“Ailsa Dark” Creator Will Hazle Talks Monsters, the Macabre, and Making Comics (Interview)
Independent comic book creator Will Hazle recently launched an Indiegogo campaign for the third and final issue in a three-part miniseries titled Ailsa Dark: Werewolves and Bampots. We were fortunate enough to get a chance to discuss his Ailsa Dark campaign which is still available to support here.
As always, the answers below are represented as closely to “as written” as possible with only minimal edits.
The Splintering: First things first, you’re fully funded. Congratulations! How did your previous campaigns prepare you for success on Ailsa Dark issue 3?
Will Hazle: Thanks. It was surprising how quickly it was funded. Less than 45 minutes. Charlie’s London’s was kind enough to let me launch on her YouTube channel and it was a great launch. We made a night of it, moving over to my channel and streaming for the evening. Statistical Zero interviewed me and we had a blast. This was in stark contrast to the first campaign where I went live and crossed my fingers.
This campaign is more assured and focused than the first, and thanks to Twitter and YouTube there was a greater awareness of who I was and what I was creating with Ailsa Dark. Connecting with people on social media really helped the launch go well. I knew there were return backers and new backers that were interested in the launch and my increased presence online helped get the campaign off to a great start.
TS: The Indiegogo campaign is getting close to reaching the second stretch goal unlocking Statistical Zero’s print. Are there any plans for additional stretch goals beyond that?
WH: Oh yes, I’ve got a few planned. I want to tease them as the campaign progresses. There’s always a falloff in a campaign after the initial surge of backers, so the stretch goals will help me keep the campaign vital. Once Statistical Zero’s print has been unlocked, I’ll unveil the next stretch goal, teasing it first before unveiling it. I’ll also be dropping in some random Bampot Bonuses; the first being a trading card once it gets to £3,500.
TS: As a creator, you’re a one-man-show who does all of the story, art, lettering, etc. Are there any pieces of the process that you’d be happy to pass off to a capable creative partner, or do you prefer having absolute control?
WH: When it comes to my own creations, editing and writing are the two parts of the process that I would never hand over to anyone else. It’s a lot of work and it’s time consuming, but by taking on all the roles I can keep a high level of consistency in all departments. When I do work with others it’s because I want their aesthetics as part of the package. I’m currently working with the artist Tony Sizzle on a graphic novel called Beat the Devil. I handed a full script over to him and he’s free to interpret it in his style. I have a big smile on my face whenever he sends me a new page.
TS: Which of Ailsa Dark’s monstrous creatures do you enjoy drawing most?
WH: I enjoy drawing the Tattybogle Man the most but he’s not really one of Ailsa’s creatures, so I’ll have to say the Bampots. These flesh-eating ghouls are a parody of characters that I grew up reading in British comic. I wanted them to be both the comic relief and the most shocking characters in the books.
TS: You’re not shy about Ailsa Dark being inspired by other “horror hostess” characters such as TV’s Vampira or comics’ Vampirella. What other stories inspired the Ailsa Dark book, horror or otherwise?
WH: Lots. But mostly in stylistic ways. It was important that I create a visual language for Ailsa whilst also playing stylistically with how it’s written. The mantra that “comics are a visual medium” is often repeated, but it’s more accurate to say that it’s a “visually driven medium”; meaning that the visuals initially hook the audience, then drive the story forward, however if the writing isn’t equally as engaging there’s no point in making a comic. Words can evoke feelings and atmosphere in different ways than pictures, and the best comics use both equally to drive the narrative.
To this end, Noir fiction was a big influence on how I approached the written word. I wanted to have something of a classic pulp feel to the writing and embracing the first-person narrative approach of writers like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett was a conscious decision. I have three narrators of the story and none is fully reliable. This is the most fun aspect of the creative process for me and was also the one that gave me most concern. Could I pull off writing in three voices? Would it confuse the reader? Feedback on the first book allayed these fears and I’m glad I took that approach. Never dumb down your work for fear that others may not get it.
Visually, Horror movies, especially those from Hammer are a big influence, and 70s horror comics. Marvel’s master of Kung fu was also an influence in the way that it introduced a dense and well-defined cast of supporting characters. Artistically, Paul Gulacy and Jose Gonzalez were influences, not stylistically, but in how they approached the work.
TS: How has Ailsa playing the horror hostess role affected the storytelling of main adventure? How do you keep the stakes high for Ailsa with this sort of approach, particularly in a horror setting?
WH: On the surface, the Horror Hostess persona is her way of hiding in plain sight, and it connects the horror movie influences directly to the story. It doesn’t play much of a role in the first few issues other than to give her a persona that ties her to both the real world and the mythical Otherworld of monsters. However, as the story progresses the reader is made aware that there may be a closer connection between Ailsa and the world of horror movies than meets the eye. She’s more human and playful in the Hostess role than she is without the purple wig and fake fangs. Outside of her online show “Cult Zone”, Ailsa is a troubled character with the world on her shoulders.
TS: Let’s cast her. Who would you have play Ailsa in a live-action adaptation?
WH: I’d love to see a low budget production get off the ground and there are a few actresses out there that would be great in the part. One has already been sent the comics, so I’m not going to name any names. Although I will say that if I could jump back in time to 1972, I’d cast Caroline Munro in a heartbeat.
TS: Many of those who follow crowdfunded comics are familiar with the trials and tribulations of making international sales. Since you’re a Brit, how much support have you received from international backers? Do you have any “horror” stories to tell about shipping internationally?
WH: I’ve had good support from international backers on the last campaign and this one. There are no horror stories to tell and hopefully it stays that way. I use a very sturdy box to package the books in and everything is working out fine that way.
TS: So far (at the time of my writing these questions), you haven’t sold any digital versions. At $21 (£16) for issue 3 and $46 (£35) for the three-issue bundle, how did you approach the tricky decision of pricing your digital version?
WH: I priced them similarly to the digital versions in my first campaign. I dislike seeing creators undervalue their worth on digital platforms. It’s almost as though the content and hard work is secondary compared to the format. I also take care to export different files for the digital backers and give them options on how to read the final books. We also have to remember that the customers are backing our work, and regardless of the tier they back they’ll get much more for their money as the campaign grows. I also add digital versions of the stretch goals, so a digital backer will get a hi-res pdf of the prints for personal use, to print out and frame, and any other zines or comics stretch goals will also be theirs to own digitally. They are backing the campaign and will get rewards for doing so.
TS: Veteran comic book writer Chuck Dixon laments that comics took a hard turn towards superheroes several decades ago, and that the industry would be healthier today if it had not largely abandoned other genres like horror. Do you agree? How would you describe the current state of horror comics?
WH: Yes, I agree. I miss the war and western titles too. There are some interesting horror comics campaigns out there, but I miss the monthly anthology books and all the variety of the Bronze Age titles. I don’t see it ever coming back but I’m doing my bit to keep it alive. I’ve got a “Tales of Mystery and Imagination” anthology ready to go after I fulfill this campaign.
TS: Horror films often rely on the unseen, “jump scares” and sound design to build suspense. What makes the comic book medium unique as one well suited for horror?
WH: A comic can play with words as well as pictures, choosing when to show and when to let the reader imagine the horror. The early Alan Moore issues of Swamp Thing and Neil Gaiman’s first few issues of Sandman have a nice uneasy feel to them because the words and pictures create an uneasy atmosphere. Artists such as Steven Bissett and John Totleben, in particular, were as important to Swamp Thing’s success as Moore was. This is what comics can excel at.
The use of shocking imagery is also very powerful as the reader can choose to turn the page quickly, to skip past the more horrific content, but more often than not they turn back to witness the horror again and again. I like to imbue my books with a sense of humour that softens the more disturbing aspects of the story. I want to reach as wide an audience as possible with my stories and comics are the best medium for that. The gore in my comics is over the top, but it won’t give a kid nightmares if he sneaks a peak… well’ maybe one or two.
TS: What is the most frightening horror comic book that you can remember?
WH: Bruce Jones and Berni Wrightson’s “Jennifer” from “Creepy” is one of the most disturbing stories I’ve ever read in comics or seen in any medium. It was adapted as an episode of “Masters of Horror” by the great Dario Argento, but even he couldn’t replicate the grotesque disturbing qualities of the comic… he came close though. A disturbing masterpiece. Bruce Jones also edited the “Twisted Tales Anthology” for PC Comics in the early 80s and there are some great and controversial tales in that title that are worth checking out.
TS: Issue three concludes the Bampots storyline. What kind of plans do you have for the Ailsa Dark character when this arc is complete? Or do you expect to move on to a completely new project?
WH: I’ll be building my Dark-verse with Ailsa and the Tattybogle Man being the main focus. There are three arcs planned for Ailsa Dark. Ailsa is the character we learn the least about in this arc and her character will unravel like a mystery over the three arcs. The next arc is “Bride of the Monster” and the third arc will be “The Origin of Ailsa Dark”. I’ll separate each arc with a different campaign, the first being the “Tales of Mystery and Imagination” anthology, then “Beat the Devil” which is a Peckinpah inspired neo-noir horror set in the 70s.
TS: A year from now, how would you describe success for the Ailsa Dark project?
WH: If the backers are coming back for each campaign, that’s success enough. I’ll know that there’s a fan base for the characters and that can be grown. I call the backers Team Dark and if Team Dark grows a little every year, then I’ll be happy.
TS: What would you do with the power of the Beyonder?
WH: I’m trying to think of a flippant fun answer, but truthfully, I’d probably try to do good, make the world a better place, fail and then spiral into a dark abyss of despair before embarking on a journey of redemption (laughs) … power is never what people want or expect and I always start thinking dark whenever I have a scenario to play with. Or I’d find a starship somewhere and hassle its bald captain. That would be fun.
We would like to once again thank Will Hazle for taking the time to answer our questions and to have some fun with us. You can visit the Ailsa Dark Indiegogo page here. And of course, thank you for reading!