Interview: Meet Your New Favorite Heroes In 'Conspiracy of Ravens'

Dark Horse Comics is inviting you to get to know a team of heroes that have been right under your nose the whole time, and you can learn all about them in Conspiracy of Ravens.

ComicBook.com had a chance to chat with the creative team behind Dark Horse's Conspiracy of Ravens, which is helmed by writers Leah Moore and John Reppion and artist Sally Jane Thompson. It seems we all owe the creation of this lovely world to a free sketch.

"Back in 2012 Sally was running a sketch giveaway on Twitter, and my name ended up getting picked out of the hat," Reppion said. "She asked me what kind of thing I’d like her to draw and I said something stupid and awkward like “Oh, I like Victorian stuff and corvids – ravens and those kinds of birds – so maybe something like that”. Rather than being annoyed at my silly, vague request Sally came back with this beautiful finished piece of artwork showing a young woman in Victorian dress opening this locket and a flock of ravens bursting forth from it. It was stunning. A really strong image. We started Tweeting back and forth about what her name should be and where she got the locket and… then we realized we needed to switch to emails because this stuff was getting too good. All of Conspiracy grew out of that one image."

"It really was totally unique among all the things I’ve worked on with other people," Thompson said. "As an artist, it’s impossible not to have a sense of investment and ownership of the books you work on given the sheer time you spend with them, but this one being built from mutual discussions from square one made it such a unique combination of all of us."

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(Photo: Dark Horse Comics)

Conspiracy of Ravens doesn't look like most of what's out on stands at the moment, with a very distinct blue, white, and black palette that allows images to flow into one another differently than something in full color.

"I remember first seeing that use of black and white, and blue tones in Craig Thompson’s
work back the early 2000s, and I really, really loved it right away, "Reppion said. "I think it adds drama and depth to black and white work, and Sally’s inks are so clean and clear I think there’s a real danger that full color could detract from the beauty and simplicity of her lines. It just works really well for this book."

"I’m a huge fan of monochrome and single spot color artwork – I feel like its pared-back nature allows emotions to really shine, and it’s been used to beautiful effect in lots of MG and YA comics from creators like Hope Larson and Vera Brosgol," Thompson said. "I’m always flexible and try to keep an open mind on what form a book should take, but I was very pleased Dark Horse was happy for us to do it this way!"

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(Photo: Dark Horse Comics)

Fans will discover the history of the Dissimulation, a group inspired by vintage spy and espionage tales but with some modern tweaks.

"We definitely wanted that feel! The old espionage stories were so compelling, and they
totally influenced children's fiction, where the children are orphans, or evacuees or they are
sent to their aunts, or at boarding school," Moore said. "Like any good spy thriller, there has to be a mysterious location, some objects of significance, like statues, or jewels or a microfilm, and a lot of secrets and stuff to discover. With all the best kids books from the last 50 years or so (Narnia, The Secret Garden, The Little Princess, Toms Midnight Garden, Harry Potter) there is a very strong feeling that adults are only the most peripheral influence on the whole thing.

"Conspiracy of Ravens is about a gang of teenagers who find themselves embroiled in a web of mysteries and intrigue that is hundreds of years old," Moore continued. "They have to figure out what their part in the story is, solve the mystery, avoid all the enemies that are plaguing them, and pass their exams!"

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(Photo: Dark Horse Comics)

It was important to the team to make sure this felt like a real group of friends, so despite their impending team-up, each character has their own internal conflicts the others don't quite understand.

"We wanted to make sure each member of the team had their own definite personality,
their own likes and dislikes," Reppion said. "Like a real group of friends where you maybe can’t imagine some of them hanging out together without the others to kind of bridge the gap between. Anne and Binky’s friendship is the core of the book really, but the school stuff with Felicity and how their two social groups don’t really intersect (not if Felicity has any say in it, anyway) is equally important. All the young women in the book are still in the process of discovering who they really are – coming through this very tough transitional period where childhood and young adulthood intersect – so it’s very much about them going through all that together."

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(Photo: Dark Horse Comics)

"We talked a lot between us about the emotional arcs of the book, and really all of the girls are on a similar journey of learning how to assert their selfhood and make their own decisions, but they all come from such different backgrounds that it plays out really different for each of them, and they each have challenges that maybe the others don’t quite understand yet. I think my favorite element here might be the small glimpses we get of Felicity’s pain and humanity," Thompson said.

The team behind Conspiracy of Ravens decided to make the Dissimulation an all-female team, and the main reason for that was to make sure the girls featured were never relegated to the backburner in the story.

"It was important to us right from the start for two reasons," Moore said. "The main reason is that we didn’t want to write a book where girls are in any way secondary, or an afterthought, because reading that in a book makes girls feel like they really are an afterthought or secondary in some way. The other reason is because we wanted it to feel like classic girls fiction, where the girls have to work out what is happening, and then navigate the restrictions on them, and defeat their enemies. Girls in classic fiction and comics had a lot of agency, given the period they were written. I’ve always loved the idea that they can throw some sandwiches in a bag, and take on a load of smugglers, or a spy network, or some kind of supernatural creature, and still get back before curfew. There are male characters, but we have purposefully left them as secondary to the main team, for the moment at least. Boys have a lot of fiction telling them to be bold and adventurous, so we are happy for the moment just to be doing that for girls!"

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(Photo: Dark Horse Comics)

Conspiracy of Ravens is full of inspired and stunning panels, so you might be surprised that the hardest part for Thompson was, in fact, coming up with the costume designs.

"The most challenging was definitely the costumes! I started with just designs based on the girls themselves, but had to adjust them once we got our timeline locked down," Thompson said. "When were the original Dissimulation active? What was contemporary at that time, and how far could I push away from that since they were costumes, to allow them more movement, how could I work in each of their birds, and how can each original dress be altered into something that would suit its new owner?! That said, I’m most proud of the sense of place that both Gables and Ravenhall have, and the expressiveness we managed to get in the girls themselves."

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(Photo: Dark Horse Comics)

The new story focuses more on the girls taking over the legacy of the Dissimulation than it does on the original group, but we could see more of them in the future.

"We’ll have to explore them more because one of that original team actually appears in this book (spoilers!), so we need to hear her side of the story at some point and fill in some of the gaps," Moore said. "We definitely want to do some tales of the original team, maybe as we go along and the current team finds out, or maybe as a separate feature in the book, so you get some of the old stories as extras through the book? That sounds like a fun idea doesn't it? The OG dissimulation were so cool. I can't wait to see how Anne and the girls react as they find out more about their ancestors!"

The good news is that there are plans to do more in this new and magical world.

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"Yes, absolutely," Reppion said. "We want to pick up right at the start of the next term as Gables School for Girls and just keep going. We’ve got notebooks bursting with ideas for future cases for The Dissimulation to solve, and for all the awkward “real life” stuff the team is going to have to deal with along the way. The world of Conspiracy of Ravens is one we’ve got big plans for in the future."

Conspiracy of Ravens is in comic stores and bookstores now.