Saladin Ahmed's Abbott Combines '70s Race Politics & Supernatural Noir

Saladin Ahmed is versatile, to say the least: He's a published poet, his science fiction and fantasy novels and short stories have been nominated for numerous awards, including the Hugo and the Nebula, and he's the writer of Marvel's Black Bolt. Now, he's stretching his wings even further: BOOM! Studios announced at today's New York Comic Con panel that Ahmed will collaborate with artist Sami Kivelä on an original comic series, Abbott, which will launch in January 2018.

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Set in Detroit in the 1970s, Abbott is a supernatural crime noir story about a hard-boiled black reporter for a tabloid paper who comes across a series of mysterious murders that bear strong similarities to the murder of her husband 10 years previously. Her investigation leads her into danger and ultimately into a struggle with a terrifying adversary. CBR asked Ahmed to give us a few clues about his story, and how it fits in with his larger body of work.

CBR: First of all, since we haven’t seen the comic yet, can you give me the elevator pitch? What is the essence of the story, and what makes it interesting to you?

Saladin Ahmed: The year is 1972. Elena Abbott is the only black reporter at the Detroit Daily -- and the city’s only hope against the things that kill in the dark. Abbott is a story about, well, a lot of things: monsters literal and metaphorical, journalism and race, Detroit and doomed love, sexism and dark sorcery.

Your story is set in Detroit in 1972, but it has themes that resonate in the present day, especially with the current political situation. Why did you choose this time and this place?

Well, I was born in Detroit and have a loyalty to it. And I think Detroit in the ’70s is an amazing tableau in its own right for a lot of reasons. But sure, I’m writing the series in 2017 and of course there are parallels. Culture wars. White terror in the face of black renaissance. Extra-scummy presidents. I can’t help but attend to these parallels as I write.

Micaela Dawn's variant cover for 'Abbott' #1

What was your starting point: The main characters or the storyline? Did one flow from the other in a natural way?

Abbott’s titular character and the subject matter have been linked for me from the beginning. This is very much a story in a certain occult detective mode, and Elena Abbott shares DNA with Carl Kolchak, John Constantine, and Fox Mulder. But a big part of the point here is to work in that mode while centering the sort of hero who doesn’t usually get to be centered in it.

Abbott looks like it will combine a hard-boiled crime story with a supernatural element. These things aren’t necessarily a natural fit. How are you bending the two genres to make it work?

I think the best crime stories and the best horror stories alike ask questions about who the real monsters in our world are. Abbott is very much centered on that question.

What sort of freedom does comics creation give you that straight prose does not? Why did you turn to comics for this particular story?

There are a bunch of formal differences, of course, but the biggest difference to my mind is collaboration. In comics, one has the amazing luxury of leaning on the talent of artists. Sami Kivelä’s art is just fantastic, conveying both the personal urgency and the creeping horror of the story. I can’t wait for folks to see what we’re cooking up.

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