I their quest to bring some magic back to comics, writer Chris Miskiewicz and artist Palle Schmidt have teamed to create "Thomas Alsop," an 8-issue, creator-owned project from BOOM! Studios debuting in June. The series combines Miskiewicz's love of New York City history with a desire to tell a different kind of magical tale.
The title character might be kind of a mess, as Miskiewicz himself describes Thomas, but he also has an important duty: Uphold his family's longstanding tradition of acting as The Hand of the Island, a kind of magical policeman that protects Manhattan and the surrounding Burroughs from various supernatural threats. Thomas goes about all this a bit differently than some of his predecessors, however, especially since he's got a reality show crew documenting his adventures.
CBR News spoke with Miskiewicz about how a real life graveyard discovery in NYC led to the creation of "Thomas Alsop" and the different ways in which magic works in his world.
CBR News: Was there a particular event, experience or story that helped spawn the idea that developed into "Thomas Alsop?"
Chris Miskiewicz: The initial idea came to me two and a half years ago while I was walking through Calvary Cemetery in Queens NY. I'm a big New York history buff, and often spend afternoons lurking around areas I shouldn't be in, to take pictures.
Inside, I came upon a gated family cemetery with headstones dating back to the 1600s. The headstones were worn down, but I was able to make out the family name Alsop, and a date of 1701. It blew me away that something so old could be situated where it was.
Weeks passed, and I couldn't get the Alsop name out of my head. So, I began researching that area of Brooklyn and Queens. I learned that there had once been a farm situated where the cemetery now was, with a fairly large Dutch population. I kept researching the area, the native tribes who resided there, and found myself walking along the shoreline, imagining what the landscape might have looked like, while an image of a Dutch farmer continued to haunt my imagination. Eventually, this became Richard Alsop, the first Hand of the Island.
I put an early version of Richard in another story I pitched to Vertigo with Dean Haspiel that didn't get approved. But, I ended up laying enough groundwork to build a tale of a noble cursed family who protected New York for centuries, which led to the current Hand, Thomas Alsop.
What can you tell us about Thomas and his role as Hand of the Island?
Thomas Alsop is the current Hand of the Island, a title that's passed down through the bloodline of the Alsop Family. When one Hand dies the curse randomly moves to the next member of the family.
It originated when Dutch farmer Richard Alsop was cursed in 1699 by an Indian tribe to protect Manhattan and the surrounding areas against any supernatural threats. Richard was the first European to become the Hand. Each Hand answer to The Island a shadowy woman who only speaks to them in their dreams, thereby directing them towards cases they should be investigating.
The Alsops have basically been New York's resident Magic Cops for the last 300 years. They have several powers which are inherent to The Hand, but Richard was also a master carpenter and built dozens of tools and devices to combat the supernatural as he came across new threats. Each Hand has used those ever since, including Thomas, which is a really fun element of the series. He has a collection of very cool tricks and tools he uses all the time.
There's a history of mysterious magician characters in comics. Were you influenced by any of them? At the same time, were there aspects of that kind of character you found lacking and wanted to put into Thomas?
Being a New Yorker, I've always had a soft spot for Doctor Strange. I loved the idea that this master magician lived in the East Village and could get involved in whatever weird adventures came up around town. The possibilities for a character like that are limitless. I also dug "Hellblazer" when it was at Vertigo. Constantine was such a bastard back then. I loved his sarcasm.
As for aspects that I feel are lacking in the genre, my biggest gripe with magic and supernatural characters in comics and TV is how they lose the everyday and go for a high concept adventure instead. That, and a lack of research into occult sciences. So, you end up with a main character just doing "magic things." I think the best horror and supernatural stories blend the everyday with those other elements peppered in.
At least that's what I'm attempting to do with Thomas Alsop -- create a master magician who tackles big issues, but who you'll also find eating dumplings in Chinatown, talking to random ghosts in bars, as well as getting trashed and into trouble. It's honestly been a lot of fun to craft his world. Thomas Alsop is a New Yorker, and Manhattan is big city with a lot of strange corners. He tends to find everything weird that there is to find.
What's Thomas up to when the book kicks off?
Thomas, the current Hand of the Island, is a bit of a mess. He hates being the Hand. Hates the job he has to do. Hates the horrible things he encounters. And his solution to deal with this is to abuse every substance he can get his hands on after each encounter.
Thomas ends up going out to handle a disturbance one night while drinking with his friend, Marcus Rogers. However, it turns out that it's a big deal and Thomas has to fight for his life. Marcus films the encounter on his phone and puts it on YouTube as "Thomas Alsop - Supernatural Detective" where it goes viral and gets millions of hits. Soon after, Thomas is offered his own cable ghost hunter/illusionist show that becomes a national hit.
Considering Thomas gets his own reality show, it sounds like the general public is aware of the mystical threats Thomas defends them from.
I suppose it's a matter of perception. Thomas shows his adventures on the show, but who knows who actually believes what he's doing is real and how much is made up entertainment like any other reality illusionist show. My take on the public's perception of him is the same as anyone who watches an illusionist TV Show. Maybe some of it is real? Maybe some of it is made up entertainment? I think most viewers are 50/50 on whether or not he's legit. But there he is every week, going, "I'm Thomas Alsop - The Hand of the Island, saving you all through mysteries of magic!"
What kinds of threats does Thomas face in the series?
In the first arc, "The 3000," we find Thomas and Richard Alsop both working the same case in different eras, where the events happening in the 1700s end up directly affecting Thomas in 2011. There's a huge reveal at the end of the second issue, which I can't get into yet, that sets the tone for the major adventure of this first arc.
However, within that you'll see Thomas exorcising horrible spirits, tracking down magical items, investigating what caused the major crisis of the first arc and, of course, battling the terrors of camera-flashing paparazzi!
Later in the series, we debut a character called Randall Smoke, who Palle has just been having a blast designing. I think people are going to really dig him.
How did you team up with Palle Schmidt for "Thomas Alsop?"
I met Palle three years ago at MOCCA when he came to New York with a group of Danish artists. We hit it off immediately. He showed me his book "The Devils Concubine" by IDW as well as a second book he was working on called "Stiletto" and I was floored by his art. I immediately offered him a chapter of the webcomic I was writing, "Everywhere," published by ACTIVATEComix.com.
He took an issue of the series I had printed for the con and texted me twenty minutes later, after reading it, saying he was in. We spent the rest of that weekend getting to know each other and I began telling him the story I was writing about Thomas Alsop. His art style had exactly the kind of look and feel I was going for.
After he finished the episode of "Everywhere," we started work on the twelve page Thomas Alsop short "The Case of Dead Uncle" which originally ran at TripCity.net. We got a great response to Thomas. People really loved the character, and soon after, Palle and I began working on the first issue.
What is your collaborative process like with Palle?
Working with Palle Schmidt is like being in the best band I've ever been in. Palle is one of the most professional and talented people I've had the pleasure to collaborate with. He's a writer as well as an artist, and just has a fantastic eye for storytelling.
We've been building Thomas's world side by side ever since I sent him the eight episode script, coming up with story points, going on location scouts together when he's in New York, and just filling up our Dropbox account with reference images. I couldn't imagine doing this comic without him.
I give him free reign to change panels and layouts to anything he thinks is a better way to tell the story, and his changes are always better than what I envisioned. My thinking with artists is that since they're drawing this world and staring at those pages for hours, then they may as well draw the things that inspire them. It'll just make the final product better.
At this point we're both so entwined in this story that we talk about Thomas like he's an extended member of our family. And in a way, he is. This project brought us together and I honestly believe we've become lifelong friends because of it. I'd work with Palle on anything, anytime, anywhere.
What was the process like bringing this project to BOOM!?
We owe a lot of thanks to Chip Mosher of ComiXology for introducing us to Matt Gagnon at SDCC last year. We ran into him by chance on the convention floor where he asked what we were up to. I had spoken with him about the project once before, and mentioned that we were on our way to BOOM! to try and get a moment to pitch.
Chip walked us over to Matt saying something like, "You need to give these guys a good fifteen minutes and look at this book." Matt, who was floored by the art, story and concept ended up talking with us for 30 minutes where he said, "If all of the pitches we see are like this were going to have a brand new company next year."
That was our first pitch meeting of the day, and a very lucky break for us. Two and a half months later, just before NYCC, Matt emailed us to say that "Thomas Alsop" was a go book at BOOM!
Since then we've been teamed up with our editor Ian Brill. Ian has been a great guiding force on the book. He steps in making suggestions where he thinks something could be better. Beefing up an emotional moment for readers, moments that could resonate a bit more across the board, but at the same time completely lets us build the world and the story we want to tell.
That seems to be BOOM!'s motto. They just want to make the best books that they can, give advice when they see an opportunity to make a moment better, but really just let the creative team tell their story. I utterly enjoy being part of their team and would work with them again at any opportunity.
I'm honored that they've taken a chance with us and "Thomas Alsop" is being put out alongside all of the other high quality books they have on the shelves. BOOM! Studios is a great place to currently be working. They're positioning themselves as a 21st Century house of ideas, and we're thrilled to be a part of it all as it happens.
"Thomas Alsop" #1 from Chris Miskiewicz, Palle Schmidt and BOOM! Studios debuts on June 18.