by Jarrod Jones. Black Stars Above is a dark night of the soul and, like a proper cosmic horror mood piece, it’s a literal creepy-ass, black-as-pitch jaunt through the unknown. It’s
a rite of passage, a test of limits, a gauntlet of terror from writer Lonnie Nadler and artist Jenna Cha (who makes her full-length comics debut with this series), a fit entry for Vault Comics’ ever-growing Nightfall horror line.
Black Stars Above is 100% mood—from the Doré-inspired imagery to its Lynchian pacing (infinitely less interminable than Twin Peaks‘ third season, promise), the creative team brought together for this series has one goal and that is to make you lean towards its pages, close, closer, enough to feel as though its imagery might pull you in and swallow you whole. Cha’s line work—scratchy, detailed, formidible—is brought to 1887-set period perfection by colorist Brad Simpson and Nadler’s words are given potent literacy by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou. A sinister, nigh-perfect synthesis of comics invention.
One thing that strikes me about talking to Lonnie and Jenna about Black Stars Above is how invested they are in the book’s central character, Eulalie. She’s a young Métis-French fur trapper who is at a crucial point in her life where the world beyond her confining family cabin seems to be calling her—the universe, in a sense, is beckoning her to venture forth. But to what end? Having read the first issue to this new series, out November 6, I can say that it’s incredibly reassuring to see two creators offer such detail and devotion in their responses to my questions about Eulalie.
“I wanted everything in the book to feel authentic to the period, and Eulalie is very much a product of her time and setting, for better and for worse,” Lonnie tells me. “I wanted her to feel real, but still relatable to a modern readership. While her way of life is so vastly different from the life of an average 16 year-old these days, she longs for many of the same things, such as escape and experience.
“She exists at a time when the nation was undergoing great shifts in politics and culture, so Eulalie also has desires to escape this life, to flee toward the modernity she reads about in books and newspapers,” Nadler continues. “She has no idea what the external world holds in store for her, and this unknown factor is part of its appeal. In this sense, she is torn between two worlds, which leads to a big theme of the series. That is the notion of liminality, of being in between places and periods with no escape on either end, and Eulalie is the embodiment of this for numerous reasons.”
It’s a character sketch that takes on incredible life in Black Stars Above, courtesy of Jenna Cha’s diligence. “With all this in mind, her design had to carry a lot of implied weight, physically and thematically, as if she was always tired to some degree but never letting her head fall,” Jenna says. “Her stubbornness gives her a hard expression, and she is always alert. She’s levelheaded and very astute to the dangers around her, and thus, not above showing fear.”
Ahead of its November 13 debut (you can and should pre-order it now), Lonnie Nadler and Jenna Cha spoke with DoomRocket about Black Stars Above, the research behind its period setting, and what the those black stars hold for the future of horror comics.
1. Tell me about the origins of ‘Black Stars Above’, how your concept became the latest entry in Vault’s Nightfall imprint.
Lonnie Nadler: I’d been wanting to work with Vault for a while because they had garnered such a strong reputation in such a short time. I knew they were mostly interested in fantasy and science fiction stories, but I had conceived this strange, genre-defying mashup of historical fiction, cosmic horror, folk horror, and survival narratives. This is probably the most passionate I’ve ever been about a project because it feels inherently like part of my being and thought why not send it their way. I shot it over to Tim Daniel who let me know Vault was wanting to experiment with horror titles for a new line of books they had in the pipeline. At the time, I had no idea this would become Nightfall. I was just glad to have their eyes on my pitch because it needed a home that would let me have the necessary freedom to execute my vision, largely uninhibited. After Adrian [Wassel], the Editor-in-Chief, read the initial document, he was interested in the idea, but because it’s so far off from what standard horror comics offer, he wanted to see a little more of the world in detail. So, I outlined the entire series, and delivered a sort of mood board with visuals for the project. After that he got what I was going for and it was greenlit. Some months later they told me it would be part of their Nightfall launch lineup alongside The Plot, and I’m honored to be part of that. It’s not often your work is part of launching an entire line with, so I’m trying to keep that all in mind to help fend off the self-deprecating side of my stupid writer brain.
What was the one moment when you both realized that with this project you were tapping into something remarkable? Yes, this is affirmation before we’ve even gotten to the meat of this thing, but I loved this first issue and I’m afraid I can’t help myself.
LN: Thank you for saying and thinking such. That truly warms my icy, dark heart to hear. I’m too close to the project to fully see it that way, I think. I’ve been living in this cold, isolating wilderness that is Black Stars Above for a few years now and so I have very little perspective on the book’s actual merit outside my own sense of pride for what the rest of the team has accomplished. And I think that’s where the answer to your question lies. When I saw Jenna’s first pages come in, I knew, without a doubt, that nobody else could have drawn this. Jenna is the one and only artist for the job. I think, perhaps, I realized the book would be a rewarding realization of what was dwelling in my head after the first time I spoke with Jenna on the phone. We were on the same page to an almost uncanny extent in terms of our influences and preferred mode of storytelling, and I knew she would be able to interpret my scripts in such a way that would birth unto the world this specific kind of horror. However, I don’t think my pride reached its maturation until I saw the first issue fully completed. The combination of Jenna’s tonally perfect art with Brad Simpson’s bleak, moody colors, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s unique lettering approach caused me to take a step back and think, “This is the book. If I didn’t write this, I would love it.” And that is the kind of thing I always strive for, but don’t always achieve.
Jenna Cha: I immediately knew the book would be something special simply by virtue of how communicative Lonnie and I were at the very start of our collaboration, and how in sync our brains are in terms of visual creativity and the comic language. When I first read the pitch for Black Stars Above, it was clear that this story had a remarkable amount of research and care put into the script; the world manifested itself in my head with intention and a voice. I became as deeply attached to the book as Lonnie was by the time it began production; we communicated extensively about the story’s theming, mood, technical style, and the bank of visual references and inspiration we collected together. It hasn’t been difficult to remain eye-to-eye given our grossly conjoined love for people like Junji Ito, Gustave Doré, David Lynch, weird horror and old films in general. It’s kind of a perfect storm of a collaboration, so the book’s merit and quality is a testament to how invested the team has been.
2. ‘Black Stars Above’ follows Eulalie, a Métis-French fur trapper who absconds with a package into the dark Canadian wilderness one night after a disagreement with her family concerning her immediate future. Who is Eulalie to you, and what do you want us, the readers, to remember about her once the story has finished?
LN: I wanted everything in the book to feel authentic to the period, and Eulalie is very much a product of her time and setting, for better and for worse. I wanted her to feel real, but still relatable to a modern readership. While her way of life is so vastly different from the life of an average 16 year-old these days, she longs for many of the same things, such as escape and experience. As a result she experiences the world in a distinct way that is both simpler and more complex, simultaneously. Survival instinct and learned skills, for example, are not pastimes or hobbies or things that make her “badass”, but rather they are her way of life. She was born into a desolate world on the brink of change, and so survival for Eulalie is not an option, it simply is how she exists. She grew up learning how to tend a trapline, skin animals, eat from the land, make shelter, etc. On the other hand, this is all she knows. She knows so little about the outside world that it’s bred a severe sense of naïveté within her, which functions as both a weakness and a strength. On the other hand, she exists at a time when the nation was undergoing great shifts in politics and culture, so Eulalie also has desires to escape this life, to flee toward the modernity she reads about in books and newspapers. She has no idea what the external world holds in store for her, and this unknown factor is part of its appeal. In this sense, she is torn between two worlds, which leads to a big theme of the series. That is the notion of liminality, of being in between places and periods with no escape on either end, and Eulalie is the embodiment of this for numerous reasons. All of these aspects of her personality are what ultimately allow her to confront this cosmic threat in ways that, perhaps, other protagonists in stories of this ilk could not. And I don’t want to dive too deep into this, but something readers should consider when regarding Eulalie and her journey and how it impacts her is the idea of family. That plays into the series in a big way.
JC: I think one of the most noteworthy things about Black Stars Above is Eulalie. To me, she is the definition of a strong female character. That term tends to be thrown around a lot, but I think—or, I hope—comics and other media are on the path to writing strong and most importantly realistic female characters as a given reality, and not a moral obligation. Eulalie doesn’t think she’s strong, or badass, or intelligent. She just is those things. She doesn’t dwell on the aptitude of her survivorship skills—she simply survives. The merciless world she was born in strips her and her family of anything other than the instinct of preservation—and yet, she is protective of her inborn human needs, wholly uncompromising when told to sacrifice her freedom and means of fulfillment. The sanctity of her innate individualism is the symbolic fortification against her opponent: the debilitating infinity of nature and the cosmos.
3. Jenna, when you’re illustrating a story, working on-model is key to make the reader feel more connected to the story they’re reading. But doing that means you have to come up with every conceivable facial tic that character might have. Since this is a horror book, Eulalie will endure some incredibly terrifying things. Putting your character through such turmoil—is there an added feeling of dread for you as the book’s artist, since you’re physically making her agonies come to life?
JC: That’s an interesting notion that I tend to think about a lot. Yes, depicting fear and dread onto a character I’m so familiar with does have an effect on me at times. However, these moments are almost exclusive to the scenes of her turmoil involving her family, whether or not they are present. There’s something heartbreaking about about having to draw the nuances of a person’s face in agony regarding family conflict, if one could relate to that sort of thing. There have also been moments of my emotions influencing the nuances of a scene as I’m drawing it, such as a feeling of sadness regarding Eulalie’s position during or after an intense, exhausting series of scenes. As an artist, going through these long scenes of darkness, chaos, claustrophobia, and danger makes the transition back into the calm, quiet, vast wilderness feel like crashing onto a bed. The feelings I contribute that come from both ends—the amount of extra work that goes into tenser scenes and the catharsis of going back to drawing nature—hopefully translates appropriately to the reading experience.
I also think this question brings up a good point in the committing to the realism of the characters against their environment; my priority was to depict Eulalie’s physical appearance and personality as realistically as possible. Her intelligence, willfulness, courage, physical strength, as well as her stubbornness are founded on her inborn will to survive. The brutality of her environment in which she calls home crafted her into a being meant to adapt and persevere; such qualities of a person moreover protects her human need of freedom. What I respect the most about Eulalie is her strength in refusing to yield to the confining and destructive circumstances of her environment in and outside of home, and lose touch with her need for personal fulfillment as much as her will to survive. With all this in mind, her design had to carry a lot of implied weight, physically and thematically, as if she was always tired to some degree but never letting her head fall. Her stubbornness gives her a hard expression, and she is always alert. She’s levelheaded and very astute to the dangers around her, and thus, not above showing fear.
4. Some of the best period-set stories I’ve read take place during a time of change, be it Prohibition, the fall of Rome—or in the case of Canada circa 1887, the dissolution of the fur trade and the rise of industry. In ‘Black Stars Above’, Eulalie’s family struggles with the rapidly-evaporating opportunities they had as trappers as a large outfit begins to make initial moves into the territory. In this story, change and the unknown are the same thing as far as Eulalie is concerned. Why do you feel we’re so afraid of change, and why do you think that fear is such fertile ground for horror?
LN: That’s a perceptive observation and a great question because all this was in mind whilst crafting Black Stars Above. I think as beings defined by existing in the present it affords us the unique fortune among living creatures to be able to look back and recognize major shifts in culture, society, nations, etc. while simultaneously looking toward the future, a place of great uncertainty, and making choices as to how we will pursue that undefined time and place ahead of us. The future, always being unknown, is a cause of great angst as a result because anything is possible and nothing ultimately can assure us how things will turn out. Such is our burden. This idea of history and looking back is simply a method for me (and other writers, I imagine) to try to understand and control the future by saying, okay it happened this way before, let’s make sure I, or we, don’t do that again. But as society at large has shown us, we can always repeat the past because we cannot predict our future. This goes hand in hand with the idea of fear of the unknown, which is the single most important tenet of cosmic horror. As humans we can never know anything other than that which is immediate but we are perpetually headed toward an unknown future, and we fear exactly that. Whether this unknown is what exists in the far reaches of space, in the depths of the oceans, in the darkness of the woods, or if it’s simply death itself invading our thoughts.
Coupled with the unknown is the idea of change, and at risk of sounding like a broken record, obviously this idea is something I explore to a great extent throughout the series, so I’m glad you caught it in issue #1. Something that becomes important is the idea that everything is always becoming. Everything is always in a state of malleability and we must continue to change, to shift, to grow, in unpredictable, often frightening ways. In short, we are held down by our past, conflicted in the present, and scared of the future. Sorry to get all Jean-Paul Sartre on your asses, but when I’m invited to do so, you can be assured I’m going to put my philosophy BA to work. I have to justify it somehow.
JC: I can’t top a philosophy BA. The narrative of an indescribable, incomprehensibly massive and godlike entity looming over us in the cosmos is probably so universal because of human beings’ innate survivorship fear of the unknown. It’s natural that living creatures are wired to be afraid of change down to an intimate level, be it putting an animal in a new environment or the stress of moving to a new city.
The idea of fear of change can be attributed to simply fear of the unfamiliar. Be it a horrific situation, a scary face, incoming pain, isolation—all of which are a threat to one’s identity physically, mentally, or spiritually, which is the definition of horror. One of the reasons why I’m so drawn to horror is that it’s one of the only things in the world that is designed to disturb humans’ primal sensibilities as a source of fulfillment, like a sick luxury we’ve evolved out of the animal kingdom. Such a privilege ought to be exploited as a unique practice in uncovering deep things about ourselves that we’re meant to inhibit as animals—which we can learn from. Maybe this is a stretch, but to me, horror can be a unique form of growth. We may not get answers, and perhaps we shouldn’t, but we have the privilege of looking for them.
Interestingly, we’re definitely in an age of many, many people aggressively wanting change (or at least answers) now that technology and media is augmenting people’s awareness of the dealings of entities in power. This new wave of folk horror might attest to people’s gravitation towards themes of isolation and lack of oneness of self and environment, where one can find solace as well as horror in a world without contemporary distractions, which demands self reflection.
5. Lonnie, you’ve mentioned that the idea for ‘Black Stars Above’ stemmed from a reading of Margaret Atwood’s ‘Survival’, which talks at length about the concept of national identity in literature. Was this your north star? To tell a decidedly Canadian story that featured a Métis woman—instead of, say, a John Smith hunter-type—and underscore that Canadian culture is far, far more than the seeming majority?
LN: Absolutely. Anyone who knows me knows how much I complain about the lack of quality Canadian content in many artistic mediums, but literature has consistently been one of our most successful exports. I believe there’s no reason stories set in Canada should be any less desirable than those set in America. It’s gotten to a point of absurdity when anything labeled “Canadian content” is automatically associated with “cheap” and “dad humor”. I do, however, have to be careful here because saying something is a “Canadian” story that features indegenous people can be seen as a bit of a misnomer because such cultures were here long before it was ever Canada, but this is also partially the point—to look back at the roots of the nation, at the things that lead to where we are today, and to explore such through the lens of a character who cannot help but be affected by the politics and setting differently than, as you say, the John Smith hunter-type who we have seen a thousand times before in these kinds of narratives. It’s also important to note that I’m not trying to speak on behalf of Métis people or their culture. I am, however, telling a story through a unique lens that is authentic to the times, and I hope I can do it justice. This is a big part of the reason why I put so much research into the book, because I want to make sure I get things right.
To continue answering your question, The fur trade itself is undoubtedly what birthed the nation as we know it today, and so it felt like the right setting to tell a distinctly “Canadian” story. Without the fur trade, without the relationships built between the European settlers and the indigenous peoples, the country would not exist, and part of that is the exploitation of these interactions, which is something I am not shying away from. At the beginning of the story Eulalie and her family find themselves isolated and segregated as a result of the Canadian government fucking over their people in what used to be known as the Red River Settlement. Eulalie’s whole life is impacted by things greater than her, from politics to historical events to cosmic threats that are outside her control, even though she never interacts with some of these things directly. So I’m hoping that in displaying the ugly parts of the nation’s history it, in a sense, becomes more “Canadian”, and to show, as you say, how Canadian culture is so much more than what’s on the surface. As Atwood outlines in her book, the one theme that ties Canadian literature together, from writers of all genders, races, and ages, is the idea of survival, hence the title of the book. Survival means different things in different settings, but all of its varied definitions are carried forth into Black Stars Above.
6. Staying with Lonnie—how do you go about research? A period-set story such as this requires you get the details right. And that can be a daunting thing; you don’t want the research to overshadow the narrative, and you don’t want the narrative to nudge the period detail out of focus. It’s a tricky road to walk.
LN: I did an obsessive amount of research for this book, in part because I wanted to get all the historical and cultural elements right, but also because it’s my favorite part of the creative process. I love learning. I’m a nerdy scholar. My father made sure of it. I especially love history and how people lived in the past compared to now. I find it fascinating knowing what philosophies guided their life, and how individuals reacted to greater societal events. So, I read numerous textbooks, encyclopedias, online databases, and first-hand accounts in the form of journal entries from the time in addition to conducting interviews with historians and Métis people. And, as you can imagine, getting historical research like this into a comic book isn’t the easiest task in the world because unlike prose where you can afford getting into paragraph descriptions about the kinds of utensils they use—ahem, George R.R. Martin—such doesn’t apply to comics. It was a precarious battle, and there are so many things that I thought would end up in the book while I was doing research that I just had to abandon for the sake of brevity. If it doesn’t fit in the narrative then you have to throw things into the dumpster fires that are the cursed, masturbatory, look-how-much-research-I-did diatribes. However, the book, at least in the first half of the series, holds a lot of historical accuracy and one way we were able to achieve this authenticity is through the artwork. I gave Jenna so many references within the script for the set design and props and setting and lucky for me she took those things to heart and though the reader may not know that a cup is period-specific, I think just the fact that we, the creative team, put so much care into getting those details right that you still feel that on the pages in a whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts sort of way. Basically, I wish I’d written From Hell.
7. Without giving too much away, there’s a visual in the first issue that immediately reminded me of the saintly multitudes in Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ as illustrated by Gustave Doré, “The Empyrean”. Jenna, was this intentional? Has Doré influenced your work over the years? If so, how?
JC: Correct! It’s awesome and relieving to hear someone recognize those influences. [Laughs] Lonnie and I looked at a lot of Doré as visual inspiration for the book. We love all of the old etchers and illustrators like Durer and Franklin Booth (which explains our love for artists like Junji Ito). Doré is definitely someone I’ve admired for a long time; I find very detailed and hatch-y artwork as relaxing to observe as it is to draw. (However, Lonnie and I recently learned that François Pannemaker was the engraver for most of Dore’s work, and should be credited more). Bernie Wrightson is another major hero of mine. Above anyone else, Junji Ito is my biggest stylistic inspiration. I resonated over time with the concept of “sculpting” an image through hatching, not just because of the beauty of that category of form, but because practicing that technique is quite cathartic and meditative for me. I do it because I enjoy it! I’ve had to come to terms with this over a long period of time, however. I used to wish my style was much more abstracted, and for lack of a better term “simple”, which I don’t like saying anymore because “simple” absolutely does not mean easier or faster. If anything, simpler styles tend to be harder to nail; master cartoonists like Bill Watterson with “simple” styles make it look easy because it took decades for their craft to allow as much to be said in as few lines as possible. The thing I’ve come to terms with is that the strength or validity of my style isn’t defined by how much time it takes or how much “work” it requires; everyone’s styles take as much time as they need, and the artistry of each individual falls within one’s unique sense of efficiency that translates to the clarity and inventiveness of the image.
8. Lonnie, let’s talk about mood. ‘Black Stars Above’ is a desolate story, and Eulalie isn’t the most forthcoming of narrator—she’s constantly omitting bits in her journal, as though someone dangerous to her may come across it someday. It creates a profound sense of uneasiness from the very beginning. Did you consciously know going into this story that you wanted every path set before Eulalie to be a perilous one? How do you personally maintain dread in a horror story?
LN: My favorite topic. Firstly, narration is always something I’m overly aware of in narrative, especially in comics, and there are so many thoughts on what works and what doesn’t these days that I wanted to try a form of narration that we don’t see too often in North American comics. I love Gothic literature and since I am working in the tradition of Weird Fiction, I knew early on that I wanted it to be an epistolary book. This forces the reader in the headspace of the protagonist, even when that protagonist is unreliable or hiding something, or just a novice writer, of which Eulalie is all three. Writing in this mode, in this time period, also allows for a more verbose, poetic style, which is so important for Weird Fiction and Cosmic Horror because the conflicting descriptions of events by the narrative are what imbue the story with a sense of the uncanny, the absurd, and ultimately with dread. This is borrowed from writers like Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, and even Lovecraft himself for this reason, while also serving to ground the supernatural elements because they are being told to us by another “real” person. Another reason I wanted to try this is because there is a certain trend going in on modern comics where writers are fighting back against narration altogether, using it as sparingly as possible. It’s used with irony and not sincerity. I understand why this is the case, because you should never write what’s already being shown visually, but when I look at books by, say Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman, the narration is expansive and lush and there’s no shortage of it. I have such an affinity for that kind of writing that I wanted to do it here. Whether that was the right call or not I’ve yet to decide.
With all this said, creating dread and this specific tone of the sublime is about more than just the written word. I’m also a big fan of cinema, perhaps more than comics. So I really get impacted by comics that use sound and dialogue and narration sparingly because silence is a powerful tool, probably the most powerful when you are trying to build a tone of this sort. So for all my wordy narration, I also knew early on that the book needed silent pages so you could feel the world, the cold, the darkness. I imagine these are still “narrated” by Eulalie, but that the descriptions become visual in those moments of the book. Jenna is a master of tone, specifically creating discomfort, and in our preliminary talks we both realized our natural draw toward silence in comics for this reason. So, it’s all about balance, knowing when and where to use narration, and where to hold back. In this case, it all needed to move slowly to get across this sense of dreariness and lurking darkness.
As for Eulalie’s perilous path, yes, I very much wanted to make sure that once she has her goal, every single step she takes from then on out comes with some obstacle attached to it, whether that be a physical part of the environment, or something supernatural disrupting her mental state. This is where the Survival genre comes in, because when you watch those movies or read those books, the protagonists are always up against something, and here we are just employing that trope but marrying it with elements of cosmic horror.
Staying on mood, what has the creative decision-making process been like with Brad [Simpson] and Hassan [Otsmane-Elhaou]? There’s a moment at the beginning of the first issue—the end of page 5 and the start of page 6, which introduces Eulalie—that is some of the most cohesive work I’ve seen from a creative team this year.
LN: I cannot begin to express how important Brad and Hassan have been for this book and in conveying the specific tone we were going for. Jenna and I had a pretty good idea of how we wanted things to be colored and knowing Brad’s work on Bloodborne, we knew he was the right guy. But even knowing that, it’s been astonishing to see just how much his work compliments Jenna’s lines. If the book was too saturated or overly colored, it would not have the same weight, but Brad is an intelligent storyteller and knew that the colors couldn’t be completely muted, otherwise it risks being overly drab, in a manufactured sort of way, like a cheap period piece movie. As for Hassan, well, I have said to multiple people over the past couple weeks that I believe he is the best letterer in comics at the moment. Hass thinks about how his lettering not only impacts the page, but the story as a whole. He understands pacing, emphasis, acting, and tone and uses his craft to augment what everyone else has laid out before him. It’s remarkable to see his ingenuity.
And thank you for saying that about that sequence. It was one of the first things that came to me when I began working on the project and the team executed it perfectly. It’s probably the sequence I’m most proud of in all my work to date.
JC: Brad is very painterly and therefore brings a tangibility to the story that is malleable with the mood, lighting, and texture of the world. His colors are dreary, horrific, and beautiful all at the same time, which is exactly what we asked for. He has been extremely receptive to the voice Lonnie intended for the book, and he understands what kind of realism-meets-otherworldly the world Black Stars Above is asking for. Hassan was also immediately receptive to the mood of the book; he added details to his letters that are specifically informed by the style of the inks, which make the content of the pages look very lived-in, and everything is wonderfully sewn together.
Brad and Hassan are the best, they were both literally at the top of our list when looking for the rest of our team. I can’t say enough good things about Brad and Hassan. In all honesty and dramaticness, I feel undeserving to have my drawings be worked on by such veteren pros for my very first publication. Brad/Hassan 2020.
9. Where do you think horror comics are in terms of the wider industry today? For some readers/publishers, this particular genre of funnybooks is treated as an annual autumnal thing, and there can be this feeling that horror comics are a bit undervalued overall.
LN: I actually just did a whole bunch of research about horror comics, specifically EC Comics and the Comics Code Authority in the 1950s, and oddly enough I think we are still, to this day, feeling the effects of that grim time in sequential art history. Horror, in any medium, has always been seen as base, lowbrow, cheap thrills primarily for pubescent male audiences to live out their twisted S&M fantasies. I think we all know that’s not the case, but it’s a stereotype that still colors our view of the genre. Funny how these things linger. However, and this is something Jenna and I talk about regularly, there’s a resurgence in horror over the last, say, five years largely lead by independent cinema. There’s this term being thrown around “elevated horror,” which is completely asinine, and I think only does further damage, but the point is that young writers and filmmakers are treating the genre with a sense of gravitas we haven’t really seen since the 1970s. So we have movies like The Witch, Midsommar, The Babadook, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, Childhood of a Leader, Bone Tomahawk, Us, etc. which are proving that horror, in the right hands, is not only just as valid as any other mode of storytelling, but has the potential to dig into human nature and unpack societal fears in ways other genres cannot. I like to believe this attitude is bleeding into the comics industry now because we desperately need it. There are too many horror comics trying to do the same thing, trying to rehash old ideas, and there have been several books recently that give me hope that we’ll see a similar horror rebirth in North American comics to the one going on in film right now. Included in this list are books like These Savage Shores, Ice Cream Man, Infidel, Coffin Bound, and Gideon Falls.
JC: Like Lonnie said, there’s definitely an incentive in cinema today for horror to be taken more seriously, and I can’t help but imagine the trend will find its way into comics. For creators, horror stories invite as much experimentation, beauty, technique, and character as much as fantasy and sci-fi, but there is an advantage for us weirdos in making our stories all the more unique with the particular prospect of wanting to scare the hell out of you for whatever reason, whatever it takes. Horror is an interesting genre for how it reflects the goings on of its social/political/cultural context. The usage of horror is an audacity that reflects a reality that isn’t safe and doesn’t want to remain where it is. That must speak today’s movement of horror movies and comics in a way that oughta be embraced and launched.
I always like thinking about the evolution of horror (specifically horror movies) in its historical context, however accurate I am or not. The 1940s had first generation Production Code horror, safe and formulaic. The 1950s had xenophobic “foreign invasion” sci-fi horror. The 1960s had had the first wave of “sophisticated” horror for a wiser generation. The 1970s had recently-abolished-Code horror—more violent and overtly sexual—where and older filmmakers could experiment freely. The 1980s you had unrefined hyper violent and hyper sexual horror, like the immediate coke-fueled anti-Reagan post-Code generation was high on itself. In the 1990s you had an insane mishmash of different horror for the corporate, global-access-internet rave-drug boom generation: serial killers, evil black holes in space, witches, Vietnam PTSD, Lovecraft, psychic children, Stephen King, vampires, dolls, zombies, giant worms, robots, sequels, and Frankenhooker.
10. How many nights do you think you would last in the Canadian wilderness with naught but a tent, a coat, and a pack of matches?
LN: I’d be dead before dawn, more than likely meeting the same fate as Timothy Treadwell.
JC: After a few hours I’d call over the Discovery Channel TV crew and producers and forfeit the grand prize before collecting my base check, and be humiliated by my friends and family for my 15 minutes of fame every Christmas for the rest of my life.
‘Black Stars Above’ #1 hits stores November 13. You can pre-order it now. (Diamond Code: SEP192093)
Check out this 5-page preview of ‘Black Stars Above’ #1, including a Vault Vintage variant by Nathan Gooden and Tim Daniel, courtesy of Nightfall, an imprint of Vault Comics!
More comics interviews to get those synapses firing…