The Big Idea: Tom Fowler

Here at The Big Idea, we’re used to hearing from the authors of books, but in the case of graphic novels, there are two creators: the writer and the artist (and here we tip our hats also to inkers and colorers and letterers…). So in the case of Mysterius, the graphic novel from Jeff Parker and Tom Fowler, we thought it’d be fun to get the perspective of the “silent” half of the creative team: The artist. So here’s Fowler to tell you about the artistic side of equation, and what he brings to the magical, mystical world of Mysterius.


On December 6, 2007, at 6:02:19 PM EST, I received a very nice email from Mark Paniccia at Marvel Comics letting me know that he was very sorry but the job he’d wanted me to do with Jeff Parker had fallen through. At 6:03:35 PM EST, I got an email from Ben Abernathy at Wildstorm Productions wondering what I had cooking schedule-wise and whether I’d like to do a book with Jeff Parker. The next day Jeff introduced me to Mysterius. If I were a dirty hippy and believed in such nonsense I’d have thought that, through whatever cosmic jiggery pokery, the universe wanted the book to happen. I pride myself on slightly better personal hygiene than that so I chalked it up to being very lucky.

Mysterius was originally Jeff’s tribute to, among other things, 1920’s stage magic, Doctor Who, and Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently novels (the first of which I was reading at the time. More jiggery pokery). I saw his Who and Gently and raised him some Hammer Horror, Wes Anderson, and EC Comics. Over that christmas, in a flurry of emails, the universe of Mysterius started to come into shape. A universe that includes angry hell-bound relatives, zombie hippies, hookers, covens, tattooed antiquarians, catty magicians, satanic children’s verse, and giant, feral fraggles that eat “Burning Man”.

When Jeff and I stated to developed the book it became apparent fairly quickly that, just as Doctor Who inhabits British space and Steve Zissou an ocean of animated fish, a cast as grandiose and colourful as ours needed to be grounded in a world that reflected those characters and made the unbelievable things that took place within it feel authentic.

It would start with a very simple email description of “maybe he should look a bit like Geoffrey Rush.” A quick Google image search would reveal Mr. Rush at several red carpet events wearing $5000 suits yet still managing to look as though he’d been backed through a hedge and pickled in formaldehyde. This would inform a certain haggard swagger that became an essential part of the character: Mysterius’ single-minded belief that he’s the sexiest thing in any room. Would not that gag be shown off by filling those rooms with significantly sexier things (or witches)? And what about his home? The bubble that Mysterius keeps around him at all times. It should show an anachronistic opulence that reflects his discomfort with the changing of the world over time. His “Mysterium” an endless archive of past glories that envelops him wherever he goes.

It continued in that manner as the story progressed. Our world needed to get bigger, encompass more. In those first couple of months we burned through ghosts, monsters, maps of hell, the histories and fates of past Delfis, unwanted house guests, terrible experiments performed on leprechauns, living estates, dimensional travel, transparent stand-ins, and a 200 year old troll named Kevin who hung with Keith Moon and toured with the Stooges. However much of it made it into the first book seems less important than the fact it was all there in our heads to draw from. Strange beings and places fleshed out, and all pieces of a larger whole to push around and illustrate the universe we created. The Mysterius universe itself needed to become a character.

Mostly I did that with big noses.

I think I’ve probably made a mess of this. (Keep in mind I’m the artist.) Ultimately what I love about this job is the construction. All art is just problem solving. You’re given a task, a set of tools, and a list of limitations. Your style is the sum of that equation. Your art, your book, your song, whatever is the product. Building a universe or a world out of nothing, manipulating it, making it work, making it run is the most satisfying puzzle you’ll ever wrestle with. Over the year that we brought the book into existence I think we built something that works, that feels immersive,“real” (at least in relation to its inhabitants). I’d like to think that in Mysterius‘ world there are two hippies sitting in the desert marveling at the unseen forces of cosmic jiggery pokery that shaped their lives and brought them to that spot.

Only in that world they’d be at “Blazing Man” and therefore get eaten by fraggles.

Big, angry fraggles.

Please buy the book.


Mysterius: Amazon|Barnes & Noble| Indiebound|Powell’s

Follow Tom Fowler and Jeff Parker on Twitter.

7 Comments on “The Big Idea: Tom Fowler”

  1. hehe… I don’t even read graphic novels and now I want to buy this one. It sounds like it was a blast to create and that usually results in good things…

  2. I picked it up in the original periodical format and after reading Tom’s description of it, some things that were puzzling about it make a bit more sense. Definitely worth picking up in the collected edition.

  3. I’m getting an Avengers meets Ugly Betty vibe from the pictures. Although it looks like the Mrs Peel/Betty equivalent might be doing a lot more of the heavy lifting than John Steed-equivalent. Sounds like it has a LOT of potential.

  4. “Building a universe or a world out of nothing, manipulating it, making it work, making it run is the most satisfying puzzle you’ll ever wrestle with.”

    Quite the most delicious quotation of the day.

    If I wore my underwear over my clothes, this is what I’d have embroidered on the fabric.

    But as I don’t, a simple penoid tatoo will have to suffice.

  5. Having read this when it was released as individual comics, I have to say it’s pretty good.

  6. I had kind of breezed through this entry and then something about the close proximity of the terms “Doctor Who,” “looks a bit like Geoffrey Rush,” and “EC Comics” inspired me to go to Amazon and buy this. And I’m very glad I did — what a great read!

%d bloggers like this: