Despite having grown up on a peninsula surrounded by water, there is always something scary about open water. Maybe it’s not able to see below the surface, or maybe it’s knowing that only 5% of Earth’s oceans have been explored and mapped. Anyway, all I know is I’m getting nervous about what’s hiding beneath the surface.
So when IDW Publishing – an American publisher of comics, graphic novels, and more – posted their new horror comics, I jumped at the chance to find one for the spooky season. And one on the list seemed suited to my own fears: Sea of Sorrows.
The story is set in the aftermath of the Great War, when the North Atlantic was ripe for looting by independent rescue teams. When a former naval officer hires the SS Vagabond, he leads the ship to a sunken submarine and a fortune in gold. Tensions mount as the crew members prepare to double down, but the darkness of the ocean floor harbors deeper terrors than anyone imagined.
The content and visuals in this comic are grim, so it’s not for young readers or those uncomfortable with violence and gore. But beyond the surface Sea of Sorrows is also an exploration of greed and the dark side of humanity.
Written by Rich Douek and illustrated by Alex Cormack, Sea of Sorrows is a great addition to your spooky season reading list. I sent the author and illustrator questions about making comics, working as a team, improving my understanding of this spooky story and more.
Grace Johnson (GJ): What interested you about comics?
Rich Douek (RD): I’ve been a fan of comics since I was a kid – I would go to my local newsstand every weekend and buy whatever looked cool. Over time, I got more and more interested in plots and characters, and I started to imagine what it would be like to create my own.
Alex Cormack (CA): My older brother. He collected them in the late ’80s and early’ 90s and passed them on to me. Since then, I have always loved them.
GJ: Is it difficult to create a coherent work with two people? Was the story created with a singular vision in mind, or did one of you have the story and approach the other with the idea?
DR: In general, I’ve found it to be difficult only when you don’t trust and appreciate the people you create with. As long as everyone is open to discussing decisions and working to help everyone else on the team shine, that’s okay.
Alex and I have known each other for years and had worked together on Route of the bones, so that trust and mutual respect was there even before I put the first page on paper.
Sea of Sorrows came together, bouncing ideas off each other and building on what we came up with. Alex came up with the idea of doing an underwater story, which prompted me to come up with the script and an idea for a monster, which he then designed and built, and so on, back and forth until ‘until we came to a place we both loved.
THAT : Nope. The history is rich. I told him I wanted to draw something on the ocean, and we pitched a few ideas, but the credit goes to Rich.
GJ: What do you think is the most difficult part of creating a comic book?
DR: I would say it’s not one thing in particular, but rather the fact that a lot of different things have to line up to produce a comic. There’s the planning, the creative visions, and a lot of other things that need to be in sync. It can be difficult to get everything to work at times, but when it does it is definitely worth it when you see the results.
THAT : For me, everything is equal. The storytelling, the acting, is the precise wardrobe, how do I bring out that character, the lighting, where the panels are, does that thumb look good. But that being said, it’s also a lot of fun.
GJ: In Sea of Sorrows, we kind of see two different timelines: the current story and then the flashbacks. Can you tell us a bit about the two sets and why you decided to set the story in a post-war period?
DR: At the start of the process, Alex showed me a sketch of him in an old-fashioned wetsuit, and I fell in love with it. So I knew we wanted to put it at a time when such costumes were used. World War I seemed like a great choice, as it was the conflict where technology really took the horrors of war to an unprecedented level of brutality and horror.
We saw it as such a traumatic event that it marked the collective consciousness of the world. We felt that the war itself and its aftermath were the perfect topics for our themes to come together.
THAT : The settings for me, we really had three: WWI, on deck and underwater. [In WWI scenes], I wanted to show how horrible, dirty and violent it would have been; on the bridge, I wanted the sun to be out, but with black lighting to help show that the tensions were high; and then underwater, I wanted to give a very dangerous feeling that you are in the dark in this alien world, and that you cannot see two feet in front of you.
GJ: Without spoiling it, who came up with the mermaid design, and why did you go in that direction? It was atypical to say the least!
DR: I think I got the idea for the mermaid to be more than initially apparent when you first see it, but the actual design and how it works was 100% Alex!
THAT : Thank you, it was me. I wanted to surprise audiences with this thing and I had – well, what she does – in mind for a while. It was one of the first things brought together for Sea of Sorrows, and I was so excited to see people’s reactions to her.
GJ: Sea of Sorrows is your second horror comic, featuring Route of the bones preceding this one. You mention in your postscript that you don’t see yourself pursuing sequels for these two. Are you working on something new?
DR: For horror, Alex and I agree that sequels often run the risk of watering down the original material, so we decided to approach our titles more as separate stories that are always linked by mood. and the theme. So you can enjoy Sea of Sorrows without ever having read Route of the bones, but reading both can give you a better appreciation of both books.
It’s a little too early to give concrete details on what we’ve got planned, but we have a new book in the works which we hope will continue this trend.
THAT : We are!
GJ: What advice would you give to aspiring comic book writers and illustrators?
DR: My biggest advice is not to wait for anyone’s permission to get started – not an editor, not just anyone. There are more ways than ever to create comics and distribute your work, so don’t [let] the feeling that you have to be a paid professional right off the bat keeps you from making the comics you want to do.
The first comic I wrote was five pages long, didn’t have a publisher, didn’t make me any money, and honestly wasn’t that great. But I did, and it gave me the confidence to do more, and eventually I got to a place where I could pursue writing professionally. So my advice is to start as small as you need and build from there.
THAT : Study animation. When you can take a character and know how they will move and look from multiple points of view, it helps tell your story.
GJ: What are you reading now, and which comic book or graphic novel would you recommend?
DR: I’ve read a lot of comics lately. Some current favorites are Moon knight, Nocterra and Beyond the breach. One book that I can wholeheartedly recommend is Karmen by Guillem March. It’s a surprising, deep and beautiful meditation on life and death, and one of my favorite recent discoveries.
THAT : At present [I’m] not really read anything but watch a lot of new art books. But Christophe Chabouté’s point of view Moby dick was constantly open during creation Sea of Sorrows.
Sea of Sorrows was originally published in five individual issues, which are available for purchase. Full build for the series is slated for November 16, 2021. Visit idwpublishing.com to learn more.