A Media Sensation - An Interview With The Creators of Thomas Alsop

If you've been following the site for a few months then you may have picked up on the fact that I'm a big fan and supporter of BOOM! Studios Thomas Alsop from writer Chris Miskiewicz and Palle Schmidt. When I was given an opportunity to talk to both creators I jumped at it. If you're following the series then let me tell you... you're in for a treat. Enough from me let's get to it!

DUSTIN CABEAL: Usually I hate to ask something so simple as, “where did this idea come from?” But I’m dying to know where the idea came from. A dream, a conversation, real life? Please say real life.

Thomas_Alsop_001_PRESS-6CHRIS MISKIEWICZ: I was watching a friends dog  and took him for a long walk through Calvary Cemetery in Long Island City, where we stumbled upon a smaller graveyard that I hadn’t ever seen before. I began reading the gravestones, each dating back to the mid 1600’s to early 1700’s, and lost my mind that something so old could be situated where it was. Then I read the smallest gravestone that was half sunken into the ground. “Richard Alsop – Age One Month 1699.”

I was utterly blown away and began researching Calvary Cemetery, the Newtown Creek, and the surrounding areas. I dug up whatever historical records I could find about the Alsop’s, which there weren’t much of, as well as what the Dutch and native tribes were up to in Brooklyn those years. Months later, there was a news piece about a ship from the 1700’s that was uncovered during the excavation at Ground Zero. Same era I was writing. Same city. And then of course that became the major plot of Thomas Alsop “The 3000.”

DUSTIN: What did you research for the story to make it historically accurate when needed? And also for the Alsop family artifacts?

CHRIS: Whenever I write about a topic that I’m not 100% familiar with I tend to do weeks/months of research into the subject before I begin. I’ll write the basic plot outlines for what’s going to happen, scenes, even full issues, and then I’ll fill in the historical/factual parts. In the case of Thomas Alsop, I did a ton of research on the Newtown Creek which separates Brooklyn and Queens, and is also the original location of the Alsop Family Farm before it was sold off in the late 1800’s as a cemetery.

In the end, writing Thomas Alsop has been like taking a New York history class. I’ve gone so deeply into just about everything from 1700 to now that I feel like a walking encyclopedia. Recently, I’ve been researching everything I can about the ballets fought in and around Manhattan during the Revolutionary War…

As for the Alsop Family Artifacts, I just loved the idea of a sorcerer who was a carpenter first, and would rely on his old skills and build something to use against a threat he hadn’t faced before. In this case Richard, and Thomas’s father James, being the only two hands to ever “Enchant” items. Well. At least for now…

Thomas_Alsop_001_coverAPALLE SCHMIDT: I've obviously spent hours on Google looking for 1700's stuff and really learnt a lot about that era! But I think I've managed not to paint myself into a corner with the level of detail put into the drawings. After all, it's a HUGE story, spanning 300 years. If I had to research everything as to how it REALLY looked and get rich with detail, I'd still be drawing issue one. I think what I'm going for is the sense of things and a recognizability in places, characters and items. It's easy to get caught up in the minutiae of things and draw floor-plans of every house - but that way lies madness! Like Stephen King says: "I research just enough to be able to lie convincingly".

DUSTIN: I want some answers about Thomas’ girlfriend, please provide them! What’s her deal because I know something is off… or I am.

CHRIS: Well… Susie is a very supportive, loving, girl who lives with an eccentric media star ghost hunter… But I won’t say you’re wrong thinking that there’s more going on with her than readers are initially seeing. Let’s just say, Yes.

But you’re not going to get the full answer until you read Thomas Alsop #8. (How’s that for baiting you? Ha.)

DUSTIN: How did the two of you end up working with each other and what’s your collaborative process?

CHRIS: I keep saying this line, and I’m going to say it again:

“Working with Palle Schmidt has been the best band that I’ve ever been in.”

I used to play in a bunch of bands when I was younger, and often relate collaborations, or collaborating, to making music. I say that because I’ve always found music to be the purest level of “making something” because everyone does their part.

With Thomas Alsop, I kind of feel I’ve trumped that analogy. Palle is a fantastic artist, writer, storyteller, and human being. We’ve known each other since 2011 and every single conversation, email, meeting, and drunken bar night we’ve had has been an absolute pleasure. The only complaint I think we have is that the Atlantic Ocean separates us and we don’t live around the corner from each other.

Thomas_Alsop_003_COVER-AWe met in 2011 at the MoCCA fest through a chance meeting. My collegue Seth Kushner had met Palle first, said I should look at his art. I did, and immediately pitched him a chapter of the anthology comic I was writing then, EVERYWHERE, published on Activatecomix.com. Palle remembers me pitching Thomas Alsop to him that night at the bar, which I probably did do, and I’m pretty sure he thought I was crazy. Palle rocked the chapter of my anthology and we immediately went on to doing the short Thomas Alsop story, “The Case of Dead Uncle.” After that we were hooked on Thomas.

As far as Thomas Alsop goes, it’s a complete 50/50 collaboration. We share scripts, talk through the beats of a scene, location, coloring, basically everything. We’re running this like a TV show talking about every aspect of production down to the t-shirt’s Thomas is wearing.

Whatever ends up happening with Thomas Alsop past this first volume, I intend to work with Palle on as many different projects as we can come up with in the years to come.

PALLE: I've never played in a band, but I will play with Chris anytime, anywhere. We had such great report on this project, never any disagreements, really, just a common enthusiasm and dead set will to make a great book.

It's true that Chris pitched me the story of Thomas Alsop the day we met, but he actually told me on the con floor. I remember pitching some of my own stories to Chris later that night - or was it the next? Anyway, I met this guy at MoCCA and we talked for an hour maybe. And he pitched Alsop right there. I also agreed pretty much on the spot to do an episode of his Everywhere! anthology, because I read the one story he had in print. I texted him like 5 minutes after we parted: I'm in.

Working with Chris has been great and we stay connected through texts, email and the occasional Skype call. Oddly I often find myself going back and forth with story beats or other business stuff at night as I'm tucking in my youngest daughter, who is four and wants me to sit with her as she falls asleep. So most of my texts to Chris are written sitting on a cot in the dark, my daughter's little hand in my left hand and my phone in the right, chatting with Chris in New York, where it's noon or something. He's like my line to the real world sometimes, to keep my sanity, ha ha!

DUSTIN: Follow up to that, how did Thomas Alsop end up at BOOM!?

CHRIS: It’s all Chip Mosher of Comixology’s fault. We ran into him on the floor of SDCC in 2013 and mentioned we were going over to BOOM! to try and cold pitch Alsop to them. Chip had seen some of the pages in New York and walked us over to Matt Gagnon, introducing us, while saying he should give a minute to see what we had. Matt really dug the concept, art, everything, and asked us to send the pitch package to him that night. We did, and the rest is history.

And PS, thanks again Chip, if you’re reading this.

PALLE: Yeah, apparently this sort of thing doesn't happen everyday... They say you have to prepare for luck and I guess that's what we did. We had the entire first issue, scripts for all 8, a live action trailer - which is online at thomasalsop.com - and just had all our ducks in a row. I guess they could tell we weren't complete amateurs, even though we don't have a whole lot in print. At least in the US. I have a pretty large body of work available in Danish, if anyone's interested!

Thomas_Alsop_002_COVER-ADUSTIN: With the story having an aspect that pertains to 9/11, how did you go about handling a sensitive subject like that what were the challenges if any?

CHRIS: Thomas Alsop “The 3000” is probably the most challenging piece of fiction that I’ve written so far simply due to the sensitive nature of the overall plotline.

From the early stages of development we knew that we wanted to do this, how we would show it, how it wouldn’t be disrespectful to anyone who suffered a loss that day. We had fantastic conversations with editorial over this point, where all parties involved got the overall story, but needed to make sure we were treating it with the utmost respect. Which I think we’ve managed to do.

Even the two images of the souls we show as the cliffhanger for issue two, and then again in issue four are handled with the utmost care. Palle basically painted two heartbreaking images that have sent chills through everyone who’s seen them. But, the images themselves are utterly respectful.

There have been concerns over the 9/11 portion of this story, understandably. I understand the feelings a person gets hearing the plotline of this volume. I get them myself as a New Yorker who lived through that day. But I also feel that comic readers are smart people who get the different high’s and lows of fiction, and can see through that initial feeling into the core of this tale.

But what I said in the beginning of this story I’ll say again.

Thomas Alsop is a thickly woven story where every single thing that you’re reading connects at the end. And I mean that. It’s not just a line. It all really connects. And if we have our way and get to continue past this volume, all of the volumes would also connect to each other in the same manner. But for now, I’ll just say that I think readers will shocked by the issue eight reveals, and think of Thomas and his relation to the 9/11 event in a completely different light then they have so far.

Thomas_Alsop_003_PRESS-7DUSTIN: The art is pretty amazing, but I’m sure there are some challenges in handling a story that goes back and forth between timelines. With that what were some of the artistic choices made for the two timelines?

PALLE: Well, I did myself a favor and did the 1700's in black and white, so I saved some time coloring, ha ha! In all seriousness, the most important thing in comics is to tell a coherent story. I use colors, borders, textures - anything that can help the reader tell locations, characters and timelines apart. Of course the captions help, but I wanted people to be able to instinctively know where - and when - we are in the story. I'm also looking for variations and ways to make the scenes interesting, like the foggy morning scene on the docks in issue two. The script didn't say what time of day it was, but I figured Bliss would get there early, since he's been anxiously awaiting this ship for months. And on the waterfront, there is quite often fog in the morning. It helps navigate the story when we return to that scene in issue three. And it also helped me not have to draw dozens of 1700's sailing ships in full detail, ha ha!

DUSTIN: With the first volume having a definite ending, are there any plans for Thomas Alsop or his kin after this volume?

CHRIS: Palle and I would love to continue Thomas Alsop past Volume One.

Our initial idea was always about “world building” and creating a multi volume series that would not only showcase Thomas, but also the “other Hands of the Island” from 1699 to the present.

However, as far as we know there’s no plan for BOOM! to publish a second volume at this time. I suppose if fan response is large enough BOOM! might consider it. Perhaps when the trade comes out. Hopefully that happens, because Palle and I would love to continue Thomas’s adventures.

But even if that doesn’t occur, we’re both damn proud of the work we’ve done on Thomas Alsop, and are nothing but appreciative and thankful to BOOM! for giving us the opportunity to tell this story.

PALLE: It's been an absolute pleasure doing this book and I'd love to do more volumes, if there's a demand for it. I know Chris has a gazillion ideas, but he has other properties to develop as well. So I guess the answer is we'll have to wait and see. Right now I'm working my butt off on the last two issues and I promise: The finale will make fans lose their minds...

Well I hope you enjoyed that because it's one of the first interviews that I did just so I could read it. Hopefully you liked it just as much. A big thank you to both Chris Miskiewicz and Palle Schmidt for taking the time to talk to me and be sure to pick up THOMAS ALSOP from BOOM! Studios. 

Link to the fourth issue which released on 9/10/14.