By Nikolai Fomich
Eight months ago, comic book readers were introduced to Thomas Alsop – a drugged up reality TV star, former rock musician, and heir to a family legacy of magic he wants no part of. But upon discovering that the souls of the 3000 people who lost their lives on 9/11 remain trapped in Ground Zero, Thomas has no choice but to take action – action which turns the entire City of New York against him. BOOM!'s Thomas Alsop comes to a close this Wednesday and I sat down to chat with creators Chris Miskiewicz and Palle Schmidt to talk about their creation and why the series' biggest surprise is yet to come…
[Thomas Alsop #8]
Nikolai Fomich: First, congratulations! Thomas Alsop was the first major comic book work for either of you, and it's been a great success. How's it feel to be at the finishing line of the first Alsop miniseries?
Chris Miskiewicz: It's strange. Thomas Alsop has been in my head for years. The fact that his story is out there kind of blows my mind. The entire experience has been phenomenal, not to mention how amazing it was to be named "The Best Mini-Series of 2014" by USA Today and Geek Sushi.
Palle Schmidt: Exhausting! Ha ha! For me it felt like a major accomplishment and I'm super proud to have been part of telling that story. I actually did a video post where I discuss what I've learned from the work. It's weird because I had an intuitive feeling that this was good, that we were on to something here. But you can never really know until the reviews start coming in – and people really seem to get it. That part of doing a monthly book has been an unexpected pleasure, seeing how people react to the story. And those great reviews have fueled my process for sure.
NF: Throughout the course of the series, we've seen Thomas emerge from a kind of self-induced coma, brought on by drugs and a deep sense of insecurity, and transform into a man on a mission – he's not quite a hero, but he's definitely become a fighter. Who is Thomas Alsop by the time we get to issue eight? What's motivating him?
CM: Thomas was a tough character to write, especially in this introductory volume, because Palle and I had to keep so much of the plot and who Thomas really was back-loaded. Although he appeared to be this flippant druggie at first, I always knew what he was really about. I guess I treated him like any magician and kept all his cards up his sleeves!
But that was the biggest trick with this series, because everything that you think Thomas is in the beginning turns out to be much deeper at the end. That's where you get a sense of just how much his family's legacy drives him. I'd say by the end he's come to terms with the job of being the Hand, despite the cost to himself. And he does pay a great cost.
PS: For me Thomas' story was always about a man waking up. You can even see on the cover of the first issue, Thomas looks like a sleepwalker! And the closing shot in that issue is a close up of his eyes. So yes, he needs to wake up and realize his responsibility and face the world. But there is a bigger reveal in issue eight that makes it seem more like he has awakened to a nightmare.
[Thomas and The O – #7]
NF: Thomas has radically altered the politics of New York magic through his actions as Hand – it seems that in order to save the soul of the city, he had to demolish the old guard. We will be seeing the repercussions of his actions in a future series?
PS: I know Chris has plans to explore the downfall of Thomas' actions, yes. But whether or not we will see it in comic book form is still in the wind. Thomas does leave some very pissed off people in his wake.
CM: Absolutely. Like I've said all along, this entire series is connected, every issue and every volume – even the bad guys. If we get a second volume you'll see a lot of really bad people coming out of the woodwork to take Thomas and Team Alsop down for what he's done during "The 3000." And not all of those are supernatural threats. He's got a whole mess of legal woes chasing him too.
NF: This story is as much about New York City as it is about Thomas Alsop. Both are still reeling from 9/11 and trying to find ways to cope. How do you see the relationship between Thomas and New York? Palle, were there any visual ties between the character and the city that you incorporated into the artwork?
PS: Well, I certainly didn't want a shiny version of New York, like you've seen in romantic comedies. My experience of the city has always been more visceral – the noise, the garbage, the smell of people and frying food always in the air. It's huge and chaotic and very lived in. That's the kind of vibe I was going for. I also deliberately made it a blur in a lot of shots, because that's how Thomas sees the world.
CM: I had the idea that Manhattan got the Hand that she needed for every era. In Thomas's case, he's very much a product of a late 20th Century New York City. If you've been in Manhattan, you've seen a guy like this hanging around. He's that 90's guy, the music guy, that generation that was the bridge between car engines and cell phone apps. He's also the right age to have been here during 9/11 (as issue eight will show) and have that story.
Thomas Alsop was never going to be about the big flashy moments. It was always going to be the smaller, more personal things a person remembers when they meet a city for the first time. The trains. The traffic. The corner deli. That weird guy named Thomas we met at the bar who told us all those strange stories that night. I guess Thomas is my version of that banged up New Yorker moving thorugh our banged up town.
[New York – #5]
NF: Something we haven't touched upon in our previous interviews but that's been important to the miniseries is rock and roll. Thomas was a guitarist in The Black Sheep Band, and it's interesting that the band is both the best time of Thomas's life and where all the trouble begins. Why has rock and roll be such an important part of Thomas' past? What's the connection between music and magic?
PS: I really loved digging in to Thomas' 90's rock and roll days because that was when I was young too. I liked how Chris wrote a very different Thomas, a less jaded and less self-absorbed version of himself. The Black Sheep is a stroke of genius, because it just tells us exactly what Thomas is: the black sheep of his family.
There is a connection between magic and music going back to the legend of Robert Johnson making a deal with the devil at the crossroads, and I loved how grounded Chris makes the rituals. A shoebox and a match in a gritty club basement opening up a space "in between worlds." Amazing. It feels totally believable to me.
CM: I love rock!
[The Black Sheep Band – #4]
NF: Rock on. You've introduced some great villains and monsters throughout the course of your miniseries – the ghastly Ole' Smokey, the Alsop Family's bizarre rivals the O, and the maniacal Neziah Bliss. Talk a bit about these wicked creations and how they came to be.
PS: Neziah was such a treat to draw. The long fur coat and his almost gentle, feline speaking pattern. I think I drew him very much as Chris played him when he was telling me about future scenes. The O always felt like Nosferatu to me, I loved that they all more or less looked the same. No hair, not even eyebrows! Ole' Smokey was something I dreaded drawing. A man made of smoke, always being pulled apart and with a big, screaming red mouth. How do you pull that off? In the end I decided to draw him separately and paste him on the pages, as I wanted him to be semi-transparent and look weirdly out of place.
CM: Thanks Nik. Neziah Bliss is loosely based on an actual person I discovered during my initial research into the Alsop Family graves in Calvary Cemetery. Seems he was responsible for marrying into one of the land owning families in Greenpoint and convincing them to sell their lands along the Newtown Creek to industrial developers. This resulted in something like a hundred thousand gallons of industrial waste being dumped per day into Newtown Creek for roughly a hundred years, completely destroying that ecosystem. After reading that I had to make the guy a villain! A creepy nebbish villain! And Palle just did great drawing him. He's perfect.
I used to be a messenger in New York during college, and it always seemed like it was raining whenever I found myself downtown, and because of that, there were always these pale skinny old men in suits rushing by trying not to get wet. Somehow the horror of The O' started there… Ole' Smokey is my favorite. He's the most tragic character in TA, next to Thomas. His entire tale just breaks my heart. And I promise that if we get to do more you'll see Randall Smoke again in a big way. (Sorry Palle! More Smoke Monster for you…)
[Ole' Smokey Himself – #6]
NF: The other major Alsop you've introduced is Richard Alsop, the First Hand of the Island. Richard's war with Neziah has been a highlight of the series – they're great foils for one another. Why was it important for you to tell Richard's story as part of this series? Will we be seeing him again?
CM: Richard set up the entire methodology on how the Alsop's would conduct themselves as the Hand. His tools, Armory Items, and Journals set a precedence for any Hand that follows, and very much connects them together. Richard has a vast story that has yet to be told, and we honestly just touched the tip of it in The 3000. If we get to do more you'll see a lot of Richard Alsop and how his story directly connects to almost everything Thomas is doing in the present. You'll also see the other Hand's, and a lot of James F. Alsop in there, whose story is probably just as large as Richard's…
PS: I think we need Richard both as an anchor and to tell the back story. He is also a great contrast to Thomas because he is very stern and focused, wise and powerful. He is a man who never second guesses himself whereas Thomas can't keep a straight face, never takes himself too seriously. Richard is like a role model you can never live up to, the legacy of any Alsop unfortunate enough to become the Hand. Will we see him again? I hope so!
[Richard Alsop – #6]
NF: What are your favorite moments from the seven issues you've put out so far? Did anything turn out even cooler than you first envisioned it would? (Mine was Thomas' escape from the precinct – utterly badass.)
PS: The "drop sequence" in issue two is something I'm very proud of. It was scripted, sure, but just turned into something more, something almost alive, if that makes sense. My favorite moments are character moments, where a line of dialogue paired with the right expression just make you get that character completely. Like Thomas crouched in the cab, saying, "It's never easy talking to family". The final page of issue issue eight is also one of those moments for me.
[The Drop – #3]
CM: The issue two last page reveal of the towers still gives me chills. Issue five is my favorite. I think the whole thing hits its running speed there. Kal Pitafi ended up turning into a better character than I expected. I love seeing Thomas's relationship with his lawyer in issue six. And of course, the big reveal about what was really going on with Thomas the entire time that's shown in the last sequence of issue eight. Palle really knocked it out of the park there. Also, Emma Caldwell surprised me. I found myself wanting to know more about her. I mean, what a badass female lead, right? She's strong, cool, and she's British!
The biggest thing that surprised me wasn't in the book [was] the reaction we got from reviewers and fans about the 9/11 plotline. Thomas Alsop was always a controversial concept due to that one point – it's just a risky thing to put into any American story, and we didn't know how the market would react. Honestly I was spooked readers wouldn't get past that one thing the closer we got to the release. However, thankfully, the complete opposite happened, and it opened a floodgate of positivity from fans.
I think the praise we're getting shows that there's a market for higher concept creator-owned books like this, and that at the end of the day, comic book fans are smart readers who love good stories that go beyond a main character wearing a cape and flying around hitting stuff. Frank Barbiere, James Tynion, and Michael Moreci are some of my favorite writers who have been pushing barriers all year, and it's just utterly inspiring to read their work while making TA. I guess I'm trying to say that it was inspiring to have this story received in such a positive light by the comics industry. That was pretty cool.
[The 3000 – #4]
NF: Issue eight comes out this week – what can readers expect from Thomas Alsop's final issue? And when will we be seeing the Alsop's next?
PS: The readers can expect an ending they will not see coming, and it's guaranteed to break your heart. As to when and if Alsop will return, only time will tell. It all depends on how well the trade does in stores, competing with bigger brand names and more aggressive marketing.
Again, I'm incredibly proud to have been part of this book and leaving a small dent in the universe like that. Thomas Alsop is for some readers what The Dark Knight or Watchmen were for me and that is just amazing. I'm also eternally grateful for Chris to have talked me into doing this book and for the friendship and fantastic partnership that has grown from working together. It's been a hell of a ride and I hope we get to do it again soon.
CM: It's the big, big reveal about what's really been going on with Thomas, so I'll say the same line I've been saying since the first issue: "Every reason why you hate Thomas is the reason why you'll love him later." Hopefully that ends up being true.
As for seeing Thomas Alsop and the rest of the Alsop Family again, only time will tell. Palle and I have developed a fantastic friendship and working relationship during this project, and we've got an insane amount of notes, scripts, and plans if we get to go back into Thomas's world. Hopefully there's a huge response to the first trade when it comes out on May 27th, and fans keep bugging us and BOOM! to make more Thomas Alsop books, because we'd love to. Hell, I could write this guy for the rest of my life and be completely happy. This has been a great ride.
Thanks to Chris and Palle for taking the time to talk Alsop! You can follow them on Twitter @CMMiskiewicz and @Palle_Schmidt.
Nikolai Fomich is a writer and writing teacher in the Philadelphia area. Follow him on Twitter @brokenquiver