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Limbo: Atmosphere & The Afterlife [Interview]

Dan Watters & Caspar Wijngaard's LIMBO is set in Dedande City, a multicultural and multicolored world of  of differing faiths, theologies, and systems of magic. Clay, the main character of the series, doesn't remember much beyond the past few months, but that doesn't stop him working as a troubleshooter in town. If you've got a problem, he can give you a hand, but not necessarily out of the goodness of his own heart. Complex and carefully constructed, LIMBO is remarkable for its vibrant color scheme and the way different cultures mix and vibe with the technology of the modern day. Wijngaar and Watters share some of the special magic that goes into making the series in the interview below.

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IMAGE COMICS: LIMBO is set in a city where the supernatural sits right alongside the natural, but the magic still seems almost like background noise. People go about their lives as normal, but there happen to be fishmen or malicious Second Lines roaming about. Why is this the right mix of supernatural vs reality for the story you're telling?
 
CASPAR WIJNGAARD: We wanted to establish from the starting line that the world of LIMBO is very offbeat and unorthodox. We didn't want to spend chunks of the narrative giving "real-world" logical explanations to the reader for the happenings in the city.

We set out make a fun book, set the ground rules as "anything goes," and made sense of the world that way. I don't think it would be a particularly fun read if there were constant explanations for its weirdness. It's a totally unapologetic book in that respect. 
 
DAN WATTERS: Magic and paradox are entrenched in the roots of Dedande City and make those roots unstable, which is definitely what I feel is right for the story. Part of the appeal there was to not have our characters' minds blown every time something weird happened. They react to the threat, not to the weird. Otherwise the whole series may just have been Clay hiding under his bed sheets, rocking back and forth...which would perhaps have been more realistic, but would be rather a different book.

IC: Clay is a hero, kinda—he's doing the right thing, he's not hurting anyone, but he's definitely a jerk. How much of that is his amnesia and how much of it is who he really is? How do you two see him as a person?
 
CW: Yeah, he's a jerk. He's that friend of a friend that turns up at a party and drinks all your booze, however by the early hours of the morning you're watching MST3K together and becoming BFFs.

His amnesia does play a role toward his attitude, for better or for worse, but that could be spoiler territory.
 
DW: Yeah, I think Clay's trying to work that one out for himself. The idea of dropping him into a strange place without any anchor as to who or what he was before felt really interesting to me. He's a man adrift, he's adopted this identity but we'll have to wait and see whether that's who he really is. As you say, he's not hurting anyone...yet.
 
IC: You're working with folklore and supernatural concepts from a wide variety of cultures here. What are you looking to for inspiration and research? How do you avoid going full-on cliché with the concepts?
 
DW: Oh man, so many places. Some of the influences came in aesthetically and strengthened the themes of the book. A lot of what I was looking at was other cultures' attitudes toward death, identity, and reality...it's interesting how entwined the three of those seem to become. I guess they're the three things that really define us. A lot of non-Western/European-centric cultures have a far more positive attitude towards death than most of us are used to, and this isn't shown in a lot of media, in a lot of films or TV. Hopefully our depiction's a bit broader—with the Voodoo elements, for example, I wanted to show a fleshed-out religious/magical system as opposed to just, you know, some skulls and candles.
 
IC: The palette of LIMBO is immediately remarkable. It isn't representative of reality, but it is consistent—Clay is blue-ish, Bridgette is red, Sandy is green, crowds tend to be a kind of brownish-purple. Can you break down the color scheme for us? What effect are you going for?
 
CW: I wanted the characters to have a strong presence in each panel and also complement the relationships they have. Clay and Bridgette (blue and red) contrast, so their scenes have a sense of unease, while Sandy and Clay (green and blue) are mutual and calm together, which reflects their alliance. 
Also, I made the decision early on to color the book myself in addition to the penciling/inking duties. I'm not a comic colorist, but I had a vision in my head of how the book should look. I wanted it to have a 1980s neon aesthetic that you would get on old VHS movie trailers, but mixed with the hard-boiled contrasting visuals of a noir film.

I'm really happy with the way it's turned out. It's my first book with a major publisher, so I had to give it my all. 

IC: Dan, how does the color scheme of LIMBO affect your writing? Are you directly playing off it at all, or are you trusting Caspar's storytelling to dovetail with yours?
 
DW: Well, atmosphere is incredibly important to this book, and the color scheme has a huge part to play in setting that up, so I'd say it definitely affects how I approach the scripts.

Each issue of LIMBO generally has its own vibe, and we tend to discuss that ahead of time. I send over the odd visual reference and may suggest a color here or there depending on what I know is going to happen with a character or an object, but they're just that—suggestions. I trust Caspar totally with the visuals, and he never disappoints.
 
IC: You're pulling things we take for granted in the 21st Century into the realm of the spiritual—like how television is our way of seeing other, faraway realms in a way past cultures couldn't, or using cassette tapes, funk music, or to commune with spirits. Tell me about conceptualizing something like this. Are there ground rules you wanted to make sure you followed? Was there anything you consciously shied away from?
 
DW: The basic idea there was to have these followers of different magical traditions thrown together in a single city, and how they'd adapt and survive in a more modern world where a lot of the mysticism is stripped away. The way they work their magic tends to borrow from other, less traditional methods and incorporates more modern tools. There is an inherent strangeness in recording technology, be it audio or video, and we really wanted to tap into that. The idea of replicating reality, and creating a replica that can be manipulated, rewound, fast-forwarded or spliced and edited together. I mention William Burroughs a lot as well when talking about where these ideas stemmed from, and his cut-up technique.

I also think the concept of television as a shamanic tool is really fascinating. There's so many parallels there in the concepts of how travelling between channels is like travelling to different worlds or down different levels of reality, and also just in how television affects our brains when we're watching it. There's a lot to be explored there. 

CW: We made sure that all the technology in LIMBO is set within the 1980s. To me, there is something very charming and personal in the analogue technology used in that era, like mixtapes and home videos. Nowadays, it's saturated and feels soulless. It's not really an art form to put together a Spotify playlist, but to put together a really, REALLY good mix tape on cassette and personalize it? Now, that's magic.

LIMBO #4 is on sale now, and the series continues in ongoing single issues. LIMBO #5 arrives 3/9.

Permalink: https://imagecomics.com/features/limbo-atmosphere-the-afterlife-interview

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