“As millions of other people will say, it was definitely inspired by COVID,” Matt Blairstone says of the origins of Tenebrous Press’ debut collection, Green Inferno. “Comics had ground to a standstill—basically pencils down across the industry—so I got all rah-rah cheerleadery with these homebound artistic friends: ‘Strike while the momentum’s hot!’”
Though eager to throw himself into a new venture, Blairstone only landed upon the specific terrestrial-horror focus of Green Inferno—an anthology subtitled The World Celebrates Your Demise (Tenebrous Press, 200 pages, $18)—after narrowly escaping the wildfires setting Oregon ablaze in September 2020.
“My wife and I were stuck in Lincoln City one very hairy day as the fires came sweeping in,” he says. “We made it back safe just before the smoke really descended, and I wrote a 3,000-word story that set me down the path of doing something climate related with people from all over the world—gathering their stories, their perspectives.”
A self-taught polymath responsible for every aspect of his ongoing comics series Mad Doctors, Blairstone initially envisioned Green Inferno as a more typical graphic novel, until economic practicalities led the fledgling publisher to incorporate works of illustrated prose among comic book-styled stories.
In the wake of Inferno’s success, Blairstone continued along the same path, pairing artists with pieces of short fiction for Tenebrous’ sophomore compendium, In Somnio, and three novellas scheduled for a 2022 release.
“My strengths are in writing,” he admits. “So, once I started doing comics more regularly, I wanted to work with artists who actually knew what the fuck they were doing. I started expanding my reach and had already put together a good stable of people when I decided to create Inferno.”
As word spread beyond Blairstone’s circle of collaborators, pages arrived from a variety of far-flung talents. He eventually selected a truly global (Romania, Japan, Italy) roster of 18 creators—and was so pleasantly surprised by the quality of the unsolicited submissions that he maintained the same process for In Somnio.
By this stage, Blairstone had brought in longtime colleague Alex Woodroe as editrix—and, following their mutual desire to amplify female (alongside nonbinary and femme-identifying) voices, the pair conceived In Somnio as an update of traditional gothic horror.
“We’re playing with some of the tropes from Mary Shelley and Shirley Jackson and dragging them into the modern era,” he explains. “Same as everywhere else, there’s been a kind of tidal change in horror. More progressive voices are speaking up, and truly exceptional work’s coming out from the queer and trans communities.”
Summer release Crom Cruach also takes a distinct creative approach. Instead of an illustrator, the free-verse epic poem chronicling the recent history of an alternate Ireland’s near-future will employ a mapmaker and include incidental pieces (dossiers on suspected cultists, say) to enhance the reading experience.
In addition, Blairstone wants MP3s to be available for accompaniment. “It’s that little indie label mentality, you know?” he says. “I can’t get out of my mind that music has to be involved in some way. My dream project’s a horror-driven sword and sorcery anthology with a doom metal soundtrack featuring unsigned artists from around the globe.”
For now, Blairstone hopes primarily to shave down the time required to launch each volume. Tenebrous Press is currently capable of publishing three projects a year, and by 2023 he hopes to put something out every two months.
When combined with Blairstone’s day job—handling the business affairs of his wife Kate, an acclaimed designer whose custom wallpaper adorns iconic interiors from the new coffeehouse at Powell’s City of Books to Seattle’s State Hotel—the demands of Tenebrous Press leave little time for his own creative pursuits. Yet he has few regrets about his change of direction.
“I still flex my own artistic muscles here and there,” he contends. “I’m drawing the cover for one of the novellas coming up. Honestly, I’m so wracked with fears of dropping the ball—what angles am I missing?—that all of my waking energies go toward thinking about promotion. I don’t want to release a book and have nothing happen.”