Harker is a comic series that enjoys a loyal following in the UK. It’s from the minds of Roger Gibson (Torchwood, Gravestown, Mad Girl) and Vince Danks (Doctor Who Magazine, Red Dwarf Magazine) and is a homage to the classic British TV detective.
The Book of Solomon, the first in a set of three volumes, is now available in hardback via Titan Books. In it the heroes investigate a bloody murder and once, just once, make a passing reference to Dungeons & Dragons. Seizing on that reference, Geek Native has managed to land a Q&A interview with Roger Gibson.
Q. The Book of Solomon opens with a graphic murder. Given that the murder was horrific – how easily did the panels come? Did they flow naturally or did you have to think each one through carefully?
Oh, but that’s very much the nature of a murder mystery – start with the murder and move on from there. I wanted to capture some of the feel of Columbo at the beginning of the story, with that first murder being very central to the plot, so we open with it and then we introduce our detectives at the crime scene. It’s a very traditional TV way to start a murder mystery, but then Harker is very much a comic that thinks it’s a TV detective series, so it felt right to me.
We decided from the beginning that we also wanted to avoid showing anything that we felt wouldn’t be shown in a TV show, so although that first murder seems graphic, most of that is in your own mind – you never see the knife cutting the victim, it’s all implied with the dialogue, so we were attempting to convey the horror of the murder without showing the graphic nature of it.
That’s pretty much to my own personal tastes – I’m not a big fan of excessive gore, and I think it’s often far more effective to let the reader imagine the scene for themselves. So it is a graphic murder, but the majority of the violence is entirely in your own head. Comics theorist Scott Morse referred to this technique as ‘Blood in the Gutters’ – showing the knife flashing and then cutting away from the scene with the scream, to allow the reader to fill in the details for themselves.
Fundamentally, Harker is always much more about the wry humour than the violent murders, but with a murder mystery you’re always going to see dead bodies, it’s tricky to get around that.
Q. If you type [Harker] into Google today the results are dominated by Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the character Jonathan Harker. Did Stoker influence your Harker? How does the name influence the book?
There’s absolutely no connection, beyond an old family name. I’ve certainly read Bram Stoker, and thoroughly enjoyed it, but we won’t be delving into vampire mythology – Harker: The Book of Solomon is first and foremost a murder mystery, a classic TV detective story. The book is far more influenced by the likes of Morse, Columbo, Sherlock Holmes and Waking the Dead than it is by gothic fiction. The closest we get to that is stealing a little from The Devil Rides Out in some of the Satanist scenes.
Q. How easy is it to tell a murder mystery in the graphic novel/comic format? Is there a risk that any character who gets pencil time but is not immediately wrapped into the current scene becomes the number one suspect?
I think you face that in any murder mystery, whatever the format. My own feeling is that if the murderer isn’t shown at some point early on in the story, right there amongst the other suspects, then you’re cheating the reader. Half the fun of murder mysteries is trying to guess the killer and attempting to come up with the reason why it happened. All of this information needs to be there early on in the plot, or you’re being unfair. I think we throw enough potential suspects out there in this first book to make it something of a challenge, so I still hope that the denouement will be a surprise.
Q. What’s the connection between Satanism and Dungeons & Dragons?
I’m probably entirely the wrong person to ask, since I was never an avid player of role-playing games. In my experience, most D&D players were harmless, charming geeks, so y’know. Never believe anything the newspapers tell you.
Q. One panel puts Moonchild, Aleister Crowley’s novel, front of mind. How deep into occult did you have to dive in order to tell this story?
Not deep at all, to be honest. With Harker you’re in a world of TV detectives, so the occult in Harker: The Book of Solomon is satanism as viewed through a cultural TV and movie filter. You’re not getting the real-world occult here, you’re getting 1970′s Hammer movies, you’re getting Dennis Wheatley, you’re getting the TV version of The Avengers (the one with John Steed and Emma Peel, not the one with Captain America). So all the research for the book involved re-watching rubbishy old movies and getting that occult movie feel for the book. Moonchild was inserted into the panel by Vince, just to emphasise the location (an old London occult bookshop) – nothing more sinister than that.
Again, you’re probably asking the wrong person here. I don’t know anything about MacGregor Mathers other than that he was running the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn when Crowley joined. Is there some internet war brewing, where we have to decide who is better, Mathers or Crowley? If that’s case, I’ll side with Crowley – his ideas did help inspire the plot, at least as far as the sex magick is concerned, so he gets my vote for that. Also, Crowley was a quintessential great British eccentric, and we Brits do cherish our eccentrics.
Q. Is there something uniquely British about the Satanism thread in Harker? Would the story work just as well in any other country?
Is satanism uniquely British? Certainly we’ve gone for a very British feel to this first book, but I hope that’s part of its attraction. Doctor Who and Harry Potter are both as British as tea and toast, but that doesn’t seem to spoil anyone’s enjoyment, so I think were safe. I’m very British, very English, it’s sort of ingrained within me, so it’s bound to come out in my work, and I like it when it does, it feels more personal to me.
Q. Harker: The Book of Solomon has been described as a mix of Morse and Sherlock Holmes? Do you think that’s fair? Is that an accurate summary of the graphic novel?
Throw in the aforementioned Columbo, add a dose of Waking the Dead and The Devil Rides Out, mix in some wry humour and quirky banter, and throw in a chase through an underground labyrinth, and you’re just about there!
Q. What album or musical artist would you recommend as a soundtrack to Harker?
Well for me it would be anything recent by Radiohead, a dash of Underworld, a little Scary Monsters era David Bowie, and since Harker is a TV show, the theme to the show would definitely be the theme from The Persuaders.