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.