The following is an interview with Ben Meares, Mark Miller, Cris Velasco, and Sam Shearon, the creative team of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, which is currently being adapted to Madefire’s new Motion Book platform. In this interview, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor Barbra Dillon chats with the team about their initial involvement in the project, the process of adapting Barker’s short stories to the new visual storytelling medium, and their slate of upcoming projects!
Barbra J. Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: Clive Barker celebrated the 30th anniversary of his short story collection, Books of Blood: Volume 1, by bringing the collection to a new medium of visual storytelling – the Madefire Motion Books format. Ben, as the project leader (and main writer) overseeing Books of Blood’s Motion Book transition, what encouraged you and the team to partner with Madefire?
Ben Meares: Really, it all started when Mark (Miller) and I first saw the Madefire app in action. We both sat down and read the first issue of Mono, one of Madefire’s flagship titles, and we were completely blown away by the whole presentation. I, like a lot of comic fans, had seen my fair share of attempts at doing motion comics over the last several years, and they all had a similar problem: they didn’t feel any different than reading a comic book. Madefire, though, I hesitate to even refer to as comics. Yes, it’s sequential storytelling, but when you get down to it, it’s simply a different animal than a comic book. We showed the app to Clive, who was equally impressed and excited by the possibilities. Clive, Mark, and myself all seemed to have the same thought at the same time: Let’s do The Books of Blood, every story, in the order they were originally published.
A good majority of the Books of Blood stories had been adapted into comics, and they are fantastic, but what we saw with Madefire was the potential to tell Clive’s stories, with everything intact, as loyally as possible. Page count, amount of space on a page, and several other factors that need to be worked around in comics were no longer an issue with Madefire. It opened up a whole new world to all of us creatively.
Mark and I met with the Madefire team at SDCC 2013, immediately hit it off with them, and were really impressed with their ambition and ingenuity. We briefly explored the possibility of tasking them with producing it, but all-in-all decided we wanted to keep the entire production in-house. We wanted to keep the stories as close to Clive’s original vision as possible, learn and master the format, and have a whole lot of fun while doing it.
BD: Adapting the collection to the Motion Books format is no easy feat, and a number of talented individuals have joined together to bring this project to fruition. Who are the individuals that make up your creative team, and how would you describe the shared creative process?
BM: In theory, it’s actually almost identical to producing a print comic, just with more components. I’ll lay out the process for producing the first issue. First, we, of course, start with a script. Mark adapted The Book of Blood into a motion comic script (There was actually no concrete format for writing for motion comics, so one of my first tasks when we first signed on was to invent one, which ended up as a kind of hybrid comic/film script.), and the script was then sent over to Sam Shearon. Sam broke the script down into thumbnails, which ended up looking like a fusion between traditional comic page thumbnails and storyboards. Then, once approved, Sam dove into illustrating the first issue.
Illustrating for motion is a difficult task for most artists. Getting one’s head around the, for lack of a better term, paper-cut animation style of presenting the story, is no small feat; however, looking at Sam’s pages, you’d never know. Sam produced unbelievably detailed and complex page files, each page with a dozen or (sometimes WAY) more layers. He made it look effortless, which it clearly is not. As Sam was producing art, he was sending pages to myself and Gareth Barker (the motion builder on our first issue, who also happens to be Clive’s nephew) at Clive’s offices in Beverly Hills. Gareth began building the pages.
Gareth and I spent countless hours in the same room as he built it, most days working until the sun went down and then came up, making sure the movements and the flow was as smooth as possible. Gareth’s background is in design, and he employed every trick he knew to produce what I consider to be the single most complex motion comic of all time.
While Gareth was building the pages, myself and Gareth’s wife Vicky Barker produced all of the sound effects for the book. Some of the sounds were taken from stock sound effects libraries, but the majority were produced in the office. For example, there is a scene that needed the sound of a dead body hitting the floor, so I simply set up a microphone on the floor in our storage room and fell down a bunch of times until it sounded right.
As the build was rounding the bend to completion, that’s where Cris Velasco came in with his beautiful score. In all honesty, the music aspect of motion comics was the one thing I hadn’t really been able to wrap my head around, but Cris is one of the most talented composers out there and understands Clive’s sensibilities as well as anyone, so it was really easy to hand the reigns over to him to handle the music. The music we got back from him was astoundingly beautiful and atmospheric. Just like a great film score, the book simply wouldn’t have had the same impact if Cris wasn’t producing such stellar work.
So, at the end of this process, we had a completed motion book. If the process sounds complex, that’s because it is. But, the whole team is on the same wavelength, and everyone is taking such a remarkable amount of pride in the work their delivering, so there were no hiccups in the production at all.
BD: What do you hope that readers will find most intriguing about the new and immersive Motion Books experience?
BM: You already used the word I was going to use: “immersion.” My hope, first and foremost, is that people will feel immersed in these worlds that Clive created, and we’re all fortunate enough to adapt.
BD: Sam, as the artist of Books of Blood, what most interested you about joining the project?
Sam Shearon: I first read the Books of Blood when I was at Art School in my early teens. This would have been back in the early 1990s, and so going back and reading them over again after all these years has been a really thrilling nostalgic experience – taking me back to one of my biggest influences – Clive Barker.
I’d read the Books of Blood in my lunch breaks or free time and was hooked from the get-go. I would often imagine the characters, their actions, the creatures, the horror – I would think how thoroughly grin inducing it would be to fully illustrate these stories . . . to ‘see’ them come to life!
I first met with Clive Barker and Project Leader Ben Meares in Los Angeles during Halloween 2013.
After talking with Clive and Ben regarding my interest in creating artwork for Clive’s words and worlds, I was invited up to visit Seraphim Films to discuss a project Ben and Mark [Miller] had in mind to offer me.
On the way up to the house in the hills, surrounded by crooked trees and winding roads, I had it in mind to ask about the possibility of whether the Books of Blood would ever be fully illustrated as a series . . . ? Little did I know that was exactly what Ben and Mark had in mind to ask of me . . . call it fate – but I jumped at the chance.
As for me, this is nothing short of a dream come true!
I mentioned to Clive that, like him, I was also born in Liverpool, England . . . it’s interesting to note that fellow horror author Ramsey Campbell who wrote the Introduction in the original Books of Blood is also from Liverpool, so this really is a little strange but true!
BD: Did you have an idea in mind for the art style of the comics when you first read the collection, or did the artwork develop as you collaborated on the project?
SS: Both myself and Ben Meares agreed that the best way to deliver these stories would be to have a different style of artwork for each, yet consistent in quality and feel throughout. So, each story will be fully illustrated by me but executed in a variety of different mediums. Some hand drawn, some digitally painted, some inked, some water colour, etc., but all the same ‘feel.’ This is aimed to keep our readers engaged with something visually fresh with each individual tale but uniform as a collection.
The same thought goes for the score also, so we’re thrilled to have Cris Velasco creating a different piece of music for each story, again keeping it consistent in standard and strength throughout. So, Cris will be scoring all of them.
The whole collection, once complete, will be a feast of classic Clive Barker material, fully fleshed out and realized as loyal and as faithful to Clive’s original text like never before!
BD: Mark, as the writer of the first Books of Blood comic, what intrigued you about writing for the series?
Mark Miller: It’s the Books of Blood. Simple as that. Having worked with Clive for so long, one could say that I ‘speak fluent Clive.’ And, to be able to dive into the thing that started it all was just too exciting to pass up.
BD: Do you feel that the adaptations will appeal to both fans of the original short stories, as well as those new to the material?
MM: Definitely. We’re bringing these to an entirely new audience due to the medium. But, fans of the original (like myself and all these other fine members of the team) will no doubt want to see their favorite stories come to life. Personally, I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.
BD: One of the most unique aspects of the Motion Books experience is the auditory feature of the storytelling. Cris, how did you approach the creative process of composing music for Books of Blood, and do you feel that it differs from composing for other entertainment mediums?
Cris Velasco: I had only heard of motion comics but never experienced one for myself before I started working on Books of Blood. My background is mostly in video games, so I figured I would approach it with that sort of interactivity in mind. A motion comic is its own medium, though. Nothing really translated. You can’t score it like a movie. Even though the story is a linear progression, no two people will experience it in the exact same time frame. You also can’t score it like a game. There’s no actual audio engine in place that knows what the reader is currently doing at any given moment. So, basically, the music will be on a continuous loop until we place an invisible “marker” into the story that says “switch to a new cue when someone changes pages here.” I took great pains to make the music sound as interactive as possible, though. Each track was written to flow nicely into the next, keeping in mind tempo and key. I also timed out how long each page would typically last and based the length of each cue on that number. It’s not perfect, but most people should be able to have a pretty immersive experience!
BD: Are there any other upcoming projects on which the Seraphim team is currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
BM: So many. The last issue of Hellraiser: Bestiary, which Mark and I both wrote on (and Sam provided a variant cover for) is in stores this month. The Nightbreed comic, which I serve as creative consultant on, is out every month. We’ve also got a few more motion comics in the pipeline that we will be announcing within the next few months, as well as some more big comic projects coming down the line. As far as things that are not comics, there are several film and TV projects in the pipeline based on Clive’s work, as well as Clive’s new novel, The Scarlet Gospels, coming out in May.
There is also, of course, the first issue of The Midnight Meat Train, which is slated for a late January release. While I could wax poetic about it for ages, I think this preview image will say enough.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Books of Blood and your other work?
BM: Books of Blood is available on the Madefire App, and can be read either on a tablet or the iPhone. It’s also available to view on a desktop at Deviantart.com. And, if anyone is on the fence about it, we’ve also got a free 6-page preview of the first issue, which can be viewed here.