He was the master of horror, the creator of the detective story. Following his death more than 150 years ago, Edgar Allan Poe has captivated readers with his suspenseful tales. But does the melancholy, alcoholic writer have a story of his own? Does his mastery of terror come naturally, or was it inspired by something far more sinister?
BOOM! Studios has explored that question with Poe, which just concluded its fourth and final issue -- fittingly enough -- just before Halloween. Newsarama sat down with writer J. Barton Mitchell and artist Dean Kotz for an exit interview, in which they talked about the archetypical Poe, their favorite issues of the series, and their all-time favorite stories by the master himself.
Newsarama: So how did the story of Poe come to be? And how did you two get involved in this project?
J. Barton Mitchell: The idea for Poe sort of materialized after reading Murders in the Rue Morgue. Poe was the father of the detective story and everything that later authors (like Conan Doyle, for instance) would do with the genre, he had already done in that work. Combine that with the supernatural aspects of some of his stories, and it all sort of fell into place. I pitched it to Andy and Ross at Boom! and they wanted to do it.
Dean Kotz: I was contacted by Boom! and asked to do some sample pages. Thankfully, Jack liked the samples enough to tell the folks at Boom!, "This guy ain't that terrible. I guess we can use him."
Nrama: With his pioneering of the horror and detective genres, Edgar Allan Poe almost seems like an archetype onto himself. With so much historical background on him as a man, what was your approach to him as a character? Are there any influences from elsewhere you took for him?
Mitchell: You're right, he is basically his own archetype! That's what really makes the story approachable and intriguing, I think. Even if you're not all that well read in the Poe canon, you probably still have an idea or an image of who he was and the type of stories he wrote. So much of his work (including the stories referenced in the series) was about personal loss and the struggle to deal with it, that that seemed the right direction to go with his character. A lot of real facts about Poe as a person made it into the character, most notably his depression over the death of his wife and his writer's block.
Nrama: Now, everyone's heard of Edgar Allan Poe -- but his older brother, William Henry Leonard Poe, is a different story. What went into making that character? Did any historical research go into him?
Mitchell: The real William died when he was only about 24, and he was a sailor not a police constable. He's the bigger fictional construct in the series, clearly. I think Poe needed a character to contrast his extremes, so William is almost the polar opposite of his brother. While Poe approaches problem solving from a more mental standpoint, William is very martial in his solutions, very physical, almost impulsive at times. You need a guy like him around when things start getting dangerous. He's also important in that he's the one remaining human connection Poe has. So, that relationship, whether it falls apart or is mended, directly parallels Poe's journey in the series, and kind of stands as a tangible sign of just how much he's changed and achieved by the end.
Nrama: Could you tell us how the two of you collaborate with one another? How this process has gone?
Mitchell: Dean and I didn't talk all that much during the process. I turned in all four issues of the script pretty much at once, and then was kind of in the background from then on. It's an interesting level of detail you go into with comics. You try to be specific enough in your descriptions to establish what needs to be there, but you don't want to step on the artist's toes either. At the end of the day, you want there to be room for him to interpret your work, not just "draw" dictation or something. Dean totally nailed the atmosphere of the story while at the same time bringing his own really cool aesthetic to the pages. I'd love to work with him again.
Kotz: There wasn't a lot of contact between us during production. Jack's scripts were so descriptive and beautifully paced that not too many questions popped up.
Nrama: There also seems to be this cycle of stories influencing crimes, and vice versa. Can you elaborate on how that premise impacted Poe, both in terms of tweaking the man and heightening the myth?
Mitchell: Writers are sort of naturally fascinated with the concept of where story ideas come from. Really, the main thing that interested me about the comic series was this idea that a lot of the stuff Poe wrote about, maybe were things that he directly experienced in a very literal sense. There were all kinds of interesting directions to go with that, especially when you consider that most of Poe's work was very personal in some way or another. It made figuring out the path through the series fairly easy, as well as which stories of his were best to use as references.
Nrama: Dean, on the art side of things, what sorts of things have you done to create the tone of this book, while keeping the storytelling clear?
Kotz: I wanted the artwork to seem contemporary with the setting. Sort of, what if a 19th century illustrator or engraver started drawing a comic book? Of course, I don't have an inch of the talent those masters had, so it became an interesting hybrid of their methodology and my limitations. In the end I think the experiment paid off and gave the book a really unique, antique feeling.
Nrama: Edgar Allan Poe has written so many different kinds of books -- which ones are your favorite? And which ones do you think most influenced your approach to Poe?
Kotz: "The Black Cat" has always creeped me out and the Berni Wrightson adaptation was definitely floating around my head when I was working on the series.
Mitchell: My favorite has always been "The Pit and the Pendulum," just for the amazing way Poe builds tension in that piece. But I would say the two that influenced the story the most were "The Raven" and "The Domain of Arnheim." The Raven, because it's such an amazing image for loss and remembrance and this idea of not wanting to let go of someone who's gone, which is really what the entire series is about (both from Poe's point of view and the villain's). The emotion and theme conveyed by the Raven is sort of the heart of the series. And then, as a nice contrast, you have the Domain of Arnheim, which is the piece Poe is struggling to finish in the story. It ends with this amazing description of the arrival of the main character into heaven. In real life, Poe wrote this while his wife was dying, probably as a way to deal with his impending loss, and it plays a big role in the final issue. Both those pieces were integral to the comic series and to the character, I think.
Nrama: Have there been any favorite moments for this book? And for those who haven't picked up the final issue -- or haven't heard of this series yet -- are there any teases you can give?
Mitchell: I think the third issue is my favorite, mainly because of the well known Poe set piece it features. It was a lot of fun to conceive and write and try and put my own spin on, though most of it is lifted directly from Poe's story (which makes it even more cool I think). I think anyone who has an interest in Poe's stories will find something to get excited about with the comics, just to see how some of his ideas are reimagined.
Kotz: The last issue is my favorite. I love how Jack wrapped up the series and tied up the loose ends. The last few scenes just glide one into another. It's a very satisfying ending and really captures the ethereal, dream-like quality of Poe's work.