[Interview] Riley Rossmo Talks Supernatural Surrealism In ‘Drumhellar’

drumhellar

Riley Rossmo has made quite a reputation for himself in the comics industry over the past few years. So much so that we recently spotlighted the Canadian artist’s work on “Green Wake” in our Visions of Horror editorial, and we see no reason to stop talking about Riley now. Debuting this Wednesday from Image Comics is a “Drumhellar”, a new surreal/supernatural mystery series from Riley Rossmo and Alex Link (review here).

“Drumhellar” follows the story of a bohemian supernatural investigator and the bizarre world that he inhabits. Riley Rossmo chatted with Bloody-disgusting about his trip to Alberta to find inspiration, his love for small towns, and how surrealism fits into the world of “Drumhellar”.

Bloody-Disgusting: You visited the town of Drumheller, Alberta to find inspiration for the series. What can you tell us about that trip? Did you go with the intention of developing a supernatural mystery?

Riley Rossmo: I went to gather research for a ghost story and to clear my mind and refocus. I spent my days drawing, taking photos, walking, meditating and interacting with locals. I went with the intent of developing a series around what’s in small towns.

BD: What about those rural towns and their inhabitants that appeals to you so much?

RR: I think some of my interest in smaller communities started with Twin Peaks and Green Wake. The idea of smaller communities, especially rural ones, has ingrained itself in my work. I feel more confident building worlds around smaller communities. Some of it is from growing up in a smaller city I think. But a lot is just a feeling I get sometimes visiting smaller towns.

For our anniversary my wife and I visited Nelson BC, which is right in the middle of the rocky mountains. Almost as soon as we got there I had story ideas.

BD: Of the reference photos and sketches you do, how much of that makes it into the book?

RR: A third maybe. Mostly it ends up as atmosphere or something I can go back to if I’m stuck on a page. Also I used a lot for color reference.

BD: You mentioned in your interview with USA Today that have a certain affinity for nature, and how Hayao Miyazaki’s work inspires you. Can you expand on this? Do you feel that there’s something about the supernatural and nature that goes hand in hand?

RR: Spirited Away is one of my favourite films of all time. I love the environmental themes in Miyazaki’s work. His creatures have so much depth and weight to them, every time I watch Spirited away, or Princess Mononoke I feel the need to draw water dragons and stink spirits. It really moves me. Pan’s Labyrinth mixes the natural world with the magical well, as does the Blair Witch Project.

In terms of comics, Swamp Thing is one of the best examples of how well nature can be entwined with the paranormal.

BD: Drum is such a unique character. Can you tell us a bit more about him?

RR: Well initially he was inspired by Peter Venkman but personality wise he’s drifted into a bit more of the Dude from The Big Lebowski mixed with Jiddu Krishnamurti.

BD: There are a few super surreal moments in the first issue. How much of this will come up in later issues? How does it tie to the real world? What’s the deal with the peacock and the golden egg?

RR: Oh it keeps coming up. There are both psychedelic and surreal elements woven through the series. We have to make efforts to ground things in the material world so they don’t get too surreal. Both Padma and Harold act as anchors for Drum. The egg and birds are important. No, as to what’s in the egg…

BD: You and Alex Link manage elements of romance, horror, comedy, and mystery so well. Is it a challenge to draw a book that jumps across so many genres?

RR: Nope, so far it feels right for the kind of world the narrative is building for itself, how it looks, and how the characters behave.

BD: I love Harold the ghost cat. But I also love the bi-sexual werewolf, and the bog man. Because of all these bizarre aspects, the book feels like it is a story that wouldn’t work in any medium other than comics. Is this something you and Alex strive for?

RR: Again the story just kind of built itself. The more we spitballed the more elements presented themselves, but now that you mention it the surreal elements and supernatural elements work easily in the comics medium.

BD: I know you read a lot, and specifically for this you read a lot about consciousness, crime, and the paranormal. How do you sift through all the literature and pull out various elements for your own story?

RR: I make lists of ideas, If one is right for Drum I send it to Alex, then Alex blends em up sends em back I blend em again and regurgitate em and that’s kind of how we’ve been making the book.

BD: While not all your work is horror, it often falls on the darker side of things. Why do you naturally gravitate toward darker stories?

RR: I think for a while it was just a good outlet for all the horrific images and negative thoughts I have. I think lately I’ve been more interested in the surreal punctuated by the horrific.