Writer: Rich Douek
Art: Alex Cormack
Letterer: Justin Birch
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Available: May 20, 2020
Back after the successful (and frankly terrifying) Road of Bones with IDW this May is the creative team of Rich Douek, Alex Cormack and Justin Birch with Sea of Sorrows, another tale of quasi-historical supernatural terror—this time set in the briny Atlantic some eight years after the end of The Great War.
It’s 1926, and after the War to End All Wars, the world is finally at peace. Rumors of sunken German u-boats laden with gold destined for the United States for munitions trade abound, though none have borne fruit…until now. In the Flemish Cap, 350 miles off the coast of Newfoundland in the north Atlantic, the SS Vagabond and its crew have been hired by a former German naval officer and his sketchy group of treasure hunters to salvage a fortune in gold from his downed submarine…a sinking unreported in German logs and far afield of where any of its peers were known to rest.
Tension develops among the ship’s crew and the treasure hunters before they even leave port, with pledged crosses and double-crosses abounding. Nick Shoals, American deep-sea diver and former infantryman in the Great War, could care less, however: he longs only for the ceaseless quiet of the deep. Quiet and dark, where he can escape the visions of his past, silence the ghosts of war that haunt him. But it’s not just specters he faces in the briny deep—for the German U-Boat did not sink from any natural causes…
A classic monster tale is Sea of Sorrows, to be sure—but is the greater monster the beast in the deep, or the men and women on the ship above it?
If you’ve not read any of his work, know that Rich Douek is a master story-teller. In the 24 pages of issue one, he deftly weaves dark history, folk monster legend, psychological war trauma (appropriately described to the time in the lingo and understanding of the early 20th century), isolationist horror and human greed into a tapestry that is equal parts each but in sum so much more—each thread refining and building rather than diluting his tale. He picks and chooses what characters to flesh out, what plot points to suggest, what to reveal and what to leave lurking in the dark. The tone and language—again, in every place fitting to its time—is aggressive and brisk, without feeling rushed. Probably most importantly is that he knows what NOT to have his characters say or discuss, and instead allow the plot and artwork do the heavy lifting. What we’re left with is a sense of building dread, angst and conflict that’s nearly palpable. Then there’s Cormack’s work.
Let me say straight up: Alex Cormack’s art in this book (like Road of Bones before it, but even better) is worth the price of admission on its own. He captures not just the era through the clothing, the technology, the hairstyles, even the lighting—but the tension, the isolation, the threat of being at sea with less-than hospitable mates with flawless…well, let’s just say it made me thankful I live far inland in 2020, instead. And the diving panels? Whoa. They’re a master-course in the use of black space. Cormack, through employment of dark and bold line, shading and color (and aforementioned employment of black space), deposits us right into the realm of dread and tension Douek’s script weaves.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Justin Birch’s lettering. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: letterers get short shrift, in that they most frequently are noticed when their work fails—when the art is fractured by words, the font or style is dissonant. Birch turns in masterful work here, matching his font and style to the period feel Douek and Cormack are creating. Even details as small as the speech bubbles themselves—just a bit shaky, not quite perfectly round—makes the book feel as though it’s right out of the 1920’s. And when he does get to play with his words, making art of the creature’s song or other sound effects, they always flow gracefully into Cormack’s drawings rather than disrupt them. Oh—and not sure who chose the colors of the word bubbles and sound effects, but they’re perfect.
So, no doubt I like this book—and if you’re a fan of period horror or just a good monster story (human or otherwise), I imagine you will too. Added bonus on this one, though: Douek and Cormack were nice enough to hang out with Eric and me for a bit at their Artist Alley table at C2E2 to talk about their book (and a couple of more pleasant gents you’re not likely to find; make sure to hit them up if they make it to the show in 2021)…
PB: We’re here at C2E2, chatting with Rich Douek and Alex Cormack about Sea of Sorrows. So, we’re looking at kind of a treasure-hunting ghost story?
R&C: Kind of, yeah. Ghost, monster…
PB: Not a whole lot’s revealed just yet.
R&C: Well, yeah. Part of the fun of a horror story is not exactly knowing what’s coming.
PB: Right, right. But that’s kind of the vibe you’re looking for?
R&C: Yeah, kind of a mystery. It’s kind of great being set on a boat, because when things happen, you’re trapped there and there’s nowhere to go. Something’s stalking them, and…
PB: And you’ve got this thread where one part of the crew is set against the other.
R&C: Right, exactly. Conflict rises, no one trusts anyone, and where do you go? What do you do?
PB: So, where’d the idea for the book come from?
R&C: We had a big response to Road of Bones last year, and that made us kind of look back and ask, “What did we love about Road of Bones?” And I think we loved mixing history, and horror, and folklore. We didn’t really want to do Road of Bones II because I think we were all really happy with how it ended, so how do we take those elements that we really loved, and find another scenario that we could explore. So, we started doing a little research. Alex had been brought up in and was really into underwater stuff, so I was like, alright, diving! So, we were looking into the history of diving and things like that, and along the way the pieces sort of came together. We found out about a German U-Boat during World War I that was supposed to—this was before the United States was involved in the war, so it was trying to run the blockade of British and French ships to get to America to try and make a deal, for America to sell them…
PB: Purchase armaments?
R&C: Purchase armaments, things like that. But then it completely disappears, and no one knows where it went.
PB: And that’s real history.
R&C: It’s real history. People are pretty sure that it sunk and just wasn’t reported. I mean, those early U-Boats were—
PB: With a pile of gold?
R&C: Yep. Those early U-Boats were notoriously dangerous, so it could have just been an accident. But those kinds of incidents are a great hook to fill in the details when you’re thinking about how to develop a supernatural horror story. So that was kind of where we got the, I guess, the genesis of it. Then we were like, “Well, how do we work that into the story?”
PB: Ok, so kind of more a thematic extension (of Road of Bones) than a direct descendant.
R&C: Yeah. What we try to do in all of these stories is take a very real, horrific piece of history—like, Road of Bones was in a gulag, here were in World War I—so we’re taking that kind of like horror, and it doesn’t really need a supernatural element to be horrific…
PB: But you might as well…
R&C: Yeah! And then we’re adding that supernatural element, and it’s sort of like, trying to, seeing how they play together.
PB: Sure. Now is this going to be an ongoing series, a mini, or what are you looking at?
R&C: This one’s just five issues right now. It’s a five-issue miniseries. One of the things that we really like is putting an ending on stories. I think we can continue to tell stories like this for a very long time, but it’s going to be like, five issues to a series, then five issues to the next one, five to the next. So it’ll all be broken up, kind of like a Twilight Zone-like anthology thing.
PB: And it’s not like history is short on atrocities to draw from.
PB: Anything else you’d like readers to know heading in?
R&C: Oh, lots! I’d love to go into the supernatural elements of the story, the process, and the folklore, but we don’t want to spoil anything at this point. So probably not much we can go into right now. But definitely one of my favorite things to be drawing right now. A lot of my family’s from Massachusetts, so we’d go to Cape Cod all the time. It’s one of the things that I told Rich a while ago, being from New England, it’s such a beautiful place, but one thing you notice is that everything you always see (set) out there (in media), it’s always summertime, it’s always nice weather. It’s never… I just really want to do something in snow, and we did that book (Road of Bones). So now, I wanted to do something in the ocean. So I was really excited about this one. I think people will really dig it.
PB: And the look, the flavor, the dialogue, I mean, you guys just really nailed it. I mean, you’re right in that time, that space, I thought you did a fantastic job setting the book up.
R&C: Yeah, it’s like we took one trip with Road of Bones, we’re taking another trip with Sea of Sorrows. It’s not going to be like a re-tread, it’s not going to be “Road of Bones on a boat.” It’s like, new story, new characters, new creature. I think people are really going to enjoy it.
PB: Given what you’ve done to Cape Cod and Siberia, can you do me a favor and kind of leave Wisconsin alone, then?
R&C: (Laughter) You’re safe for now.
PB: Anything else you guys would like to promote out to the readers?
R&C: Sure! (Rich) Well, we’ve got Wailing Blade here (a Pullbox favorite) that I do with Joe Mulvey, we’ve been putting out issues and will be doing a Kickstarter for the collected edition later this year, probably around May or June; I’ve got another series called Gutter Magic coming out with Source Point Press, that’s going to start coming out in April. (Alex) I was going to say, go out and buy my book, Sink; I have another book called Weed Magic; another called Crossing, you can pick that up; and another book coming out soon called Duel, that’ll be a pretty good one, too. (Rich) So yeah, you know—we’re staying busy. If you want to follow us on social media, on Twitter, I’m at @RDouek, my website is rdouek.com, I’m on Facebook at Richard Douek and on Instagram at @rdouek; and Alex is at @AlexCormack4, his website is alexcormack.com, and he’s on Facebook at Alex Cormack Illustrator, and on Instagram at @alexcormack.
Sea of Sorrows will be a horror tale in five parts, with the first chapter due out May 20. Look for it via IDWPublishing.com, comiXology, Amazon or of course, your LCS—who really, really need your business right now—so shop there!
by Andy Patch
Contributing Editor, thePullbox.com