Reflections on GLOOM
GLOOM is almost five years old. It’s crazy how time flies. I look back at how the hero came about, what inspired him, what he means to so many people- and then I think about the journey he and I have had together.
I'm frequently asked about the character and what the books are about. My short answer is hope. Hope is a concept everyone understands. However, in the context of an ultra-violent world, GLOOM offers just that. He offers a chance to those oppressed by corruption, by drugs and violence. He protects Detroit, trying to right the wrongs done to the citizens of the city he grew up in. GLOOM, or Brock Ellison, grew up in the worst possible situation a child could. He was neglected, his parents were drug addicts, and he had to fend for himself. He lived in a hopeless situation and then overcame it, only to be thrust back into the turmoil the city offered. He offers hope to those in need, a way to end the vicious cycle he grew up in. Brock isn't perfect and knows this. The readers know this. However, he clings to the idea of hope, hoping to one day make a difference in lives so they don't have to repeat what he grew up living.
I think back to doing my first convention in 2012 as a full-time author. I was promoting my first fiction release, a superhero novel called The Wraith: Crossfire. I had written this novel in the Wraith series of novels, which is published by Trinity Comics in Australia. I didn't create The Wraith and felt sort of like a step-father to the series based on previous work I had done. There I sat at conventions, promoting a superhero I didn't create and my addition to that universe. I loved the series and world my friend Frank Dirscherl had created, but ultimately, I could only do so much work with the character. I wrote the best novel I could write at the time, giving The Wraith a worthy adversary in Crossfire, and telling the best story I could within the confines of someone else's creation. It was while I was promoting that book that one day my wife, Autumn, looked at me and said: "You should create your own superhero novel series. Something that will be your own work you can promote at comic conventions." At the time, I was wanting to write horror novels, something I'm truly passionate about, but I knew she was right. I didn't know how well scary stories would sell at a comic or superhero oriented convention. So, I took my wife's advice and started plotting.
I knew I wanted a character that didn't have superpowers to rely on. I wanted to create a hero that was fallible and made mistakes. I wanted someone who was a vigilante and operated outside of the law because his\her methods would mean sometimes breaking the law to get results. Then, I wondered why someone would take that path, one in which the above traits had to happen. Then, it just kind of took shape from there. I created Brock Ellison almost instantly. I wanted to show his childhood and how someone could grow up under horrible circumstances and rise above. Brock resolved not to become a statistic. He excelled in his schooling and, to get away from the life he grew up in, joined the Marines. He knew that fighting for something greater than his own struggles was a way to make something of his life. Unfortunately, he was injured and returned to Detroit with the same mentality: change it for the better.
I knew Brock had to return to Detroit, as I wanted a real city with real issues. In our world, Detroit is bankrupt and overrun with crime, drugs, gangs, and is on a steady decline. It just made sense to center the series there. So, when Brock returns, his next logical step was to become a police officer. Personally, I always wanted to be a Marine. I have friends who served and I have the utmost respect for them and their service. Having Brock a Marine was me paying respect to them and their sacrifices. But, having him as a police officer, was my tip of the hat to those who serve our communities daily. Unfortunately, Brock discovered a poison within the force, as most of it was controlled by legitimate businessman (and drug-lord), Frank Sorino.
Frank Sorino is the antithesis of Brock Ellison. Sure, he grew up on the streets of New York, just as Brock did in Detroit, but where Brock took the path of the righteous, Frank took the path of evil. I wanted a villain who had power and reach, but like the hero, was flawed. He has a temper and is driven by his greed and ego. He surrounds himself with people who carry out his savage demands but isn't afraid to pull the trigger himself. Like Brock the officer, he has a public face. Each man has a secret identity, yet when Brock discovers the police corruption and is almost killed, he goes underground. Sorino never leaves the public eye. He feels like he belongs there. He begs for the attention and desires to be seen as legitimate no matter how he gets his money. Brock goes underground, living in the shadows, which is where he feels the most comfortable. So, there's this opposite between the hero and the villain, especially when it comes to their intentions. Frank Sorino wants to consume and stockpile while Brock Ellison wants to give and offer opportunity.
I think one of my favorite things of the series is how Brock Ellison feels like he's forced to don the mantle of GLOOM, but he doesn't see his own choices led him there. He feels compelled to be the vigilante, and doesn't see any way around it. He can literally walk away at any time. I like the fact he doesn't. It shows who he truly is as a man. He's selfless. He risks not only his life, but those close to him as well. He knows with them being around him they are in danger, and though he offers them a choice to leave, they stay by his side. He doesn't understand why. He doesn't get it. So, for all of the violence in the books, at the center is a man who is scared of his actions and scared of potentially losing those he loves. He never had love as a child, so now as an adult, he can't grasp the concept of why people would stick around him. His parents neglected him for their own demons, so he's in this perpetual state of wondering why people who love him stay around. I like that about Brock. I think it shows not only depth in his character, but how his childhood still haunts him and affects his relationships as an adult. Whereas Frank Sorino abuses his relationships, Brock questions his. It actually takes him a while before he starts trusting that love is different than what he grew up believing. I truly think Brock is one of those characters who everyone can relate to in some fashion or another. He's believable, as is his quest. He's not in it for himself. He become GLOOM out of necessity, but can't stop because putting on the mask takes away his fears and insecurities. His alter-ego is his coping mechanism.
I'm not going to post spoilers for the series here, but when I got to the third book, I felt like not only Brock Ellison's origin had been told, but that it needed some sort of closure. If you read the book, you'll know what I mean. I needed to pull him forward somehow and his relationship with Sophia had to grow. To me, this was a way for him to get past his childhood and put everything behind him. To me, it just made sense for the character to grow in this way. Sure, he was still GLOOM, and that wasn't going to change, but he needed to be cemented in his own future. I think having the character grow in this particular fashion was organic and needed to face events that were to come. He needed the relationship with Sophia to anchor him to his morals and keep him from becoming like Frank Sorino. There were times where GLOOM actually took someone's life and it affected him. It was dangerous for him to do so, as the line between good and evil became further blurred. Sophia is the balance he needs to not go down the path of ruin. Brock values life and it's that value that keeps him on his mission. Sophia balancing him in this manner is what separates him from the villains he faces. He's proven to be a man fueled by emotion, so by stepping back and evaluating himself, through the love he now has, is a way to keep him on the right path. Brock needs Sophia, just as the citizens of Detroit need GLOOM.
As I think back to the origins of GLOOM, I can't help thinking of his costume. I wanted something to be paradoxical of his mission. For someone offering hope to the citizens of Detroit, you'd maybe think he'd don a spandex suit complete with a cape and a mask. Well, I wanted to strip away the typical trappings of costuming, especially since GLOOM doesn't have any powers, and come up with something that would not only fit the name of the character, but also stand above the typical vigilante "look and feel". People always ask me if GLOOM is like The Punisher. Well, in a way, but he's also like Robin Hood and Batman too. I didn't set out to tell a story similar to those other characters, and I think if you read the novels, you'll see GLOOM kind of stands on his own in that way. So, I purposely avoided having him look like a hero. I wanted him to resemble death to those committing crime. It's in that juxtaposition that I find his costume intriguing. I make reference to the news outlets calling him The Grim Reaper of Crime, which is purposeful in his image. I wanted the citizens to see the skull, rib-cage, and dark imagery and feel he's on their side, eliminating the poison plaguing their city. For the criminals, I wanted them to look into the eyes of darkness and not see a future. To them, it would be a reckoning. When they see the costume, they know it's over.
So, in order to design the suit, I needed some expertise to really guide my vision from a simple idea into a visual medium. Bridgeforth Design Studio took my idea (and my notes) and gave GLOOM the initial look he has in the first three novels. They also provided the character profiles at the end of the first three novels. When I went to write book four, Sic Semper Tyrannis, I wanted to tweak his costume some. He still has the skull and the rib-cage, but I wanted him to have a little more armor. So, I decided if I'm going to update the costume, it would be cool to get a different approach to the artwork. I met Kevin Hawkins at a convention and we started talking about book four and the slight changes to the costume. Kevin really got inside the character's head and wanted to know what made him tick. I liked his approach to the art, as I felt he was looking inward with the characters to get the ideas for the book cover. It was just an organic approach he had to the character that made me curious to see what he would come up with. I wasn't necessarily wanting to change artists mid-stream in a series, as I was happy with what Bridgeforth Design Studio had done previously. However, Kevin instantly got the character and something between us clicked. I liked his insight and he brought up things to me about GLOOM I wasn't conscious of. He made me think outside of the author's box I was in and I wanted to see what he was capable of. It was at that moment, I realized the character wasn't just mine anymore.
Kevin ended up creating (visually), one of my favorite images of GLOOM. The picture here of him holding two guns as rain pours down and lightning strikes the background just spoke to me. It was our first collaboration, and it became a VIP print for a convention we did together. I liked the image so much I even put it on shirts and stickers. It just spoke to me in a way that the character had spoken to me previously. There he was, weathering the storm, yet prepared to strike. The image encapsulated what I wanted the character to be. Sure, it's a really cool image, but there's more there. So much more. With the success of that artwork, I asked Kevin if he wanted to give the cover for book four a shot. He agreed and, as they say, the rest is history. He did another cover for me (a horror-western novel) and then I asked him if he was interested in doing the fifth cover for GLOOM: Ronin, to which he accepted. Once again, he studied the book, the villain, and really put a cover out there that totally sums up the book's story.
In between the cover work, Bridgeforth Design Studio put GLOOM into a video game engine they're working with, and Kevin Hawkins does Official GLOOM sketch-cards at conventions. I've also been able to offer GLOOM figures courtesy by Dave Daniels at Toys by DaveCo. I just see all of this stuff related to GLOOM and I can't believe that in April of 2014 no one had heard of this character. He was an unknown hero in a sea of novels, comics, games, and toys. Now, he has a dedicated following called GLOOMITES, a name the die-hard fans of the series gave themselves. It hasn't even been five years yet and the character has resonated with more people than anything else I've done. I never would have guessed I'd be here years later with GLOOM.
I'm asked all of the time where the series will end up or will I continue it as long as I'm writing. Well, I know how it all ends. I know there is a finite ending. I know there will only be nine books in the series. We're over halfway there with the latest release of GLOOM: Ronin. I have the rest of the series plotted out, some on paper and some in my head. Could it change? Of course it can. However, I don't see me doing more than nine books. I really don't. Why? Because I don't want the series to become stale or repetitive. I don't want the fans of the series to become bored with it. I want them to read each book, devour it, anticipate what's coming next, and then- when we get to the very end- see the series as a whole. We're now at the point in the series where GLOOM, as a character, has cemented himself firmly as a hero. We've established his mission, who he is, and what he wants to ultimately achieve. Now, for the fans, it's where he goes and what he does to achieve it. I feel like the GLOOMITES are now along for the ride and when each book comes out, it's like visiting old friends.
When I sit down to write a new GLOOM novel, that's definitely how it feels for me: like visiting old friends. This series really writes itself and is the easiest time I have as an author now. It's so comforting when I sit down to write a new book in the series. I have the comfort of established characters, events, and places. It takes some of the pressure off of me, however, the biggest stress is feeling like I wrote something deserving of the fans, of the characters they love so much. Yeah, we're only five books in, and though there is a definite ending in sight, I feel like the next four books in the series will really serve the first five. At least, I hope so. I hope each fan who sticks this series out feels like each book delves deeper into the world of GLOOM, and doesn't feel like it's the same story over and over. I want the readers to feel like they have grown with each story and watched the characters grow. I hope they feel the series stayed fresh.
So, as I sit here thinking of GLOOM and the who's, what's, and how's- and the journey he and I have had together in almost five years, I can't help but sit here with a smile on my face. I smile because I know what's coming, but in looking back, I feel satisfied. I think about my wife suggesting I create my own hero and where that simple suggestion has led me to. GLOOM has become what I'm best known for, not a horror novel. Do I regret it? Not one bit. I have embraced it, embraced the fans of the series, and embraced knowing that one day, I won't have the privilege of sitting down and plotting out a new GLOOM book. Right now, as I reflect on this character and how amazing the ride has been, it's hard for me to think of the future. I have to put it out of my mind that one day I'm going to sit down and start writing the final book of the series. We're not there yet, but I know it will happen one day. I don't look to the future with sadness regarding the ending of a series, but a chapter in my own life.
Then again, who knows? I may decide to continue writing GLOOM as long as I can form words and put them on paper. I may decide the series should never end. You never know. The one thing I do know is that as long as I write GLOOM, I'm going to give every ounce of my being to ensure the GLOOMITES are satisfied. Then, maybe one day if that ending comes, I'll look back again on the journey I took with my character, and feel like we both deserve the retirement.
Then again, I hear that a hero's job is never done...
Thanks for taking the journey with me.
All the best...
Stephen J. Semones