Novelist Saladin Ahmed just started writing comics last year, but he immediately made a splash with Marvel’s Black Bolt, a series that turned the usual relationship between superheroes and the prison complex on its head while also making the titular Inhuman King compelling in a way Marvel Television certainly couldn’t manage. Later this year, Ahmed will be debuting his second Marvel series with the time-hopping Exiles. But before that, the writer will be dipping into the world of creator-owned comics with Abbott, a new series from Boom! Studios that switches superheroes for paranormal investigators, and moves the action from cosmic space prisons to ’70s-era Detroit.
In order to capture the look and feel of the period piece, artist Sami Kivela used real-life reference photos to nail the architecture and style. Colorist Jason Wordie added a saturated filter to the pages to really make it look like the ’70s.
“It’s great to pay tribute to the sounds and smells and everything else I grew up with,” says Ahmed, who was raised in Detroit a few years after Abbott’s 1972 setting. “I grew up in late ’70s/early ’80s in Detroit, and it was a really remarkable and vibrant period in terms of sensory impressions. That’s why I think it’s great for a comic book as opposed to a prose work. We’ve been able to capture this look and convey it to people who weren’t there and pay tribute to the city. It’s cool to pay homage in that way and even have locations that a national audience won’t know but people from Detroit will get an added kick out of.”
The book’s titular protagonist is Elena Abbott, a black female journalist who already has enough on her plate dealing with institutional racism and sexism. But then mysteriously desecrated corpses start popping up around town, reminding Elena of the supernatural attack that took the life of her husband years earlier. So in addition to keeping tabs on her community, Elena is also going to have to solve some spooky murders.
“She’s a journalist who’s very much a part of her community in Detroit in the early ’70s, but she’s the only black journalist at a scrappy tabloid-ish white paper,” Ahmed says. “So that has a lot of contrasts for her as a journalist and as an investigator. She’s slumming it in terms of her investigative powers. She should be at a better paper than this. It’s institutional racism and sexism that’s kept her career back, but she’s also kind of a half-broken woman right now. She suffered a great loss a few years ago when her husband was murdered by something not of this world. Nobody seems to believe her about it, but she saw shadowy figures take her husband with her own eyes. She’s really not been the same woman since. When we join her, a number of years later, other bodies start turning up that seem to indicate this threat is back.”
That gets to the core of Abbott. As clued-in as it is to real people and real places and real politics, this comic is also going to have a lot of scary monsters committing crazy murders. Ahmed says that shows like Kolchak: The Night-Stalker and The X-Files were important influences on the book’s sensibility.
“In horror movie fashion, we haven’t shown the monsters yet. I hope that people will understand that while it has its crime elements, this is very much a horror/dark fantasy comic,” Ahmed says. “There are some really cool-looking monsters and some really cool magical effects. Sami’s typically controlled line style spills into this almost inkwash effect. It’s gonna be fun and scary-looking.”
Abbott #1 hits stores this Wednesday. Check out an exclusive preview below.