"The opening sequence of this book is one of my favorite bits of comic booking in recent memory." —What's Next? A Comic Podcast
My new graphic novel Black Mass Rising, illustrated by the amazing Jodie Muir, is finally out by TKO Studios. From very early on, when the concept for the book was still vague and fermenting in my head, I knew two things: how the book was going to begin, and how it was going to end. I obviously can't talk about the ending, even more so since it comes with a major story twist, but I thought I'd share some insight on its opening sequence.
The story kicks off with an optimistic note. It's been a year since Dracula fell, and for the first time in ages, the people of Transylvania are allowing hope to return to their lives. Even though it's getting dark, we see a group of kids playing freely in the countryside. Three soldiers who patrol in the area join them in their game. They're playing tag. As the game starts, a soldier goes after a five-year-old boy. Aurelia, the only teenager in the lot, is chit-chatting with the rest of the guard, when she realises that both the soldier and the boy he was chasing —her little brother, Vadim— are nowhere to be seen. She rushes to the other side of a small hill, to realise in shock that the terror of these lands is far from over.
I wanted the book's opening sequence to serve a couple of purposes. Firstly, I wanted to introduce our main lead, Aurelia, and in only but a few panels make clear to readers who she is, what's her personality and general disposition. I wanted to have a devastating tragedy that will set the book's entire plot into motion, and also set its tone, this perpetual battle between hope and despair. When the idea of doing all that through a children game came to me, I did some research on Romanian folk games, and happily found the perfect fit.
Omul Negru is an old Romanian tag game that’s customarily played after after sunset. One kid plays Mother, and gets surrounded by the rest of the kids, who are holding hands in circle. Another kid stays in a distance, taking upon the role of the Omul Negru, the Black Man, or the Black Monster, who is essentially the Romanian version of Boogeyman, a monstrous supernatural entity that frightens children into behaving well. Mother and the Omul Negru agree at a certain time of the day, like 10 o'clock. Then, Mother calls the children to come home for dinner. The children refuse to go, because they're afraid of the monster. Then, they dance around Mother, and sing Hour 1 came... Omul Negru isn't here! Hour 2 came... Omul Negru isn't here, etc. When they reach the set time, the Omul Negru starts chasing them. The kids run and scatter. The first one that will get caught will become Omul Negru, and the game will resume.
This book's version of the game is slightly altered for visual purposes, and somewhat combined with the Greek tag game Little Statues. You can read the entire sequence below: