INTERVIEW : John Lees talks And The Emily Was Gone

John Lees is the writer behind the highly successful And Then Emily Was Gone, from Comix Tribe. A disturbing horror comic following the investigation of a missing girl in the Orkney Islands, the first issue is an impressive piece of work and my review for it can be found here.

John was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions about his inspiration for the comic and working with artist Iain Laurie.




Geek Syndicate (GS):  Firstly congratulations on the success of the first issue of And Then Emily Was Gone. I understand the book sold through its entire Diamond order a week before release.    Was that a pleasant surprise?

John Lees (JL): Absolutely. Of course, you have high hopes that your comic will find an audience and be successful, but I – along with everyone else on the creative team – has been taken aback by just how big the response has been. I believe it’s ComixTribe’s biggest issue #1 ever, it’s certainly my biggest release ever. But as great as it is that retailers got behind the book so strong, it’s even better that readers around the world seem to really be connecting it, and that the feedback has been so positive.

GS:  Where did the idea for And Then Emily Was Gone come from? I hope it is not based on real life experiences?

JL: Iain Laurie sees horrific monsters wherever he goes. I prowl the Scottish Islands snatching children. We drew a lot from our lives in the making of this book! No, I’d say the idea for And Then Emily Was Gone came from Iain and I’s shared interests – Twin Peaks, the films of Ben Wheatley, The League of Gentlemen, 1960s/1970s British horror cinema, a whole lot more – and from us throwing them into a big melting pot of weirdness. And on a personal level, a lot of my ideas for And Then Emily Was Gone were inspired by Iain Laurie’s own catalogue, and how I could channel some of the recurring motifs in his artwork into my kind of narrative.

GS: The book is quite clearly a horror comic, is that a genre you naturally gravitate towards?

JL: I’ve always loved horror. I was watching monster movies and slasher movies back when I was surely far too young to be doing so: Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and Chucky were some of my earliest favourite film icons! And I’ve continued to love horror across all mediums, be it horror cinema or horror literature, stuff from writers like Stephen King, M.R. James, Edgar Allen Poe. More recently I’ve become fascinated by exploring the history of horror comics, as well as the more recent developments in the genre. I’ve loved studying how people have used the comics medium to create dread and scare people, something it traditionally has been considered notoriously difficult to do. I think I’m a bit obsessed with trying to chase that magic formula for writing a comic that can scare people!

GS: And Then Emily Was Gone is steeped in folklore, especially the legend of Bonnie Shaw. Was Bonnie Shaw inspired by any real life Scottish folk stories?

JL: One of the primary inspirations for Bonnie Shaw was Dr. Schaeffenhaus, a monstrous figure who showed up in one of Iain Laurie’s earliest stories in his creator-owned series, Powwkipsie. But though Bonnie Shaw is a fictional character, the islands of Orkney do have a rich folklore that’s based largely around tales of trows, which were little troll-like creatures believed to snatch babies and replace them with changelings. So there is a certain dark, macabre element in the folk stories of Orkney that Bonnie Shaw seems to slip quite seamlessly into.


GS: The artwork is incredibly distinctive and really adds to the atmosphere of the story, how much of this was a collaborative effort or did you and Iain Laurie work independently of each other?

JL: Oh, our process is most definitely collaborative. This comic would not have been made without Iain Laurie, it was written specifically with him in mind. At the earliest stages of development, we broke down the story together, discussing the characters and their roles, and in a broad sense what the arc of the narrative would be. Then I went off and wrote the scripts. Part of Iain’s process involves not reading ahead, so he would only see those scripts once he was starting to draw them, but he was always available to talk over story points with me if there was anything I was unsure about and needed his advice on. Similarly, when he draws the comic he shares his progress with me a page at a time and we can talk over any points where he feels he’d like to perhaps take the page in a different direction from what is laid down on the script. We’re definitely a great team, and I’ve had an absolute blast working with him!

GS: The original print run of And Then Emily Was Gone sold out on the UK Convention circuit. Do you think this suggests that in an industry where Superhero comics rule that there is an audience for horror in today’s comic market?

JL: Without a doubt, there’s a growing audience for horror comics. Just look at some of the books that have either come out this year or are coming out soon. Nailbiter, Outcast, The Woods, The Empty Man, Spread, Wytches, Nameless, Through The Woods… and a bunch more. Many of these books have been sell-out smash hits, and have ranked amongst the year’s best books. I’ve argued before that comics could be the new frontier for horror, and I’m very happy for And Then Emily Was Gone to be one small part of that zeitgeist.

GS: One last question John; What’s in the box?

JL: You’ll have to read issue #2 to find out! If you’ve yet to read And Then Emily Was Gone #2 and you want a clue, all I’ll say is… whatever you think is in the box, what is actually in the box is probably worse!

Find out more at: Comix Tribe – And Then Emily Was Gone

Interviewer: Matt Davis – @DecadentGent

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