“The artists have a strong sense of building the characters, expressions and the worlds we’re dabbling in” Writer Chris Sides gives us the lowdown on new anthology Dark Matter II

dark-matter-ii-coverIt’s a great time for indie anthologies,and returning to the fray is the second volume of Dark Matter from writer Chris Sides. After a triumphant and eclectic debut, this new collection is set to launch at Birmingham’s MCM on November 19th, so we caught up with Chris Sides to get an in-depth rundown of the stories and creators and find out why Dark Matter stands out from the crowd.

Paul Moore’s got a very strong sense of storytelling [in The Rollover] and is not afraid to experiment with angles to get the scene just right.
So let’s start by asking about the stories in Dark Matter 2 – what are they and who are they by?

Chris Sides: There’s a real mix of stories in this volume – although, quite a lot of sci-fi, now that I think about it – but all with the series’ titular dark edge. There’s six tales this time, instead of DM I’s 9. We’ve got:

The Rollover – a slightly longer story, this is a sci-fi crime thriller with art by Paul Moore (paulmooregallery.tumblr.com) and Charlie Hogg (charliehogg.myportfolio.com).

Cerulean Sky – a small town crime thriller with art by series co-creator Chris Travell facebook.com/christravellart).

Stay With Me – sci-fi horror with art by Randy Haldeman (randyhaldeman.com) and letters by Ken Reynolds (kenreynoldsdesign.co.uk).

Unspoken – another sci-fi tale with art by Matt Harrower (hpmatt.blogspot.com), colours by Aljosa Tomic (voidexperiment.portfoliobox.me) and letters by Ken Reynolds.

Fine Dining – Masterchef-inspired horror with art by Jim Lavery (jimlavery.wordpress.com), colours by Aljosa Tomic and letters by Ken Reynolds.

The Last Batch – zombie booze-fuelled horror with art by Dan Cornwell (dancornwell.wordpress.com) and letters by Ken Reynolds.

All the stories were written by me (chrissideswriter.com).

There are a lot of anthologies out there right now, but what makes Dark Matter different?

CS: That’s a good question. One thing we’ve tried to maintain throughout both volumes is different genres of stories and never sticking to straight up horror. One guy came up to us at a con earlier this year, had a flick through DM I, bought a copy and said to us that he thought there wasn’t enough of ‘this sort of thing’ on the market for his liking and was happy to have found it, which was really great to hear. I’m guessing he was talking about the darker side of anthology storytelling, perhaps? There’s a few anthologies like that, but quite often the stories are all connected in some way, whereas all of these are standalone stories. That ‘dark theme/twist’ I always harp on about when I’m pitching it is our common thread.

Cerulean Sky’s Chris Travell has been experimenting with his style and realised pen and paper is his forte


You write the whole thing and so mix up the genres a lot, is that to keep things fresh for you or is Dark Matter a way for you to try out different styles as you find your voice?

CS: A bit of both, I think. I tend to read/watch a lot of different types of things, which will definitely have had an effect on these two volumes. I’m going through a sci-fi phase at the minute – funnily enough, at least two of these stories came out of research I was doing for a larger project.

How did you pick the artists to work on each story and can you tell us a bit about your thoughts on each story and why you wanted each respective artist? Incidentally we thought Paul Moore’s work on The Rollover was outstanding – reminded us of David Lloyd and Sean Philips. And Chris Travell’s work on Cerulean Sky is also very strong!

CS: Agreed, wholeheartedly! Some of the artists I’d worked with before on other things, some I’d seen their work and reached out. All of these folks have strong sense of building the characters, expressions and the worlds we’re dabbling in.

I’d met Paul at Thought Bubble last year and saw his work in Madius Comics’ Horrere book (which is absolutely worth it’s weight in gold and needs to be read). He’s got a very strong sense of storytelling and is not afraid to experiment with angles to get the scene just right. I was after quite a noir style and Paul delivered this in spades. A mutual friend, Shit Flingers’ Jimmy Furlong, put me in touch with Charlie Hogg – Charlie’s colours hit just the right spot for Paul’s work, he’s one to watch.

Stay With Me by artist Randy Haldeman is one of many science fiction inspired stories in Dark Matter II

Cerulean Sky was always going to be for Chris – he’s been experimenting with his style for quite a while and realised that working digitally is cool, but pen and paper is his forte. The work he’s been producing of late for this and other things we’re working on is mind blowing and he’s having a ball doing it.

I’d worked with Stay With Me artist Randy Haldeman on a short one page comic for the Facebook group The Prompt (you’re given a task to create a complete one page story in a limited time). I loved his work on that, I pitched him the SWM story and the rest is history.

I met Matt Harrower last year at DemonCon in Maidstone and his style was unlike anything I’ve seen – loose lines, heavy blacks, gorgeous. After chatting to him throughout the day and meeting up at other cons, we pitched him Unspoken and he nailed it. Aljosa Tomic’s colours compliment this one so well too. I’d worked with Aljosa on Secret Identity for Markosia’s British Showcase II and also Fine Dining. He’s got a very diverse palette and that shows here, I think.

Jim Lavery is a stalwart of the small press art scene and has had work included all over the place. I’d worked with him on something for Alterna Comics’ IF anthology and pitched him Fine Dining. Jim’s great at facial expressions and that suited this story down to the ground – the reaction of Sophia that offsets that of the restaurant’s patrons at the end of the story is perfect.

The Last Batch was originally in Dave Hailwood’s excellent 100% Biodegradable anthology. Dan’s work caught my eye after several issues of FutureQuake and I thought he’d knock up a mean zombie tale, which he did. I pitched it, he agreed and I didn’t hear anything for about 3 or 4 months and then he emailed with a Dropbox link and my jaw hit the table.

I’ve got to mention Ken Reynolds here, as he’s been such a God – send on this project – his letters are on 4 of the 6 stories. I’ve worked with him on numerous stories now and his design and lettering work is the glue that holds them all together.

The Last Batch was originally in Dave Hailwood’s excellent 100% Biodegradable anthology.


Are there any indie artists out there who you would love to get working on future Dark Matter stories? Or would it depend on the story?

CS: It definitely depends on the story, but there are so many talented individuals out there that it’s hard to pinpoint specific people. I’d work with all of the above folks again in a heartbeat. Matt Rooke, Sam Bentley, Alasdair Wood, Rory Donald, Conor Boyle, Renzo Rodriguez, Tristan Jones to name just a few off the top of my head.

We like the fact you have some dark humour in there as well, like Fine Dining and Last Batch – how important is humour for you as a story teller?

CS: It’s a hugely important part of storytelling, as it is in everyday life. I think you have to pick and choose a little with shorter stories depending on the tone you’re going for and the short space of time you have to establish it (Cerulean Sky, for example), but I’d argue that there needs to be that injection of humour, even if it’s partial, in horror stories. Case in point being that classic scene in The Thing – Norris’ head detaches and sprouts spider-legs; it’s so absurd and the build up to that moment is so intense that it deserved the ‘you’ve gotta be fuckin’ kidding’ line and it’s perfect.

Fine Dining with art by small press stalwart Jim Lavery


You’re releasing it at the Birmingham MCM, how important are Cons for you in terms of getting out there and selling your work and getting new readers? 

CS: Cons are hugely important for us for both those reasons – sales and new readers. Sales wise, we’ve been able to fund the print run for Dark Matter II by hitting a lot of cons this year. Some we’ve done quite well at, others not so much, but being able to engage and pitch to people that are interested in your work has been more beneficial than selling online this year, in all honesty. I think just being there sometimes and chatting to folks and they take your details, it’s still one of the best ways of getting out there. We’ve had some great feedback from returning customers this year who’ve enjoyed the first volume and are keen to know about the second volume.

And why Birmingham and not Thought Bubble (like everyone else?!) – Have i answered my own question there?

CS: Why not Thought Bubble – simply because we didn’t get a table this year! We were gutted, to be honest, it’s one of the best shows in the country and we’ve had a great time exhibiting over the last few years, but it is what it is. This is our first year of doing MCM shows – we did Liverpool and London – and so we’re really looking forward to seeing what the Birmingham show has to offer.

“Matt Harrower’s style for Unspoken was unlike anything I’ve seen “

And finally what’s next for you and the rest of the Close 2 Immortality collective?

CS: We’re all crazy busy at the minute with different projects:

Jon Laight’s (level8comics.com) got a stack of short stories in the pipeline, a secret all ages project with artist Matt Strott and graphic novel Away with the uber-talented Grant Richards, Darren Stephens and Rob Jones. And Brethren Born #3, of course…

Jay Martin’s (yeahwritejay.co.uk) in the process of finishing off production on ALV #2 and has VERY exciting news incoming about some of his prose work. He’s also working on his own anthology of short stories.

Chris Travell is hard at work on the pages for our one-shot crime comic Intersection, which is being released February 2017 at the True Believers Festival in Cheltenham. We’ll also be working on something for Comichaus next year, plus a project that’s been in the pipeline for a while with Markosia.

As for me, I’ve got a few more short stories inbound, plus Impossible, a graphic novel (more sci-fi!) with Jake Rawlinson and Dan Franco, launching next year through Markosia. There’s also a couple of big things in the pipeline with Travell and Dan Franco, which I’m really excited about.

As a collective we’ve got some exciting things happening next year that we’ll be announcing towards the end of the year, so stay tuned to our website (close2immortality.com) and Facebook page for more info.

Dark Matter II will be available at the Birmingham MCM Comic Con on November 19th-20th, and from then on via www.close2immortality.com You can find out more about Chris at chrissideswriter.com or on Facebook  and on Twitter at @Sidesy1982.