ABOUT THE BOOK
A dog-faced man, a disappearing woman, a headless vampire, a mysterious clinic on a remote island, offering treatment for "unusual ailments"...
The Black Well is a kind of horror / comedy / mystery hybrid in comics form. But the mystery has no real solution, it's not necessarily "scary", and there aren't really any jokes. It's a strange variation on some classic horror themes and archetypes, like werewolves, vampires, zombies, etc. But in a, let's just say, idiosyncratic way.
The creation of this graphic novel was a bit of an experiment, an early use of crowdfunding (via Kickstarter) to enable comics-making (more on that below). This website is a bit of an experiment as well - the entire book is available for you to read online, for free. If you like what you read or just want a more tangible, physical object, you can support it (and its author) by buying a print-on-demand paperback or "special edition" hardcover, or whatever else strikes your fancy in The Black Well store...
Jamie Tanner is a cartoonist & illustrator in Brooklyn, NY. His first book, The Aviary (published by AdHouse Books, 2007), a collection of interconnected short comics stories, was nominated for an Eisner Award. He's writing this, so it's sort of weird referring to "him" in the third person. So I'll stop.
In September 2009, I launched a project on the then-new crowdfunding site Kickstarter to help fund the creation of a new graphic novel. I didn't know just what sort of comic I would make, but I intended to document its creation as much as possible so that project backers could follow along as it took shape. This proved to be an immensely rewarding experience, and the book that resulted is The Black Well. This specific graphic novel only exists because of the support of those generous backers (and a handful of them are even in the book).
If you'd like to hear more about this, I wrote at length about my experiences using Kickstarter over on my blog - go ahead and give it a read. You can also visit the original project page and its follow-up / extension project on Kickstarter.
In the hardcover edition of The Black Well, I included sketches and excerpts from the many, many updates I posted over the course of the project, detailing the process of its creation. Below are two such excerpts I thought might prove useful to readers interested in the book's inspirations or possibly mystified by its contents. Enjoy...
"...stories are found things, like fossils in the ground... Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered, pre-existing world."
"The good thing about writing books is that you can dream while you're awake."
Before I knew quite what sort of a story I wanted to tell, I read or re-read a variety of books & comics for inspiration. One in particular, Danse Macabre, by Stephen King stuck with me, or at least a passage from it did. In it, King talks about three classic horror novels - and the monsters in them - as the foundations of the modern horror story. The three archetypes are the Vampire (as in Dracula), the Werewolf (as in Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde) and the Thing Without a Name (as in Frankenstein). He also mentions a sort of hidden fourth archetype, the Ghost (as in The Turn of the Screw).
I wasn't setting out to make a horror book, necessarily, but I do like the horror genre. I never really set out to tell a story in a specific genre when I sit down to write, but more often than not my comics wind up being an awkward, uncomfortable hybrid of horror and comedy (or at least they seem that way to me). So when I read that passage about archetypes, it immediately seemed like a great way to organize a graphic novel - in three "acts", if you like, or three chapters / stories, each one centering around one of these archetypal themes or monsters. Did I have these specific stories in mind yet? No, I didn't. But this seemed like as good a place as any to start. Would I adhere to this exact structure? Not exactly. But again, a good place to start. Part of the fun in making a new book is seeing where the story takes me.
I took this initial structural idea and combined it with images that had come to mind when thinking about what sort of story I wanted to tell and what sort of comics I wanted to draw. Images like a man with the head of a dog, or a man walking into a bar carrying his severed head under his arms, or a disappearing woman. Eventually the combination of these elements would lead to the book you hold in your hands.
Once I knew the final shape the book would take, I found myself thinking quite a bit about mysteries and what makes mysterious stories so compelling…
"I love mysteries. To fall into a mystery and its danger ... everything becomes so intense in those moments. When most mysteries are solved, I feel tremendously let down. So I want things to feel solved up to a point, but there's got to be a certain percentage left over to keep the dream going."
"There is a plot. What would be the point of just a bunch of things? There's a story, but the story can hold abstractions. I believe in story. I believe in characters. But I believe in a story that holds abstractions, and a story that can be told based on ideas that come in an unconventional way."
I quote David Lynch here for a couple of reasons. One, just because I love his movies, and as an artist he's a huge inspiration to me. I'd say he's one of the main influences on my work, whether I'm conscious of it or not in the making of a particular comic. The more relevant reason I bring him up is that he managed to articulate something I'd always felt about movies and books and stories, but had never been able to put my finger on. I recall around the time his movie Lost Highway (one of my favorites) came out, I read an interview with him in which he said he'd always loved mysteries, but was inevitably disappointed when the mystery was resolved. That being lost in a mystery, feeling your way through the details, making your own connections was a sort of magical state, like being in a dream. And when all is revealed, the solution can never be as great as what you've imagined, however abstract your imagining may have been. Man Behind the Curtain Syndrome, you could say (and just watch Wild at Heart to see how much Mr. Lynch loves The Wizard of Oz, speaking of men behind curtains).
So Lynch makes movies like Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire, movies in which the "mystery" is never exactly solved. Which isn't to say there is no solution to be found; instead the audience finds or intuits their own conclusion. How dull is it when at the end of a movie or book, you are just told straight out what was happening all along? This meant this all along, this character did this, etc etc. With few exceptions, it's usually a let down. To me it is, anyway. This is why any movie that hinges on just one big narrative twist will not often stand up to repeat viewings. Again, there are exceptions, but those usually are stories that have more to them than just the desire to surprise the audience with one plot point. What I find in Lynch's work, and in work like it, is that a story can have an ending that is narratively satisfying, that provides closure, but leaves room for the viewer or reader to in some way complete the story themselves, and can be more satisfying as a result.
"There are some people that are... I always say... that they don't like so much abstraction, they don't like to feel lost. They like to know always, always, always what's going on. And when they don't feel that, they feel a little crazy. And they don't like that. Other people - and I'm one of them - I love to go into a world; be taken into a world, and get lost in there, and feel-think my way, and have these experiences that… I know… I know that feeling, but I don't know how to put it in words. I know that feeling, and it's magical that this cinema brought it out. This is what I love."
"I keep hoping people will like abstractions, space to dream, consider things that don't necessarily add up..."
This book was made possible by the generous support of many wonderful people who funded its creation via kickstarter.com:
Brian Alexander, Carlos Alimurung, Cindy Au, Leon Avelino, Clare & Herb Bachner, Daniel Bachner, Liz Baillie, Karl Bakeman, Michael Batz, Gabriel Bautista, Drew Bell, Gary Belsky, Matthew Berland, Alister Blake, Rob Blau, Jens Bonk, Josh Bousel, Jason Brody, Sid Brown, Daniel Bullock, Chris Burley, Jennifer Burt, Russell Calabrese, Scott Campbell, David Carp, Annabelle Chapel, David Chapel, Paige Chapel, Trevor Charles, Perry Chen, David Chien, Deb Doerge Chinique, Peter Clark, Douglas Colley, Jarad Coats, Oana Cornis-Pop, Rachel Dailey, Andreas Dallas, Lisa Davidson, D. Dayton, Dan Demba, Andrew Dienstfrey, Elisheva Dienstfrey, Patricia & Ted Dienstfrey, Barry NM Dima, Mathieu Doublet, Phil Duncan, Ryan Dunlavey, Deep Dutta, Samantha Edussuriya, Ben Emmel,
Jay & Maryann Feld, Michael Freedman-Schnapp, Hayley Friedman, Josh Flagg, Andrew Fulton, Roberto Zaragoza Gascôn, Ben George, Michael Girgis, David Goldberg, Jenny Graf, Victor Gregory, Lisa Hamilton, Joseph Hatton, Thomas Heinrichsdobler, Ana Hevesi, Ryan Hipp, Eleanor Holtzman, David Hopkins, Greg Hoy, Alyssa Huelsenbeck, Jordan Hurder, Phil Jackson, Edward Jaffee, Scott Kelliher, Alex Kelly, Michael Kenter, Nic Cha Kim, Gulshan Kirat, Michelle Kondrich, Shannon LaBelle, Charlie LaGreca, Melissa Landanno-Minkow, Rebecca Bachner Lasus, Rembrand Le Compte, Marco Lombardini, Guy Long, Matt Madden, Brian Marino, Gordon McAlpin, Laurenn McCubbin, Amanda Merritt, Alex Eben Meyer, Kathy Michelman, Morgan Miller, Nicole Miller, Adam Minkow, Joanna Mulder, William Mullin, Rafi Nemes, Tim O’Brien, Karina Offurum, Richard & Ronnie Oppenheim, Jim Ottaviani,
Ty Paulhus, Stephanie Pavin, Marcos Perez, Michael Peterson, John Pinsonneault, Chris Pitzer, Abigail & Andrew Plumb-Larrick, Baker Pratt, Vance Reeser, Kristin Resurreccion, Hans Rickheit, Eric Robinson, Kristine Roper, Lauran Rothstein, Wonder Russell, Leigh & Nathan Ruyle, Denise Sakaki, Roger Miró Salla, Tyronne Schaffer, Jon-Marc Seimon, Cary Shapiro, David & Deborah Shapiro, Chadwick Shao, Dave Sharma, Dan Shepherd, Greta Shternfeld, Maura Sircus, Marty Smith, Marla Spitzer, Rebecca Spokony, Laura Soldati, JC Steinbrunner, Todd Stiles, Ally Stoeger, Liz Summers, Shannon Supple, Dan Sutton, Paul Szego, Diana Tamblyn, Andrew Tanner, Meghan Taylor, Molly Templeton, Jonathan Tessler, Margo Thoma, Dawn Toh, Gia-Bao Tran, Brittain Ashford Trotter, Dan Umansky, Fred Van Lente, Andrea Varalli, Jeremy Wade, Bryan Whitson, Matt Wiegle, Colm Wilde, Andrew Wilson, Robbie Wilson, Lewis Winter, Cindy Womack, John Woods, Aven Yam, Fay Yu, and Kent Zabladowski
Special thanks to Andrew Blackwell, Katie Ender, Michael Gold, Christine Lambert, Barry Matthews, Paul Preissner, Josh & Donna Wilson, the Dienstfreys and the Umanskys.
Extra-special thanks to Nancy, Mitchell and Tracey Tanner.
Thanks most of all, as ever, to Alissa, and to Mia, who delayed this book’s completion in the best possible way.