Alex Cormack is an all-star in the making. He wowed with his comics debut Oxymoron and has only continued to level up ever since. Road of Bones is his most impressive work to date. His talents are showcased in 4-issue series written by Rich Douek that mixes supernatural scares with the real-life horror of being of 1950s Soviet Russia. I was pleased to get to interview Cormack about his roots, process, and what he thinks the future will hold.
The art in Road of Bones and your other work is so unique. Who are some of the biggest influences on your style?
While working on this book I was looking at a lot of Christophe Chabouté’s work, especially To Build a Fire. Along with him, I looked at a lot of work by Jason Shawn Alexander, Joelle Jones, Pascal Campion, Hans Bacher, and Ryan Ottley.
Did Rich already have the concept of Road of Bones when he came to you or did you develop it together?
Rich had it all ready to go. When he asked if I’d be interested he gave me a quick pitch of the entire thing.
What initially appealed to you about the story that made you want to come aboard?
First off, it was a great story, even if I had nothing to do with it, I’d still go out and buy this book. Along with that I always wanted to tell a story in the snow and in the winter. Being from New England most of my life is dealing with snow so I always wanted to bring it into a book.
How did you and Rich interest IDW interested in publishing the comic?
Rich had worked with them before with his book Gutter Magic and writing for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’ve always been a fan of the books IDW have put out so I hoped they’d dig Road of Bones and lucky enough they did.
Did you spend a lot of time researching Russia to accurately reflect the setting and time period?
I spent most of my research looking at illustrations from the Gulag, specifically ones by Evfrosiniia Kersnovskaia who was a former Gulag prisoner. His drawing of a Dokhodiaga (goner) is where I got the clothing design for our heroes.
I’ve never seen snow like what’s in Road of Bones. Did you use any special tools to illustrate the falling snowflakes?
Not really. Once in a while, I would scan ink splatter and apply that to the work but most of the time I’d draw it like anything else. My family moved to Vermont when the book started so a lot of the lighting on the snow just came from looking outside every day. Most of the landscapes I based on what I’d see every morning driving my son to daycare, the only difference is that I stripped away the trees.
Is horror your favorite genre to draw or more so the genre you’re most frequently invited to work on?
Definitely what I’m most frequently invited to work on but I love it. It’s a blast to draw this type of stuff. I don’t know if I have a favorite genre to work with but horror would definitely be up there.
Road of Bones is full of unspeakable horrors which you had to illustrate. Can it be emotionally taxing to illustrate horror comics?
Not that I’ve noticed. I know my parents would rather I draw more family-friendly art, but as far as I can tell I’m all right… right? (my wife, son, and cat are all shaking their heads no).
Something I’ve noticed whenever looking at someone else’s work, especially someone I don’t know, it can tear you up because you have no control or influence on what’s happening. But when it’s your book and you can do whatever you want with these creations of yours I, at least, have no problem putting them through the wringer. Maybe it’s because I started in animation so I’m required to do terrible things to the characters I create? Also if it really bugs me I can draw them again feeling better. There’s something like that that I did for Road of Bones, which should show up in the back of the trade.
Road of Bones has supernatural elements but, especially from an artistic angle, largely presents characters in a real-world setting. Is that your preference, or are you excited to draw something a bit more fantastical with your next project?
Honestly, I’m for either. I haven’t done much with an entire fantasy setting, the closest that I can think of was a one-shot I did with Ryan Lyndsay called Stain the Sea Scarlet. That was a blast and I wouldn’t mind doing it again. At the end of the day though, as long as it’s a good story I’m in.
Has the attention Road of Bones received as an IDW title led to more opportunities with large publishers?
A little, at the moment, though I can’t really talk about any future projects, I’ll just say more stuff is coming.
Now that you’ve worked with a larger publisher, do you have a specific career trajectory and goals you want to accomplish, or are you happy to see where things take you?
The goal used to be just to stay in the game, which I think will always be in the back of my head. As long as I can keep drawing and creating in the way that I want to I’m happy. I wouldn’t mind tackling a big two book. If I do then great, if I don’t that’s fine too. I’m still doing what I want to do, and you know that alone is a tricky thing to accomplish.
Matt Chats is an interview series featuring discussions with a creator or player in comics, diving deep into industry, process, and creative topics. Find its author, Matt O’Keefe, on Twitter and Tumblr. Email him with questions, comments, complaints, or whatever else is on your mind at [email protected].