What do you get when you mix “Golden Age comic pulp and cyberpunk aesthetics?” Why the comic series We Are Scarlet Twilight, from writer/artist Benjamin Morse.
The book, which funded its first three issues via Kickstarter, draws robust inspiration from Flash Gordon and other swashbuckling ’30s and ’40s serials and pulps. But it takes a turn pretty quickly, expanding the world and the aesthetics for a harrowing adventure about our hero Captain Lancet and his battles against nefarious foes like Satanika and Doctor Occulto. If it all seems a little cheesy, the book embraces that sensibility with heart and gusto alike.
Morse is now turning to Zoop to launch a campaign for issue #4 (as well as forthcoming hardcover edition). In the lead up to the campaign’s debut today (February 21), we spoke with Morse via email, tackling the crux of the series, what comes next with issue #4, influences and inspirations, possible future plans, and other tidbits.
Here’s the trailer for issue 4! If you like it, I’d really appreciate any retweets or help in getting the word out- really excited for everyone to read this one! pic.twitter.com/b3LFSAANpP
— Benjamin Morse- Scarlet Twilight at Zoop! (@BenjaminWMorse) February 15, 2023
AIPT: For those uninitiated, what is We Are Scarlet Twilight all about?
Ben Morse: The elevator pitch is We Are Scarlet Twilight is the story of Captain Lancet — an old school, Golden Age crime buster with a dark secret who wakes up in the future and has to save the world from a vampire cult he’d accidentally created.
To go a little deeper into the type of comic it is, it’s an attempt to combine some story and artistic elements from 1940s comics and pulps in a way that’s engaging to readers today.
On the story side I’m taking concepts used a lot in older comics and figuring out a way for them to operate together, and hopefully create some suspense for the reader in guessing how this story is going to either deconstruct or embrace those concepts. A few of those archetypes I touch on just briefly or subvert, but most of them I treat very much in earnest. I didn’t want to do a send-up or parody of these old comics — ultimately, I wanted to take a lot of what was there and just do it as well as I could.
On the art side, I wanted to use some of the great layout elements and lettering from the 1940s and remix them in a way that uses the contrast between that and a more modern art style to get some energy and impact out of the combination.
AIPT: Can you give us an overview of what issue #4?
BM: Well, spoiler warning, obviously for anyone who’s hasn’t read the previous issues, but #4 is our final battle between Captain Lancet and his enemies. His previous attack with his sidekicks was unsuccessful, and he was lucky to even have made a retreat. Issue #3 resolved some questions I’ve been setting up about Captain Lancet’s identity (he’s a well known historical/cultural figure) and motives — and in explaining that to his sidekick, he alludes to a battle from his past as the basis for his new, desperate plan to go back alone and challenge the bad guys. So issue 4 is where we learn what that plan is, and find out whether or not the hero can pull it off.
AIPT: You had huge success with issues #1-3 on Kickstarter. Why do you think comics especially seem to do so well on that platform?
BM: I’m sure the pandemic has played a huge role in people getting their comics in different ways, just out of necessity. That said, I think it’s just a natural result of having a place where readers and creators can interact a lot more — people are going to show up for that. Additionally, there are a lot of genres or types of stories that maybe don’t make sense financially or for some other reason to a publisher with overhead or non-comics goals to help create. But scale that down to a small team of creators and it works out — so you’ve got a lot of books that can serve smaller niches you wouldn’t otherwise.
AIPT: As a follow-up to that last question, why the move to Zoop?
BM: Two things, really- one, the team there is passionate and completely focused on comics, and I’d say that’s the biggest draw for me. They’ve got years of experience in our field, have seen what readers respond to, and are great at getting the word out about comics within the community. You don’t get that on other platforms. As comics people, we’re probably always going to be a smaller group than gaming or film- and crowdfunding platforms that have everything on them are always going to be more streamlined for, well, not comics.
Second: I do everything on We Are Scarlet Twilight myself, writing, design, art, colors, letters, prepress. To be organizing fulfillment and planning in addition to the book was causing problems. I’m generally the type of person who’s going to try to do things myself and see how it goes, but I was falling behind under everything but ideal conditions. The support I’ve gotten from backers on this book has been amazing- and it’s just not right for backers to deal with delays if there’s a way to re-organize and keep on schedule. So moving to Zoop has been driven by that, and has already been a huge help- just taking some of the planning burden off of my plate has made drawing go so much faster. I should be done with #4 entirely — art, colors, letters, everything — by just after launch day.
AIPT: The book’s described as drawing inspiration from “golden age comic pulp and cyberpunk aesthetics.” What about the marrying of this is so interesting?
BM: Mainly the contrast- I lean more heavily into the art deco visuals on environments, but it’s nice to sprinkle some tech areas here and there, whether it’s for plot logistics that explain something quickly or just pure visual appeal.
AIPT: What sort of books/properties influenced this series?
BM: Old issues of Batman and other Golden Age comics from the late 30s and wartime were the starting point. The way they’d handle plot, ornamentation in the captions and lettering, panel shapes as well as environments and costumes were the main inspiration for We Are Scarlet Twilight. Beyond that, properties that, between now and the 1940’s had built on those same influences were a guide — Batman: The Animated Series, Steve Rude and Dave Gibbons’ “World’s Finest,” and all of Darwyn Cooke’s work provided a lot of cool ideas.
While they weren’t as big a part of the dna of We Are Scarlet Twilight as the comic book influences were, The Fleischer Brothers’ Superman cartoons, Buster Crabbe’s Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials, and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis were on my mind a lot when putting this together. I sprinkled plot elements or visuals inspired by them wherever I could.
AIPT: You’re also possibly working on the TPB. Can we expect any goodies/extras in there?
BM: Definitely! I’ve got a lot of extra content I want to include in a collected format, hopefully that can come together in time to be a part of our issue 4 campaign!
AIPT: Why should anyone support the campaign for #4?
BM: Issue #4 is really exciting because it’s the conclusion of the first Captain Lancet story, and more specifically a lot of the lingering questions I’ve been setting up in 1-3 are definitively answered and closed out.
To come back to what I’d said earlier, my approach was to take some of the more interesting tropes or archetypes I’d seen in these older comics and put them in a comic with a modern pace and artwork. Once I’d picked those elements- for example, the costumes and weapons, secret identities, the way that era of comics talked about America and democracy and fascism, to name a few examples- I took a step back and asked myself, “If I were a reader who liked elements in these old comics, what is the most satisfying and dynamic way for each of those elements to pay off throughout the story?” Issue #4 is the climax of all those ideas — and I think it’ll be a lot of fun to read!!
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