The creative team behind Green Arrow and Old Man Logan — writer Jeff Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino — have joined forces again, this time to battle evil in a new ongoing, creator-owned series from Image Comics titled Gideon Falls.
Announced in advance of New York Comic Con 2017, Gideon Falls is the first creator-owned series for Sorrentino, but marks Lemire’s fourth endeavor with Image following in the footsteps of Royal City, Descender (with Dustin Ngyuen) and A.D. (with Scott Snyder).
In an exclusive conversation with CBR, the frequent collaborators shared extraordinary observations, insight and art from Gideon Falls, which follows the lives of a young man believed to be suffering from mental illness. He is obsessed with a conspiracy in the city’s trash, and when a Catholic Priest who questions his faith before (and after) arriving in a small town full of dark secrets, both characters learn they’re connected and drawn to the mysteries of The Black Barn.
Gideon Falls, which will be colored by nine-time Eisner Award winner Dave Stewart, is expected in March 2018. Stewart also colors Black Hammer for Dark Horse, co-created and written by Lemire.
CBR: I love the high concept for Gideon Falls and I have read the first issue and it’s fantastic, but I have to say, you had me when it was announced that you two were working together. Your collaborations have so much energy and I am excited to see how far – and how dark – the two of you will go on a creator-owned property.
Jeff Lemire: The longer I’ve done this, the more I’ve discovered that there are certain artists that I really click with. Dustin [Nguyen] on Descender, Dean [Ormston] on Black Hammer and Andrea is the other. Those three guys are completely different from one another, and yet they complement what I do in different ways.
In the case of Andrea, he and I started on Green Arrow, and we really found a rhythm on that book really early on, where he would just take my scripts and my ideas and constantly one-up them. He would experiment and do things with layouts and storytelling that I hadn’t even imagined and then I would see that and it would push me in new directions. We would just riff off each other, back and forth, which you don’t always get… I always know wherever we start with a story, it’s going to end somewhere completely different than where we imagined and it’s going to be better. And that’s awesome. I love that about him.
Andrea Sorrentino: I think it’s more or less what Jeff has just said. I like to push things to some limits. I like to try new directions or to try to take some unconventional techniques that belong to other mediums into the comics that I draw. And as Jeff said, it’s really like a circle where we usually push each other to surpass our limits.
Also, I think we really have similar tastes when it’s about the way we like to put things on the paper. The pace, the cinematic angles, and in general the atmospheres we like to work with. This means that I’m always in love with his scripts after I read them and this helps a lot [Laughs]
For Gideon Falls, we’re both aiming pretty high. Everything in the pages has some meaning and there are little details put here and there that have been carefully studied and placed on the page. Also, I’ve done some of my craziest art for it, from the promo art to some double spread of the first issue, this is the project where I’m probably pushing my art the most. We’re going very dark and very crazy.
Full disclosure: I’m not a huge horror fan. I didn’t love getting scared as a kid and I don’t love it now, but I have been intrigued by some of the new horror properties that seem to tap into more chills and nostalgia than gore.
Lemire: I’m not a big horror fan either to be honest. Growing up in the 1980s, there were a lot of teen slasher movies, and that stuff really repulsed me. I didn’t watch any of it. I was not drawn to it all. I think it was because it was just gore. It wasn’t really horror. There was no intelligence behind it. There was nothing smart about it. I always think there is a huge difference between gore and horror and a lot of the time it gets confused. I have no interest in gore but I do like psychological storytelling and exploring characters and I think using horror in that way can be really effective.
That’s really the origin of Gideon Falls. In many interviews, I have been asked about my early work and stuff that I did before I started getting my books published. I have alluded to the fact that I spent at least five years trying a whole bunch of comics that I never published and knew that I would probably never publish. A lot of Gideon Falls came from stuff that I was working on in 2000-02. These were stories that I was drawing and learning my craft on but they really never came together because I was still hadn’t really found myself as an artist so the characters in Gideon Falls have been around since then. I never really thought that I would do anything with them, and then when I started working with Andrea, these ideas started popping back into my mind. I realized with him that I could almost reinvent them and make them work in a whole different way. In a way, these are some of the first characters that I ever came up with – before Essex County and Sweet Tooth and all of that stuff.
Sorrentino: To be honest I don’t think, as adults, we can be still really scared from things you see in fiction or books. So the horror, if we still want to call it that, has to come from something more related to the everyday basic fears like the knowledge that dangers or evil exists, our struggle to find a place in this world and the fear we will not be good enough. It’s about the kind of horror that comes from inside, from your basic fears – maybe coming out of a bad experience or the culture you have grown up in – lurking into your mind. It’s made of paranoia and fear and sometimes it makes you lose your grip on reality. It’s something much closer than a random monster or a serial killer to all of us.
In the first issue, a character asks if you believe in evil, true evil. Do you believe in evil?
Lemire: I was raised in a Roman Catholic family. My family is all still Catholic, but I don’t practice anymore and I don’t really believe in any of that, but obviously, there is evil in the world. It’s not hard to look around at the world we live in and see a lot of horror and a lot of fear. There are a lot of bad things happening and it’s whether you define that as evil or something else. It’s a bigger question, but the two main characters in Gideon Falls are certainly plagued by different evils and they both deal with it in different ways.
I don’t want to give away too much just yet, but the story focuses on two men. The first is a Roman Catholic priest sent to a small town, and the other is a really troubled young man, who lives in the city. They both seem to be connected in some way and are both closing in on something dark. Let’s put it that way for now. [Laughs]
You mentioned Norton’s personal troubles, but Father Fred has his own inner demons, too. He’s a character that may have lost his way, as well.
Lemire: The book, in part, is a study in these contrasting things – juxtaposing things that are opposites and then creating an interesting tension there. Norton is a young man and he lives in a very dense, urban setting where Fred is a much older man and he’s seen it all and he lives in a much smaller, rural community so you have these very natural juxtapositions.
In Fred, you have a character who has lived a life. In the first issue, we allude to a pretty storied past for Fred. And even though he is a priest, he is clearly a man struggling with his faith and with that calling and questioning it as the story begins. Obviously, this will be a tale of his faith being put to the ultimate test and likewise, Norton is a man of faith but his faith is a bit different. This fantasy that he has created – or is it a fantasy? – about this conspiracy surrounding The Black Barn and despite all evidence pointing to the fact that this is just his mental illness talking, he’s still refuses to give up his belief in this world that’s living in his head.
You have these two characters that are struggling with faith and struggling with what they believe and as you see in the first issue, they seem headed toward a common path.
As you said, there is a difference between horror and gore, but there is also a big difference between psychological storytelling and very real, real world fears like coping, or not coping, with a mental health disorder. By grounding a character with an actual documented disorder, is this a way to normalize mental health illnesses and lessen the stigma?
Lemire: For me, it comes from a personal place. I don’t know how deep I want to get into it in a public interview, but I came up with the character of Norton when I was in my early twenties. I was really struggling with a lot of the things that he struggles with. I was suffering from some pretty severe depression for a number of years, and it was pretty crippling. Norton was really a reflection of what I was going through then. Now, 20 years later, thankfully, I have gotten to a better spot with it and like you said, mental health has become more acceptable to talk about now than it was then, so I am much more mentally healthier now for a lot of reasons but I think that Norton still reflects that part of me that will always be there and certainly the struggles that I had as a young man. It’s pretty real and pretty personal in that way.
Andrea, you are so good at expressing emotion on the page. What techniques will use to generate feeling when it comes to showing how Norton and Fred are dealing with their personal battles?
Sorrentino: I think that asking someone to draw something that delves so much from your personal life is not an easy task. You feel and imagine these experiences in a very personal and private way, and for sure you’ve figured in your mind the way you expect it to be shown on the paper, so I want to thank Jeff for such trust. This said, I think the key to out past collaborations was that we both really put all ourselves into what we do, and it’s this kind of clash of personalities that creates something so unique.
Like everyone else, I have had my dark moments. I’ve lost both my parents and for some time I really felt lost, like I was struggling to find a direction. So maybe it’s this sense of nihilism that I’m bringing to the table, especially with Norton. He’s like our son, you know, unfortunately for him, he’s taking the worse from his two fathers [Laughs] but it’s great because this makes him a pretty deep character. I’m also going with a much more sketchy approach than usual, just to try to reflect this kind of lost, depressed feeling that belongs both to Gideon Falls and the city.
Norton himself is always hidden behind this dark mask with his scruffy hair falling over his forehead, as if he were to defend himself from the outside, not realizing that the real enemy is inside himself. I’ve also tried to reflect this through the storytelling. I wanted readers to be clear from the very first panel that things with Norton will be as messy as his brain. And Father Fred is the rational part of the story, but he won’t be safe for long. [Laughs]
Jeff, so much of your work over the years has been grounded in rural life and small town communities. A black barn, specifically The Black Barn, is central to this story. Knowing your background and upbringing, I am sure that you have spent some time in one or two dilapidated barns filled with rusted out farm machinery and jagged old tools for butchering animals.
Lemire: You’re right, The Black Barn itself is the central mystery to this story. Both Fred and Norton are drawn to this mysterious apparition of this barn – it’s the source of the evil – and also, this rural legend in the town where Fred is. It goes back through history and it’s tied to a lot of terrible things in the town’s history as well, which we’ll see when the story unfolds.
In terms of actual barns, I grew up on a farm. And at night, being in one of those old barns, your imagination can really take over. I remember a number of times when I would be out there and then get really freaked out by something that I started imagining and then just run like the devil back to my house. So yes, they can be pretty creepy.
In Gideon Falls, we see Norton is clearly obsessed with objects that he believes are tied to The Black Barn. And his obsession really drives horror.
Lemire: Like you said, we all have our things. I am clearly obsessed with making comics and I am probably a workaholic. And I say that not as a joke. It’s awfully true. I don’t know what to do with myself when I’m not working, which is why I am writing nine books a month. [Laughs] But at least for me, I’m able to channel it into something productive and create something, which is good, but obsession can also lead to some pretty dark places in this book. I think we are all looking for ways to escape, especially the world we live in now. There is a lot of stuff going on that’s really scary and really troubling, whether it be environmental issues or political things – there is a lot of stuff that is really alarming and terrifying to live through and we all look for ways and things to do to focus our energies so that we can escape that whether it be being really into sports or really into comics, we all have our things and I do think it all ties into faith and mental illness and even horror. It all coalesces into something tangible and I think you can see all of that represented in this story.
(Courtesy of CBR.com)
Jeff Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino are both huge talents and Gideon Falls will no doubt be another hit from Image Comics. If you are interested please let us know so we can make sure we have a copy of issue #1 for you when it debuts.