A re-blog from the archives of my regular column for Alltern8; Comicking.
Lara Phillips is the creator of Ronin Studios’ Ministry, a book which takes its name from the central location, a magick industrial complex and research facility of the dark arts. Set on Crowley Island, it concerns David Hanson’s survival within the facility. Having been impressed with the first issue, I sat down to have a chat with Lara about the work and became more impressed.
Alltern8: I’ve read elsewhere zombie classics and modern works such as ‘The Waking Dead’ are influences. How about those that are not so readily apparent? What other media do you feast on, horrible or helpful?
Lara Phillips: Well, I find all my influences helpful even if they give me nightmares. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a classic that’s stood the test of time and of course, Clock Work Orange. Pink Floyd’s The Wall is something that influenced me in issue 2 when dealing with Hanson’s mental breakdown. But if Ministry can summed up in a few words it would be a quote from Blake’s Second Coming – “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
Alltern8: If I read right you’re based in Africa? What have been the opportunities in making comics and the response relating to The Ministry locally?
LP: South Africa is still coming into its own as far as horror’s concerned. Most of the comics here are humorous and political. Still I’ve had a great response from comic readers and have quite a strong following. I also very blessed to have my students at Style Design College as test readers. They’re always asking after my characters as if they were asking after old friends.
Alltern8: I’m looking at Page 15 of Issue 1, it’s well laid out, a marvelously brushed Renaissance engraver style beating scene. It seems you enjoyed drawing that. Do you think violence in narrative is over-employed? Surely there are many other great story devices…
LP: Hmmmm, that’s a tricky one. To be honest, I do think violence is too common in comics today. If overused, violence can definitely desensitise the reader. I’ve tried to build to the violent scenes – to use them as climatic moments rather then just titillation. Every act of violence in Ministry reveals something about the character committing it. With North, violence is just a means to an end, a form of control. With Hanson, it always intensely personal.
Alltern8: How much of The Ministry comes from reading about government figures involved in sex rings, black ops, Guantanamo Bay etc.? Where are the labs for research that make up a lot of the content of The Ministry?
LP: When I was born, Aparteid and racial segregation in South Africa was still a reality. The police were a force to be feared and the government had the power to make people vanish when they wanted. I think that has been one of my biggest influences.
The labs….hmmmm….the labs in Ministry are based on Crowley Island. Their sponsors wanted them in an isolated place in case of a occult fall out. Which of course, is exactly what happened.
Alltern8: Without naming names, I read on ‘Incoming’ you’d received some negative feedback about a rape sequence in The Ministry #3. There are some notes there about the context. Could you accurately re-present the feedback and how you feel about it?
LP: Oh, that scene….I’ve had a lot of feedback on that, locally as well. Most people thought that it was spot-on, violent without being titillating. Liam Sharp was very supportive and really gave me some comforting advice. Some critics were more upset by the nipples shown than the context. I don’t understand that – if someone’s shirtless, you’re going to see nipples. In the context of a rape, that’s NOT a turn-on for the reader and if it is, then that particular reader is a sicko. I was most concerned about the reaction of female readers but so far, a lot of women have related to the character being assaulted.
Alltern8: Talking about rape as part of a realistic horror narrative, if you’re a (spiritual) artist, seems okay to me. However, there’s no payoff, it’s a psychologically and socially fragmenting process. Without giving storytelling specifics away, how do you cope with that?
LP: Rape was one of the issues I wanted to deal with when I did Ministry. It’s more common in comics today than ever. Often once a women is raped in a comic, her life is shown as being over – she’s no use to anyone and she’ll never get over it. Bullsh*t! I wanted to show a character who is a survivor. She gets raped and still manages to overcome the trauma. In Ministry, the focus is not her rape but rather how she emerges triumphant from the trauma. I didn’t deal with this lightly – I based the scene on an experience that happened to a close friend of mine. She’s one of the strongest people I know and went on to become a black belt in kickboxing. At a later point in Ministry, I’m also going to deal with male-on-male rape. So that should stir up a hornet’s nest.
Alltern8: Talk us through the process of creating the average page of The Ministry. You’re an inking addict, but where does it start?
LP: Inking addict – that’s me. Well, I start with my rough thumb nails based on the script I’ve written. When that’s done, it’s onto neat pencils. I do my pencils in pale blue pencil so that I can ink straight over them. I really put the details in the inking. My biggest influences with shading has to be Sin City.
Alltern8: You frequently cite Lovecraft and Lynch, and the setting is named after Aleistar Crowley. Briefly say something about one aspect of your experiences with each of these three characters. Who are they and their works to you?
LP: I first discovered Lovecraft in a very dark time in my life – my mother had just died and my father was a nutcase. I loved the pessimism of his work – the concept of the cosmic abyss just beyond our sight. Many of his themes echo throughout Ministry. Lynch was discovered in a happier time – I had just met the man who would become my husband and he introduced me to Twin Peaks. The seedy underbelly of the American Dream is what I love about Lynch’s work. Twin Peaks is the kind of town I always imagine Hanson growing up in. As for Crowley, well, let’s just say I was the kind of kid who read everything and my normally conservative high school had a copy of his biography.
Alltern8: What can you tell me about Ronin Studios and the part they play in making The Ministry?
LP: Ronin has allowed me to interact with other independent comic professionals, especially Anthony Hary who has been very encouraging. My biggest professional support however would be my letterer Bernie Lee who letters Ministry from Issue 2 onwards. He’s marvelous.
Alltern8: What sort of frequency and narrative plans do you foresee for the book? Can folks buy the book in digital form, perhaps through Alltern8’s iDream facility?
LP: As Bernie and I are the entire creative team and both of us work, Ministry comes out 3 – 4 times a year. It’s available both at Indyplanet and the first issue is available through Alltern8’s (DEFUNCT) iDream facility (search ‘Lara Phillips’). As far as narrative is concerned, Ministry is filled with twists and turns. With the very gates of Hades opening, it’s going to be one hell of a joy ride.