IN J Cul­bard

The Ce­leste cre­ator ex­plains how it de­vel­oped into a trip­tych of tales

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hen Ian “INJ” Cul­bard un­ex­pect­edly fainted on the tube two decades ago, he prob­a­bly didn’t think that it would pro­vide the in­spi­ra­tion for his first orig­i­nal graphic novel for Self-Made-Hero af­ter sev­eral lit­er­ary adap­ta­tions. But now the Not­ting­ham-based artist has chan­nelled that dis­turb­ing ex­pe­ri­ence into Ce­leste, a phan­tas­magoric ex­plo­ration of the end of the world that spans the up­per reaches of the Earth’s at­mos­phere to the in­ti­mate depths of in­ner space.

“I’d never ex­pe­ri­enced any­thing quite like it be­fore,” he re­calls. “I was on the District line trav­el­ling through Earl’s Court when I passed out. It was rush hour and the car­riage was packed. I felt this pe­cu­liarly hot sen­sa­tion on my lips and ev­ery breath I was ex­pelling felt un­usu­ally hot and then I had this hor­rific pain in my gut.”

Over­come by nau­sea, Cul­bard was trans­ported back to a trau­matic child­hood mem­ory. “In the mo­ment of my col­lapse, I blinked and the car­riage was empty,” he continues. “Stood at the far end was what looked like a cap­tain from World War 1. When I was lit­tle, I used to have a recurring dream/ nightmare of be­ing a cap­tain in the First World War and hav­ing my guts blasted out by a shell. My brain must have been dig­ging deep through my dream vaults for any­thing I’d as­so­ciate with hor­ren­dous ab­dom­i­nal pain. Af­ter that, I dis­tinctly re­mem­ber the sound of screech­ing train wheels and him look­ing at me. I then came to on the plat­form as some­one had helped me off the train. I could feel the cold sweat of hav­ing passed out so I de­duced I’d been there for a while. I have no idea what hap­pened to me but this mo­men­tary hal­lu­ci­na­tion was my brain’s way of say­ing, ‘Sorry about this, but here’s an idea for a story by way of com­pen­sa­tion.’”


From there, Cul­bard has weaved the tale of a very per­sonal apoca­lypse, which has more in com­mon with the ex­per­i­men­tal oeu­vre of Euro­pean comics masters such as Moe­bius than it does with more con­ven­tional ar­maged­don sce­nar­ios. “Es­sen­tially, you have the re­moval of so­ci­ety and the in­flu­ence of those around us on the choices we make, which to some might be seen as the end of the world or, as one of the char­ac­ters in the book says, it could be the be­gin­ning of a new one,” he says. The nar­ra­tive is di­vided into three in­ter­link­ing sto­ry­lines. “The story set in Los Angeles is the story of the mind, the story set in Lon­don is the story of the body and the story set in the Aoki­ga­hara for­est in Ja­pan is the story of the soul. So you have a mys­tery, a love story and a quest.”

Ini­tially Cul­bard in­tended to con­cen­trate solely on the Lon­don ro­mance be­tween Lilly and a male pro­tag­o­nist called Aaron be­fore opt­ing to change

the lat­ter’s gen­der, al­though not their name. “Once I got into the idea, I de­cided that I wanted to say more than I could with just Lilly,” he rea­sons. “I also wanted to show it as a global phe­nom­e­non and not just an event that has af­fected one city. And a lot of the things they talk about ac­tu­ally come di­rectly from my own ex­pe­ri­ences in­clud­ing Lilly flood­ing her fears in the rep­tile house and Aaron’s story about swim­ming too far out off the coast of Day­tona and get­ting lost in the sea.”

Ce­leste gets its ti­tle in part from the French word for ce­les­tial, but also al­ludes to the in­fa­mous 19th century French sail­ing ship which was in­ex­pli­ca­bly found aban­doned. “It refers to how the moon fig­ures in re­la­tion to the Earth through­out the story,” he ex­plains. “There’s also this thing called the Over­view Ef­fect that I’d read about: as­tro­nauts who go into space who look back on Earth and ex­pe­ri­ence a cog­ni­tive shift.”

Be­gin­ning and end­ing with a bravura outer space se­quence that even­tu­ally zooms in on a lone float­ing cherry blos­som, Cul­bard deftly blends cin­e­matic tech­niques with the dis­tinct vis­ual lan­guage of comic books. “All that stuff is in­formed by film,” he ad­mits. “I’ve al­ways loved the way Luc Bes­son’s movies open with a for­ward track­ing shot, whether that’s run­ning along rain-drenched streets with a group of punks drag­ging a body, over the wa­ters to­wards Man­hat­tan or through an as­ter­oid field. It’s such a great way to take some­one into a story.”

Cul­bard pur­posely keeps any ex­po­si­tion to a min­i­mum, mean­ing that the plot un­folds al­most

My brain must have been dig­ging through my dream vaults for any­thing I’d as­so­ciate with ab­dom­i­nal pain

I re­ally wanted to con­vey the space that an empty world would sud­denly have

en­tirely through the pic­tures. “As I was ex­per­i­ment­ing with lay­outs, I found my­self us­ing these lit­tle square pan­els to tell the story which al­lowed for more act­ing than talk­ing,” he ex­plains. “The di­a­logue was al­ways be­ing stripped be­cause I re­ally wanted to con­vey the space that an empty world would sud­denly have.”

Goi ng It Alone

Hav­ing pre­vi­ously teamed up with Dan Ab­nett on Ver­tigo se­ries The New Dead­war­dians and with Ian Edg­in­ton on 2000 AD’s Brass Sun and nu­mer­ous Self-Made-Hero pub­li­ca­tions, such as their ver­sion of Sher­lock Holmes ad­ven­ture The

Sign Of Four, Cul­bard in­sists that he doesn’t dras­ti­cally al­ter his work­ing meth­ods for his solo ven­tures. “Be­cause the script has to be writ­ten be­fore I start draw­ing, there’s not re­ally a great deal of dif­fer­ence other than the ob­vi­ous mat­ter of it be­ing me who has to write it,” he rea­sons. “So I write the script and then I take a lit­tle time off and do some­thing else. That way I can come back to it with fresh eyes as ‘the artist’ and get to work, look­ing to tell the story with a sec­ond voice. But I guess the main dif­fer­ence when I’m writ­ing for my­self is that I leave the ‘artist me’ a ton of stuff to play with. I don’t des­ig­nate pan­els all the time and I don’t try to over-vi­su­alise ac­tion scenes. I lit­er­ally send my­self ‘they fight’ notes and leave that to the ‘artist me’ to fig­ure out, un­less of course I have a very spe­cific idea of how I want that to play out.”

Along with IDW repack­ag­ing the first two se­ries into a six-is­sue minis­eries for the US mar­ket, Brass

Sun – Cul­bard’s quirky col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ian Edg­in­ton – re­turns for a third out­ing in the pages of 2000 AD in May. “I love that uni­verse,” he says of

Brass Sun’s es­o­teric clock­work re­al­ity “I love get­ting Ian’s scripts be­cause they’re bonkers and al­ways ex­cit­ing to read. It’s very much a com­bi­na­tion of both our vi­sions, and sim­ply be­cause of that it’s be­come much more sci­ence fan­tasy than steam­punk.” Hav­ing pre­vi­ously turned the likes of At The

Moun­tains Of Mad­ness and The Shadow Out Of Time into graphic nov­els for Self-Made-Hero, Cul­bard is cur­rently work­ing on a comics ver­sion of an­other haunt­ing HP Love­craft tale in the form of The Dream-Quest Of Un­known Ka­dath. “I do love adapt­ing books,” he says. “There’s a huge cat­a­logue of works I’d dearly love to adapt, just as there are ideas for books I’d like to write my­self, but there are only so many I can do a year. I’ve got a sec­ond book to adapt af­ter this and I also have an idea for an­other orig­i­nal story, which I’m quite fired up about, so we shall see.”

Ce­leste is out now through Self-Made-Hero. Brass Sun is pub­lished by IDW on May 28 and Brass Sun 3 be­gins in 2000 AD in May.

Eyes in the back of

his, um… arse?

It’s a tale of three cities.

The day starts just like any other…

The Aoki­ga­hara For­est looks grim.

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