Friendship is at the core of John Allison’s work, and he’s created deep, compelling character dynamics in the pages of his long-running webcomic Scary Go Round and his creator-owned Boom! Studios ongoing, Giant Days. Personal relationships continue to be the focus for his new Boom! title, By Night, which teams Allison with artist Christine Larsen and colorist Sarah Stern to tell the story of two high school friends reunited after drifting apart in college.
The series grew out of a brainstorm Allison had with Boom! Editor Shannon Watters at San Diego Comic-Con last year, but the final product changed considerably from Watters’ initial concept. “I had several [ideas], and so did she, but the one of hers that I seemed to have the best response to was ‘haunted cable TV station’,” says Allison. “Jet-lagged and full of my own self-importance I declared that this was ‘the one’, outlining a grand plan in moments, waving my hands about, sounding 100 percent convincing.”
“Months later when I looked at what I had written down, it resembled the jottings of someone who has woken up in the night and written down the words to a definite hit record that he just dreamt. In the morning light, you realize that maybe ‘Let’s All Ride A Cow To Work (Remix)’ isn’t going to be quite the smash you thought. So I had to unpick everything I’d done. The elements I had, that worked, were the central characters Jane and Heather, and the small-town setting. Eventually elements of the cable TV station turned into something else, and other parts fell away, and what I had was tighter and made a lot more sense.”
That haunted cable TV station became a creepy alternate dimension that Jane and Heather discover in an abandoned industrial building, and this otherworldly experience pushes the two friends together. “Over two decades of writing serial comics, I’ve really come to believe that these friendships are what make people come back month after month, or return after years away,” says Allison. “With By Night I wanted to approach how strange friendships from high school can feel when you see those people again. Usually you catch up, fill in the gaps about mutual friends, then return to your old lives, perhaps for years, before you meet up again. With By Night I wanted to remove the option for both parties to return to their corners. Jane and Heather have to deal with their parents, and their childhood friendships post-college.”
This exclusive preview of By Night #1 features the first five pages introducing Jane and Heather, along with two previously released pages that highlight the post-industrial urban decay that fascinates Allison. “For the first 14 years post-university, I lived in Oldham in the Northwest of England,” says Allison. “During the industrial revolution [it was] one of the richest and most productive cotton towns in the UK, but now (I believe) [it’s] England’s most deprived town. Post-industrial urban decay is something I think about all the time, and I wanted to use it as the backdrop to By Night. Things fall apart in these places but productive life goes on.”
Allison’s done exceptional work drawing his webcomics, but for his Boom! series, he’s been gifted with collaborators who are totally in sync with the emotional and comedic beats of his scripts. “Having drawn my own stories for most of my career, I think I’m more demanding than most writers,” says Allison. “It’s not that I think I’m better than everyone else, but I have my own visual language and rules that I apply, and if those rules are broken, I feel a bit sick. Plus I’ve been spoiled by working with Lissa Treiman and Max Sarin, both of whom added so much to Giant Days visually beyond what I could do ... In Christine I feel like lightning has struck a third time. She reminds me of Darwyn Cooke—effortless use of light and shade, concise visual language, and she can draw everything.”
“It’s always exciting to work with a writer, because it forces you to tell a story that you wouldn’t normally tell and interpret their words in your own visual voice,” Larsen says. “John has a deep empathy for his characters, and it comes across in how he writes them. Also–and I think this stems from the fact that he is an artist as well–he doesn’t overwrite a page. I’ve been really excited by the freedom I’ve been given with regard to layout. Also, there are goblins.”
When it comes to the supernatural elements of the story, Larsen is drawing inspiration from a dimension-hopping classic. “There is an element of Alice in Wonderland in the sense that the alternate dimension has striking similarities to our own, except everything there takes on a more fantastic bend,” says Larsen. “My reference has been leaning heavily on misty black forest photos.”
Rich characterization is the most important quality for an artist working with Allison, and Larsen has developed the skills to make this cast complex and engaging. “I think it is possible to convey emotion in more than just expression,” says Larsen. “Framing, body language, and lighting all play important roles in conveying a scene. I’ve done a number of no-dialogue stories of my own devising over the years, and I am using all the tricks I’ve learned through making those in the work I am doing for By Night.” Reader can follows these friends on their multiversal adventure when By Night #1 goes on sale June 13, but in the meanwhile, get to know Heather and Jane in the pages below.