C2E2: McCool & Cook's "Memoir"

Imagine growing up in a close-knit Midwestern community. You've had your heart broken once or twice, but you've also fallen in love. You've struggled through tough economic times, but at least you have an occupation that satisfies your interests. Over the years, you have met some of the most loathsome people imaginable while simultaneously forging the greatest friendships one could ever hope for. This is your life - imagine it.

Now imagine forgetting it all in the blink of an eye.

Three years ago, the entire population of Lowesville woke up without a single memory of who they are, where they are or what has happened to them in life. While the majority of the world thinks of the town's situation as an attention-seeking hoax, the people of Lowesville are facing an all-too-real isolated existence every single day - an existence that journalist Trent MacGowan is eager to explore.

At this weekend's inaugural Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, writer Ben McCool ("Choker") and illustrator Nikki Cook ("Girl Comics") are announcing "Memoir," a new Image Comics miniseries examining the wide-scale memory loss of the fictional town of Lowesville. CBR News spoke with McCool and Cook for an exclusive first look at the series.

"In a nutshell, the story takes place three years after an alleged incident in which everyone living in the town of Lowesville woke up with no idea of who they are, where they are or what's happened," McCool explained of the premise. "The entire town's memory had been completely erased. It was a big media sensation and everybody was talking about it, but over the preceding three years, interest dwindled. People thought it was a hoax to generate attention for a small farming community."

However, not everyone has lost interest in Lowesville. Rookie journalist Trent MacGowan, the book's protagonist, believes that unraveling the mystery of this small town could be the big break of his career. Upon arrival, the overly ambitious MacGowan learns that there is at least one person in Lowesville that remembers his life prior to the memory-wiping incident - and what he remembers is rather shocking.

"After arriving in Lowesville, Trent starts receiving messages from Bob, this strange guy who claims to remember everything, so Trent realizes that this is going to make for some interesting journalism," said McCool. "They meet each other very early on in the story and Trent is told this outlandish story of conspiracy, murder and the appearance of what was claimed to be the Son of God. Trent thinks, 'What a crock of shit - but this is going to make an awesome piece for my newspaper!'

"Trent is essentially sabotaging everybody's trust just so he can put together the wildest, most eccentric story he can and obviously reap the benefits," the writer continued. "But in doing that, it somewhat backfires. Trent starts receiving more messages from what might be the source of the conspiracy itself. He essentially digs himself into a nasty old hole, and to get himself out of it, he has to team up with Bob, the guy he's betrayed by printing his story in the first place. He has to try and repair his relationship with Bob, because he sees that working with him is essentially his only way out of this predicament - 'This guy understands the situation and I don't' - and what happens from there is where things get really crazy."

That insanity can best be described as "Twin Peaks" by way of "The Twilight Zone," according to McCool, who says that "Memoir" is vastly different from "Choker," his other currently running miniseries co-created with Ben Templesmith. "It's certainly higher concept than 'Choker,' which is pretty much just about a character, and off the bat, it doesn't sound like anything sensational or groundbreaking," he said. "This is certainly more of a high concept idea, but at the same time...the story is as much about the evolution of Trent as it is about solving and surviving the mysterious conundrum surrounding Lowesville."

McCool told CBR that the initial idea for "Memoir" came to him several years ago, but it wasn't until he saw Cook's work that he knew how to flesh out. "It's something I've always been toying around with, but I never really knew how to go about doing it. Then Nikki and I started hanging out a few years ago, and I was looking at her art style and all of the sudden, it dawned on me that she would be great," the writer recalled. "Nikki really captures vacant expressions - it's difficult to describe it - but people who are really vacant and blank. That's exactly the look that I wanted for the inhabitants of Lowesville, and Nikki absolutely nailed it."

"What I really liked when Ben first came to me with the concept, was the idea that a lot of what was going on would be acting," Cook said of her reasons for signing onto the title. "A lot of the description of the mood would have to rely upon me being able to draw the people in that sort of mood. That's challenging enough to where it's really interesting for me. Plus, who doesn't like drawing maggots?"

"I've got poor Nikki drawing some pretty gruesome stuff," McCool laughed.

Having grown up in the Midwest, Cook drew upon her own personal experiences, and those of her family and friends, in creating the fictional setting of Lowesville. "I went home to where my dad lives in Wisconsin and took about a bazillion pictures," she said. "There's going to be a lot of Green Bay, Wisconsin in this book. It was actually a lot of fun having my friends in the Midwest send photos of their tiny towns."

While McCool himself had never visited the Midwest prior to working on "Memoir," the writer revealed that he's always been fascinated with that part of America. "I'm a big Discovery Channel watcher, and I've looked at some of the landscapes and thought that this would be the perfect setting, this small farming community," he said. "It really seems like a slice of Americana. I wanted this small town with the white picket fences and the big houses and lawns and play areas. The Midwest, as I always envisioned it, really seemed like this slice of proper America. I loved the idea of this classic American backdrop with such a crazy ass story."

There's nothing picturesque about the people of Lowesville, however, as Cook explained that they have built up "some nice, nasty resentment" in the three years since the mysterious incident. "There's just this huge isolation factor," she said. "When you no longer have any family, friends, ties or anything, and you realize that you really have to be out for yourself - and there's a good reason that everybody has to feel that way - there's just this tightly shuttered emotional aspect to all of them. They're so messed up. They want to talk about it, but they know better. As you bump across each and every character you meet, it just gets sadder."

"That's an area of the story I've really enjoyed developing in the plotting stage," McCool said of the Lowesville characters. "I was asking myself the question, 'If I forgot everything, how would I respond to that?' The first thing I imagined was that I would try and do research to find out who I was or what I did. Where some people have followed those avenues, others have said, 'Okay, what now?' They've relished in this stupor and are completely clueless as to what's going on. A lot of these characters are pretty darn creepy."

"Memoir" will premiere as a six issue miniseries in October, but readers can get their first taste for the story thanks to a series of three short prequels featured in the final three issues of McCool's "Choker," beginning with May's fourth issue. "The stories are purposely very strange, but upon reading 'Memoir,' you'll go back and realize what was going on," McCool said of the tales. "These short stories are designed to set the tone, mood and offer a little inkling of what's going on. At the same time, they're these kind of teaser shorts - but once the larger context of the actual book is revealed, it'll actually explain what's going on in these stories. There will be retroactive payoff, that's for sure."

For the time being, fans will remain in the dark alongside the citizens of Lowesville and Trent MacGowan himself.

"But when people find out exactly what's going on in this town, they're going to think, 'Holy shit. That is pretty nasty,'" McCool promised.

"Memoir," a six issue miniseries written by Ben McCool and illustrated by Nikki Cook, debuts in October courtesy of Image Comics. McCool and Cook will launch a trio of short prequel stories in the pages of "Choker" starting with May's fourth issue.

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