“We secretly want to feed you to Lovecraftian horror beasts.” Matt Gardner and Rashad Doucet talk about the secrets that lurk in Oni Press’ Alabaster Shadows
What is it about kids in comics moving to a new town and thinking everyone is up to no good? Well in the case of Oni Press’ new kids horror comics Alabaster Shadows then all really isn’t quite as it seems. This Goosebumps meets Goonies tale is being released digitally in weekly chapters on ComiXology and so we caught up with creators Matt Gardner and Rashad Doucet to find out whether their childhood homes had secret doorways to another world hidden inside them!
Tell us a bit about the inspiration for Alabaster Shadows? Did you have a leaky basement when you were growing up? Or did you move to a small town full of weirdness?
MG: One of the biggest inspirations for Alabaster Shadows are these planned communities surrounding Phoenix, Arizona. They’re all over the place, and some of them ended up getting so big that they became cities in their own right. When you drive through them it’s weird, very abruptly all the houses start looking identical and the roads start getting really twisty and confusing and I always found that a bit eerie. Everything is just so pristine and well manicured you can’t help but imagine what is hiding just below the surface. As soon as I decided I wanted to write a kid-friendly horror book, I knew I had to set it in a community like that.
RD: For the most part Matt can answer this. I joined in when it came down to the visuals and Matt added my ideas to what he had written. The main thing for me was drawing big hair. I’m a fan of old school 70’s/80’s anime and they all had amazing hair lol.
The idea of a conspiracy of grown-ups is a common one in kids fiction and I love the sinister Community Council you have created in Alabaster Shadows, why do you think that works so well for this kind of story? Is it kids’ inherent distrust of authority figures?
MG: Actually, I think it’s a bit of the opposite. Frequently adults can be automatically dismissive of children just because they’re kids, and as a kid that can be really scary. There’s an assumption that if a kid says one thing and an adult says something else, most people will tend to believe the adult regardless of whether it’s true.
Sinister conspiracies work so well as villains in general because going up against them seems so hopeless. With kids fiction, you couple that with the heroes being kids and the villains being adults and it just doubles.
RD: For the most part, yes. Kids like feeling that they have something that their parents or adults can’t control. So much of their lives involves older people telling them what to do that its fun to think of having knowledge adults don’t have.
Which of the main characters do you identify with the most (i.e. which one were you most like as a kid?) and which is your favourite to write/draw?
MG: Oh man, that is always such a hard question, I get really invested in all of my characters. But if I had to pick one I’d probably say Dudley, I’ve always been a shy and panicky worrier especially as a kid, he’s also the first of the kids that I feel I really got the voice for when I started developing the book.
As far as favourite to write I’d have to say Harley and Warren because I’m basically just writing them as my sister and I, that sibling relationship of both antagonism and camaraderie is a lot of fun to write. But again, it’s such a close call if you asked me on a different day I’d probably have different answers.
RD: Lol I want to say I was more like Carter when I was that age but I was definitely closer to Dudley lol. I was the kid who sat in the ant pile every time he played outside.
You aren’t afraid to give the book a darker edge (especially with the shadow flies – who appear in later episodes) was it important for you to not sugar coat this part of the story and to make it slightly darker to help give the story a bit more depth?
MG: Growing up, I always hated it when a book was obviously glossing over aspects of the story with the idea that kids couldn’t handle it or whatever the logic was. It felt like I wasn’t being taken seriously as a reader. My favorite writer growing up was Roald Dahl. While his books for kids never went into innapropriate territory he wasn’t afraid to some dark places. If a scene should be scary it was scary, if a scene should be sad it was sad, and he didn’t try to soften these just because it was for kids. I always try to keep that important honesty in things I write. While the situation might be fantastic the emotions are real, and I think that’s important no matter who the audience is.
And until I saw the colored pages I had no idea just how scary the shadowflies would look. I mean, they were scary enough in the inked version but the colored version is something else entirely.
RD: Oh yeah. I really wanted them to face some serious danger/dark moments. I think thats what made stuff like Goosebumps work. Everybody can still remember one of those stories that really got to them and still does as an adult.
How did you and Rashad come to be working together on this? Have you worked together before and what has the working dynamic been like?
MG: I had no idea who was going to be drawing the book when I started writing it. I had recently hurt my wrist and was in no shape to draw a book myself and even if I could the script does not play to my strengths as an artist at all. I developed a writeup for the book that gives a rough outline of the plot and character profiles for each of the main characters. My editor at the time, the wonderful Jill Beaton, got several artists to do sketches based on my writeup. They were all great, but when I got to see Rashad’s take, it was this massive 24 page document that had a full page of sketches for every single character mentioned in the outline, even ones that I didn’t write a character profile for along with several full page drawings of just fun scenes that may or may not even make it into the book. Not only were the sketches fantastic, but the idea clearly sparked his imagination and I knew I’d be a fool not to work with someone who already was just as passionate about the book as I was.
RD: We were lucky enough to be teamed up by the editorial department at Oni. We’d never worked together before but our imaginations have synced up well. Once I read the prompt and character descriptions, ideas started flowing.
Rashad you seem to really enjoy the fantastical elements of the book, from the monsters to the underwater city, were there any visual inspirations which you used to get the look and feel right? And which parts of the story did you get the most satisfaction from drawing?
RD: I was heavily influenced by French comics like Agito Cosmos and BlackSad for the visual elements. French comics often have a great combination of action, imagination and character acting. My favorite sequences was the one where Carter discovers the leak and the shadow fly chase scene the latter because it was just so chaotic and fast paced. I’m a huge fan of shows like Gurren Lagann and Dragonball Z so I couldn’t wait to throw some action into that scene.
Matt you have a background in animation, how much do you think that informs the way you write? Alabaster Shadows has a real energy to it and never slows down, which is great, is that the way you would write an animation? And would you like to see Alabaster Shadows turned into a cartoon (it certainly has that energy and attitude!)
MG: I’m a huge fan of cartoons in general. I grew up watching shows like Tiny Toons and Animaniacs, both of which have a lot of fast paced back and forth dialogue which definitely had an influence on how I write today. As far as the dialogue is concerned there’s not a huge difference between how I write for animation and how I write for comics, but for action sequences it is an entirely different beast. I used to worry about ruining the momentum of an exciting sequence when there’s a page turn right in the middle of it but now I love trying to work in little mini-cliffhangers at the end of a page. And working with Rashad, I’ve learned I never have to worry about a sequence lacking energy, even his dialogue scenes are just filled with it.
One of my dreams is work on a cartoon series, so if Alabaster Shadows were to be turned into a cartoon I certainly would not be complaining.
Oni are releasing the books in weekly digital chapters, did you know this when you started work on the book, or has this just happened since the book was finished? What do you think are the benefits of releasing it this way and are you fans of digital comics in general?
MG: There was talk about releasing it digitally when we first started on the book, but the main focus was on making a solid volume and going from there. However, I’m thrilled that it’s got a digital release because I’ve really been getting into digital comics lately. I recently moved to a bigger city and, as usual with that sort of move, I have a much smaller home with much less closet space so I barely have room for my current collection of comics and books, let alone any that I’d buy in the future. That said, being able to store literally hundreds of comics on a single digital tablet has been a lifesaver, and certainly freed up a lot of closet space. I still buy hard copies of my favorites though; after all, it’d be weird asking creators to sign my tablet.
RD: We didn’t plan it early on but I’m glad we did. Digital comics is growing fast and I definitely want to be a part of that. It’s also a great avenue to get our book out there to people who may not have access to brick and mortar stores or more casual fans who like the comfortability of shopping from home or lol wherever they are with their phone. I’m starting to buy way more comics digitally. Lol all those sales on Comixology are killing me (in a good way).
Where did the name Alabaster Shadows come from? And does it have a particular meaning for either of you, or is it just a cool sounding name for a small town.
MG: About a decade before I started work on the book, Alabaster Shadows was the name of the setting for a completely different comic I was developing but that one didn’t really go anywhere. What always stuck with me, though, was the town. The name was just supposed to sound like any given planned community but something about it kept lingering in my head. Somewhere along the line when working on this book, I realized that the setting from this old abandoned project was perfect for it, and on top of that the name has got a bit of a creepy ring to it, and everything just started falling into place. A lot of elements were already there in different forms, for instance the Community Council, but they were nowhere near as sinister in the original. One of the wonderful things about writing is that an old idea that might not have worked before may end up being exactly what you need for a completely different project later, no idea is ever truly wasted.
RD: It’s the name of the community that our lead character moves to and I think it does a good job of foreshadowing the potential doom of this place. “Move here, its so beautiful and quaint…. also we secretly want to feed you to Lovecraftian horror beasts.”
Finally, what’s next from both of you? More Alabaster Shadows or are you off working on other projects?
MG: I’m always working on a bunch of projects at once, that way if I need to procrastinate I can do it by being productive on a different project. At the moment I’m writing an adventure game for PC, building puppets for a web-series and writing some scripts for more cartoons for my YouTube channel. But on top of that I’m definitely working on more Alabaster Shadows, there’s a lot more of that story left to tell and I can’t wait to tell it.
RD: More Alabaster Shadows stuff is on the to do list. And I’m also working on my creator owned book Henna Hanson Must Save Prom, a story set in 1985 involving a cheer queen who has to save her town from Giant Nazi Robots so she can go to prom. Issue one is out on Comixology now.
You can purchase Alabaster Shadows from ComiXology for £1.49 per chapter and a collected edition will be available in December