In a world where we all have our vices and we all find different ways of coping with them. How far are we willing to go to cure our addictions? That’s the juxtaposition of this new horror series from Rich Douek and Alex Cormack, Breath of Shadows. Published by IDW Publishing, Breath of Shadows, melds the horror genre with drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, resulting in an edge-of-your-seat, dark-and-twisted, must-read!
We had a chance to speak with the creators of this new horror limited series Rich Douek and Alex Cormack and pick their brains about the creation of Breath of Shadows, the ideas that inspired it, and the real-world, historical research needed to be done in order to bring this story to readers across the world. During our chat, Rich and Alex provided great insight into the story at hand, how we as human beings have our vices, and how we all find our own ways to cope with all that we deal with in this thing called life.
Alex [Cormack] also dives into how his psychedelic-inspired covers for the new series came to be and what were some of the most difficult and daunting moments of drawing this horror series…psst…we have a secret…Alex hates bugs…but then again don’t we all?
Check out our full interview with Rich Douek and Alex Cormack below:
TNB: What was the inspiration behind this series? What were some real-world events, films, shows, novels, or comics that helped inspire this story?
RICH: Like Road of Bones and Sea of Sorrows before it, Breath of Shadows was inspired by our desire to look at certain eras of history through the lens of horror. With Breath of Shadows, it simply started with our desire to do a 1960s book in a jungle setting – but what jungle, and where? Southeast Asia would be an obvious answer, but we’ve all seen a lot of Vietnam War-inspired horror, so we dug a little deeper. One book that we found is The Yage Letters by William S. Burroughs – about a fictionalized version of himself on a quest for Ayahuasca in the jungles of the Yucatan.
We took a lot of inspiration from that story but created our own take on things with the addition of the tumultuous world of rock and roll in the 1960s, and a band we called The Shades, who are loosely inspired by groups like The Beatles, The Doors, and The Rolling Stones. We were also really inspired by the real-world failure of the hippie movement to bring about the world full of love and happiness so many of them preached about… the same group of people went from “All you need is love” to “greed is good” in a little over a decade – and we were really interested in exploring how much of that was there from the start.
ALEX: Artistically inspiration came from all over. Each band member is based on my memory of other famous rock stars of the time, clothing ideas came from Syd Barrett, Jim Morison, and Jimi Hendrix. As for the archeologists and other characters, I found some interesting faces from college yearbooks from the time and found fashion ideas from the 1965 Macy’s and JC-Penny catalogs. A lot of the jungle scenery and ruins inspiration came from an illustrator Fredrick Catherwood who along with Jonathon Stephens were some of the first white explorers to come across Mayan ruins and statues in the 1830s and 40s. He would use a camera Lucida to get his illustrations as close to what was in front of him, and they are remarkable. Along with that, my son is a fan of the Jungle Book animation and live-action version so they have been on a lot at home too.
TNB: Breath of Shadows centers on fame, wealth, and drug addiction. Was highlighting the horrors of this often-deadly trio always part of the initial idea?
RICH: Addiction is a horror unto itself, which manifests in a lot of ways beyond substance abuse – to my mind, it’s a hollow feeling, a sense of incompleteness that we keep trying to fill with things that just won’t do the job. And one unfortunate side effect of fame and wealth is that you’re often surrounded by enablers willing to feed your addictions so they can reap as many benefits as they can off of you. It was definitely part of what we wanted to explore with this book from the beginning.
TNB: For Alex, what drew you to this story in particular?
ALEX: Rich I suppose. We were already talking about something in the jungle for this, after ROAD OF BONES I told Rich that other than a story that takes place in the snow I always wanted to draw something on the ocean and in a jungle. SEA OF SORROWS was the ocean and now we have BREATH OF SHADOWS for the jungle. So, I was already excited for that when Rich came up with the rock stars and everyone else and it made me think of all this great 60s music that I listened to in high school and college and how I would study these bands and made me really want to jump into that world.
TNB: Alex, the panels that stand out to me the most are the ones where we see Jimmy hallucinating the centipedes. How tedious (if anything) was it putting those panels together? They call for a ton of detail and one can only imagine how time-consuming that is.
ALEX: It took some time. The worst thing about the centipedes was looking up reference material, at first, I tried to draw them from memory but they ended up looking like snakes with legs, so I had to google them and, damn I hate bugs. But it’s all about layering and layering and layering.
TNB: Rich, please feel free to chime in as well and add your input as the script writer for what you called for in the script and how Alex was able to translate your ideas into these panels.
RICH: Insects, centipedes in particular, are a recurring theme throughout the book, and while I wasn’t trying to gross Alex out with my scripts, I didn’t want to hold back with what I was describing. I was trying to get at the heart of addiction, always feeling that crawling dependence underneath your skin. One great thing about working with Alex is I can always count on him to render whatever monstrosities I dream up in beautiful detail! The next book will be all puppies and kittens.
TNB: Breath of Shadows is paving the way to hit some dark themes and go to some dark places. Possibly showing how far people are willing to go to seek a cure. What can fans expect from this series after reading this first issue?
RICH: By the end of the issue, you’ll be familiar with all the characters setting out on this journey, with a good idea of what makes most of them tick. But what you haven’t seen yet is the extremes we’re going to push them to, how they react and chafe against each other, and what conflicts, new and old, are ignited among them. Trust us, you’re in for a wild ride.
ALEX: A lot more bugs and shenanigans!
TNB: How far into the rabbit hole did you guys dive into when researching El Peru/Waka to come up with El Peru Waka in this story?
RICH: It’s interesting how these things work out… to bring up Burroughs again, there’s a quote from him that made me want to use centipedes as the monsters in this book – before I even read a single thing, I knew it was what I wanted:
“There may be people who like centipedes… Personally, I would regard such an individual with deep suspicion. I have just petted my cat: “And how is this good little cat beast?” Now, what sort of man or woman or monster would stroke a centipede on his underbelly? “And here is my good big centipede!” If such a man exists, I say kill him without more ado. He is a traitor to the human race.” – WSB
Now lo and behold, I start my research into the Mayan ruins of the Yucatan and Guatemala, and learn that the previously unknown ruins of an entire city and temple complex was discovered in the real world 1960s… and the name of those ruins? The Centipede Water, aka, El Peru Waka. I took it as a good sign! As I read this issue, I couldn’t ignore the obvious and something that we as people all deal with, having our respective vices. While we only focus on the vices of a few individuals in this issue, most notably, Jimmy and maybe even Miguel.
TNB: Will every person we come across in this story succumb or overcome their vices?
RICH: Well, it is a horror story, so I wouldn’t look for many happy endings for our characters – but you’re absolutely right in that vices are a universal thing we all deal with, and every character in the story will be struggling with them in one or the other. I can’t say that any of them win, exactly, but we will see a difference between the ones who choose to confront them, and the ones who give into them wholly.
ALEX: I’m sure they’ll be fine.
TNB: Switching gears to Alex again. Outside of this debut issue, which issue was the most fun or most difficult to illustrate?
It might be the issue I’m currently on which is issue five and the final issue. Anytime you see a wide shot I loved it drawing every leaf and vine and tree. Each issue though has one or two or three memorable illustrations though, I wouldn’t mind drawing this forever!
TNB: I won’t go without highlighting the amazing lineup of covers that this series has in the pipeline. Francesco Francavilla and Bjorn Barends, both amazing artists have stellar covers for this series, both debuting with the first issue, but you also have a stunning red and yellow cover. Can we discuss putting this cover together and the other vibrant and colorful covers you are releasing as the series goes on? Was the LSD trip feel and look for some of the covers intentional in driving the point home of what Jimmy and his bandmates will be dealing with throughout this series?
ALEX: As we were talking about covers, I can’t remember if it was Rich, myself, or our editor Chase bringing up we should do a psychedelic poster art look for these. I ended up looking at a bunch of posters from Wes Wilson and going down the pipeline to the original influences like Alphonse Mucha. But they were a ton of fun to do. A lot of digital tricks in there too, copying and pasting, and messing with the hues and values. It was something I hadn’t really done before and I’m happy to hear you think they’re trippy!
TNB: Rich, you have another hot title releasing this week as well. Magic #23, how fun has it been writing that series alongside Jed?
RICH: It’s been awesome! I love Magic the Gathering as a setting, and I used to play a whole bunch of it when I was younger. Getting to dive back into that world as a creator has been fantastic and working with Jed made it all the more so, as he built an awesome storyline to build off of in the earlier issues. We were able to bring in some great new elements and fan-favorite characters in this new arc and have just had a ton of fun bringing it all to life.
TNB: I’ll leave you both the floor to promote the upcoming issues of Breath of Shadows, your social handles, and any projects you guys have coming up from other publishers as well. The floor is yours…
RICH: You can find me on Twitter and Instagram as @rdouek, or go to my website at rdouek.com, where you can sign up for my newsletter – that’s the best place to get updates about Breath of Shadows, Magic the Gathering, and other works like the Kang digital title I just did for Marvel Unlimited. I have a lot of exciting projects coming up throughout the year, so sign up to hear about them first!
ALEX: I’m on Twitter at @alexcormack4 and on Instagram under Alex Cormack Illustrator, same deal as Facebook. Issue #4 of DUEL just came out from Bliss on Tap publishing, and I’ve been doing a bunch of NINJA FUNK covers for Whatnot publishing so keep an eye out for those!
TNB: I want to thank you guys both for taking the time out of your busy schedules for this interview. It is truly appreciated.
RICH: Thanks for the great questions!
ALEX: Thank you so much
It’s 1968. On the fast track to becoming one of his era’s most iconic rock stars, Jimmy Meadows should be basking in the glow of newly acquired wealth and fame. Instead, crushed by the weight of a debilitating heroin addiction, Jimmy is on the verge of losing everything—until an old friend tips him off to an unorthodox treatment method hidden in the depths of the South American jungle.
With fair-weather friends, local opportunists, and industry sycophants in tow, Jimmy sets off in search of what he’s sure will be a miracle cure. But as the excursion veers off course and the realities of their environment begin to bleed together with Jimmy’s paranoia and drug-induced hallucinations, the team quickly descends into a nightmare of bloody chaos populated by unspeakable horrors that surpass even the most brutal drug trip.
Breath of Shadows #1 is available now at local comic book shops and digital. Breath of Shadows #2 will hit shelves on March 1, 2023.
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