While the comics industry was shut down in early 2020, creators took it upon themselves to keep fans entertained by releasing new content digitally. One of the first that popped on my radar was Write It In Blood, a riveting 4-issue crime comic. The issues released digitally through Gumroad and will soon be published in print as an Image graphic novel. I connected with creators Rory McConville, Joe Palmer, and Chris O’Halloran to chat about the development of Write It In Blood, how COVID changed release plans, and their outsider perspectives on American crime stories.
You took a pretty huge risk creating a full miniseries without a publisher lined up. What compelled you to take that chance?
RORY: To be honest, I just wanted to be sure we’d make the book one way or another. It can take a long time to hear back from publishers and if we didn’t get picked up anywhere, I didn’t want to have wasted months sitting on our hands when we could have been producing the story.
It was definitely risky but at the end of the day, the worst-case scenario was that we would’ve been left with a miniseries that we could use as a calling card, if nothing else. Wouldn’t have been ideal of course, but equally, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world.
Was your plan always to release issues digitally and collect Write It In Blood in print, or was that influenced by the pandemic?
RORY: No, we’d initially conceived it as a print series but when the pandemic hit, we were still waiting to hear back from Image. Given how up in the air everything seemed back then, we figured it was better to just release the series online so that we could it out to people.
What makes the comics medium a good home for crime stories?
RORY: Well obviously, comics and crime stories have been intertwined as far back as the days of Dick Tracy and I think there’s a huge range of storytelling possibilities, both serialised and standalone, that would’ve historically suited the periodical nature of comics. There’s a dynamism and momentum to crime stories that I think also suits comics.
Do your UK and Irish backgrounds provide you with a unique perspective on American crime fiction?
JOE: There’s a distanced quality when playing in this area that I think sometimes makes for a really different take on the genre. I don’t think it’s for me to say whether we were successful in that regard! I like American crime stories, and crime fiction in general, but it’s not something I would normally choose to create. There’s definitely interesting stuff that comes out of being distanced from the subject matter, as it’s pretty far removed from my life here in England.
RORY: Yeah, I’d share a similar sentiment. There’s obviously a very strong historical connection between Ireland and the US, and traditionally, anyway, we’d be exposed to a lot of American crime stories, so we’re steeped in the genre, but equally have a degree of distance that allows us to approach it in a different way.
Is there something that appealed to you about Texas specifically as the setting for Write It In Blood?
JOE: Not Texas specifically, but the ‘real world’ for sure. As I said, it’s not usually something I would normally choose to do, as I naturally gravitate to the more imaginative side of things. It was a huge challenge from an art perspective to draw stuff as accurately as I could in an effort to ground the story in reality. I was really up for the challenge, and saw it as an opportunity to try and do something completely out of my comfort zone. When you’re creating something that you don’t have any firsthand experience of, it’s just a case of doing a lot of research and hoping that you do the best job that you can!
RORY: I think the landscape was a big draw as it’s such a powerful visual element.
One of the things that struck me most about the series is its fluid pacing. How did you use panel layout to help control that pacing?
JOE: From my perspective, and not to downplay my role, but I think that mostly came from the script. Rory’s scripts are really clear, and you can tell he’s planned his story beats meticulously. The pacing is there. That makes my job much easier, and I did my best to make layout and angle choices that hopefully nail the beats he’s going for. When everyone on the creative team is in tune with what the purpose of a particular moment/scene is, it makes for a smoother ride. So yeah, clear communication in the script is really key in order for that to work. As far as my layout choices are concerned, I was going for as much simplicity and clarity as possible. I’m not really a fan of splashy/flashy layouts anyway, but for this story in particular I think keeping it nice and clear worked better.
Joe, your linework does a great job imbuing a sense of humor into dark subject matter. How do you balance comedy with gravitas in your art?
JOE: Thanks! Again, the clarity of the script definitely aided with knowing which moments needed a bit of humour and which needed more sincerity. I’m naturally drawn to the funny side of things, so I feel like that stuff comes a bit easier to me. I still felt like the story had to be grounded though, so I didn’t lean into too much exaggeration to emphasise particular moments. It was a case of trying to pick the right expression/body language and hoping it would come together. I think the choices that Hass made when lettering the book really helped to turn up or turn down the volume of the humour and solemn moments as well.
Chris, how did you land on the textured coloring style you used for the series?
CHRIS: It’s something I do to varying degrees on some work. Here specifically I think I was thinking of some tv shows that had grainy texture on top of them (or from the film), which is sort of more noticeable now in the 4k age. So some slightly older HBO stuff (Sopranos, the Wire), etc, has this similar feel I wanted to tap into a little. In any case it just adds some atmosphere, I think, that I like. Joe’s inks do so much of the heavy lifting and I try not to add too much to it if it feels unnecessary.
The action scenes are extremely eye-popping, which isn’t easy to do in a medium filled with violent subject matter. How much thought and care went into ensuring the action in Write It In Blood stands out from other comics on the stand?
JOE: A ton of planning and staging. There are perspective shifts to emphasise action in the book, but mostly I was trying to be clear. A lot of reference and research to figure out poses and stuff! Chris’ colours really add a lot to what I did with the action. The way he shifts colour palettes to highlight a particular moment really works well, I think.
CHRIS: I used that yellow/red effect for particular stand out moments of violence throughout. I think it worked naturally, to be honest. However I could have ended up coloring those, they were stand-out moments in the script and again in the art. There are no other kinds of breaks from the ‘reality’ except for those I don’t think so the hit a bit harder because of that hopefully.
You gel so well together as a creative team. Do you have plans to work together again?
RORY: Thanks! We have plans currently underway. The whole team (plus an additional collaborator) is working on a new unannounced series that we hope should be out early next year.
JOE: Absolutely! I think the whole team really was in sync on this book, and that’s always a pleasure. I can happily say that we’re all working together on another project at the moment, so stay tuned!
Follow the creative team on Twitter @RoryMcConville2, @joepalmerart, and @ChrisOHalloran. Write It In Blood (ISBN: 978-1-5343-1835-9) will be available in comic shops on Wednesday, February 24, and in bookstores on Tuesday, March 2.
Matt Chats is a twice-monthly interview series featuring discussions with creators or players in comics, diving deep into industry 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].