INTERVIEW: Sloane Leong on Terrifying New Graphic Novel GRAVENEYE, Illustrated by Anna Bowles
Secrets behind every door.
Writer, artist, and editor Sloane Leong teamed up with illustrator and Anna Bowles in their first TKO Presents story, GRAVENEYE. Both artists have made waves in indie comics, with Bowles releasing her webcomic Moped Cow and Moon Maurarders, and Leong publishing Map to the Sun and Prism Stalker, and co-running the BIPOC horror-anthology Kickstarter Death in the Mouth.
Not only is GRAVENEYE their first TKO Presents work and their first time working together, but it went so well that they are returning to horror again for a future project.
GRAVENEYE follows two women, Isla and Marie, whose tackling of trauma manifests in very different ways. Beautifully illustrated and primarily monochrome, most of the story takes place in a very much dilapidated mansion whose unique perspective carries the story. (It also plays with the trope that the house is part of the horrors, and not also subjected by violence.) They watch the relationship of Isla and Marie play out and the lies each of the women tells themselves to justify obsession and violence.
In celebration of the graphic novel’s publication (out today!), I interviewed Leong.
*Light Spoilers Incoming*
Alyssa Shotwell (TMS): In a previous interview, you discussed that this started as prose first and stemmed from a personal experience of unrequited, self-destructive feelings from a now-former friend. By telling the story from the perspective of a house, you were provided a writing challenge and a somewhat neutral (I mean, they rightfully complain about nails and scratches) narrator so we could see the shortcomings of our two main human characters. Once you decided on going to a neutral zone, why a house instead of an animal or something less tangible, yet still almost omniscient?
Sloane Leong: I was interested in exploring the house as a living organism in itself and playing around with the haunted house trope. Most haunted houses are populated by ghosts of humans past, but I wanted a house that was haunted by its own consciousness.
I also really like writing sci-fi stories, and making the house an actual creature with its own specific ideas on its existence and feelings pertaining to its role and physicality as a house was a ripe idea for me creatively. An animal narrator or a disembodied omniscient presence doesn’t feel as exciting to me, the former because it’s too close to what Isla is and the latter because it lacks specificity and, therefore, generativity.
TMS: Once you found your neutral observer, did you ever consider cycling perspectives, or would that narratively undermine the point of stepping back?
Leong: I didn’t come into the story looking for neutrality. That’s just what the house was like as a character as I wrote it. As the story developed and the concept of Isla being a serial killer/human rogue taxidermist and both Marie and Isla’s mutual obsession, I found the house’s perception of what was going on more interesting than diving into the human characters’ perspective.
That outside view of these two women lent a sort of holistic balance to their story that I didn’t think I could get from inserting us into their biased human perspectives. I also thought it was just more interesting to try to convey their inner workings through body language, actions, and proximity rather than spelling it out with their external or inner dialogue.
TMS: Our two human protagonists are set up as polar opposites, but there are a few things they have in common with one another, from their love languages to familial trauma. Can you elaborate on this or add someone we might have missed in a first read-through?
Leong: Ooh, not sure about their love languages! I would say the biggest thing they have in common is their incredibly warped perspectives of other people because of their circumstances in life. Marie is in an abusive relationship with her husband and views Isla as a sort of strong, feminine ideal; she adores her and wants to be her. She wants Isla’s independence and confidence.
But this adoration clouds the unfortunate truths that are plain, hopefully, to the reader; Isla is isolated and walled up in her own mental illness and past trauma. Her confidence is actually an intense estrangement from humanity, and her strength is a product of being unable to connect with others.
For Isla, Marie is this perfect example of a person society finds acceptable, who lives in perfect harmony with those around her (which, by the end, we know is not true). Isla admires and envies this aspect of Marie but is also disgusted by it because it’s so foreign to her. Both are so steeped in their own delusions that they miss out on obvious truths about each other and the world around them.
TMS: While I’m not rooting for Isla by the end, I was very surprised by the lack of … alterations. Both horrified and thinking that Marie both retains her meek demeanor while also looking at her most confident? Are there elements of the final stance representing who Isla wants Marie to be (or thought she could be)?
Leong: Yes, Marie’s final form marks the first time Isla felt she truly understood what someone else desired. And the first time she felt empathetic of that desire. When Marie initially gives herself over to Isla and her form of remaking, there is a moment of real understanding between them; they both want some manner of power or control in their lives. For Marie, power to be free from her husband and to indulge in her own wants. For Isla, the power over her own mind, something she hasn’t been able to control and has lent to her lifelong alienation from others.
The lack of monstrosity in Marie’s taxidermy was Isla trying to honor that desire. It was an act of kindness, in her own sick manner.
TMS: What were some unexpected challenges and joys of working with a fellow artist on a graphic novel?
Leong: I actually handled all the writing, but the art was all Anna. The process was a joy! Anna has such a mastery over inking and watercolor techniques, and her expansive visual vocabulary was a privilege to tap into. I described the house to her as this large Frankensteinian creation that had architecture grafted on from various eras, evidence of past occupants in every room and on every wall. She took that description and expanded it into this hyper-detailed manor that encompassed the essence of that idea in a way I definitely couldn’t as an artist.
I also found it rewarding to let her handle paneling and layout because she has a unique sense of visual storytelling, and it was fascinating to see how she would interpret my script. Working with another artist, especially one as talented as Anna, added a whole other level of complexity to the story, which was exciting to see made manifest.
TMS: Beyond the stark contrast from your previous work being color-intensive to this story told in grayscale with limited scarlet, what might readers of Prism Stalker, A Map to the Sun, or any of your other works expect to see explored in this work?
Leong: I would say it’s a tonal departure from my other work, but most of my audience is used to—and expects—that variety! I try not to tread the same narrative patterns over and over again, so I hope GRAVENEYE will be exciting and startling for my readers.
TMS: Any final thoughts or things you want to say to our audience?
Leong: Anna and I have our next graphic novel currently on submission, a murderous gothic romance set in colonial America, and I’m really excited for it!
(Image: TKO Studios, Anna Bowles and Sloane Leong)
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