Koren Shadmi’s webcomic The Abaddon is like nothing else in comics today. Loosely based on Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit, it is the story of a man who is trapped in an apartment with four very dysfunctional roommates and no way out. Shadmi’s hero, Ter, arrives at the door with a bandage around his head and no backstory, although little bits of memories start flashing through as the story progresses. Part I of the story is complete and available as a webcomic, and Shadmi is raising funds for Part II via Kickstarter. He reached his goal today, but there are still some pledge awards left, although the big one—being drawn into the comic, which would basically immortalize the donor as an embodiment of Sartre’s famous line “Hell is other people”—has been taken.
I was curious about the genesis of this comic and where Shadmi plans to go with it, so I fired off some questions. .
Robot 6: In your Kickstarter intro, you say that The Abaddon was inspired by Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit. Can you explain what interested you about it and how you developed it into this very different story?
Koren Shadmi: When I was in college I took an existentialism class and we read No Exit. When I read it something really struck a chord in me, it’s very minimal and eerie, unsettling in a very subtle way. In the play hell is just a room with three people who make each other miserable. There are little hints to that the characters are not really in ‘the real world’, but those are really understated – which makes for a disturbing setting. I thought I would take the core of the play – a group of dysfunctional roommates locked in the same place together – and elaborate on it. It’s not clear though if they are in hell in my version, and I think the mystery about what exactly is The Abaddon, and who the characters are, that helps propel the story.
Robot 6: Your characters are amazing. How did you come up with this assortment of personalities? Did you start with one and then work toward the others?
Shadmi: Thanks! Well, They changed quite a bit while I was first writing notes for the comic, I think I started with just three, Ter, who’s the main character—and is the most ‘rational’ one. He’s the one you identify with, cause at times you’re as confused as he is. Bet is a ‘femme fatale’ of sorts, but she’s also got this indifferent side to her, she doesn’t really have much motivation. Vic is actually based on my friend—Victor Cayro, who’s a talented cartoonist, and used to live in the apartment which the comic is based on, He is not really that much of a bully in real life (till he drinks). The other characters developed when I decided to go farther and farther away from No Exit. I just kept thinking, who would piss off each other the most if they were roommates?
Robot 6: This comic has a really interesting look—there’s a real richness to it. What is your drawing technique?
Shadmi: I draw the pages in pencil, and I render them more than I would if I were to ink them, adding some shadows and atmosphere. Then I scan it and add some filters and watercolor textures on the computer. It’s a bit like the process I use for my illustrations. I wanted the comic to have a less permanent feel, since its slightly supernatural, so I never inked it. I sometimes feel like inking is a bit obsolete, it was used back in the day when presses were really bad and you needed clear bold lines to be able to reproduce a comic. I also think you lose some of the original vitality of the drawing when you go over the lines.
Robot 6: And how did you come up with the limited palette that you use?
Shadmi: I wanted to have an other worldly feeling, kind of milky, ghost like characters. the Limited palette is to keep the look visually simple and minimal – maybe to add to the feeling of entrapment. The parts where you flash back to Ter’s life are a warm palette, so you know that it’s in a different time and place, before he was trapped in The Abaddon.
Robot 6: Is the physical space of the apartment based on a real place? Is it important that it has an older look rather than being a sterile, modern apartment?
Shadmi: Yes it is! The Kickstarter Video was actually shot in that apartment. It’s a huge place in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where a lot of cartoonists live. There’s rumors that the place used to be a brothel, since it has a big bar downstairs and lots of little rooms upstairs. Before I started drawing the comic I went over there and took reference shots. now that I returned to do the shoot I realized how much more detailed the place is, there’s so much stuff piled up everywhere since there’s all these artists living there. I think the older look ties in with the plot, you don’t really know where or what time period you’re in, there’s a mish mash of elements in there, older and newer. Older, ornate apartments are also more interesting to draw.
Robot 6: Did you know where the story was going on the day you started drawing it? Have you plotted it all out?
Shadmi: I knew how it will end. and I have a general idea of the final chapters, things changed in the plot as I was working on it, but really the benefit of working on a project for such a long time is that you really have a lot of time to think about the plot, and refine it. So I think that at the moment the plot is even stronger than what I originally had in mind, there will be some interesting tie ins in part II.
Robot 6: Your Kickstarter is going to fund a Part II. Will that be the end of the story, or will you keep torturing Ter for a while longer?
Shadmi: Part II will conclude the story, and there’s piles of tortures still lined up in it for Ter. I think the guy really deserves a break. Or does he?