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Chris Roberson talks murder and mystery in 'A Sarah Jewell Mystery'

Comic Books

Chris Roberson talks murder and mystery in ‘A Sarah Jewell Mystery’

A whodunit murder mystery with an unexpected twist.

Brilliant writer-storyteller Chris Roberson pulls comic fans back into the Hellboy Universe with his exciting new whodunit series, The House of Lost Horizons: A Sarah Jewell Mystery. (The titular Jewell made her first appearance in 2016 in Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson’s Rise of the Black Flame series.) Now, along with her associate Maria-Therese Lafleur, Jewell gets her own series filled with mystery, intrigue, supernatural elements, and murder. It’s a well-crafted thriller that’ll have you scratching your head trying to figure out who did it. The five-issue mini-series will be a treat for new and returning fans — there’s no prior reading necessary as Roberson writes in a way to engage all readers. 

Ahead of issue #1 debuting this Wednesday, I got a chance to chat with Roberson about his creative process, the difficulties writing such well thought-out characters, and more. I even tried to get him to reveal the killer.

Listen to the latest episode of our weekly comics podcast!

AIPT: Mr. Roberson, it’s a pleasure to chat with you today. So the first question out of the gate, who’s the killer in A Sarah Jewell Mystery #1?

Chris Roberson: The real killer is the friends that we made along the way, of course!

AIPT: That last question was a trick question of course and you passed with flying colors as expected. Sarah Jewell and Marie-Therese Lafleur are brilliant characters, to say the least. Was it always in the cards to put them in their series?

CR: Mike Mignola and I came up with the character of Sarah Jewell over the course of a long conversation several years ago, and originally envisioned her as a young woman who would assist Sir Edward Grey in supernatural investigations in Victorian London. But then almost immediately we hit upon the idea of instead introducing her first as an older woman solving mysteries in the 1920s. Marie-Thérèse LaFleur arrived pretty much fully formed soon after. And while originally they were members of an ensemble cast in the pages of Rise of the Black Flame, I harbored hopes of giving them their own spotlight pretty much from the beginning.

Chris Roberson talks murder and mystery in 'A Sarah Jewell Mystery'

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

AIPT: What is your secret to crafting such deeply interesting and well-developed characters like Sarah Jewell and Marie-Therese Lafleur?

CR: For both of those characters I did a fair amount of research, looking for historical figures who could serve as templates for the kinds of characters that we had in mind, and I was lucky enough to find some really interesting individuals to serve as inspiration. My first impression of Sarah Jewell as a young woman was as a kind of monster-hunting Nellie Bly, a 19th century globetrotting journalist everyone should know more about. But then I found a fantastic model for her as an older woman in Aimée Crocker, an heiress who travelled all over the world. Marie-Thérèse was originally modeled on a young Josephine Baker, and I never strayed too far from that initial inspiration.

AIPT: Sarah Jewell has hunted monsters, ghosts, and other horrific creatures. Why make her first series a murder mystery?

CR: I tend to approach the majority of the stories I do as mysteries, at least in terms of the story structure. So whether it’s ultimately about monsters or hauntings or fighting Nazis or what have you, ultimately we follow the characters as they slowly uncover clues and piece together evidence to work out what’s really going on. But in the end I’m just an enormous fan of locked-room murder mysteries and really wanted to write one!

AIPT: Did you have to do any research before writing this series?

CR: I always do far, far too much research, and this series was no exception. Thankfully I have Mignola and our editors to help me remember that the point of a story is to tell the story, and not to share with readers all of the interesting historical trivia I’ve learned along the way…

 

AIPT: I got a chance to read the first issue which is a fantastic book. Some parts reminded me of movies like Clue and Knives Out, what were some of your inspirations or influences when writing the script?

CR: All of the scripts for The House of Lost Horizons had been written by the time I saw Knives Out (which I ended up watching four times last year, because I loved it so much!), but I think that both of them are inspired by the same things. Stories like Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express or Death on the Nile, with a big cast of characters isolated in an interesting setting where any of them could either be the killer or the next victim themselves.

AIPT: How long did it take you to write the script for this story? Did Mike Mignola help in any capacity?

CR: For this one, Mike and I discussed the main characters and the broad strokes of their careers quite a lot early on, but when it came time to figure out the mechanics of the mystery it was all on me. As for how long it took to write? This one was a long time in preparation, so it’s difficult to say. The actual typing at the end only took a week or two per issue, but I had been tinkering with the plot and the details for well over a year by that point.

Sarah Jewell

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

AIPT: Is it difficult trying to differentiate between so many different characters, personalities, and dialogue when writing a story like this?

CR: Every story is a little different, but for this one with such a wide cast and so many moving parts, I actually created a chart that showed where each character was at any point in the story, what they were doing, and what they were ultimately after. It helped immensely to keep it all straight.

AIPT: What was the best part about writing this book?

CR: The best part about writing any comic is seeing the finished art come back, and getting to see the amazing Leila del Duca bring these characters to life was no exception!

AIPT: Leila Del Duca adds some amazing illustrations to this book, what was the creative process like working with her? Were there any disagreements?

CR: I can’t think of a single disagreement that we had. Leila was at the very top of my list when I first started thinking about who would be a good fit to draw this story, so when our editor Katii O’Brien told me that she and Mike had Leila in mind as well it seemed like fate. I was sure that Leila would be perfect for capturing both the period setting of the story as well as the diverse cast of characters, and I was right!

AIPT: Since these characters are connected to the Hellboy universe, will we see any other familiar faces along the way?

CR: There will definitely be connections to other stories set in that world along the way.

AIPT: Without giving away any spoilers of course was there any great panel moments that didn’t make it into the final draft of the script?

CR: There are always plot lines and scenes from outlines and early drafts that don’t end up in the final version, but there’s always a chance that they might get scavenged and reused in another project further down the road.

AIPT: If Sarah Jewell makes it out of this series alive, are there any plans for additional stories?

CR: I will go ahead and spoil it and say that Sarah Jewell survives the events of this story, and while The House of Lost Horizons is structured as a standalone story, if there’s sufficient reader interest I would love nothing more than to explore more Sarah Jewell mysteries in the future!

AIPT: What can readers expect going into this series?

CR: Murder, mystery, and supernatural suspense.

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