Crawl To Me is available for purchase here: http://idwlimited.com/series/crawl-to-me.html
Alan Robert paints the self-contained nightmare as a young couple take over a country house in the midst of a hard winter. But Ryan and Jessica are plagued, by their own neuroses, or by a haunted past of the house itself…or is it something even more despicable? This is sharp horror, from the psychological to the demonic to the utterly brutal to the surreal, and the suspense is kept startlingly vivid and frenetic. The true evil of the story is as demented as any we might find in the real world, being expertly portrayed in these pages of fearful symmetry.
His art is, as Simonson infers in the intro, like a hallucinogenic escapade, with ever-contrasting colors full of electricity pushing and pulling the reader to absorb as much of the implied dread as the characters are themselves experiencing. I see some CGI’d photos and some painted work and some digital work all layered together, creating a terminally realistic style which in turn gives extra kick to the violent terror of the plot. Great storytelling, with not a weak page or sequence to be found. This perfect synchronization of plot, art, letters and colors could rarely be matched by mainstream, assembly line books. It makes for a rather nice package.
Alan, where exactly did the very first nugget that would sprout into Crawl To Me come from? Was it a nightmare, or memory, or a result of late night eureka?
It was Winter of 2010 and I was wrapping up my very first comic series for IDW. In the back of my mind I knew that I wanted to continue making comics, but I didn't really have a solid idea of what type of story I wanted to tell next. After all, Wire Hangers had been brewing in me for over a decade before I finally put pen to paper. So I didn't expect it to be a short process, but in hindsight it came together rather quickly.
During the course of creating the final issue of Wire Hangers, I moved my family out of the city and into an older country home. My wife and I have always been city-folk, having been born and raised in Brooklyn and then living in Hell's Kitchen, NYC for several years together. But like Crawl to Me's main characters, Ryan and Jess, we figured that with a new baby, some extra space would be a nice change for us.
The house's main living area had been recently renovated and had a modern feel to it, but the unfinished basement was from the original house built in the early 50s. It looked like something out of the SAW movies. The smell of stale moldy air, mice droppings, spiders, cobwebs, you name it. It also had a crawl space that went pretty far back beyond a wall of cinder-blocks into the darkness. With the dim lighting you couldn't see the end of it without a flashlight. It was definitely creepy and neither of us wanted to go down there if we didn't have to.
During the first few months of living in the house, we discovered that there were still mice living in the crawl space. I hired an exterminator, but it didn't help. We'd find dead ones in the traps everyday. It was very frustrating, you know? I mean, we'd just bought this place and it seemed like we had a real infestation growing down there. It put a big damper on the whole experience. Eventually, I found the hole where they were getting in and we were able to get it under control.
Sometime before I found that hole, I started thinking about this crawl space as an idea for a story. What if it had no end? Where did it lead? What was on the other side? I began toying with the idea of this tunnel connecting alternate universes. I felt that I was onto something and began taking photos of my house during a snow storm to use as reference for my drawings. I basically took the core of my own real experience and magnified it by 1,000. The Crawl to Me story began to fall into place throughout this process and I used elements like the rats, the basement, and the crawl space from my own experiences.
The real spark was when the twist ending came to me. I forget the exact moment when that occurred, but that's when the project sped into high gear. I got really excited and began creating character designs, outlining the story and designing cover art. Soon after, I pitched the idea to IDW's Editor in Chief, Chris Ryall, who green-lit it right away.
Do you think using your own home created a kind of sigilism to add further depth to the story? Is Art more prone to imitate Life, or is Life more prone to imitate Art?
Using my own home for the story’s setting and my basic family structure for its characters (a couple with a young child) came pretty organically and was somewhat unintentional. I was inspired by a real life event and just ran with it. However, I don’t see myself as Ryan, or my wife as Jessica, if that’s what you mean. Although, I have to admit that the feeling I had while moving into that isolated house in the dead of winter certainly helped me to understand what it might feel like to be in Ryan’s shoes. I also never encountered a crawl space before living in that house, so I’d say for the most part, art imitated life in that respect.
I suppose that I intentionally designed the characters to look and act very differently than my wife and I so we weren’t directly connected to those characters. The house design though, I kept pretty close to the design of our actual home because it fit the vibe I was going for in the story.
For those that have read the book know that it’s about much more than just living in a strange place and adjusting to new surroundings. For me, by basing the art on a real place helped me to keep the artwork somewhat grounded in reality, despite the chaotic nature of the visual techniques I used to amplify Ryan’s hypnotic world. By having this fictional story take place in a place that was very much real, I feel, allowed the reader to accept that this story could take place in real life.
The visual style you used for Crawl To Me was a mindtrip all unto itself. I mean, the coloring especially- any page could be a poster. As accomplished as Wire Hangers was and is, was upping the design ante part of the mission all along, or was it part of the natural progression of unveiling Edgar's nightmarish ethos? And as an artist, was it difficult exploring more psychedelic effects that would effectively play up the unearthly elements of this story?
With every series I tackle, I’m very conscious of the art direction I put in place before starting page one. A tremendous amount of time and effort goes into planning and deciding which style of artwork best suits the story at hand.
For me, the story is most important. In the comic book medium, it’s the visuals that help tell that story. The choices you make as an artist can either enhance or detract from that storytelling journey for a reader. Being that I’m the author and the artist on these projects, I go into them already knowing my strengths and weaknesses as an artist. That being said, I purposely challenge myself to create art out of my comfort zone. I altered my style completely on each of the three series I’ve done. In fact, fans of my latest Killogy series may not even make the connection that the same artist worked on Crawl to Me. The styles are that different. I work very hard to create these different universes and to keep them artistically and stylistically separate.
Now, there’s a certain risk factor when attempting to pull off a completely new style in comics, which is part of the fun for me in a way. With these decisions that you make, you have to be willing to fall flat on your face in public view. With each series there’s potential to gain new fans or lose old fans based on the style of artwork you’re producing. I equate it to my music career in a way. I never wanted to write the same album twice. There are bands out there that churn out the same sounding albums year after year and as fans you come to expect the same things and ideas from them, which is fine for some. But, even with music, I always wanted to try new things and experiment. I wanted to grow.
I have the same mentality when it comes to my books. It’s a bit nerve-wracking sometimes when you put something out into the universe that’s different than what people might expect of you. You never know if it’s going to fly. Trying new things is a risk, for sure. Thankfully, readers have been very receptive to my different approaches and I’ve been able to build a reputation for myself as being an artist who tries new things. I’m much more comfortable with that than being labeled a one trick pony.
It's been said that the last truly original story from the horror genre was Romero's original Night Of The Living Dead. But I think exploring the connections of horror to other genres is still widely undiscovered country, and indeed if there is a theme common to all of your comics thus far it is in the marriage of horror and crime genres, with Crawl To Me being outright rich in psychological terror. Has it rubbed anyone the wrong way? Have there been any surprises in the reception, like creepy fanmail from prison inmates?
The horror category is made up so many different sub-genres it’s almost difficult to conceive that they all fall under the same umbrella. Even as a kid, I preferred the more psychological horror movies to the straight up slasher films. I dug Freddy way more than Jason. That being said, films like The Sixth Sense, The Silence of the Lambs, and Seven (I appear to have a thing for S named films) made a huge impact on me because they all combined the scares of horror with the grittiness and depth of crime drama. I think the combo works really well when done right and is possibly more powerful than either genre individually because of it.
Some fans have reached out to me that have been affected by Crawl to Me’s story on a very personal level because of how close to home it comes. Without revealing any spoilers, the underlying theme touches on a very dark taboo subject for most. Especially surrounding Edgar’s agenda throughout. But, it’s something we need to be aware of, especially as parents, in this violent world.
No creepy fanmail thus far… but the night is still young!
As Crawl To Me is clearly no case of sophomore slumping, how gratifying does it feel to be included among the first offerings from the new IDW Limited program? Is it at all humbling, to have your work collected in such a pristine packaging? Also, you had mentioned the stark difference in the styles you've utilized for the separate series, but was it challenging to return to this style for the black and red label original art pieces, or was it like riding through old stomping grounds again?
When I first learned that Crawl to Me was to be included in the IDW Limited program, I was completely floored. Gotta say, it’s an amazing feeling to be chosen. First of all, here’s this little story that’s come such a long, long way in a very short amount of time. Secondly, it’s an honor to have my work presented in this insanely high-end packaging, alongside these mega-creators work. It’s humbling to say the least.
Designing the various packaging elements was a pretty awesome experience, too. I’ve done that kind of work for my bands, while creating special digi-pack CD/DVD releases in the past, but nothing at this level for a hardcover book. Every detail was considered. I think that fans of the series will appreciate the subtle visual cues that tie back to the story. I also took a lot of time hand drawing each and every illustration that comes along with these books. My hope is that fans enjoy them just as much as the book itself.
Unlike much of today's fiction, you have gone the Aesopian route and instilled Crawl To Me with a very specific message. That along with talk of a movie down the road and now this IDW Limited super bookshelf edition available, the story looks to stand the test of time well, but could you ever see yourself returning to Edgar's world for another nightmare or three?
Funny you bring that up. I actually already completed a story outline for a Crawl to Me sequel. The film’s screenplay adaptation leaves it open for a possible sequel as well. Although, I don’t think I would dive into the comic continuation until after the movie is ready to go. There’s definitely more story to these characters and I’m excited to explore the possibilities.
You have your legions of music fans, and now the small army of comics fans, so you're no longer the musician who makes comics or even the comics guy masquerading as a rockstar, in my opinion. You've gone hybrid! But do you favor one medium over the other, or is storytelling itself your ultimate aim? And if you had to pinpoint one thing that drives your path of proactive creativity, what would it be?
If I had to pinpoint what drives me exactly, it would have to be the actual process of seeing something come to life out of nothing. There is a certain “high” or sense of accomplishment, I guess, which comes from holding a finished work in my hands after months and months of hard work. A certain gratification that is immeasurable. This feeling is the same whether I’m creating a book or an album. There is also the idea of leaving something you’ve done for future generations to enjoy, long after you pass. That inspires me too.
I still enjoy writing, recording and performing music even though I don’t do it as much these days. I spent many, many years performing all over the world and I would never trade those experiences for anything. However, the music business is certainly not what it used to be and is disheartening to me in many ways. There are a lot of vultures surrounding it, which is very unappealing.
I feel very blessed to be able to tell my own stories through comics, and to do so at a very professional level with IDW. They’ve given me a great home these last few years and really took a chance on me. I didn’t have any comics experience or connections of any kind when Ryall and I first started talking. We met over Twitter of all things. After trading music for comics for a while, he inquired about my Wire Hangers concept which I had been slowly developing. I did not have any sequential art completed at that time, just covers and a story outline but they picked up Wire Hangers based on my pitch alone. It was an amazing feeling. Really amazing. I think they’ve seen me grow as a storyteller over these last few years and I think that the true stamp of approval comes with this Crawl to Me limited edition release.
Crawl To Me is really, really readable. I have sat through possibly hundreds of B-horror flicks that paled in comparison. Additionally, considering that there is in fact a distinct message to this fable only empowers its excellence all the more. Robert isn’t a comics newbie anymore, but this will be one helluva hard act for him to follow.