IMAGE EXPO EXCLUSIVE: Lotay Talks Reuniting with Ellis on "Heartless"

Fans of "Supreme: Blue Rose" likely rejoiced when a new Image Comics collaboration between the incomparable Warren Ellis and artist Tula Lotay was announced earlier today at Image Expo. This time around, they're setting their sites on a genre bending horror series titled "Heartless."

Image described the book as follows:

"A musician returns to northern England, where her family owned a little cottage in the middle of a forest. She wrote her first album there, and she's "going back to the countryside," as musicians used to, to write her next one. But the forest doesn't want her there. She's returning to face her demons -- one in particular -- and put herself back together, but the forest remembers what she did, and the devil wants his due.

Ellis & Lotay Bring Horror Comic "Heartless" to Image

In other words, exactly the kind of material both creators were born to produce. "I wrote this for Tula," Ellis told CBR News. "It's full of all the stuff we love: the spooky stories, the landscape, the folklore, and the things that haunt us."

Ahead of her second collaboration with Ellis, CBR News spoke exclusively with Lotay about the upcoming series, digging deeper into her relationship with the landscape of Northern England, the inherent foreboding of the woods and her connection to the main character of "Heartless."

CBR News: Tula, how did you react when Warren first told you about "Heartless"?

Tula Lotay: So excited! I loved working with Warren on "Supreme: Blue Rose." It was my first major piece of work and the creative process was amazing -- when it ended I was kind of sad, that's how much I enjoyed it. So when Warren mentioned doing a new project together I was totally up for it. I love Warren's writing so much and I knew going into a creator-owned project with him would be a dream. When he told me what he had in mind, it was perfect. I think he's taken a lot of inspiration from my landscape photos which I post most days when I'm back home. It's set in Northern England, in the woods.

What does your collaboration look like on this series?

Visually, it will have a similar feel to "Supreme: Blue Rose" because that's my style but I will be experimenting and trying out new ideas -- I'm hoping my art will evolve through this process. "Supreme" was my first ever comic series, so I feel I'm just getting started. In terms of theme, it will be dark, edgy with a lot of intrigue. There will be a lot of mystery and puzzles to solve. We're both big fans of [Andrei] Tarkovski, the Russian filmmaker, and his narrative style and visual representation has inspired a lot of the story.

You specifically mentioned the landscape of Northern England -- what inspired the location of the story?

I live in Northern England, in West Yorkshire, just next to the moors that inspired greats like the Bronte sisters. It's a wonderful place, really isolated and beautiful. On a morning when the sun rises a mist fills the land scape and makes it look very other worldly. I go running up there most days and I take photos and post them on my Instagram, Warren sees a lot of these, he knows how much I love the landscape up there. I guess that's really influenced the story he'd written for me. The Yorkshire moors are a really breathtaking place.

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There is something so inherently unsettling about being in the woods, and we see this conveyed frequently in storytelling. What places do you find scary? And how are you creating that atmosphere in "Heartless"?

I always feel afraid in the dark. I have a massive phobia of the dark, I have since I was young. I think this probably comes from an over active imagination, maybe. In horror films, the most effective, intriguing and scary stories come from ambiguity -- when you can't quite make out what's there you fill in the gaps and if the landscape creates a sense of forboding. Dark woods do that and can be a terrifying place to be. We wanted to create that ambiguity in the storytelling of "Heartless" -- we want the reader to feel unsettled, to not quite know how to feel about a character. Everyone is complicated, everyone has there good and dark sides, this story delves into the darker aspects of human nature.

What has the design process of the series been like? What elements are important for you to convey?

I really wanted to bring across the isolation of our main character. She's on her own, traveling back to her family's cabin. She needs to spend time evaluating her life and what direction she wants to take. She's a musician, so she's looking to figure out where she wants to be. She grew up in the woods and even though they were sometimes a scary place when she was a child  they also offer solitude and a place to think.

In terms of style, I'd love to push the boundaries of sequential art, try and escape regular formats. I'm a big fan of what [Sergio] Toppi, [Bill] Sienkiewicz and [Dave] McKean have done in the past in terms of visual storytelling. I feel this is my first venture into really exploring the medium without any constraints, Warren and I can do whatever we want and that's pretty exciting. I want to do something new and fresh.

How are you connecting to the sense of isolation and creative focus the main character is experiencing in the story?

Well, I feel she's quite similar to me. We both live in a similar environment, we both work alone and take inspiration from the landscape around us. Plus creating something from scratch can be a very difficult process, you have days where you feel you can't do anything right and others where it just falls into place. I think anyone who does this for living knows that it can be roller coaster of emotions. When it's going well it's amazing, when you can't get it to work it's horrible. It's easy to understand that mindset. The darker moments of self-doubt that come about when you can't figure what your doing can be overwhelming. But for me, this process somehow translates onto the page and the end product will hopefully reflect that.

You mentioned how thrilled you were when Warren talked to you about the initial idea, but what's been the most exciting aspect of actually working on "Heartless"?

Everything! I get to work with Warren again and we get to tell a story that means a lot to us -- a unique, dark fairy tale that delves into the darker side of human nature, something that will make you question yourself and what you should or shouldn't think. This is a very scary, dark story, but it's not a horror story. It's a story about folklore, myth, human nature and the journey we all take at some point in our life.

Stay tuned to CBR News for more on "Heartless."

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