Hopeless, Maine: Salamandra on the Bridge of Bottles © Tom Brown

Hopeless Maine: A New Lovecraftian Graphic Novel Series

Willow Winsham talks to Tom and Nimue Brown, the creators of the Hopeless, Maine graphic novel series, for a dip into Lovecraft, mystery and darkness of the most curious kind …

Q. First things first – tell us a bit about what you do:  What exactly  is the Hopeless Maine project?

A. Hopeless, Maine is a strange, gothic island off the coast of Maine, cut off from the rest of reality for the greater part. Hopeless Maine is also a graphic novel series, the peculiar child of myself and Nimue Brown. I say it’s a comics series, and that is certainly how it began. It is now branching out in several exciting directions thanks to people coming along to play with us in our very strange, haunted playground. The story has inspired the Maine Director, Barry Dodd to ask if he might, with the help of Michelle Souliere on story interpretation and Maine folklore, adapt it to the screen. As we are huge fans of Barry’s work, (if you love mysterious islands, see his award winning webseries Ragged Isle) we jumped at the chance. Several people have been inspired to bring Hopeless, Maine fauna to life in various forms from soft sculpture to clay. I understand that there is a gentleman working on a spoonwalker as I write this. One young lady from the US has made us a Salamandra doll and sent it to us for Yule (it’s one of our prized posessions!) Two musicians (so far) have been inspired to set the tale to music (Walter Sickert of Walter Sickert and The Army of Broken Toys and Johnny Benson who did a soundtrack for the whole of book one.) There is also a young lady in the UK (Charli Anderson-Farrar ) who is working on recreating the mask and costume from the image, These Our Revels. This is all wildly exciting for us, and the collaboration and cross germination of ideas is possibly the best part of the creative process for us.

Salamandra scrying in the cover art for Hopeless, Maine - The Gathering © Tom Brown

Salamandra scrying in the cover art for Hopeless, Maine – The Gathering © Tom Brown

Q. Tell us a bit about how it all started; how long have you been working on the Hopeless, Maine project?

A. It would be different answers for each of us for that. In a way, I’ve been working on the story since my twenties. It’s a distillation and exploration of  most of the themes and subjects I’ve loved since childhood. More specifically, I’ve been working on this incarnation of the story for about fifteen years. I restarted it during a dark, difficult time in my life. The central character, Salamandra, could be said to have been born in a transitional homeless shelter. A few years after that, I met Nimue online when a publisher sent me to her to do a cover for one of her books. I joined her internet group where she was serialising one of her novels and I fell in love with her writing style (first) and asked her to take over the writing of Hopeless, Maine. She eventually agreed, and we have been working together on this and other things as a creative team ever since. We have also been married for six years, I’m thrilled to say!

 

Q. Can you tell us more about your folklore sources and where you get your inspiration?

A. I grew up in Maine and was swimming in supernatural folklore as far back as I can remember. Also some research revealed things like the fact that in the early days of New England, consumption was sometimes attributed to recently dead relatives who had tuned into vampires. The suggested solution was to dig them up and burn their hearts in an iron cauldron. We did end up using the connection between consumption and vampires in Hopeless, Maine, but put an entirely different twist on it. I picked up local ghost stories from oral tradition and recreational reading. Nimue has been a lifelong student of folklore and has given much thought to how these stories may have started. This gives a grounding to the beliefs (and actual environment) of the island populace. We have both read  Nathaniel Hawthorne and other period authors. This gives us insight into how the world was looked at in the late Victorian period. Beyond that, it’s thinking about how it would be for people to live in this sort of setting, largely cut off from the rest of the world, and with ghosts, vampires, a surfeit of tentacled sea life and other odd (to us) goings on. We are inspired by pretty much everything, and each other.

A witch stretching a newt while bemusing a man of the cloth. (With apologies to Edward Burne-Jones) © Tom Brown

A witch stretching a newt while bemusing a man of the cloth. (With apologies to Edward Burne-Jones) © Tom Brown

Q. Do you ever find yourselves stuck for ideas? If so, how do you overcome that?

A. Nimue sometimes does, and overcomes that with other peoples’ creativity, walking, and getting some time that is unstructured so that she can daydream and let inspiration come. I rarely run out of ideas, partly because I’m working/playing with what Nimue writes, and I mostly fill in odd details, creatures and settings.

 

Q. What creatures/stories that you have covered on your journey have been among your favourites and why?

A. I think both Nimue and I have a soft spot for Spoonwalkers and Teaselheads. The Gnii ended up with a side story of their own because of a background I drew on one page, that lead Nimue imagining the early industry of the island (extracting oil from the great oceanic gnii). Drury (the undead dog attached to poor Donald) is a household favourite also. For Nimue, the Spoonwalkers and the Gnii have a special place because she was able to take them to a Pagan conference (Phooka’s Pageant) as a live performance piece.

 

Q. What is your favourite part of the creative process?

A. For me, it is the things that come as if from nowhere when Nimue and I are talking, walking, or brainstorming. Nimue says,  “It’s seeing what Tom has done.”

Hopeless, Maine: Salamandra on the Bridge of Bottles © Tom Brown

Hopeless, Maine: Salamandra on the Bridge of Bottles © Tom Brown

Q. You have a new book out; tell us more!

A. As it happens, we do! We have found a brilliant UK publisher called Sloth Comics, and they are committed to bringing out the Hopeless, Maine series in its entirety. The first book from them collects books one and two (Personal Demons and Inheritance) and adds, at the beginning, The Blind Fisherman, which is an important prelude to the rest of the tale. The Blind Fisherman is a story told with sequential art (comics style) pages with no word balloons alternating with poetry, written by Nimue, which adds other layers and points of view to the story. It’s one of my favourite bits of the whole project. Nimue also wrote a short bit of fiction from the point of view of Reverend Davies for this volume and I illustrated it. We have some fine guest art at the end also, for instance, one piece from a fellow creator from Sloth- Francesca Dare. The new book is called The Gathering. It has recently been released and should be available pretty much everywhere, though we recommend supporting your local shop whenever possible.

 

Q. Where are you going next? What can we expect from Hopeless, Maine in 2017?

A. Well, quite a lot actually. The next graphic novel , Sinners, will be released, and also at least one of the illustrated prose books which are part of the overall story. The first of these, New England Gothic, takes place before the events in Personal Demons, and the focus is on the witch Annamarie Nightshade. The second illustrated prose book is called a Semblance of Truth and is a masterpiece of dark humour from Nimue (based on our blog, The Hopeless Vendetta, which we started as an online publishing of newspaper articles and adds from the island.)

 

Win a copy of Hopeless, Maine by Tom & Nimue Brown

The lovely Tom and Nimue have offered a copy of Hopeless Maine for a lucky #FolkloreThursday reader this month!

Sign up for the #FolkloreThursday newsletter for details of how to be in with a chance to win (valid March 2017, UK & Republic of Ireland only).

 

Folkloric fiction and other recommended books from #FolkloreThursday!
  

   

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Tom and Nimue Brown have been working together for about a decade. This is a creative partnership that turned into a marriage, and that continues to result in books and other curious offspring. Their story started on opposite sides of an ocean and now finds itself alive and well, and living in Stroud, Gloucestershire. The joint project that brought the Browns together is Hopeless Maine - a graphic novel series set on a co-created island, inspired by a shared love of all things strange, steampunk, gothic and moody, as well as ongoing love affairs with landscapes and wildlife. Working at the same table, sharing the same coffee maker, being trampled by the same cat has led to greater depths of collaboration, with non-fiction titles, novels, and an illustrated novella with Professor Elemental. Aside from the bookish joint projects, Tom and Nimue do workshops together, lead bad poetry slams, sing radically political folk songs and turn up wearing hats in places no one expects hats to be... (the events, not the bodily location!) Find @GothicalTomB and @Nimue_B on Twitter, and visit their website here!

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