Comics and Graphic Novels

Beyond the Curtain – Sintra

Sintra is a Portuguese comics that features a fantastic horror story set in Sintra. Sintra is a portuguese village known by its mythological buildings and landscapes (one of them used as inspiration for the inverted tower of Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer). In this text Tiago Cruz talks about Sintra's creation process!

SINtra was my first full length comic book album. It was a growth experience for me, as I learned what it means to create a story based on loose details and a myth from our abundantly rich culture full of fantasy and otherworldly creatures. 

The Place

From the tall trees surrounding the mountain range to the romantic remnants of times already passed, Sintra is known as Lisbon’s mystical neighbor. It’s a Portuguese treasure and it was also classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in the category of Cultural Landscape in 1995.

Convento dos Capuchos – Sintra (image from the oficial page of Sintra Parks)

If we talk about Sintra, we need to start with Monte da Lua, a place known for its overall mysticism. The feeling we get from this place explains how this horror-fantasy comic book came to be.

It all started with a house, near Azenhas-do-Mar/Praia das Maçãs, which is a picturesque ruin nowadays. While passing several times by this house both me and my girlfriend, Inês Garcia, who illustrated this book, were fascinated by it. The house stood there in ruins, amidst other old houses that were either demolished or rebuilt. But not this one.

After some explorations into this abandoned house we were mesmerized by its dimensions and the overall detail, as well as a weird concrete cube which was not an original trait of the house.  Some research later we were led to a legend associated to the house that told how it became this behemoth of loneliness it is today. All of this coined by the magic and esoterism that is always associated to this place. From what we discovered, the name of the house, “Casal das três Marias” is related to a mother and her three daughters, all named Maria: Ana Maria, Joana Maria and Teresa Maria that suddenly disappeared after a ritual their mother did in the forest, with the help of all the occult forces known to inhabit the zone.

Our process consisted of several trips to the house and the surrounding areas, to draw, feel, and get to know the zone better. We talked to the locals, photographed, drew, and simply stood there and fully immersed ourselves in the atmosphere of the place in the hope of being able to truthfully portray it later in our book.

To make this house feel even more menacing we decided to “move” it in the book, to another iconic zone in Sintra: Peninha – a place where 3 chapels have already been built, and a place of rocky formations and angular trees, that feels very inhospitable and more isolated than the original location of the house. To make our work easier we did a couple 3D models of the house, one in Fortify, a software used to plan constructions in the survival videogame Rust (Facepunch Studios, 2014) and another one in Blender, with a low-poly aesthetic, to better understand how the positioning of the house would work in some scenes as well as the lightning.

Characters

The couple – Alice and Daniel

Since this was a fantasy horror story, we decided to put a young couple who planned a camping trip in Sintra crossing paths with the mysterious inhabitants of the house with some supernatural twist behind their interactions. As a result of a car accident and a chance meeting with the youngest daughter, Teresa Maria, this couple ends up having the longest night of their lives.

The couple is composed of Alice, a feisty, dynamic and fearless young woman and Daniel, a shy, nervous and polite young man. When it comes to character creation both visual and narrative elements should support each other since they are both communication channels in displaying or infering information to our readers.

With this being said, the way a character walks, looks, what he/she wears are as important as what they say. Alice for instance is represented as a practical girl due to the type of hairstyle she chose, a ponytail, and by wearing shorts and boots, as well as rolled up sleeves. On the other hand, when the narrative is focused on her it becomes slower paced as she drives the action while the opposite happens with Daniel.

The sisters

When it comes to the daughters, we decided to give each one a different approach on how they interacted with our protagonists. Ana Maria, the oldest daughter is rasher and more stoic, Joana Maria, the middle one is kinder and more contemplative, while the youngest sister, Teresa Maria is a real enfant terrible, super energetic and exited with everything happening around her while clinging to our protagonist.

The mother: Elvira

When it comes to creating a character, choosing a name is something we thought was important due to the symbolism it might carry.

One key point of this story is the mother of these three girls, that we decided to name Elvira . Elvira acts as a portal to the supernatural in the myth we based ourselves in, by contacting with some kind of entity in her nightly escapades to the forests surrounding the house. Her name was inspired by a tale also based on folklore about a beautiful woman named Elvira that Saint Cyprian was fascinated by and as a result turned her and her family to stone with black magic in an attempt to win her love, long before he was converted to Christianism.

The famous horror icons Elvira, Mistress of the Dark and Morticia Addams also played a role in the way she looks – We went for a mix of a femme fatale look with a Disney villain, arched-brows included!

Another huge influence for creating this character was a song we had in repeat while talking about how she should be. The line that inspired us the most was from the song One of Us is the Killer by the The Dillinger Escape Plan“She moves abstract just/ Like a shadow dancing on the edge/Like a storm cloud passing overhead/Hypnotizing me.”

The idea of this hypnotizing woman, that is also a monstrosity and a calamity ready to happen is what we tried to emulate with our take on Elvira.

The Father: Fausto

The first thing that came to mind while creating this character was an historical personality very important to Sintra, Augusto Carvalho Monteiro also know as Monteiro dos Milhões, which it turned out, also owned that house for a period of time as a vacation home. Monteiro dos Milhões, was an entomologist that came from a rich family, and was responsible for building one of the most iconic monuments in Sintra: Quinta de Regaleira, which is filled with allegories and references to the occult and to masonic symbolism. We based our design of young Fausto in how he looked as a younger man, while we took a bit more artistic liberty with his older version.

When it came to the name, we couldn’t resist using one of the most famous deals with the devil in literature and drama: Faust from Goethe. Can this sympathetic old man come with a twist as his name implies? You need to read it and see for yourself.

The Monsters

This wouldn’t be a fantasy story for us if we weren’t able to include some creatures and monsters. We looked for inspiration in the fauna in Sintra. We based all the monsters in creatures that live or lived in the mountain. From mammals to arachnids we chose from a plethora of beings and picked up four to be featured: a red fox (Vulpes Vulpes), a horseshoe-bat (Rhinolophus Hipposiderus), a genet (Genetta Genneta) and a yellow-sac-spider (Cheiracanthium punctorium).

The Process

After all the investigating and digging around, we finally got to work. We took a different approach to this comic book project. Instead of the usual process of me handing in a full script to Inês Garcia to draw and illustrate, it was more of a true partnership. She started on the storyboard while I was still fleshing out the story. It was a constant back and forth with me offering my point of view on every page she drew, and she giving me her input when there was something she wanted to draw in a different way than I had initially planed or to include some more visual cues and details.

We did a more detailed than usual storyboard, very similar to the final version of the book, which she then inked it with Indian ink, scanned and treated the image, added some grey tones and finally I put in the subtitles and some effects. The whole process took us around one year and a half, from research to getting everything done. With the help of our publisher, Escorpião Azul, we were able to deliver it on time for the Amadora BD 2017, where we presented it and released it to the general public.

Almost two years have passed and we are happy with the feedback and we are fast at working on more Portuguese folkore and myths to present in comic book format. Also, since our book is sold out, we are preparing to release a special edition of it, with a different cover and some more extra content so be on alert for more things SINtra related. Here’s a sneak peek of what you can expect:

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