Back in 2015, writer Robert S Malan and artist John Cockshaw released Quest & The Sign of the Shining Beast, currently shortlisted for the African NOMMO Awards 2018. It was the launch pad for a new dark fantasy series: A Darkness In Mind. The book blended a traditional novelette with elements of graphic novel to create something quite unique, which garnered plenty of praise and endorsements. The opening of Quest & The Sign of the Shining Beast finds the unnamed central character awakening in a cave, with no memory of who he is or how he got there, and a strange, compelling voice in his head as his only guide. From there it spirals out, drawing the reader on an increasingly treacherous journey toward the murky heart of this world, and an unexpected, gut-wrenching ending.
The second entry in the series, The Prisoner, was launched at Eastercon 2018 in Harrogate, England. While still featuring common philosophical themes, The Prisoner shifts tonally, crafting a noir-horror told from a first person perspective.
John Andras works at Morningstar prison, where day and night are almost indistinguishable from each other, in a city where the rain never seems to stop. He has debts to pay, but the thing he wants more than anything is a way out. After a strange encounter with one of the inmates, he catches the attention of the new warden, who has a special task for him. As he’s sucked into an assignment he may not escape from, his dreams grow darker and more disturbing. And death is creeping ever closer …
Here’s what Robert and John had to say about their experiences working on The Prisoner:
“The Prisoner started life as a vivid dream. As soon as I awoke the next morning, I knew it had to be the next chapter for A Darkness in Mind. The book is very much a reflection of my love for dark fantasy and horror of the psychological variety. It also feels like a natural progression for me as a writer, and A Darkness In Mind as a series. I’m not big on shock-horror or gore. I’ve always been fascinated by the kind of horror that probes at you on a more cerebral level, like Stephen King at his finest, or the likes of William Peter Blatty’s Legion. While, on the surface, The Prisoner is a noir-horror, pulling the reader down into this murky world, there is a deeper, darker, philosophical discussion at its heart. I’m hoping people are game for that, because I believe it’s a journey worth taking. One that dares us to look in the mirror and question how we view our world. Of course, I always put story at the forefront – it should be compelling and entertaining.
Quest & The Sign of the Shining Beast, the first entry, was birthed from a desire to approach storytelling from a different perspective; that of dream logic. Finding John Cockshaw, who naturally complemented everything I was trying to achieve thematically and visually … that was an exciting thing. For me, it speaks to the power of the vision when I was crafting the series, because it’s pretty ambitious in its overall arc: a hybrid of traditional written fiction and graphic novel, where each story is standalone, but linked specifically by the overall theme – examining the darker recesses of our hearts and minds. The idea was to take the reader on a voyage, at times to some pretty frightening places, but also worth exploring. I wanted to have people being able to drop in at any point on the road, at the same time having a wider conversation with them, and hopefully entice them back in, to examine the layers beneath.
I was consumed by the tale of John Andras and The Prisoner. I’m thrilled to be sharing it with the world.”
“Working on The Prisoner with Robert allowed me the opportunity to work on my first extended graphic novel sequences, and to explore the format of the graphic novel in greater detail. As the second book in an over-arching series, The Prisoner offered the chance to develop a continuity of style with the first entry, Quest and The Sign of the Shining Beast, and also allowed Robert and me to develop an effective shorthand in our planning and working relationship.
In terms of the format of the graphic novel, the previous book employed the technique of photo-story or ‘photo-roman’ quite widely (in addition to hand-drawn and painted illustrations), but The Prisoner placed a greater emphasis on traditional illustrative elements along with mixed media. For me, Robert’s writing always seems to lead on a descent into foreboding darkness and disquieting contemplation on his themes. This is a key requirement, though, for tapping into the spirit of the book in order to do the thematic material justice. But also to bring something new and original from my own perspective.”
The Prisoner is available in all outlets and on the Luna Press Publishing website.