SINK is one of the most original crime series on the market. And The Pulp Press had an opportunity to interview the minds behind it.
1. Animals and clowns are a reoccurring motif in SINK. Since both are associated with carnivals and children’s stories, their presence gives the comic a surreal element. Most crime writers claim that they strive for realism in their Noir yarns. Why did you decide to go a different route?
JOHN LEES: Well, possibly the answer is in the question. Most crime stories have that realistic, gritty quality, so one way to stand out was to go a different route. We took a lot of influence from the films of the Coen Brothers, Fargo in particular: that slightly heightened reality, that quirky quality. And I blended in elements from the horror genre as well. Scottish fiction has a long tradition of having a very down-to-earth, kitchen sink quality, so with SINK, like with And Then Emily Was Gone before it, I was also keen to show how Scottish stories can also be strange and visually dynamic.
2. The clowns in the blue van remain horrific. Issue # 6 gives the reader a more detailed look into how they “multiply.” It also shows what happens when one person fights back. However, the final pages are ambiguous about Charlotte’s fate. Would it be cheating to ask if she overcame her trauma or ended up becoming another one of Sinkhill’s monsters?
JL: My normal inclination would be to take a “wait and see” approach to answering a question like this! But a lot of people have been curious about this one, so it’s maybe best to clear it up. I think our intention for the end of SINK #6 was to create a moment reminiscent of the ending of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, when Marilyn Burns is on the back of the truck, she’s got away from Leatherface and his family, and she just starts laughing, and you don’t know if its relief or insanity or a bit of both.
For our story, Charlotte hasn’t been infected by the gas that turns you into a crazy clown, she’s still her. But at the same time, with all she went through and all she had to do to survive, it’s clear she’s crossed a line she feels she can’t come back from.
3. Redemption is hard to find in Sinkhill. Issue # 7 proves that. Ultimately, it seems that few characters escape the violence and depravity of their environment, no matter how good their intentions. John, do you approach each story arc with a clearly defined (and frequently dark) ending?Or does the narrative evolve over the course of working on a script?
JL: I think it’s a little bit of both. I tend to start each story with an idea for a character, or a premise, and normally a general sense of an ending will take shape as part of that premise, but the road of getting there has a degree of flexibility and can open new avenues in the story. I wouldn’t say I specifically set out to have dark endings, it just seems they tend to end up that way! For me, when developing each story, the important thing is to ensure it feels authentic and true to the characters and the world we’ve created. And because Sinkhill is a pretty bleak place, that often means characters go down roads that lead to unhappy ends, as was the case for Jordan in SINK #7. But I like the little trend Alex and I have built up of having each Volume conclude with a “happy ending.”
4. I think that Florence is one of my favourite characters from SINK. Many comics have a tendency to introduce transgender characters through a scene which reveals their genitalia. SINK avoided this and on the whole, handled identity very well. Plus Florence kicked ass.What was the inspiration behind the character and her story?
JL: Florence Kilcolm is one of my favourite characters too! She was inspired by a few factors. A couple of my friends came out as trans, and trans rights and representation have become much more prevalent in public discourse. Seeing trans people faced with bigotry and under attack from politicians and bad-faith scare mongering left me feeling angry, and I’ll frequently use writing to work out my issues. So I had this idea of creating a trans woman who, like you say, kicks ass. My frame of reference was Omar from The Wire or Gay Perry from Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Those were characters who I think were revolutionary in the depiction of sexuality, as they were gay characters who weren’t defined by being gay, who got to be cool and badass in a way mostly just reserved for straight men. I thought it would be cool to take a similar approach to trans representation. Not every story with a trans character has to be a transition story. Florence is driven by demons that stand distinct from her gender identity.
Now, as a cisgender heterosexual man, I know I’m not the best qualified person to give authentic trans representation, and I know entertainment has had a fair few trans characters who suffered from that lack of authenticity. So, it was important for me to do research. I attended panels on trans and queer representation, and read discourse from trans people about what they wanted to see in trans characters. I know the end result was surely imperfect, but I think it’s important for white guys like me to at least try to be diverse in the characters we present in our stories. I’d rather risk getting something wrong than saying “well I just won’t include different kinds of people because it’s too difficult.” Thankfully, the response to Florence thus far has been really positive, so I’m hoping to bring her back in future issues!
5. As we’ve discussed in a previous interview, nearly every comic is self-contained. Has this made it easier or more difficult to build an audience for the series?
JL: I’d say it’s made it easier. Initially, it made the book more difficult to pitch back when we were first looking for a publisher. But now that it’s a book on shelves, I believe the model of self-contained issues has made the series more accessible for readers. If they see any issue in their comic shop and the cover grabs them, a reader can pick it up without knowing anything about the series and, more likely than not, get a full, enjoyable read out of it. But at the same time, there is enough connective tissue that readers will be rewarded for following the whole series.
6. SINK’s humanity helps it stand out from other gritty Neo-noir comics. The horror is balanced by the complexity and choices of the cast. John, is there a formulafor creating a character or is it a more spontaneous process?
JL: I wouldn’t say there’s a set formula, as such. One of the most fun things about SINK is that it gives me the flexibility to tell stories with a broad range of characters. I’d say that, with SINK, most of the stories start with a character, like Florence Kilcolm, or Emma Callaghan, or Kieran and Louise, or the Young Team. I’ll think up a character that I’m interested in – or in the case of a Mr. Dig or a Jordan, pluck a supporting character out from a previous story that I think we could flesh out in more detail – and come up with a story that will take them on a compelling journey. I do think that SINK is a very character-driven series in that way.
7. Graphite Green is one of the series’ highlights. The climax was very cathartic. The Running Man and The Thing have been mentioned as inspirations. Can you expand on this?
JL: You’ve probably noticed that I talk a lot about cinematic influences when it comes to SINK, with every issue having a backmatter essay discussing a particular film. In the case of Graphite Green, I have indeed talked about both The Running Man and The Thing as inspirations. I’ll address The Running Man first, as there the influence is more literal. The Running Man is a story about a protagonist forced to compete for his life against a collection of colourful killers in a vicious bloodsport recorded and broadcast for entertainment, and so is Graphite Green, both in their own way telling parables about the void between the haves and have-nots. With The Thing, the connection is a little more opaque. Our story doesn’t have a shape-shifting alien in it. But with the first half of the story in SINK #8 in particular, I wanted to capture that sense of unease and paranoia that permeates through the opening stretch of The Thing, before the monster reveals itself, where you know something is off and things are about to get bad, but you don’t yet know exactly how it’s going to happen.
8. This story arc was unusual in that it was a 2-parter. What lead to this decision?
JL: It wasn’t originally going to be a 2-parter. There is a draft of Graphite Green that exists where the whole story is condensed into a single issue. The problem is that it’s a pretty crap script. With everything so densely packed, nothing has room to breathe. It played more like a trailer for a story than the story itself, rattling from beat-to-beat-to-beat without any room for character or atmosphere. I really disliked it. And so the decision was made to ditch the planned fifth story in this volume (though elements of it made their way into Lead Balloon) and instead expand out Graphite Green to two parts. And from there, everything clicked into place. The big end-issue reveal at the close of SINK #8 works so naturally as a cliffhanger that it’s hard to imagine it wasn’t originally conceived that way.
9. SINK’s artist Alex Cormack manages to bring an unsettling aesthetic to even the more mundane scenes, such as when the reader is first introduced to the Graphite Green Estate and some of its residents. Alex, what visual techniques did you use to achieve this? For example, I noticed that Sonja was drawn without eye brows.
ALEX CORMACK: Yeah that was based off the cowboy from Mulholland drive, I was watching something about the uncanny valley and they mention how him shaving off his eyebrows gave the character an unsettling look and since John is a big David Lynch fan, I figured it’d fly. When introducing the Graphite Green Estate, I studied The Shining a lot, especially the early walk through.
10. Finally, can you take us through the process of designing a character? Do you create model sheets as part of it?
AC: I don’t really do model sheets I just kinda jump right in. Lately I’ve been thinking if I were to cast anybody alive or dead who would that be. And to keep it from being a copy of that person I’d think of what that person looks like and draw that instead of drawing from a photo. For example in Issue # 5 and 7 I based Emma off Ashley Storrie and drew my memory of her rather than photos. Also this way she can’t sue us.
It’s the same way Mike Judge created the design for Beavis and Butthead; they were two drawings of the same guy that he knew in high school.
With that, John does a great job with descriptions on these characters, I’ve said before that Mr. Dig design was all laid out and I just drew what he told me.