I’ve known Rich Douek for a while now and been really excited for him as he builds an increasingly impressive portfolio of comics. He first burst on the scene with urban fantasy Gutter Magic and earlier this year released ComixTribe’s Wailing Blade. As much as I enjoy those two series, Road of Bones may be his best yet. I chatted with Rich about how it came together, keeping supernatural elements in the background, and building momentum as a comic book creator.
All art by Alex Cormack
What appealed to you about the concept behind Road of Bones?
For me, the story is about humanity and the things that test it. On the one hand, you have the Gulag system – a product of one of the most brutal and murderous regimes in history, while on the other you have Siberia – a biome that is one of the hardest places in the world for a person to survive. Being in either situation pushes against all of our better natures – the path to survival seems to mean becoming more animalistic, less human. So if you’re in the middle of one of these brutal environments, how do you keep your humanity? At what point does it run out?
For such a dark story do you have to go to a dark place to write it, or are you able to detach yourself enough to not let it seep in?
The dark place for me was in doing the research, and reading about the real-life atrocities that happened in the gulags under Stalin. I have Russian heritage, but my family had fled the country long before he rose to power, but I shudder to think of what life was like for the people caught up in the atrocities of those times.
There’s nothing directly supernatural in Road of Bones but on multiple occasions the characters allude to Russian folklore. Why bring up the supernatural but not outright insert it into the story?
I think that in this issue, we are more hinting at supernatural elements than bringing them to the forefront – and there are a couple of scenes that definitely show something strange is going on. That folklore, with its supernatural elements, is something that Roman truly believes in, on some level – and one of the questions the book asks is, are these really supernatural occurrences, or is it just his mind breaking under the stress of going through such an extreme situation? So that stuff is in there, in my opinion, and will continue to be built on, but it’s up to the reader to decide how “real” it is, as the story goes on.
Alex Cormack’s art plays such a critical role in conveying the ugliness and desperation behind Road of Bones. How did you find him for the project?
I’ve known Alex for a while through Comixtribe, my publisher for Wailing Blade, and a company I’ve worked with in the past on some of their anthologies. When I saw the work Alex was doing with their horror book, SINK, I thought he would be perfect for this. Alex is amazing both at creating atmosphere and conveying emotion. The action-filled parts are thrilling, yeah, but even the quiet moments are dripping with dread and foreboding. I think he was the perfect choice to bring it to life.
What was the pitch process like for the series?
After I had Alex, and our letterer, Justin Birch aboard, we produced a five-page sample, and I started sending it out with a synopsis of the overall story. Showed it to a lot of publishers, and to be honest, a lot of them passed on it as not being right for them. Others got back to me after IDW had already picked it up and I had to tell them it was too late. I think everyone I showed it to saw a lot of potential in the project, it’s just that some places felt it wasn’t a good fit for them. But I couldn’t be happier having the book at IDW, they’re a great publisher that knows how to promote horror.
Do you think publishing Gutter Magic through the Comics Experience imprint open doors for you at IDW?
Not in the sense that I can call them up and say “I want to do X”, and they say “Sure!” However, in doing Gutter Magic, I got to meet and talk with Bobby Curnow, my editor, Chris Ryall, John Barber, and lots of other great folks that work over there. So, you know, at least I could be sure that they knew who I was and were familiar with my work and what I was capable of. But in terms of opening doors, I don’t know, you’d have to ask them!
Did you deliberately time this so closely to Wailing Blade or was it a happy acc ident?
No,it was totally coincidental. In my head I figured that Wailing Blade would come out in the beginning of this year, and Road of Bones closer to the end – but it turned out that IDW wanted to put it out a little sooner, and WB got pushed a little later (due to factors out of our, or Comixtribe’s control), so it just happened that they are coming out within a week of each other. It’s been an interesting challenge, talking about both books at the same time, but I’m doing the best I can.
Forging a career in a field as competitive as comics tends to requires a lot of momentum. How do you keep that momentum going?
Not nearly as well as some of my peers! I mean, I’m figuring all of this out as I go, too. The best thing I can say is that I do my best to always have things in different stages of production. So as Wailing Blade and Road of Bones are coming out, I’m currently working on my next project for later this year, developing some new pitches, and reaching out to publishers for other opportunities. I’m hoping things pan out, but the key, to me, seems to be not waiting for the current thing to come out before you start working on the next one.
Writer of Stuff. Lover of comics, video games, and the art of storytelling. Writing is my least and most favorite thing.