Sea Noir

Siren’s Calling, the new comic book series by John Trigonis ’01 and Lauren Clemente ’11, opens with a woman appearing out of nowhere, as if she had just washed up between a pair of Santa Monica piers. And perhaps she had.

She holds no ID, no cash, and wears no clothes. She wanders aimlessly through the night down a stretch of highway where the streetlamps are too far apart and drivers are too exhausted to swerve in time. The ensuing car accident is inevitable.

The driver, a Good Samaritan affectionately known as “Pops,” takes the victim to his home to convalesce. Aside from her name—Lorelei—the woman has no memory.

Lorelei’s alter ego, however, refuses to be forgotten.

Siren’s Calling is atypical comic book fare. The story blends supernatural thrills with the moody shadow play of film noir to create an experience that is both grounded and surreal. Since its debut, Siren’s Calling has earned a small yet cultish International fan base that is eager to read the next chapter in Lorelei’s story.

The genesis of Siren’s Calling could arguably be found in an NJCU Humanities classroom. “Back in 2011, Lauren was a student in my Civilizations class,” explains Trigonis, who once taught at the University as an adjunct professor. “I saw her Bachelor of Fine Arts show and could tell her work was a good fit for what I was looking for.”

He wasn’t looking for a comic book artist, however. In addition to teaching and writing, Trigonis was a filmmaker. He had just finished shooting, Cerise, a story about a former spelling bee champion haunted by the word that took him down. Trigonis needed someone to design a movie poster that could reflect the main character’s inner turmoil. He offered the job to Clemente, a soon-to-graduate illustration major. Her poster design packed the emotional wallop Trigonis had been looking for.

“In fact,” he says, “I think I like the poster more than the film.”

So when Trigonis came up with a new story idea, he had Clemente’s talents in mind. His original plan for Siren’s Calling was to turn it into a film, but the budget would have been too high. So he decided to try his hand at a comic.

Clemente eagerly signed on. “I thought it was a really cool concept,” she says. “The problem was, I had no idea how to do story paneling or story board illustration. I wanted to do the comic, but I didn’t know how to do a comic.”

She was in good company. Trigonis didn’t know how to do a comic, either.

“So, we researched the ways traditional comic book artists and writers worked,” Clemente says. “I was also trying to find an appropriate look for Siren’s. The story takes place in the 1940s and I wanted to respect noir tradition. I found inspiration in the movies of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

“This was a passion project,” she adds. “We were juggling this comic while working full time jobs, doing freelance work and, you know, living life. That’s why Siren’s Calling took four years to create.”

The creative process was also not without its setbacks. “I didn’t want us to do standard comic panels,” Trigonis notes. “So we tried crazy paneling. We thought it looked great, but when we showed it to a test audience, they had no freaking clue as to what they were reading. They had no idea where their eyes should go. It was a blow.”

Once the story and art finally came together, Trigonis and Clemente decided to fund the printing costs through an Indiegogo campaign. Their objective was twofold: not only would such a campaign cover expenses, but it also would help them generate a potential audience.

The crowdfunding campaign was 21 days long. They met their financial goal in two. By the time the campaign was over, Trigonis and Clemente had enough cash on hand to cover all the costs for the second volume in the series.

Siren’s Calling was printed in a limited run in late 2015 and met with universal praise.

The book was also a hit at the MoCCA Fest, an annual comics festival in New York City hosted by the Society of Illustrators. Since Siren’s debut, Trigonis regularly receives emails from fans wondering when they will hear more about Lorelei. They won’t have long to wait; the creators are hard at work on issue No. 2, which is set to debut later this year.

This time around, the creative process is more streamlined. Trigonis and Clemente have the experience to do the work better and faster.

“I liked the art in issue one but wait ’til you see issue two,” Clemente says, barely able to contain her excitement. “It is going to be beautiful.” NJCU