The Prisoner was released at Eastercon 2018. It is the second installment in the A Darkness in Mind series, by South African writer Robert S Malan and British illustrator John Cockshaw.
As well as the book launch, Robert and John took part in a panel with writer Nnedi Okorafor, illustrator Kieron Gillen, and Matt ‘D’Israeli’ Brooker.
The duo began their adventure in 2016 with Quest & The Sign of the Shining Beast, which has just been shortlisted for the NOMMO Awards 2018. We covered the book when it first came out, and you can read about it here.
While much of Quest & The Sign of the Shining Beast took place in a dream-like fantasy world, for The Prisoner the setting is quite different: a prison, to be precise. The author and artist had this to say about it:
“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. Having it shortlisted for such a great award in the NOMMO, that is both exciting and massively encouraging. 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.“
Downriver to the sea (the black sea) the blood stream flows. The sun gone cold. No dawn beyond the void. In all this I see, a darkness in mind.
‘I never did buy the whole angels and demons thing,’ I say. ‘No way it’s as simple as that.’
‘It never is. But …’ He leans forward, as if he’s about to let me in on a secret: ‘… there are demons, John, though they’re not what you’d expect. And the thing is, you can’t run from them, much as you try. They’re always there, deep inside your soul. And you want to set them free.’
John Andras has debts to pay, whittling his life away as a prison guard. But a fateful encounter with one of the inmates is about to change all that …
Because the warden has a special assignment for him, and he’s not the kind of man to take no for an answer. Now John needs a key, and the only one who knows where to find it is a shackled prisoner in a cell that shouldn’t be there.
As his dreams grow darker, each step seems to be pulling him closer to the precipice.