Willow Winsham talks to Tom and Nimue Brown, the creators of the Hopeless, Maine graphic novel series, for a dip into their dark and mysterious world…
It’s been a while since we last spoke to you here at #FolkloreThursday! What’s been going on in the world of Hopeless, Maine?
Oh, goodness! Rather a lot, really. A lot of wonderful people have joined the creative tribe on The Hopeless Vendetta, and others have joined to work on other projects set on, or inspired by our rather strange island. Much of the energy right now is going into the new role playing game, Travels in Hopeless, and the Hopeless, Maine tarot deck (by Keith Healing and Laura Perry, respectively.) Nimue and I have parts in many of these things, but we are mostly just lightly overseeing much of it, to make sure it all fits in with the story in the graphic novels (and to make sure that the major plot points that the island seems to like to reveal to people without our say-so aren’t shown before it’s time!) We were there for the first test play of the game and it was a feeling that is difficult to describe, to have people immerse themselves in the setting. The game is available here.
We’ve made the first of our Small Strange Books for People which is called Lullabye for a Dustcat. That is a thing that was written by Nimue for her Patreon followers. People have fallen in love a bit with Dustcats (adorable and slightly disturbing) so we decided to give them their own small book. I drew the illustrations and Nimue coloured them. A lovely Maine based company called Skelton Crew Studios have made glow in the dark enamel pins — one with Drury and another featuring a Spoonwalker tentacle over a Hopeless, Maine town sign. Did I mention that they glow in the dark? We’re working with them on a cuddly Spoonwalker too.
Also, there is a growing Hopeless, Maine music scene. Nimue, James and I have started performing a music set at events (and once for Genevive Tudor on BBC radio) Professor Elemental has recorded an utterly wonderful Hopeless, Maine song as part of a benefit EP he released recently. We have a new album of music from musician & author Stephen Palmer, which we will probably release with the game. Madeleine Harwood is planning a Hopeless, Maine themed album also! She’s an amazing singer/songwriter and a very good friend of ours. I may have also done the cover art for her first album, The Darkest Part.
As our latest graphic novel instalment, Sinners, is out, we are of course working on the next volume as well. It will be called Victims and this whole issue will be hand coloured by Nimue. There is a sort of third artist developing between us that is not quite either of us and that’s an exciting process!
You have a new book out! Tell us more about what your faithful readers can expect.
We do! It’s called Sinners. What you can expect is that time has passed. Years, in fact. Salamandra is now a young woman and the town has been beset by consumption. The cause is mysterious. Some of the townspeople suspect vampires living beneath the town are to blame — this bit, based on actual New England folklore! If there was a case of consumption in the family, you would dig up your most recently deceased relative and burn their heart in an iron container, as they were probably vampires and had caused the disease. We meet Mellisandra and Durosimi, Sal’s parents, who she had hoped were dead but had just taken up residence beneath the graveyard… as vampires. Drury (the vitally challenged dog) makes his first appearance and a terrible thing happens in an outhouse!
Out of the characters we meet, who is your favourite? We’d love to know why!
Eeek! It’s a bit like choosing a favourite child, but I’ll have a go! I know that Reverend Davies is Nimue’s favourite character to write. He is complex and his understanding of what is going on is all his own and frequently at odds with the way everyone else sees things. Mellisandra and Durosimi are new cast members — though they have been hinted at in The Gathering. They are mad in different ways and are determined to be stylish… by their own standard, in spite of living underground. They are certainly among the most fun to draw. I think, though, that my favourite new addition would have to be Drury. We have a weakness for the creatures; Drury is a skeletal dog who is not in the slightest bit hampered by being a bit deceased. I don’t think he’s even aware of his change of circumstances. He has attached himself to young Donald, who is the less enthusiastic of the two by a considerable margin, and really mostly wishes that Drury would just go away. Drury is blissfully unaware of this. We are so taken with Drury that we are featuring him in the two page spreads for the next book. Together, the spreads will make a sort of story on their own which could be titled “Drury gets into a great deal of trouble but doesn’t mind a bit”.
Out of the countless inspirations you have from folklore, which is your favourite tale or legend? Can you tell us all about it?
Collectively, Nimue and I are drawn (unsurprisingly) to creature-based folklore from all cultures. Nimue is particularly drawn to place specific folklore. For instance, Sabrina and her association with the River Severn — which is near us and visible from all of the hills in the area. Also Nodens and his temple at Lydney Park, overlooking the Severn Estuary. He is associated with dreams and healing. People used to sleep in the temple for assistance with both of these things.We’ve been there, but only in the daytime (so far!) We have many stories in our area regarding standing stones and their unusual habit of moving about, and even sometimes chasing people!
What have you read lately that has inspired you? What would you recommend to our readers?
As it has been a very hot summer, we have spent a lot of our afternoons reading. Much of it has been steampunk literature that Nimue gets in for reviews, and me catching up on Victorian women writers like Willa Cather! How did I not know about Willa Cather? I think the standout book though, in terms of inspiration, has been Katherine Soutar’s Painting the Tales. It is a collection of all of her illustrations for the History Press Folktales series, and her stories of how they came to be, or her thought process as she developed them. We keep coming back to the art and finding new things and thinking about the ways in which she has brought focus to certain elements, moods, and concepts. We can both heartily recommend it.
With the summer just behind us, have you been on your travels? Where did you go, and did anywhere in particular stick with you?
We are really basically hobbits (elrich hobbits, admittedly). It takes a lot for us to think that an “adventure” would be a good idea and there is still so much to explore within walking distance of our home. We did go to Blists Hill for The Town That Never Was and that was utterly brilliant. It was a steampunk event set in a reconstructed Victorian town. There is much local history associated with the industrial revolution and it was just the best imaginable setting for a steampunk event. In the evenings, the general public went home and the streets were ours! Also, by the time people read this, we will have gone to Lincoln for the largest and longest running steampunk event in the world- the Asylum Steampunk Festival. We help with the books and comics side of the event and it is a chance to see some people that we care for very much that we just don’t get to see otherwise. Lincoln is a beautiful place. I still remember visiting our first asylum there, and being utterly charmed and amazed. I think it is my second favourite place in England.
There you have it! A huge thank you to Tom and Nimue for talking to us here at #FolkloreThursday, we look forward to keeping up with all that goes on in Hopeless, Maine!
Win a copy of Sinners by Tom & Nimue Brown
The fabulous Tom & Nimue Brown have offered a copy of their latest spooky graphic novel instalment of the Hopeless, Maine series for a lucky #FolkloreThursday newsletter subscriber this month, with a pdf copy of the role-playing game!
‘Owen returns to the island of Hopeless, Maine to find Salamandra has grown. Unfortunately, reunions are cut short by a a new illness affecting the population. Is it consumption? Or some vampiric disease. Salamandra and Omen investigate the source of the mysterious disease and try to stop a war between the villagers and the local vampires. Things only get more delicate when Sal’s parents get involved! Be careful as you venture deeper into the source of Salamandra’s powers and the story of Hopeless, Maine, as answers only raise more questions.’
Sign up for the #FolkloreThursday newsletter to enter (valid October 2018; UK & ROI only).
The graphic novel can be purchased here.