Comic book writer and musician Chris Mole is bringing his two passions together for The Black Rubric, a one-shot comic currently funding on Kickstarter that tells the humerous story of a black metal band who accidentally push their love of satanism to the extreme when they open the gates of Hell itself. Enticed by the comic’s oddly jovial vibe, we featured The Black Rubric as one of the indie comics to watch that’s coming out in 2020.
Teaming up with artist Katie Fleming (Heart of Steal) and letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou (along with cover artist Benjamin A. E. Filby, logo designer Joe Stone and pin-up artist Katie Sawatsky), we caught up with Mole to discover more about the comic’s genesis.
A Place To Hang Your Cape: Where did the idea come from to bring The Black Rubric to life?
Chris Mole: This one’s been in the works for a long time – when I was in college in about 2005, I wrote some (not very good) songs under the moniker ‘The Black Rubric’, with the idea of making a musical project out of it. Those got saved on a hard drive somewhere! About 10 years later (when I had a lot more experience with both music and writing comics) I was chatting to a friend at work about some great ‘black metal’ names that we’d found (we both work in pensions administration, so we see a lot of ridiculous names!)
From that, I hatched the idea of a comic about a fictional black metal band who take their Satanism a bit too far, and ‘The Black Rubric’ popped back into my mind as a perfect name for the band. I believe we were also talking about the peculiarities of Quebec French profanity (we have some interesting conversations at work, okay) which was behind the decision for the band to be Canadian! I started working on the script but didn’t get too far – it wasn’t until I went to see the absolutely incredible band Zeal & Ardor on their UK tour in December 2018 (they played in a venue that was formerly a church – extremely appropriate for their unique brand of Satanic gospel/black metal!) that I resolved to finish the script and actually get the comic made.
AP2HYC: What attracted you to bringing together the spiritual, the comedy and the music together, genre-wise?
Mole: First things first; I’m a huge black metal fan. It’s a very wide-ranging genre, stretching all the way from the punk-influenced blasting of Darkthrone to the haunting soundscapes of Violet Cold, but it can also be an inherently ridiculous scene which takes itself far too seriously. When I decided to do a black metal comic, I knew I needed to lean into and embrace the silliness of black metal; the humour comes from a place of love and respect, given that I’ve spent the last 13 or so years in bands which sit somewhere within the wide bounds of the black metal genre. There’s something primal and powerful about the music which I wanted to get across in the comic.
Satanism is also strongly linked with black metal – a lot of the earliest bands in the scene chose to reject Christian orthodoxy as a form of rebellion, which meant embracing nihilistic beliefs and uplifting Satan as the ultimate rebel against authority. With this story, I wanted the band to start off in that camp but make it clear that they hadn’t put too much thought into it – that they were hailing Satan because that’s what other black metal bands do. Over the course of the comic, I wanted to show the band (and especially Attila, the vocalist and protagonist) embracing a more nuanced, non-theistic Luciferan theology – one that does not revere Lucifer as a deity but instead as a guiding spirit who encourages individuality and self-improvement. The idea is that you shouldn’t need a god or fear of eternal punishment to know the difference between right and wrong and to do good – in Attila’s case, I wanted him to realise that he doesn’t need to worship demons to achieve his goal of success in the black metal scene. While I wouldn’t say that I identify as a Luciferan myself, that mindset is how I seek to approach life, and I wanted to reflect it in the comic – hopefully it’s interesting to people who may not be familiar with the different kinds of Satanism!
AP2HYC: How did your creative team come on board?
Mole: I initially put out a call for artists on Twitter, looking for somebody with a cartoonish style and a familiarity with black metal— it was important to me that whoever was on art duties would understand the kind of vibe I was going for. I had a lot of great artists to look at, but Katie’s work jumped out at me— she had exactly the kind of style I was picturing in my head, and when we chatted over email it was clear that she got what I was going for. I was keen to work with Hassan on letters because I’m constantly in awe of his work— he inks comics at such a high level (as his work on PanelXPanel and Strip Panel Naked shows) and I was eager to see what he’d bring to the pages. Luckily he was happy to get involved!
I found Ben through Twitter and his work on the excellent Tomb of the White Horse, and knew I wanted to get him involved with the project in some way— Ben has similar musical tastes to my own and I was sure he’d have a lot of fun coming up with a striking cover image. I had originally asked Hassan about designing a logo for the band to double up as a logo for the cover, but he was too busy at the time with other projects— he recommended Joe, a London-based designer and comic creator, and Joe did a fantastic job coming up with the logo. Lastly, Katie (who provided a pin-up for the issue) was somebody whose art I saw on Twitter— I was blown away by one of her pieces and got in touch to ask whether she’d be willing to do a pin-up for the comic. She’s also an actual Canadian, so it was great to pick her brain on the underground metal scene in Toronto!
AP2HYC: Does the comic take any inspirations from your own musical career?
Mole: It’s heavily influenced— I spent 10 years in a folk/black metal band called Northern Oak, which involved playing a lot of small local gigs across England. I’ve been in more horrible toilets trying to change into my ‘stage outfit’ than I can count! I definitely wanted to bring that experience of being in a band, playing gigs, practicing together and working on new material to the comic. The interactions between the band, especially in the practice room, were drawn from life as much as possible.
My love for black metal was also a heavy inspiration for the comic— I kept trying to find ways to illustrate (through sound effects and panel descriptions) how the songs the band are playing sound. Friends I spoke to about this project at Thought Bubble may remember me babbling on about ‘the black metal intro’— it’s where the drummer hits the snare drum four times as a count-in before the whole band blast into the song, and it’s up there as one of my favourite things in music! We put a black metal intro in this comic and I’m so happy with it…
AP2HYC: What kind of visual style would you say Katie Fleming gives the comic?
Mole: Katie’s style is a perfect fit for the subject matter— her work hits just the right level of cartoonish to sell the ridiculousness of the premise, but she’s also done some really strong background work to anchor and establish the real world locations that we’ve used throughout the comic. Plus she draws excellent demons! We made the decision to do the comic in black and white since it suits the black metal aesthetic (a lot of bands wear black and white “corpsepaint” on their faces, their album designs are in black and white, etc.) and she’s done a fantastic job using grey tones to smooth out some scenes and provide harsh contrast in others.
AP2HYC: Has this proven to be as fun a comic to create as it looks and sounds like?
Mole: It’s been an absolute blast— I’ve really enjoyed being able to share my love for over-the-top black metal with my collaborators on the project, the lettered pages that Hass has sent over so far look incredible and I’m excited to see how people respond to the Kickstarter. In particular, I hope they enjoy the campaign video— my idea for that was to try and emulate the style of early 90s black metal music videos, which often featured the band (in full corpsepaint and costumes) running around in forests trying to look mean and scary. The video I was particularly spoofing was ‘Call of the Wintermoon’ by Immortal (it’s on YouTube, and it’s highly recommended viewing), and I think that with the help of some of my friends we absolutely nailed that look and style. Everybody I’ve shown it to thus far has loved it!
AP2HYC: Do you have any other projects you’re working on?
Mole: I have a few! At the moment, we’re just in the final stages for issue #2 of Brigantia, which is a pagan/superhero/fantasy comic I’m doing with artists Harriet Moulton & Melissa Trender and letterer Aditya Bidikar.
Beyond that, I have a comic called Hockeytown (a period drama/murder mystery set in small-town Pennsylvania in 1976, centered around the local hockey team) which is completely scripted and has been edited by Hugo Boylan; we’re preparing to start building the rest of the creative team for that in order to pitch it. As well as a couple of other things in different states of completion!
On the musical side, I play guitar in a couple of bands – Child of Ash are an atmospheric black metal band, we released a demo in 2018 and we’re currently working on material for a full album. Powerhouse are a ceilidh/folk/metal band (it’s an interesting mix!)— we’ve just released our first EP, Power-Up, which is available to stream online.
The Black Rubric is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter, where you can discover more about the comic as well as Mole’s website. Will you be venturing into the depths of Hell with this comic? Let us know in the comments section below or send us a Tweet!