you'll really enjoy how some of the classic moments and elements from his work are re-imagined for the comic.

NRAMA: Making this comic a reality is artist Dean Kotz. What’s your collaboration with him like?

JBM: Working with Dean is fantastic. His style is a perfect fit for the material, because he's great at conveying the kind of gothic, moody atmosphere of the story. Cobblestone streets lit by gas lanterns, tombs, crypts, arcane laboratories. He's awesome at that kind of stuff, his panels just ooze atmosphere. And I'm always blown away by the amount of detail he manages to cram into his scenes. There's also a lot of action set pieces in the series, and he really has a flair for drawing them with energy and emotion as well. I'd love to work with Dean again.

NRAMA: Tracing your steps here Barton, how'd this project come together for you?

JBM: I actually came up with the idea for POE several years ago after I read The Murders in the Rue Morgue for the first time. What's fascinating to me is that the word "detective" didn't exist until Poe, he created the Detective genre when he invented C. Auguste Dupin. I don't know if most people realize that. I think a lot of people think of famous literary detectives and what comes to mind is Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, but, really, if you read Rue Morgue you see everything writers like Conan Doyle and Christie were doing later is right there. Poe was also avidly interested in puzzles and cryptography, he used to challenge the readers of his journals to try and stump him with cryptograms and things like that. Those aspects along with the supernatural nature of some of his writings really seemed to call out to be addressed in a story somehow, and I kind of built it around those ideas. It fell together pretty naturally, really. I pitched it as to BOOM! and they felt it would make a really cool title for them, which I'm very happy about.

NRAMA: Before we go, let’s touch on your background. You’re a new face to comics, but reading this you’ve got some serious writer’s chops.

JBM: I've spent a lot of years working (to questionable success) on the film and TV side of things, but comics have always been my favorite medium. I've been a lover of the artform since I was a kid. Old school X-Men and Avengers, Moon Knight (even during his West Coast Avengers days), Frank Miller's Batman, Matt Wagner's Grendel (and the near perfect Batman/Grendel crossover, still one of my favorite miniseries ever), Moore's Swamp Thing, O'Barr's The Crow, even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Cerebus were on my radar back then. Mine was the Nintendo generation, but I was still drawn to comic books just as much as the electronic forms of entertainment. I am so incredibly excited to finally be able to work in this medium, and hope I get more opportunities to do so in the future.

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