Among the many great stories in the latest volume of the digital comics anthology Aces Weekly, on sale from today, Monday 20th September 2021, is an intriguing two-fisted pulp horror story adventure – “The Emerald King”, written by Lee Robson, drawn by Alex Paterson, lettered by Nikki Powers.
Hired to follow socialite Eva Vickers around Los Angeles, private eye Joe Parker soon finds himself in the frame for her murder when she turns up dead in his office.
But when Eva reveals herself to be alive and well, Parker realises he’s landed in the middle of something far, far stranger than a murder investigation…
We don’t want to reveal too much about the story, but we did tease a few hints of what’s to come out of Lee and Alex…
What prompted the idea for the story?
Lee Robson: Probably desperation, to be honest! (Laughs)
Alex and I had already agreed to try and put something together for Aces Weekly, but I was completely stumped for ideas to pitch him. Hard boiled detective stories were, and still are, a well I go back when I’m trying to kick start something.
From there, the idea of the detective being framed for murder, then the victim turning up alive and well, took root and I just couldn’t shake it. I honestly had no idea where to go with that or how I could make it into a coherent story, but I just couldn’t get the idea out of my head.
I think the title, “The Emerald King”, was the key to figuring it all out, believe it or not: once I had that, it made sense to add horror elements to the story, and help give it a shape.
Are you a fan of 1930s and 40s pulp fiction? Anything in particular?
Lee: Can I get away with saying Raiders Of The Lost Ark…?
As I said, detective stories are a well I go back to quite a lot – I think it’s from reading too much Raymond Chandler when I was younger, and just being blown away by the way he could turn a phrase. That opened up a door that lead to Hammett and, to a lesser degree, Spillane, and, from there, I worked my way through some Doc Savage stories, alongside The Avenger and The Shadow. I’ve still got a soft spot for them. They inspired a love of pulp in general that I still have today.
How long does it take to put a strip like this for Aces Weekly together?
Lee: For me, personally, it’s not that long. I’m just writing the script, and leaving all the hard work to everyone else. (Laughs)
Seriously, though, the length of time it takes to put these together varies from story to story.
Because of the three-page per episode format of Aces Weekly – and my stubborn desire to have each chapter end with a cliff hanger – I tend to plot these out quite thoroughly (it’s much, much easier to have everything laid out, and know exactly what happens in each chapter before I get into the nuts and bolts of scripting). Sometimes, the plotting stage is easy and doesn’t take that long, other times it’s not, and it can take an absolute age to get down.
The scripting is pretty much the same, but with the added bonus of sometimes losing track of page counts, and having to go back and rewrite/edit scenes to make them fit. That’s always fun.
Alex, did you do a lot of research for the look of the story?
Alex Paterson: Everything was digital from roughs to final art all on Procreate. I could not have finished it during lockdown, without being able to open up the iPad and delving in here and there.
As for research, well, any excuse to dive into film noir, or classic Hollywood ‘Out of the past’ ‘in a lonely place’ Maltese Falcon any Hitchcock, from the time, to revisiting the 1980s and 90’s neo noir by James Foley (after dark my sweet, at close range) and John Dahl (red rock west, last seduction) for the grimy vibe.
The photo library on University of Southern California website was a big help. They have some amazing pictures for all sorts of Locations in Los Angeles around that time period.
Also countless ‘old Hollywood’ Instagram accounts were a huge inspiration, containing stills, photo shoots and posters.
Comics: obviously Darwyn Cooke’s ‘Parker’ Will Eisner’s the Spirit are always great.
This isn’t your first strip for Aces Weekly, what’s the appeal, for you, of creating for digital comics?
Lee: It’s the Aces Weekly format that really appeals to me. Sticking with that three-page per episode structure gives me a chance to try and emulate something old British comics did brilliantly: they’d have three or four pages of a serial which ended on a cliffhanger to bring you back the following week. Aces Weekly is perfect for that – and trying to actually do it, and make it work, is a challenge that I absolutely relish.
For digital comics generally, it’s largely the freedom to explore stories that aren’t necessarily “mainstream,” and have them reach a wider, potentially global audience. I know digital comics are often seen as “lesser,” for want of a better word (unless you’ve got a Subtsack deal, in which case they’re suddenly the greatest thing ever), but they offer more advantages than print, with distribution being the key one. I think.
There are barriers to distributing print comics that you don’t have with digital: once your comic is up, online, it can be found, bought and read instantly by anyone in the world – you’re not having to go through the rigmarole of pledging or pre-ordering and waiting three months or having to trawl newsagents shelves to find the latest issue: it’s just there to read whenever you want – unless the platform that hosts it unexpectedly shuts down, that is, but, then, you’ve always got the option to take it somewhere else to sell. Of course, actually getting people to click the links and buy the comics wherever they’re hosted is a whole other challenge!
What are you working on now?
Lee: Velicity Jones #3, The Silent Forest was due for a re-release via Comixology around now, but the recently-announced changes to the platform have left that up in the air for the moment (what was I saying about platforms closing down?)
That said, it’s currently available on Gumroad, and can be bought as a downloadable PDF here: https://malletproductions.gumroad.com/l/btyCt
We – myself and Bryan Coyle – are also currently working on a brand new “Velicity Jones” story for Aces Weekly – our first without the late Dave Evans, which is proving to be a really strange experience. We were already in the very early stages of it when we got the news about Dave, and – after a lot of discussion – we decided to finish it. We’re still not sure who we’ll get to letter the pages at this stage – Dave’s left some big shoes to fill, after all.
After that… Who knows?
Lee, Alex, thanks for your time – let’s hope “The Emerald King” is a hit with Aces Weekly readers!
Where are the best places to see the work of all those involved?
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.