The following is an interview with comic book writer and artist Scott Larson, who is currently working on the Steampunk/horror adventure series, Visitations. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Larson about the inspiration behind the series, the history of Chicago that is infused into the story, his creative process as both the writer and the artist, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: You have been working on the Steampunk/horror adventure comic book series, Visitations, since early 2016. For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you share with our readers about the project’s premise?
Scott Larson: Visitations is the history of Chicago, and by extension the United States, as seen through the eyes of the residents of the Windy City’s oldest cemetery. The characters serve as kind of a ghost Justice League that have adventures within the context of actual historical events and locations. Chicago grows and develops in the background during the course of the series. The plan is to have the story begin at the turn of the last century and go to the present day.
BD: What inspired this project to come about, and what do you hope that readers take away from the series?
SL: A number of years ago, I discovered the history of my ancestors who emigrated from Sweden to the United States. The family was settled in Chicago in 1871 when the Great Fire occurred. They are buried in a graveyard named Graceland Cemetery. Graceland is not only is the burial place of Chicago’s founding fathers, but is also of the most haunted spots in the city. The monuments there are very eerie, and many of them inspired the characters in Visitations. The cemetery, between its history and gothic nature, really affected the conception of the story. Chicago has a real phoenix quality to it. It is a city that literally burned to the ground and then rebuilt itself. At the same time, crime and corruption traveled hand in hand with innovation and progress, making the city – and its history – distinctive and worth exploring in an exciting way.
I hope readers will have fun with the series and that they find it educational, as well as exciting. I would love it if people reading the book became curious enough to look up the events and the people from the story. The first 2 issues alone reference Gangster Jim Colosimo, The Levee, The Stockyards, Signers Billy Murray & Ada Jones, Mayor Carter Harrison, Mayor Harold Washington, Mayor Anton Cermack, The World’s Fair of 1893, The Gold Coast, Lake Shore Drive, the play Little Johnny Jones, The Iroquois Theater, The Sears Tower, Marshall Fields Department Store, the Democratic Convention of 1968, President Barack Obama, and music from Wager through Ragtime to 1970s rock.
BD: How would you describe your creative process, given that you balance both the writing and artistic duties of the series?
SL: Because I tend to think in pictures, my creative process for Visitations is a little unorthodox. It starts with a mental image followed by thumbnails for the story. The panels are composed of separate elements (figures and backgrounds) that I draw by hand then scan and compile into layers in the computer. Because everything is separate, I can make a figure larger or smaller within the panel, if I need to showcase the background or even the lettering. If I’m missing something, I can add it. Sometimes, as I’m working, I find I need to add an extra page or panel if the story isn’t making visual sense to me. The script is written after the artwork is complete.
The process for writing is different for each issue. Issue #1 literally came to me while I was sleeping and was planned out beginning to end pretty much all at once. Issue #2 was a little more chaotic, because I had ideas but no destination. I allowed the characters to lead me, and the narrative, where they wanted it to go. As the creator, this brought a number of surprising story elements that will end up influencing the overall arc of the first series. It was a little scary (which is good for a horror story, I guess). Issue #3 has been plotted out for a year. I am drawing it out now. I know exactly where it’s headed. Issue #4 will be utilizing elements that have not been seen in a comic before and a full script will be written before it’s started.
BD: As an artist, what can you share about the medium that you utilize (e.g., pen and ink, digital, etc.) and how it allows you to tell a visual story?
SL: With Visitations, I’m attempting to make every issue unique, playing around with and pushing the limits of creativity. This includes changing materials as I go. With the first 2 issues, I used pencil along with Pigma Micron pens and #2 watercolor brush for inking along digital coloring. I’ve used those for years and I’m comfortable with them. I tried to make the storytelling straight forward (although I played with the orientation of the pages so that readers who buy the printed copy will have to turn it as the story progresses.) Issue #3, which is going to be told through the reader’s eyes with a first-person perspective, will be drawn in pencil but inked exclusively with pens (Pigma Microns). It will be done mostly with cross hatching with grayscale tones done in computer. There will be splashes of digital color. I’ve never tried that in a story before. It will be like a cross between Road To Perdition, Pleasantville, Sin City, The Wizard of Oz, and Moulin Rouge. Issue #4 will have a couple of normal pages used as a framing sequence, but the majority will be montages done in a painted style, like Alex Ross. I’ll be using gauche paint for that. The most creative thing about that issue is that the main story won’t be in the book – only images of it will be. The story, which ties into the story arc, will be a downloadable MP3 and will be told in the style of a 1940s radio show, with voice actors and music. The reader will be supplying the images for that one themselves.
BD: You have released two issues of the series, with the print version of Issue #2 releasing in time for C2E2. Do you have a certain number of issues planned for the series?
SL: The plan is to have a number of separate series, each set in a particular time period. The first series, which will be 8 to 12 issues, is set at the turn of the century with elements of different time periods shown. The first issue introduces all of the characters. The issues then individually spotlight one of the characters, so that readers get to know them (Issue #2 is Nellie McCullough & Kincaid, Issue #3 is the Piper Boy, etc.). The characters then all come together for the last issue of the series, which will be the conclusion of the story arc, very much like the old Justice Society of America stories from the 1940s. The second series will be structurally the same but set in Chicago’s roaring ’20s gangster era and will feature some new characters. The third series will be set during World War 2. The fourth in the 1960s, the fifth in the 1980s, etc.
BD: If you had the opportunity to bring Visitations to another entertainment medium, what would it be and why?
SL: I think Visitations would work best as a TV mini series on Netflix or Amazon, because the amount of historical detail would need room to breathe.
BD: Are there any current or upcoming projects that you are able to share with our readers?
SL: Yes. In addition to Visitations, Tidalwave Productions (formerly Bluewater) has begun to publish the Victoria’s Secret Service: Russian Roulette series I drew for them a few years ago. Also, I’ve recently done some work on The Heap and The Flying Dutchman for Moonstone Books.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to learn more about Visitations and your other work?
SL: Visitations has a website and copies of the book – along with some fun extras – can be ordered on my Indiegogo page. The first issue is available for free digitally. My Facebook Illustration Page and my Instagram are my most active social media accounts.