As one of the most prolific comic writers in comics, Jeff Lemire has worked across a number of genres. He’s done superheroes, he’s done science-fiction, he’s done a whole comic about a deer boy road-tripping across a post-apocalyptic wasteland. But Lemire’s newest comic, Gideon Falls with artist Andrea Sorrentino, is a whole new genre for him: horror.
Gideon Falls begins by telling two stories simultaneously. One follows a young man named Norton who has developed a paranoid obsession with collecting pieces of garbage that he believes are connected to a legendary apparition known as the Black Barn. At the same time, viewers follow Father Fred, who has arrived at the titular country town of Gideon Falls to replace the recently deceased priest. While there, Fred himself starts hearing rumors about the Black Barn. In classic Lemire style, there are many secrets and tons of plot left to unfold, but right from the first issue, Gideon Falls is saturated with a horrific sense of anxiety.
“The connection between these two guys is one of the big questions that will drive the series,” Lemire tells EW. “One thing I love about this story is juxtaposing things that are extreme opposites. Fred is in his 60s, he has lived a full life but has all these regrets, he’s a hardened guy. Juxtapose that with Norton, who is very young and scared of the world around him. One’s in this urban center while the other’s out in this bucolic rural setting. It’s fun to take a contrast like that and make an interesting tension. One thing I’ve always loved about working with Andrea is he’ll take themes or psychological interior landscape of these characters and find a way to visualize it.”
For his part, Sorrentino says that he’s working to distinguish Norton’s and Fred’s stories while still weaving their individual issues into the art around them.
“The City is darker, grittier, and should carry a nihilistic sense of loss with it, while Gideon Falls, the place where Father Fred is heading to is, at the moment at least, a calmer place,” Sorrentino says. “We have a different color palette for them, but I also tried to differentiate them with different layouts and general approaches. With Norton, I’m going more experimental, using some unusual layouts, closer angles, distorted views, and in general moving the camera around a bit more. On the other side, with Father Fred I’m using a more cinematic approach: Long panels, slow-paced sequences, a more frequent ‘human eye’ angle, brighter and quieter views.”
It’s a good time for horror stories these days. Jordan Peele’s Get Out won Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards on Sunday, and was even nominated for Best Picture — only the sixth horror film ever to make it into the category. The eventual Best Picture winner, Guilllermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, was clearly influenced by old horror stories and Del Toro’s lifelong love of genre filmmaking. 2017 also saw the new film adaptation of Stephen King’s It become the highest-grossing horror movie of all time.
“It does seem in general right now there’s a sense of foreboding in the world that’s hard to escape from,” Lemire says. “I don’t want to get political or anything but whoever you are, there’s a lot of scary things happening. Using horror to process some of those fears and anxieties can be healthy for a creator, and it’s something that’s healthy for readers as well. It’s funny, you’d think that when times are dark people wouldn’t want dark fiction, but it seems that sometimes people do need stories to process what they’re feeling.”
There are so many different ways to make a story scary, of course. Get Out accomplishes a lot of its scares through unusual body language, while It relies on the monstrous visage of Peter Skarsgard as a child-eating clown. Gideon Falls’ Black Barn might provide supernatural horror as the story evolves, but Sorrentino is also making fear palpable in his art.
“Madness is a tricky thing to convey on pages, actually. You can go too crazy and ruin the reading experience, or you can go too conventional and leaving the reader disappointed,” Sorrentino says. “So I was looking for that very little space in between, trying to do my best to convey the sense of horror and madness without being too explicit about it. I played a lot with the angles and the layouts. For Norton’s scenes, I usually went with closer shots, smaller panels, to try to convey that sense of claustrophobic feel that you have when your mind can only focus on your obsession. Like the panel itself is limiting Norton’s view of the world around him. Also, I sometimes used some unusual layouts in key moments to try to let readers enter into Norton’s mind. The very first image of Norton, an upside-down shot of him, is something I wanted to use to give a clear idea, from the very first moment, to the readers that there’s something twisted and insane about this guy with the mask.”
And for anyone wondering: Yes, the Black Barn of Gideon Falls does owe a debt of inspiration to Twin Peaks’ Black Lodge. The long-awaited third season of the influential David Lynch/Mark Frost series even started airing on Showtime while Lemire was writing Gideon Falls.
“I’ve been obsessed with Twin Peaks since I was a kid,” Lemire says. “It just hit me somewhere really deep, and it’s been a big part of my creative life ever since. I have this very conscious relationship with it. I wanted to do something that was a rural murder mystery, and the best way to pay tribute to something is to take it and be inspired by it. Then when I was writing it and The Return hit, which I had dreamed of for two decades. The Black Barn is this otherworldly dimensional thing happening in a small town, so you can draw your own parallel. But it’s not gonna go the same place the Lodge went.”