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Inside Look: Solomon Kane: Death's Black Riders #1

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Scott Allie sidesteps from his normal day job as Dark Horse editor, donning the writer's hat on Solomon Kane: Death's Black Riders, the follow-up miniseries to 2008"s Solomon Kane.

Take it away, Scott!

PAGE 1

I first came to Solomon Kane as the editor on Conan, and getting ready to edit Kull and Kane too. I've said this in other interviews, but basically what happened with Kane is that I was reading the prose stories, and trying to get an idea of what to do with comics adaptations, trying to picture exactly what the books would be. My ideas got very specific very fast, so specific that I felt like I had to write it myself, and went about convincing Mike Richardson and Randy Stradley.

One of those immediate decisions about Kane was that I needed a particular voice in the narration; not exactly the voice Howard himself used in narrating the stories, but something that would feel a little antiquated, but not off-putting to modern readers. So while I've done some comics with no narration, I wanted to really have fun with captions in Kane. The voice that I concocted is a mixture of the bible, Shakespeare, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and Bob Dylan. Or at least that's where I found inspiration.

The first two miniseries take place entirely in the Black Forest of Germany, someplace I've never been. When the first series came out, I was told by some german friends that we really missed the mark in terms of the actual flora there, so I sought to do better this time. But this isn't the real Black Forest—if anything it's the Grimms fairy tale version, always dark and foreboding. This page—really this whole issue—was meant to convey that. I love the sky Juan Ferreyra painted in that first panel.

PAGES 3 & 4

I did pretty tight layouts for this issue, and backed off afterward, letting Mario do his own layouts for the rest of the miniseries. But in a way, I spent the entire time between finishing Castle of the Devil and starting this one by running this issue through my head. I visualized it all really clearly before figuring out what people were saying, so simply going in and writing a script wasn't enough for me. I wanted to stage it, as I'd done with a lot of Castle. So the weird stuff with Page 3, panels 3 & 5, up over their shoulders and slowly moving closer toward them, that's my fault, if it doesn't work.

With this series, I really wanted to push the book further in the horror direction. Not enough to have Kane fighting monsters, I wanted suspense and atmosphere. So I tried hard to set up the tension between the Frenchmen and the Romas in these opening pages, and then used the page turn from Page 3 to 4 for the mysterious intro.

     

This is a bit of a spoiler if you haven't read the comic yet, but the guy on Page 4 panel 1 is NOT Kane. This issue is an expansion of a tiny little fragment from Howard called "Death's Black Riders." All he wrote was a page or so where Kane sees this awful monster on the road.

That incident—the entire scrap that my comic is based on—is adapted in one page of the book; see below. But in that scrap that Howard left behind, he describes this very weird thing, a monster which is horse and rider together as one creature, and for some reason it's wearing a floppy hat. That was Howard's idea, not mine. So it occurred to me that one could mistake that thing for Solomon Kane from a distance.

Since Guy Davis designed the Death's Black Riders, just as he designed the monsters in the first miniseries, I had him sketch Page 4, panel 1 for me as well. I had done my thumbnail, but then in the course of designing the monster, I got him to work out this panel. You'll see his version in the trade paperback one of these days. So first I drew that shot, then Guy redrew it, then I copied his version into my layouts, then gave both to Mario so he could draw what you see here.

PAGE 8 & 9

This was fun to write. Obviously the real work was left up to everyone else, including our fine letterers. Richard Starkings of Comicraft is a big fan of doing titles, and so I always make sure I have title pages in the comic so he has some fun. I approached the layout for this page with Kurtzman in mind, in terms of having multiple little stories going on on the page, with an eye toward what order the reader catches each character.

I wanted to show what the Frenchman L'Armon was doing—he winds up the most significant character in this issue—but it was more important to show what everyone else was up to. And L'Armon is basically sneaking off, so not showing him actually did sort of tell his story.

When Mario laid out the inset panel, he had Kane facing the other way, but I asked him to flop it for two reasons. I really wanted to see those burning horses in the background, and they'd be on his left, not his right. And while I like moving the camera around, I felt like we really needed to continue Kane's left-to-right movement.

PAGES 10 & 11

The face off between the Roma father and the demon. The whole point of Page 11 was the Shlook, having the sound effect as its own panel. But the pacing for these two pages was important to me too, to slow this moment down and try to milk some of the atmosphere. Even though I do the script and the layouts, Mario definitely has room to do his own thing, and moved the last panel on Page 10 to the top of this page.

The good thing about that was that it gave Page 10 some room to breathe, as we get into this showdown, and made Page 11 even more crowded, giving me that pace I was going for. Because of that, I thinned the text a little bit so as not to bog the page down too much, but instead keep it moving through these little captions.

     

Looking at what Mario did, that first panel is really what holds the whole page together. Doing the whole page in medium or closeups, as I had it in the script, wouldn't have quite worked.

Since I'd worked the book out visually first, I knew where people would be talking, but I didn't necessarily know where narration would happen. I like having narration in the book, but I also like silent bits. Didn't get much of that in this issue. After breaking the story up into panels, I went back and roughed in the dialogue, fine tuning it over a couple of passes.

The way I approach narration in Kane is to limit the narrator to focused little speeches. Obviously in the short stories by Howard, the narration is a constant thread running through the story, but that doesn't work for comics, in my opinion. If you have that much text it bogs you down. So after I knew where there would be dialogue, I looked to the silent bits to figure out where narration would help, and what it would need to say.

Generally, I don't like mixing dialogue and narration. Personal preference, I think the narration distracts from the flow of the conversation; but here I saw an exception. I'd weave the father's untranslated Italian—a gag I'm very fond of—with translation in the captions. I recently saw a comic where the artist ran untranslated German or something in word balloons, and then translations like subtitles across the bottom of the panel. That really bugged me, seemed way too much like it was trying to be a little movie. I hope what I did here makes more sense.

Since each stretch of narration is treated like a mini speech from the narrator, I try to switch up the tone a little bit from speech to speech. Each speech has sort of a different subject and theme, so it makes sense to give them a different tone. The middle of Page 11 actually ends one speech, and that caption at the bottom of 11 is the beginning of another one. The Pages 10 & 11 speech is meant to reinforce the slow, atmospheric showdown between the father and the monster. It's a hopeless, scary situation for him. The caption at the bottom of the page introduces a new section, a different tone, where we cut between a few different bits of action, so the voice changes subtly here.

PAGE 20

And this is it—the whole Howard adaptation. All REH gave us was Kane bumping into a monster in the woods that runs by him and keeps going. My narration is inspired by Howard, but doesn't quote him much; for my purposes, I wanted Kane recounting his first run in with the monster to his new traveling companion, so this is narrated by Kane himself. Howard wrote Kane in the third person, so I couldn't lift the language directly.

I did, however, rely more heavily on the text to tell the flashback than the art, so maybe that was me being faithful to Howard without thinking about it. I did try to get all the details in there. The last line on the page, the whole premise of the story, was entirely mine—in the Howard fragment, he never suggested that there might be more than one of them.


I approached this issue and the second issue of Death's Black Riders as total standalone issues—I was writing them around the time I was coming up with Dark Horse's One Shot Wonders program, and was real keen on the idea of comics that delivered whole stories in a single package.

I wanted readers to be able to get that sense of completion from both of these first two issues, although the third issue comes back and weaves them together, so that #3 & 4 really pull it all together as a single story. That's a fine line to walk, making the stories stand alone and work as a whole—I tried to model the structure off the TV show Dexter, which I think does this beautifully—and I think we've pulled it off.

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