Alec Worley

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Realm of the Damned: Tenebris Deos is the debut graphic novel by new monster on the block, Werewolf Press and the latest offering from the wonderfully twisted imagination of writer Alec Worley. It’s a dark, gore-filled tale of a horrific future in which the undead have risen to control the world, dooming humanity to an eternity of despair. And it’s also a furious, fun and entertaining read that’ll leave you grinning from ear to ear and a hankering to listen to the Cradle Of Filth discography. MM caught up with Alec Worley for a chat about all things vampiric, black metal, comics and, of course, Tenebris Deos…

Interview by Tim Cundle

MM: With Realm of the Damned did you approach Werewolf Press or did they approach you? How did you end up writing their flagship release?

AW: It’s a weird one really.  I was contacted by Pye, a designer friend of mine who was going freelance.  He said that there was a project on the table but they were having difficulty getting it off the ground. It was going to be a horror book and essentially taking the classic novels like Dracula and putting a bit of a spin on it.  Straight away I said I thought it was a good idea; a good idea as it’s been done about 40 thousand times before. But horror and monsters are totally in my wheelhouse so I said yes. So we took a meeting there and Steve (Beatty, Werewolf Press head honcho) explained that what he had in mind was really much less of a gore fest monster mash-up than it first appeared and it was actually quite serious. He brought the music in as well and kind of wove that into the story.  Then once I’d got my head around that I pitched him an idea that again was really a little bit less serious maybe and a little bit more like a kind of monster mash up.  It was fun but it wasn’t quite there.  Then Steve said to me “it’s good but it’s not quite there. Have you heard of Norwegian black metal?” Now metal was never a huge thing for me, I never listened to it much growing up; it just wasn’t my thing, although I’ve got into it since.  So I did some homework: he sent me a stack of CDs, things like Emperor, Mayhem, Burzum etc and I listened to the music and found out all about the amazing story of how all this came about. I totally got it. And I thought “Now you’ve got it!” Now I could see a story that would play out in the right way.  And within that genre it would totally work.  So we re-pitched the whole thing; but it was Steve who provided the magic ingredient and I knew that this was the hook that was going to make it different from every other horror story out there.  So we’ve kind of got that over-arching kind of monster adventure story but the way I kind of sold it to them was that we fit this within the genre of black metal, so it’s the kind of story that would be sung about in an album.

So I guess in a similar way to how Tim Burton will make a film through what’s become a very twee kind of goth aesthetic, so we’re telling a horror story but through the genre of black metal, weaving all this kind of iconography that goes with it as well. It’s like when you have a bunch of guys who don’t really have all that much going for them, but they have this and it’s such a strong bond, but how far do you take the lifestyle?  It’s where the line gets blurred between fantasy and reality. It’s the story of nerd culture really.

Alex

MM: With this book you’ve been given a chance to re-write vampiric mythology, just as you re-wrote Werewolf mythology in Age of Wolf.  And you’ve imbued it with the a similar brutality and violence; pushing it back to the forefront of the horror genre. It’s almost like you’re pushing back against crap like Twilight…

AW: I think it’s the third series of Penny Dreadful is back on TV I noticed the other day and a couple of people have asked me if I had any influences, and funnily enough one of them is Penny Dreadful.  Not because of the show itself – which I kind of have a few problems with it to be honest, although I watch it and enjoy it– but what I like about it is that it’s trying to make a Gothic horror fucking horrible again. What it should be.  If you go back to the routes of gothic horror in whatever century that was, it scandalised people.  It’s all about pushing the boundaries and being horrible.  If you go back to the publication of Dracula that was a shocking book…

MM: it still is in some ways. Dracula himself has absolutely no redeeming features whatsoever.  The idea that you can take a vampire and make it some kind of romantic figure isn’t just strange, it’s almost semi-psychotic…

AW: Absolutely. It’s like a lot of the stuff you think of when it comes to werewolf mythology is pure Hollywood. All that stuff about silver bullets – all Hollywood.  It has bugger all to do with werewolves.  And vampires. It’s like when Hollywood decided to bring in Bela Lugosi, then you have Christopher Lee who was a suave leading man, but when you go back to read the book you remember just how fucking horrible it is.  For me one of the really hideous scenes in the book is when he brings back the baby for the brides to eat. I read Dracula when I was a teenager and it was a proper horror.  I remember thinking it’s an old book it’ll be shit, but it wasn’t at all; it read like a new novel.  Absolutely brilliant work, loved it.  In the same way I’m trying to find a rough, raw unpolished edge. It’s supposed to be in your face, it’s supposed to be horrible.  We’ve had a couple of responses – mostly from comic readers – who have said “this is all very childish – trying to shock” but that’s the fucking point.  That’s what horror novels are.  It’s like if you look at a Cradle of Filth album there’s fucking Christ with a bunch of drugs or some shit like that and it’s there for a reason. We’ve made this for 20 something music fans not for the older, maybe more set in their ways, market that are maybe into the superhero stuff or whatever.  I really think readership is something we should be talking about more in comics.  There’s this whole thing at the moment about trying to please everybody. Comics are for everyone, just like theatre is for everyone.  It’s a completely uninsightful and pointless statement because this book hasn’t been written for the same audience as Donald Duck; and it shouldn’t be – any more than Hilary Mantel writes for the same people as Andy McNabb.

I also write for kids.  I write Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comics for kids.  You have a very specific idea of readership and it informs everything you write, the kind of jokes you’re telling and the kind of transitions you’re making.  Looking at Black Metal, it would be the easiest thing in the world just to take the piss, but that’s totally missing the point and you can’t do that.  I remember reading one of the early Warhammer novels (I forget which one) and it was clearly written by somebody who thought he was better than the genre because there were just snide comments everywhere and it just ruined the novel

MM: There are some fantastic writers working on the Warhammer stuff. Dan Abnett for example.  When you really get into that stuff and you embrace it, they’re really brutal, wonderful books because they embrace 40,000 years of blood soaked human history…

AW: Exactly.  The only way that kind of stuff is going to succeed is by embracing it and by trying to find the emotional connection you have to it.  I’ve got friends who maybe made bad choices back in the day because they thought this was how the world works.  But it makes me thing that maybe I’m not so far away from that, you know it’s a bit like what actors do, you try to connect to a situation to see how you would react and behave in that world.

MM: You know you read this book and although it’s incredibly graphic in its content, it feels almost like there’s a sense of catharsis in the writing.  Was it an emotional release for you?   

AW: Yeah pretty much.  But the thing is you do still have to control it or otherwise you just splurge; what you’re trying to do is get a reaction out of the reader.  You’ve got to find a way to get something across other than just 6 panels of gore, gore, gore – it kind of doesn’t work.  I remember chatting with someone about action movies and how the worst action scenes are the ones where they just go berserk and there is no grace or sense of movement or space.  And if you look at the action scenes in a James Cameron movie like Aliens, you see he never loses his head, he never loses control for a single second, it’s just completely visceral and just bang, it works.  The whole monster theme though is great; and talking about making a connection – like with a character like Balaur – he’s basically me playing Fallout 4.  When I’m playing Fallout, all I want to do is just kill things, I don’t care about the story, I don’t give a shit, I just like walking around with a sniper rifle shooting at people. So when it comes to the comic I’m trying to do a similar thing, and trying to craft dialogue that’s a little bit different, and gets under your skin.

MM: You can hear  that with the character of Van Helsing.  Every story gets the hero it deserves and he’s a very human hero, one that just does what he needs to in order to get the job done, but he’s also a bastard – in the best sense of the word..

AW:  Obviously in black metal there’s this whole anti religion theme running through it but what I really wanted to do with Van Helsing was to talk a lot about faith, and his view of doing the right thing.  There is a theme running through it of him doing what he thinks God wants him to do.  So for him it doesn’t matter if he kills this woman or that child because that’s what God wants.  I think as well you see these ideas in the West, when you hear people talking about terrorism, the language they use brings you full circle. It’s religious fundamentalism on both sides, and I wanted to bring a taste of that into it.  It’s a bit like social media, where opinion is really binary and everything is black or white; just a lot of fuckwittery powering the internet and nobody is actually having a conversation, they are just screaming at each other. Certainly in comics.  I think it’s having quite a toxic effect on comics at the moment…

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MM: Which is encapsualted in the ongoing Captain America furore,  all of sudden he’s  throwing someone out of a plane, then saying “Hail Hydra”, which has caused an uproar within fandom, with a huge swathe of it spluttering “How can you ignore 70 years of lore…”, but  it’s just taking his story down a different path, telling what looks like, if it’s given a chance to, will be fantastic tale…

AW: Exactly.  I was listening to a podcast this morning and it just made sense… I don’t want to be in comics if people are that fucking dumb and people respond to things like that.  You don’t seem to have that problem with fiction, with novels yet we do have it with comics. Can you not just look at the story and think “that’s a cool twist” or wait and see how it goes?

MM: People just jump in and are immediately reactionary.  Why can’t they just let it play out and if they don’t like it at the end, fair enough, just say so. But please, don’t jump in early and start complaining before the writer has laid the whole thing out and you’ve seen, and given,  the story a chance to  develop as it was intended….

AW: Absolutely otherwise you’re restricted to about four approved stories, and that’s anti-intellectual, anti-art, anti-just-about-anything-worth-while… Not to mention you can’t function in the adult world like that.

MM: And it’s boring too!

AW: Going back to Van Helsing where you have a complete zealot as a hero… Listen, have you ever seen the Norwegian film the Troll Hunter?  There is a scene in that which has always stayed with me.  I always thought that this is kind of exposing the lie that is at the heart of – I don’t know what you’d call it – but the “slayer” genre – Buffy the Vampire, shows like that.  Well in this scene there’s the guy who’s supposed to be responsible for killing the monsters in the movie, and he goes in to clear out a nest of Trolls and some of them are mums and babies, and he exterminated the lot of them because it was his job.  That’s extremism.  That’s the awful thing that this character does – he just keeps killing, indiscriminately until the job is done. There is then the level of compromise you accept so easily and the lines become blurred between being good and evil.  You begin to wonder, between the humans and the demons who the bad guys are.

MM: One thing I really enjoyed is the way the Vatican has been wiped out and taken away, and then another equally tyrannical organisation rises to take it’s place, almost like the more things change then the more they stay the same…

AW:  That’s exactly it.  I was trying to go put something original for the genre something in the “They Walk Among Us” kind of mood..  Then with the comic book characters I wanted to spin it out and take it in a different direction. That hook eventually became the black metal angle.  Originally though I kind of started with an idea that has been played with for ages, through shows like X-Files and comics like BPRD, Hellboy etc, that notion that ‘We’re here to protect you from the things in the darkness’  But what if they had been wiped out? What would happen then?  And that was the first draft…

MM: You’ve got this post-apocalyptic thing but life just keeps going on; after all you’ve just traded in one bunch of monster for another…

AW: Exactly. I’m glad you liked it…

Simon

MM: How involved have you been in the forthcoming sons of Balaur record?

AW: I had no involvement whatsoever.  Music’s not my forte. I’ve only heard a couple of songs so far but it sounds kind of concept albumy.  I can’t wait to hear the whole thing. I met the guys and they were fucking great.  We just sat there in Forbidden Planet talking about eighties slasher films…

MM: When I was reading the book, one of the things that really struck me stylistically was that it’s really like early Slaine, or Pat Mills’ Requiem.  It’s got the same sort of undercurrent and feel. You never know what’s coming next…

AW: Thank-you. I’ve never worked as closely with an artist as I did with Pye on this. Just in terms of  suggesting a couple of bits and going back and changing things and trying again.  It’s really shown me that, with image and words, if you’ve got that kind of relationship with the artist and the writer you can have an idea here, an idea there and so the whole thing is just like a stream of consciousness going back and forth it’s fantastic… What you don’t want is for someone to just slap down a blueprint and tell you to do it that way because it just doesn’t work.  The collaboration on this book has been amazing.  The artist’s layouts have been fantastic this time and having a part in the dialogue has been such a positive thing.

MM: It feels like the opening to a longer story arc.  Can you tell us about the next chapter?

AW: I’m not sure I can say anthing about it right now, but I did start working on it today. So it is happening…

Realm of the Damned: Tenebris Deos is published by, and available from, Werewolf Press 

If you’d like to know more, visit Realm of the Damned

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