Williams Opens the Book on "North 40"

At this year's ComicsPRO retailers meeting, Wildstorm announced a new creator-driven series of books. All this week, CBR News is speaking with the writers involved in those titles.

Yesterday, former DC Senior Editor Jeff Mariotte told us about "Garrison," his and artist Francesco Francavilla's six-issue action epic set in the near-future.

Today, Aaron Williams, the acclaimed indie creator behind "Nodwick," "ps238" and "Full Frontal Nerdity," reveals the details of the Lovecraftian world of "North 40" while series artist Fiona Staples ("Hawksmoor") shares with us some exclusive art.

CBR News: Aaron, we know so little about "North 40," so let's start at the top. What's the premise?

Aaron Williams: "North 40" is basically what happens when you take a small backwoods county in the Midwest and drop H.P. Lovecraft on it. An old spellbook, belonging to a witch who practiced the odd incantation or two, was opened and as a result, plunged Conover County into a C'thuloid nightmare. Many of the residents are changed, often for the worse, and those who are still "normal" pretty much find places to hole up and hope for things to improve. A select few gained more extraordinary abilities, and they become some of the book's heroes. Managing the whole mess is Conover County's venerable Sheriff Morgan, dispenser of wisdom and .45 slugs, if the need arises.

The whole county is in a kind of "bubble," where you're unable to pass without help from certain powerful individuals. The county seat is Lufton, the dynamics of which I based on a small town I grew up in. Lufton has a college and a small downtown, so you get a set of 'townie' people who are more or less in touch with mainstream culture, music, gadgetry, etc. surrounded by a more rural area populated by people who are by no means stupid, but who live a different kind of life than that of their more urban Conoverites.

You mentioned a spellbook. Can you share any details about it? Or the witch it belonged to?

The book itself belonged to a woman named Marguritte DeVris, a "witch" of a sort. She went into seclusion in Lufton, hiding her home from prying eyes, but even that won't keep out the more insistent supernatural sleuths. In the 1960s, a man from Vidette University, Lufton's own hall of learning, learned about DeVris from local lore, managed to get past her defenses, and then delivered the book to Vidette U.'s collection before coming to a very bad end. The comic details how it gets loose again.

Again, earlier you talked about Sheriff Morgan. Is he one of the book's main characters?

The three most prominent "heroes" are Wyatt Hinkle, Sheriff Morgan, and Amanda Walker. Wyatt is caught between the 'townie' and 'redneck' worlds in Conover. His "pa" is a dirt farmer and Wyatt is just smart enough to be shunned by his rural peers yet rural enough to earn the scorn of his classmates that live near paved streets. Wyatt becomes more powerful than most thanks to supernatural events, and Sheriff Morgan takes him under his wing.

The Sheriff has been around longer than anyone can remember. And that's a good thing, as he often has to use what he knows about the community he polices to resolve conflicts without anyone getting shot or pulped. Now, with the clans who barely tolerated him and the law producing members with otherworldly "gifts," Sheriff Morgan has to recruit some help of his own and try to keep the county from imploding in carnage.

Amanda Walker becomes Marguritte DeVris' apprentice. Amanda is the product of a union between two warring clans in Conover County, so she fails to have the protection of either. One night, in some old ruins near Lufton, she hears Marguritte's voice and is started on a path to learning about an otherworldly power and how to use it without going mad.

Your fans know you for "PS238," "Nodwick" and "Full Frontal Nerdity." Is "North 40" similar to any of these projects?

Not really; this one is more adult and horror-oriented. People die, we have monsters ranging from the undead to... well, 'walking seafood buffet by way of Cloverfield' might cover it.

I think those familiar with my other works will see my pacing and plot-smithery come through. Though this time, I had a lot of great editorial help from Wildstorm's Scott Peterson. I think we both did some great stuff with this book, and Fiona Staples' amazing artwork just lets it soar.

Is "North 40" a humor book?

There is humor in it, most definitely. I think the Sheriff's dialogue is some of my favorite. I was trying to combine the "old world" speak that Stephen King uses in his "Dark Tower" series with the kind of southern humor that my dad would put on a phrase. Something along the lines of "that boy's so ugly it looks like someone set him afire and put him out with a rake." There's also a diner that gains a few extra patrons as the book progresses that is a great source of comic relief.

The initial run is planned for six issues. Do you have a larger mythos already established in your head that, if sales warrant it, we could see more "North 40?"

Most definitely. The setting and characters could easily continue, as we discover how the county will "survive." Also, there's a hint that what happened in Conover didn't go unnoticed in the outside world.

What can you say about the art of Fiona Staples?

The most common thing I find myself saying is, "Yeah, that's even better than I envisioned it!" I was shown her work for the "Hawksmoor" comic, and I knew "North 40" was in great hands. Her work is fantastic, and it's a real thrill seeing another artist's interpretation of your ideas. She also draws some incredible monsters. There are several that come from a salvage yard in Conover County that I can't wait for everyone to see. She captures the people and setting so well, I can almost hear the locusts and smell the grass and gas near the convenience store at the edge of town. There's been a lot of discussion about seeing if we could clone her somehow, so we're trying to get a research grant. Seriously, though, I wouldn't be surprised if we see a lot more from Fiona in the near future, which is awesome.

What else are you working on these days?

At the moment, I'm in talks with the editors at Wildstorm -- who organize great karaoke events, by the way -- about several other developing ideas. Also, work continues on the "ps238" comic book, my webcomic "Full Frontal Nerdity," and my thrice-weekly comic for www.crispygamer.com called "Backward Compatible." I've got loads of other things I'd love to put out there, including a lighthearted vampire idea, if there can be such a beast, but I need to get that time machine working so I can manage to work 24/7.

"North 40" #1 is expected in July from Wildstorm.

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