Thursday, January 9, 2014

An Interview with Daniel Corey, Writer/Creator of Moriarty: The Dark Chamber (2011)

Moriarty: The Dark Chamber, Volume I

Moriarty: The Dark Chamber Vol I (Image Comics, 2011)
Creative Team: Daniel Corey, Creator and Writer; Anthony Diecidue, Artist; Dave Lanphear, Letters & Design; and Perry Freeze, Colors (Issues 3 & 4)

Spoilers: Kept to a minimum so you can enjoy the story too! 

While at the Long Beach Comic Con and Horror Show this past November, it was fortuitous that Bryant Dillon of Fanboy Comics introduced me to Daniel Corey, creator and writer of Moriarty: The Dark Chamber. Corey was just getting ready to leave the con for the day, but he had a few moments to give me a quick overview of his story, which intrigued me for the spy elements. I took home the volume as well as a promise from Corey that I could interview him for a blog post after I had the opportunity to read the novel.

Last week, I sent off an email full of questions for Corey's consideration and Corey was kind enough to answer all of them in depth. Below is that interview. I'll follow up with a review to fill in any gaps that the interview did not address.

Moriarty's creator/writer, Daniel Corey
Spyfi & Superspies: Can you tell me a little bit of about your interest in Moriarty and more generally, the world of Sherlock Holmes and his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle?

Daniel Corey: I was first hooked into Sherlock Holmes when I was a kid, by watching the old Basil Rathbone movies on TV. Like everyone, I was enamored with Holmes’ deductive abilities, and how his methods were a catalyst to such complex and exciting mysteries.

I think it was my Mom that picked up my first Holmes book, at a library sale or something. It was an old edition with yellowed pages - probably published sometime in the 1930s - that collected four of the stories, in large print, for kids. I devoured it. The first story in that book would be the first Holmes story I would ever read: “The Red-Headed League.” (I give a little wink to the League in MORIARTY issue #7).

It was probably that following Christmas that I received a huge tome that collected all of the stories, with the forward by Christopher Morley. I read that book, took it on family trips. I grew up in church, reading the King James Bible, so the language was not a problem. And I could easily see and enjoy the elements of the fantastic, of adventure and derring-do that Doyle gave us in those tales.

What was the seed, or catalyst, for deciding on writing the story about Moriarty?

I decided to do a story about Professor Moriarty because I have always been fascinated by the idea of him. He was never really present in the original stories, but his legend follows Holmes around. And, of course, there was that Final Problem at Reichenbach Falls, but we never really saw it happen. Watson recounts it, from Holmes’ letter. Moriarty never really appears “onstage” in the stories.

I love Moriarty because he is this idea of the ultimate center of all crime, of all wrongdoing. For us, the hoi polloi, it gives us this sense that we can find the root of all evil, snuff it out, be heroes ourselves.

Other than Watson’s glimpse of Moriarty at Victoria Station, what was your process to give flesh to Moriarty?

I come from the theater, so I usually start a character by writing a monologue that defines them. Then I usually try to weave it into the story. If you read MORIARTY Vol. I: THE DARK CHAMBER, the first five pages has the Professor speaking to us in first person, laying out his plight, his rules for living, his troubles. That came from the first monologue that I wrote for him.

I wanted to put Moriarty in the worst place imaginable: Holmes is gone, and so Moriarty has lost all meaning. I wanted to examine Moriarty’s compulsion, his obsession with control, how he seeks to recreate the world in his own image through being this Napoleon of Crime.

All of this was speculation, based on the sort of characters Doyle gave us in Holmes and Moriarty. You read these stories, and you make assumptions about these guys, who they are, who they would be if they were real. Everybody does that. Suddenly, the characters become real. I just wanted to take those assumptions and theories about the inner-workings of Moriarty and lay them out in story form.

A shell of a man
What did you learn about Moriarty? Were there any surprising revelations?

It’s unbelievable how much I’ve learned about him. My version of him, anyway. It’s complicated. He is a real person in the public eye, in popular culture. But I will say that various interpretations of him can be valid. But for me, the person I am, I am going to recreate him in a certain way. And as I wrote these stories, he just kept revealing himself to me.

One major revelation that I had: Moriarty is not a sociopath. To me, he’s obsessive-compulsive. When I was in the early stages of writing this, I discussed him with a psychologist that I met at a party. I described Moriarty’s pathos, and told her that I just couldn’t write him as a sociopath, as someone that suffers detachment from human experience. To me, he had to have issues, had to have feelings about things, so that he could suppress those feelings and face the consequence of that suppression.

She simply said: “He sounds OCD to me.”

So, for me, the key to figuring out Moriarty was figuring out his obsession with Holmes.

As I read Moriarty, there were a number of times where I sensed that Moriarty became the dragon he was running from? Is that a fair reading?

Definitely. The man has a problem. The problem, really, is himself: all the insecurities and fears he has built up around him have created the life and situation that he is in. Sure, Holmes is an issue. But it’s fair to say that Moriarty is projecting the troubles of his inner life on Holmes, and on the rest of the world.

That’s a basic conceit of drama: Everything that happens to a lead character is a reflection of who they are as a person.

I noticed you intertwined a lot of factual people and events into your story. How much research did you do to create that early 20th century backdrop? What decisions did you make, such as which factual persons would make an appearance in Moriarty?

I was writing a play once, and my mentor, Ken Eulo, was challenging me on some choices that I had made. The play was a nice dramedy about this college professor dealing with his bipolar wife and the memory of a dead father that had been largely absent in life.

Ken said to me: “Why isn’t this guy Einstein?”

“You mean, really smart?”

“No! I mean Einstein! Why isn’t he actually Albert Einstein?”

Ken didn’t really want me to rewrite the play and make it about Einstein. The piece came together nicely without that change, but it was a teaching moment. He was trying to get me to consider that stories can have more meaning when you bring the audience in by incorporating things that they know.

So, in writing this first Moriarty tale, the very first thing that popped into my mind was the fact that I wanted to set it against the backdrop of World War I. The significance of that war is obvious to history, so if the Professor is tangled up in the creation of that war, it will elevate his importance and expose him to the audience as the heavy and important guy that he is.

Bringing in Mata Hari as a femme fatale just felt natural, since we’re dealing with that era. If you think to yourself “World War I-era femme fatale,” who else is there? She danced right onto the page all by herself.

You have left room in the ending to revisit Moriarty: are you planning a sequel? If so, how is it going?

Yes, I have already written MORIARTY Volume III. It’s a matter of schedule and finance at this point. I hope to do it in this coming year, but we’ll have to see.

Moriarty, in the thick of things

Was there anything you wish you could have included in your story?

There is a certain marksman that I wanted to fit into THE DARK CHAMBER, but didn’t have room for. But he may have shown up later. Everyone will have to keep reading to find out.

How long did it take to write?

THE DARK CHAMBER, my Volume I story, took ages to finish. I spent about two years just writing the script. I took that long to figure out the Professor, figure out the world, the rules. THE LAZARUS TREE took closer to eight months to complete. It was a little quicker, but not easy, but any means.

Can you discuss how involved Image Comics was to the publishing of Moriarty? Did you assemble your creative team or was it a collaborative effort with Image Comics?

Image is a creator-centric company. You have to bring them a package, which is what I did. I wrote the script, Anthony Diecidue drew the pages. I showed it to Image, and after some time, they decided to publish it. They liked what we were doing, so we didn’t have any editorial input. That’s how they work. If they like what you’re doing, they let you do it.

So, Image didn’t assemble the team. Anthony and I did the work, and Image approved it and published it. Sounds easy, but it wasn’t. It was a process. It took well over a year from the time Image first saw the project until the final papers to be signed.

When were the single issues published and how long after did the novel come out?

MORIARTY Issue #1 was released on May 11th, 2011. We released the four issues of THE DARK CHAMBER in succession, then released the Volume I graphic novel in September 2011.

In October 2011, we released MORIARTY Issue #5, which debuted THE LAZARUS TREE. The collected Volume II came out in February 2012, and we were proud to debut it at the first-ever Image Expo convention, which celebrated Image’s 20th anniversary.

Over the course of the run of the series, everything sold out: the issues were gone from shelves, and collected trades dried up, as well. Retailers kept asking about the series, so Image decided to put out the MORIARTY DELUXE EDITION HARDCOVER, which collected Vols. I and II, and included an extensive gallery of extras, such as pinups by many great artists, early concept art, a script-to-page gallery. I am very proud of that volume.

Do you have any other projects in the near future that you can share with my readers?

To be honest, I am very close to two pretty big announcements, but I can’t talk about them quite yet. When the time comes, we can have another conversation about those if you like.

Is there anything I did not cover that you would like to mention?

A few plugs, I suppose. First, I just opened up the online DangerKatt Store, where I’m selling copies of MORIARTY, some merchandise, and my first comic, titled DANGERKATT’S PROPHET. You can purchase that via download. Visit us here:

Also, the film rights to DANGERKATT’S PROPHET were optioned this past summer by James Cotten, Eric Thompson and Mark Morgan of Outlier, a Hollywood-based production company responsible for franchises such as TWILIGHT and PERCY JACKSON. Check out the announcement in THE WRAP: It’s pretty exciting stuff.

Spyfi & Superspies wishes to extend a sincere thank you to Daniel Corey for giving his time for this interview and for sharing his journey to explore a mysterious literary figure with us.

And now, on to my review.

Moriarty needs some assistance

Moriarty, A Review

I felt a little bit of trepidation as I approached Moriarty: The Dark Chamber because I was not familiar with this notorious villain that is often referenced in pop culture as the “ultimate” mysterious entity that embodies the letter M. I will admit that my exposure to Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes has been limited to reading one or two short stories some years ago and more recently, playing Sherlock Holmes Verses Jack the Ripper on the Xbox360 console last year. My memory of those stories were a distant memory and don’t get me started about the video game…however this well structured intelligent story didn’t leave me behind, but instead swept me up into a chaotic world of intrigue, mystery, the occult, and espionage, set against the collected held breath of the world on the eve of one of the most devastating events of the early 20th century: World War I.

Corey has obviously spent a lot of time researching Doyle and early 20th century history, and he expertly creates a sense of realism and historical significance to the story unfolding. He enriches Moriarty’s world with the tensions of Edwardian London – the fear of German spies, secret governmental organizations (MI5 was established in 1909 and make a pivotal appearance), and of course, the threat of war on the continent. In addition, Corey sought out real life characters to add to the mystery, such as Tomokichi Fukurai who was a professor of psychology at Tokyo University experimenting with parapsychology, and “nensha” is a real term. The sultry dancer, Mata Hari, who tries unsuccessfully to seduce Moriarty, was a German spy and most probably secured secrets from her liaisons with high ranking individuals prior to and during the war. Even the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria (1914) is mentioned. Corey handles this facts beautifully, striking a balance of fact and fiction into broad, strokes across the backdrop of his story. As a history enthusiast, I relished these contact points with real historical people and events, which allowed me to connect more fully with the story.

In addition, it is readily apparent that Corey sought to present a fleshed out Moriarty that he then slowly pulled back the layers of this complex individual by allowing Moriarty’s words to fill the page through voice over. For instance, Corey starts his story at the fateful location of Reichenbach Falls where in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Final Problem (1893), Moriarty and Holmes fought and appears to have fallen to their deaths. During that opening scene, via voice over, Corey reveals Moriarty’s fear of a “dragon” that has been chasing him since his childhood. And he allows Moriarty to reveal to the reader the three rules he lives – rules that will resonate throughout the entire story. While the mystery and intrigue are fascinating, the crux of the story is Moriarty’s psychological journey that spans 20 years, although we are privy to only a small period of time in 1914.
Mata Hari
I believe Moriarty: The Dark Chamber dovetails nicely within the literary Sherlock canon, as far as my limited knowledge of Doyle’s literature affords in this comparison. However, Corey’s storytelling voice has a vintage flavor that reminds me of the Wilkie Collins’ mysteries, such as The Moonstone (1868) and The Lady in White (serialized, 1859-60), or H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (1895). If Moriarty does not fit Sherlock canon, it does fit the tonality of the times and profiles a desperate period of time in which people were grappling with the coming of war and the changing face of society in light of the modern era.

What didn’t work as well for me was the artistic drawing style of Anthony Diecidue for Corey’s story. There was great fluidity in his renderings, which worked well some times, such as the dance sequence and general visual portrayal of Mata Hari for instance, but was surprisingly less effective in the fight sequence in Yorkshire. His style skews towards working with generally less detail, which isn’t my particular taste, but it is an art style that truly is conducive for the story being told. Again, I believe my opinion is skewed by my own tastes. So, while I wasn’t a fan of the renderings, I do feel that Diecidue was spot on with his colour choices when applied to characters, location and events. In particular, the pink hues of Mata Hari’s scene contrasts exceptionally well from the rest of the deep dark blues, greens, and browns that Diecidue employs throughout much of the story that provides a gritty, mysterious and moody tapestry.

I was also surprised by the lack of experimentation relating to the page layouts. There is nothing wrong with sticking with the basic panel set up on a page or the shape of them – squares and rectangles – but I’ll be honest, I think there were some missed opportunities to provide a more dynamic visual experience. Diecidue does do a few flourishes, but Moriarty’s fight in Yorkshire or the climatic sequence in the third act could have splashed across both sides of the page to emphasize some dramatic moments in the story. Both of these “weaknesses” are based on my personal preference of what I like, artistically speaking.

Moriarty: The Dark Chamber is well written story and provides a fascinating tale during a period of time that often glossed over or forgotten. I like that Corey took the readers to 914 and presented a tale filled with mystery, spies, the occult, and the desperate times of a world on the brink of war and that of Moriarty - his shroud pulled back to reveal a solitary man fighting his dragon.

Corey's photograph was supplied by Corey himself; all other photos from Spyfi & Superspies. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

New IDW Comic Book Series Spins Bond Tropes Differently

Jerry Ordway's Cover of Issue #1

  • Title: The Illegitimates
  • Format: 6-issue comic book series
  • Publisher: IDW
  • Creative Team: Taran Killam, creator/co-writer; Marc Andreyko, co-writer; Kevin Sharpe, artist (interiors); and Jerry Ordway, artist (cover)
  • Cost: $3.99 per issue

Spoiler Alert: This is the introductory first issue, so I will be revealing the entire story of issue one.

When I read the description of this spy oriented series – a Bondesque secret agent’s five illegitimate children are brought together to fight after the demise of their father – I thought it sounded a bit silly, but I thought if nothing else, it would be a fun series to discuss. I added The Illegitimates, a six-issue comic book series from IDW, to my subscription pull list and the first issue arrived within the past couple of weeks. With the holidays now at a close and the New Year rung in, I read through the issue and can relate the following observations I have so far.

Jack Steele, Super Spy and Dad
Who’s Your Daddy? – The Series Premise
The Jerry Ordway cover of a suave James Bond doppelganger surrounded by five pregnant women is an unusual nod to the film posters of the early Bond movies, and promises the reader an unorthodox approach to the typically spy and espionage stories that emulate and parodies James Bond. The opening pages briefly summarize the dangerous life and feminine curves of various femme fatales encountered by Jack Steele over the intertwining years. Each intimate liaison appears to be interrupted by henchmen interlopers and the expected fight sequences ensue with flying fists and gun play a plenty. Yet, our man manages to flee the scene unscathed to fight and love another day.

Several years pass to present day, in Ukraine. Jack Steele erupts through a window and rolls out onto a fast moving train. A fisticuffs fight reminiscent of the open sequence of Skyfall (2012) commences between Jack and a bad guy named Dannikor. While Bond is shot and presumed dead in the film, well, Jack is most decidedly not going to be taking the train again. Exit one Jack Steele and now the villain is allowed to ascend to world domination, or is he?

The "We're Screwed" Moment
Not to fear world! The British secret organization – Olympus – share their top secret operation called “Project Sire” with a very distressed US military general. Apparently, and probably not very shocking, Olympus has been following five of Steele’s illegitimate children ranging in age from early 20s to mid thirties. And there is good reason for doing so: each one of the children exhibits skills they have inherited from their respective mothers. The kids, scattered around the world, are not likely to know of each other, yet Olympus feels that if they pooled the kids together in a cohesive tactical (ultra secret of course) team, then they should become a force to be reckoned with – at the very least, that maniacal villain that is running around loose. A dun-dun-dummmm moment: Dannikor is presented with five photographs that could spell trouble for his plans.The stage is set and the first issue ends.

Project Sire: Five Dossiers
Now that daddy Jack has taken permanent leave – oh, he is so not coming back from the bowels of some darkly lit pub – who are the kids that will save the world? Let’s have a closer look.

Saalinge M’Chumba
Liaison Details: Africa, 1978
Mother: Deceased
Special Skills: Runs information; has espionage experience
Social: Doesn’t play well with others (well, we know which direction internal strife will originate from)
Current Location: Johannesburg Women’s Correction Facility

Kiken Kaze
Liaison Details: Japan, 1982
Mother: Fumiko, assassin for the Yakuza
Special Skills: Gear-Head, Mr. Fix-It
Social: Has been banished by the Yakuza and labeled “zetsuejo” (he betrayed the organization – is that some foreshadowing???)
Current Location: Tokyo

Vin Darlington
Liaison: Pacific Ocean, 1985
Mother: Betty Darlington, retired CIA agent, now running a wildlife reserve in Texas
Special Skills: Expert marksman with most firearms
Social: None listed, but based on the images, he probably likes hunts and shooting stuff rather than long walks on the beach
Current Location: Americas

Leandros Antonio Caliestas
Liaison: Colombian Amazon, 1991
Mother: Adalina Teresa Estrella Caliestas (and grandson to the former President of Spain)
Special Skills: Martial Arts, Modeling
Social: None listed, but looking like a ladies’ man (hmmm, I think he might find the next team member a challenge)
Current Location: Assuming Colombia

Charlie Lordsley
Liaison: Olympus Headquarters, no date given
Mother: An unnamed relief receptionist
Special Skills: the brains, brass claims her “IQ is off the charts”
Social: Probably none, she looks overworked
Current Location: Doing data entry at Olympus Headquarters


Initial Thoughts
For a quirky hook of a spy story, I am drawn to the characters and the nods to the genre. I am expecting there will be explosive dynamics with the group of five in the project. And, I do think there will be other children to come out the woodwork that didn’t make the “Project Sire” cut for one reason or another, which should add several potential story arcs past the first six issues. 

The story and art style complement each other nicely to create an engaging comic book. The art style is clean, with fantastic colours and shading, striking a balance between the humor of the words and the seriousness of the subject matter. There are lovely full page spotlights on the characters as a way of introduction interspersed with the more regimented panels. Between the writing and the art, I am provided an solid story wrapped up in a pleasing visual package. 

I have tried to not read much about the series so far, because I would like to enjoy the surprises, however I did catch that while the first issue tips in the direction of a parody or knock-off to the most famous spy (James Bond, in case you forgot), the story is supposed to become darker and more serious. Bring it on!

Dannikor, Villain Extraordinaire