Issues in Comics: An interview with Tom Brown, co-creator of “Hopeless, Maine”

Tom Brown is the co-creator, co-writer along with Nimue Brown, and illustrator of original series, Hopeless, Maine. Volume one, Personal Demons, was published in 2012 by Archaia. The Orbiting Pod’s Adam Sherif had a chance to talk with him recently about the forthcoming second volume, Inheritance.

AS: First of all, it’s great to hear that the second volume is on its way! The first book had lovely production values: a nicely-sized, embossed hardcover with quality paper stock. Again with Archaia, can we expect the same treatment with this second installment?

TB: Thanks Adam! We are excited too. Yes, we recently received an advance copy of Inheritance and it has the same production values as book one. (Though the cover is embossed, but not textured. Actually, it is easier to see the art without the texture I think)

AS: What struck me most about Personal Demons was that it succeeded in addressing universal, and often mature themes without too much explicit emphasis. Questions of solitude, self-worth and guilt, amongst others, were handled with both sincerity and subtlety. Will Inheritance delve deeper with these familiar themes or push in new directions?

TB: Thanks for that. Yes, the magic and monsters are not the main event. (Though they are fun to draw!) Well, both I would say. There are situations and themes that carry on from book one, but there are new (large) issues that come into the story in Inheritance. Sal and Owen will have to deal with some of the really big questions in this one.

AS: Because of its blend of serious themes with young characters and elements of childhood fantasy, the first volume worked effectively as an all-ages book, rather than solely a children’s book. It was definitely a great fit at Archaia. To what extent did the question of audience influence you as you set about creating the first story? And, how has its reception impacted the making of the second?

TB: Mostly, we tell the sort of story we would like to read, and we read and enjoy a lot of young adult fiction. The story comes first, always, and then there is a bit of fine tuning to fit audience. There are some things we are doing intentionally, with our audience in mind now. But they are really extensions or natural outgrowths of our philosophy and what we had in mind to begin with. The only change we plan to make which is directly a response to reader feedback is one word which would have appeared in a future volume. One chap did a podcast review in which he expressed gratitude for the lack of language inappropriate for his nephews. With this in mind, we have changed one word in a future script to “feck”

AS: Personal Demons avoided forcing exposition on the reader, which maintained an engrossing degree of mystery. How much will the second book look to unveil more of the nature of the world of Hopeless?

TB: Well spotted! Yes. We will absolutely continue leaving strategic gaps for the reader to have some room to employ their imagination and keep some mystery right to the very end. We actually feel strongly about this, and it is a quality we enjoy in other peoples work. I would say…pay very close attention to the two page spreads in Inheritance. They were used mostly as transitions in book one, but in this one it it more like, “Meanwhile, elsewhere…” There are a lot of clues to what is going on behind the scenes in the art. There is actually a vast amount of backstory that we have developed, which we trickle in for those who are paying attention. There is also some backmatter in this volume that gives some detail on the founding families of the Island.

AS: Tell us a little about your visual influences. There’s certainly a gothic sensibility in the set design, as it were. And, I may be off-the-mark here, but I thought I detected a hint of manga in the rendering of the characters, particularly the face acting. Also, the use of colours was obviously quite selective with Personal Demons, in the sense that it maintained a dark or muted palette except in certain moments. Will Inheritance feel similar, tonally?

TB: Indeed. I was exposed to the work of Edward Gorey at a tender age and have (thankfully) never recovered! As a child i desperately wanted to be adopted by the Addams family. I had book one nearly complete at one point, and then i discovered manga. (Blade of The Immortal in particular) I knew that style had to inform the character design. They would not be themselves, in any other way. So…I started again from the beginning. Book one happens mostly at night. Inheritance is still moody but more brightly lit. I needed more sepia as well, for the steampunk themes to feel at home. Also, for this one i water-coloured the page art before scanning.

AS: Although I was unaware of it on my first reading, according to your biography in the back pages, you and Nimue have been telling stories set on the island of Hopeless for a few years now as a webcomic. At this point, are the stories you wish to tell in this world finite? Can you say anything about any further, future comics ventures you may have in the works?

TB: The story is finite, as written, yes. There will be six graphic novel volumes in all and two prose books. If, when we are done, other creators want to come and spend some time on the island, I expect we would welcome that. We are both involved with the Professor Elemental comics and will continue to be so I think. I have a graphic novel project in the wings which i am very excited about but, can not announce just yet. When i can, you will probably hear me from there!

AS: Finally, to talk more generally, how would you say the relationship with BOOM! has had an impact at Archaia?

TB: I am no sort of expert on the business end of comics, but my impression is that this is a very good thing indeed for Archaia. It will broaden their distribution network considerably for a start.

Hopeless, Maine: Inheritance will be in stores at the end of this month.
See www.hopelessmaine.com for more.

Adam Karenina Sherif

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