Silk Cotton is a stunning-looking comic series created and written by London-based comics writer Colleen Douglas, to be published by Italy’s Leviathan Labs next year. It features art by Jesus C. Gan, coloured by Lorenzo Palombo, and is being offered outside Italy through Amber Garza at Full Bleed Rights.
In the opening story we meet Peter, who has always been told “the stories” like every child in the Caribbean. The tales of the ancients bound to the Silk Cotton tree, the Supernatural monsters of Myths and Legends, whispered in hush tones lest the speaker be heard and meet with an untimely fate.
Then the day came, when the woman who had been his “mother” was struck down by a thing that could only have come from his worst nightmares. Now, Peter’s once ordered world comes crashing into stark reality. Grace Silk Cotton, the legendary supernatural Churlie Queen and enforcer between the worlds, is his real mother. The Monsters are real, and he is one… and the prophetic fight for supremacy, survival, the stories and Silk Cotton has begun.
Catching up with Colleen Douglas after the Lakes International Comic Art Festival, she tells me the story centres around Caribbean Supernaturals, who although well known locally across the diaspora have never really been given a structured genealogy like their Norse or Orisha counterparts.
“Silk Cotton is a very personal project to me,” she says. “Caribbean Supernaturals are a part of my culture like breathing is essential to life, they inform my history and I never want to underestimate their value to storytelling.”
Colleen is a London-based comics writer whose first love was 2000AD, and Archie Comics. The addiction has never left, so now she gets her “fix” from creating comics to share with everyone. Under her Zee Comeeks! banner, she works with a wide range of international creator to create a diverse range of stories. Her own writing projects include the comics mini-series Apocalypse Girl, Gargantuan and Titan, all published by Spain-based publisher Amigo Comics, all available digitally through ComiXology.
“In every nation across the Caribbean these Mythological beings exist in stories and folktales,” she notes of the new Silk Cotton project, “but it’s mainly used as a way to warn children and deter miscreant behaviour. My aim with Silk Cotton was to create a synergetic connection to the people of the land that the stories belong to and make an opening so to speak, for new eyes to see and immerse with these Supernaturals and the stories surrounding them.
“One of the things that Caribbean children share with those in West Africa is Anansi stories,” Colleen expands. “Long ago growing up, Guyanese children eagerly gathered around elders at dusk to listen to ‘Nancy’ story. These stories all tell us of how the West African trickster outsmarted rivals. In these stories, you will find Brer Rabbit and Brer Tiger among others competing with Anansi or in some sort of trouble caused by him.
“Anansi’s stories are based on moral, ethical and social values that are generally related to the young,” she continues. “Anansi himself is a West African trickster god, who’s also known as the King of Stories. The word Anansi is from the Akan people (Ghana), which means ‘spider’ in the same language. There are several variations of the name such as Kwaku Ananse, Anancy, Ba Anansi, and Kompa Nanzi. His personality is very cunning and mischievous to the point of deception in some stories. The folktales of Anansi was brought into the Caribbean during slavery and via oral tradition passed on from one generation to another. It has become part of the Caribbean culture, not just for the African Caribbean.
“The most important story, perhaps, is ‘Anansi’s Dispersal of Wisdom’,” she feels.
The story goes like this… While Anansi was already very clever, he had the idea to hoard the entire world’s wisdom in a large pot and keep it in a safe place. Even though the pot had been sealed, Anansi still worried that it wasn’t secure enough. So, one day, in secret, he took the pot to a thorny tree, with the intention of hiding the pot among the tallest branches.
The pot was too big for Anansi to carry in his arms, so he tied it in front of him and proceeded to climb. Like this, the pot was in the way and Anansi kept sliding down the tree, growing more and more frustrated with each failed attempt.
Now on that particular day, Anansi’s young son Ntikuma had followed the spider god to the tree, unbeknownst to his father. He watched as Anansi struggled to climb the tree and couldn’t help but laugh.
“Why don’t you tie the pot to your back?” Ntikuma suggested, “Then you’d be able to grip the tree!”
Anansi was so annoyed by his own failure and the realisation that his child was right that he accidently dropped the pot, spilling the wisdom everywhere. At that very moment a storm picked up and washed the wisdom into a river. The river took the wisdom out to sea, where it was spread all over the world, so that there is now a little for everyone.
While Anansi chased his son home in the rain, he was reconciled to the loss of wisdom, saying, “What is the use of all that wisdom if a young child still needs to put you right?”
“In the Caribbean, Anansi can be called forth with offerings of treats, liquor, and smoke,” Colleen explains. “If you don’t have an interesting story, he’ll be gone in the blink of an eye. As the patron god of stories, Anansi loves a good tale, and so this is where my story Silk Cotton, with Jesus C Gan for Leviathan Labs begins… see you there!”
Leviathan Labs is a creative studio and independent publisher serving Italian artists in Italy and the United States, whose projects have received worldwide attention for their powerful, high quality stories and art. The company works with publishers in the US and Italy on co-productions and translated editions, including Editions Delcourt, Chapterhouse, Double Shot, Behemoth Comics, Sallybooks, Scout Comics, and others.
Their foreign rights agent is Amber Garza at Full Bleed Rights, a boutique rights agency specialising in selling foreign rights for comics and graphic works, offering artist management and consulting services.
Silk Cotton – Meet the Characters…
“A Churail is a vampire-like creature of East Indian origin and is considered to be of the bhoot,” Colleen teases. “A bhoot, in Indian culture, is a supernatural creature, often the ghost of a deceased person. The concept of the bhoot is subject to various interpretations depending on region and community. In Guyana, it is known as a Choorile/ Churlie and is a very specific type of bhoot.
“Guyana’s Churlie is the spirit of a woman who had died in childbirth, yet her child lived,” Colleen continues. “The separation from her child torments her and she wails in her grief, much like a banshee of Irish lore. She haunts or terrorises pregnant women and new-born babies.
“The Churlie is said to resemble a normal human woman, but their feet are turned backwards and sometimes other features are flipped upside down. They are capable of changing their forms at any time and often appear beautiful or ‘normal’ in an attempt to lure young men to their deaths. Churlies are met at crossroads, fields or similar places, not found on or near the water.
“If a young man, or old one, falls for the charms of the Churlie and becomes enamoured with her, it is believed that she will cause his death. There have been stories of people living with and outsmarting a Churlie, in some cases even marrying one. If you encounter a Churlie, the belief is that crossing water or leaving shoes behind will save you, as Churlies do not cross water and will spend all night trying to put on the shoes.
“Many of the younger generations of Guyanese do not recall this jumbee and she is slowly dying out of memory. Only the older folks seem to remember her or her stories. When someone is crying a lot or acting crazy they may be referred to as acting like a Churlie.”
“Ol’ Higues are always women,” says Colleen. “It is said that she sucks the blood of unsuspecting victims as they sleep. Her favourites are young children and babies.
“The Ol’ Higue’s distinguishing feature is the fact that, during the day, she lives among other Guyanese as a somewhat introverted and quiet old lady. At night, this seemingly harmless old woman removes her skin, places it gently in a calabash, and travels across the sky as a ball of fire heading to the home of her intended victim. To enter the home, she shrinks herself and enters through the keyhole.
“There have been countless sightings of these balls of fire all over the country, and many people still have a staunch belief in the reality of the Ol’ Higue.”
“The Massacooramaan is one of a class of malevolent spirits in Guyanese folklore, known as ‘jumbees’, a generic name given to all supernatural being” Colleen tells us.
“The Massacooramaan is an ape-like bogeyman creature that lives in rivers in the interior of Guyana. The Massacooramaan allegedly capsizes small boats, dragging the occupants under the water to drown before consuming them. Native Amerindians and miners (Pork Knockers) who work in the interior of Guyana often speak of the Massacooramaan.
“To the Amerindians, it is a powerful river spirit. In other tales, it is believed the origins of the story may lie in escaped slaves who fled into the jungles and swamps of Guyana and were faced with surviving the rough waters of rivers they then had to cross. It is believed the Massacooramaan resides in the depths of the Waratilla Creek (Essequibo Islands) and would answer to a signal from a macaw.”