As the artist behind the series Cowboy Ninja Viking and Proof: Endangered, Riley Rossmo has already established his innovative style, although in two very different titles.
With his new series, Green Wake, Rossmo turns toward horror, working with writer Kurtis Wiebe (The Intrepids) to craft a story about a town with mysterious properties and a series of murders that feels a lot like Twin Peaks.
Rossmo is already riding high from the return last year of Proof after a long hiatus, and the acquisition by Disney of film rights to Cowboy Ninja Viking, with a script by Zombieland writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick already in the works.
Now the artist is adding to his busy schedule with Green Wake, which both he and Wiebe are using as an outlet for some "emotions and turbulence" they've recently experienced. The story centers on Morley Mack, a Green Wake resident who helps the strange visitors who show up in the town without any idea how they got there.
The series begins as Morley begins an investigation into a series of murders in the town of Green Wake.
Now that the artist is adding to his busy schedule with Green Wake, which is on its second issue, Newsarama talked with Rossmo to find out more about his style and how he approaches his work on the series.
Newsarama: Riley, how did working on Green Wake come about?
Riley Rossmo: Kurtis is from my hometown. I found out he was into comics and we talked about doing something scary. Initially, we envisioned it for 2-3 page back-ups in Proof or as a web comic, I think. But I was pretty busy doing Cowboy Ninja Viking and Proof, so it kind of was pushed to the side for a while.
During that time, Kurtis went through some pretty intense stuff, and I moved cities. So lots of stuff changed. And all the sudden we had all these emotions and turbulence in our lives to pour into Green Wake. We talked a bit more, and I did eight or nine paintings. We used four of the paintings for covers. We sent a tight synopsis and script to Image, and they liked it.
Nrama: Are you a fan of horror comics? And did you have any particular influences as you thought about how you wanted this comic to look?
Rossmo: I'm a big fan of horror comics, horror films and books. One of my biggest influences of all time, though it might not show, is Bernie Wrightson. I have most of his stuff and really love the mood he establishes. I'm a big fan of Creepy and Eerie too. I like pretty much all the art and stories in the first 60 issues. In terms of modern horror creators, Mike Mignola and Ben Templesmith have done a lot for horror books. Templesmith's stuff on Fell was so good. I tried to borrow a little bit of his toning and textures for Green Wake.
Nrama: What's the premise behind the story?
Rossmo: Green Wake is where you go if you've done something you feel so guilty about you need to disappear. It's where everyone who can't forgive themselves goes, and there seems to be no way out.
Nrama: How do you portray the town of Green Wake as a character in the story? What's its personality and in what way do you help that come across through the art?
Rossmo: I try to portray Green Wake as a dumping ground for expired architecture from the last 150 years. There are even older remnants too. I've been considering it as a character a lot, and I've been thinking of Green Wake as
the Frankenstein monster, with cobbled-together old parts that are mashed together so it functions, but once assembled has its own sense of self.
Nrama: Morley is a great character. How did you design him?
Rossmo: Initially Morley was a Raymond Chandler-style character but as he evolves, Morley is morphing into someone a little nobler, I think. More of a Sherlock Holmes as apposed to a hard-boiled detective.
Nrama: We've seen some of the characters who have an ongoing role in the story. How did you approach the way you draw them?
Rossmo: Kreiger was the most fun to design. I based him primarily on Peter Lorre. Carl is based on my youngest brother. Ariel was the hardest to figure out and I'm still struggling with her, but as her hair becomes more animated,
she's starting to feel more complete.
Nrama: We've seen the theme of guilt explored in the series. How does your artwork and the tone of the book reflect them?
Rossmo: The main theme is guilt and how people experience and cope with it. Accepting failure and loss runs strongly through it as well. I tried to use more black than I have on anything else, to really make it foreboding, then chose some unsettling colors — green for envy and yellow for cowardice. I also chose green and yellow to build an acid atmosphere into the world. I hope the yellow and green conveys a sulfuric smell to the reader. I made a ton of textures to use specifically for Green Wake. They're all constructed of materials or photos of water.
Nrama: There are some pretty grisly things happening in the first couple issues. How do you approach those types of images?
Rossmo: I'm very concerned with how I convey violence in comics. Kurtis and I discussed how we handled it at length. I want to only have a little bit of the narrative about violence, but when it does occur, I want it to really affect the reader. I look at as much anatomical reference as I can for the gore. My wife is a nurse, so I have access to lots of photographic imagery from textbooks of wounds. I look at them and then elaborate and emphasize the portions I feel are important.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about the series?
Rossmo: I've really poured a lot into this book artistically. I wanted to do some things I've only done experimentally until now. If you like Dark City, Alice in Wonderland, the Dark Tower, or Twin Peaks, you'll like Green Wake.