Lowesville was once the perfect picture of small town Americana, a modest midwestern community filled with librarians, butchers, farmers and other ordinary civilians. But the peaceful town suffered a jolt three years ago when all of Lowesville's residents woke up one morning without a single memory of who they are, where they are or what's happened to them. The entire town's memory was wiped clean, save for one man who claims to remembers everything.
"Memoir," a new Image Comics miniseries from writer Ben McCool and artist Nikki Cook, invites readers to explore the curious case of Lowesville through the eyes of Trent MacGowan, a fiercely ambitious reporter looking for any way to advance his career. While most media outlets have moved on from Lowesville, MacGowan sees an opportunity to break the case wide open and boost his reputation in the process. But when Trent strolls into town, nobody is interested in speaking with him, save for Bob, the one man who claims to remember everything about the memory-cleansing incident. Though Bob's story seems outlandish at first, Trent quickly realizes that there's something deadly bubbling beneath Lowesville's surface — something that just might kill him if he isn't careful.
McCool has described "Memoir" as drawing inspiration from "The Twilight Zone" and "Twin Peaks," which means that in addition to offering readers with a sinister and bewildering premise, there's an equally bizarre cast of characters to boot. In an effort to get to know our new neighbors in advance of the first issue's January release date, CBR News reached out to McCool to discuss the various men and women living in Lowesville. As an additional treat, series artist Nikki Cook provided us with four exclusive character illustrations created specifically for this article!
CBR News: Ben, "Memoir" is centered on this idea of collective memory loss, this shared experience where everyone's memories in Lowesville were wiped clean. What were your goals in terms of getting into these characters' heads and showing the different ways someone might react to this kind of trauma?
Ben McCool: One of the main things I'm looking to achieve in "Memoir" is to have a selection of different characters who are all responding to the memory loss in their own unique way. Some of them are dealing with it — "You know, it sucks, but life goes on" — and some of them can't even conceive of life going on. "Who am I? Am I sabotaging myself as a person?" Other people are just confused. There's an element of conspiracy theory within the town. There's an interesting selection of characters, definitely.
The memory loss is the high concept, but to sustain interest throughout the book, I had to explore exactly how people would try and deal with this. How would this impact people's lives? Would you be the kind of person who desperately needed to know who they were before, scrambling to the computer and researching yourself? Would you just give up hope and exist in some memoryless solitude? Or would you embellish yourself and consider this a fresh start? I very much tried to focus on those elements, especially in the book's co-cast, trying to make it as interesting and thought-provoking as possible. Like I say, how would you deal with waking up one morning and not knowing who you are, where you are or what's happened to you? What would be the first thing you do? I find that very interesting, so it's something I'm definitely looking to achieve in addition to addressing the predominant conflict in the book.
Before diving into Lowesville's residents, I feel like we should start by talking about an outsider, Trent MacGowan, the main character of "Memoir." What can you tell us about Trent?
Trent MacGowan is an eager, and I guess you could say overzealous young journalist. He's absolutely desperate to make it to the big time. He's recently graduated from college, he's working his ass off on a few smaller assignments, and he's been offered what he believes to be the job that could get him to the big time: returning to the strange case of Lowesville. The initial "incident" occurred just over three years ago, and initially unleashed a mass-media frenzy worldwide. People were talking about it, and any reporter lucky enough to get assigned to Lowesville was deemed a media hero. But in the preceding years, interest has dwindled and many people think it was a sham created by a small farming community to get attention. Lowesville still appears here and there in the newspapers, but for the most part, it's kind of gone.
But Trent's intention is to bring it back to the limelight. He wants to revisit Lowesville and figure out exactly what happened in this town. However, being a self-centered young smart-ass, Trent's really looking to exploit the town. He cares about these people at face value, he wants to show the world how these brave people are battling on — at least that's the image he wants to put on. Deep down, he's thinking that these people [are going to make his career]. Any chance for exploitation, he'll take it. Whatever it takes to get him to the next level.
He's not exactly coming at this from an altruistic standpoint; Trent is very clearly looking out for number one. Is that the kind of man he really is deep down?
This is the kind of facade he puts up for himself. "I'm cool, I'm better than everybody else." This is the image he wants people to see. But there's an interesting experience from his childhood that he's mostly managed to keep out of his memory, but something happened when he was very young that upset him enormously. From that day onward, he created this egotistical persona that's basically a front to disguise something deep down that troubles him greatly. As soon as he arrives in Lowesville, these nightmares start [recurring] and he realizes there may be some connection to what happened to him as a child and what's happening to him now. As his nightmares are becoming more vivid and prominent in the time he's spending in Lowesville, a lot of his troubles are bubbling to the surface.
What are some of Trent's redeeming qualities? Does he have any?
To begin with, there isn't an awful lot. [Laughs] I've made a concerted effort to showcase this guy who, I wouldn't say he's a horrible person, but he's certainly self-centered and self-motivated, seemingly devoid of compassion towards others. He has a goal in life to succeed, and all of this is part of the character he created to shield these inner weaknesses that he's ashamed of. In the beginning, there's not an awful lot that a nice guy like myself or you could really relate to.
But as the story goes on, once the ego has been removed and things become a lot more real — he understands that he's in a lot of trouble, he's in something big that could potentially kill him — he has no choice but to show his genuine personality minus the camouflage he's been wearing for the previous 25 years. Once that happens, he becomes a lot more approachable and he starts taking an interest in other people. He starts feeling sympathy towards what these people have been through. Trent does earn his redemption, but not easily.
Trent is a character that you have to spend a lot of your time writing. Is it ever hard spending so much time with someone who is so loathsome in a way?
Absolutely fantastic question, and absolutely true. Before I started scripting the book, I'd sit down in front of the computer and write something approaching an essay about each main character. For me to treat the characters in the way I feel they deserve, I need to feel that I know them. I like to feel as close and as connected to the characters as possible. So when someone is so selfish and loathsome, while I hate that kind of thing in real life, forcing myself to get into that head space is uncomfortable but challenging and ultimately rewarding. By the time I'm finished writing Trent MacGowan, particularly in the first two and a half issues, I'll return to my normal life and think, "Hey, I'm not such a bad guy after all!" [Laughs] The contrast is very, very interesting.
But Trent's goals switch somewhere around issue two or three. All of the sudden, Trent understands that his agenda and objective in Lowesville has completely changed, mostly regarding survival. His redemption becomes something that's more deserved, but at the same time, the redemption he earns isn't necessarily a good thing, at least as far as the old Trent MacGowan is concerned. Yeah, a lot of the co-characters won't enjoy happy, horrorless endings. [Laughs]
Let's get into the residents of Lowesville. We probably can't continue without talking about Bob first, the only person who claims to remember everything that happened in this small town.
Absolutely. He enters the series in the form of an e-mail to Trent. In issue one, Trent has spent the day in Lowesville and nobody seems to be talking or responding to him. Bob is unusual in that he actively pursues Trent. He's very keen to not only talk to him, but to explain what he believes happened during "the incident." Bob is very different from Trent both in terms of personality and appearance; Trent dresses very dapper and smart, likes to exude a classiness, and Bob is this disheveled, forty-something frumpy dude. Look up People of Walmart, and you might see Bob. [Laughs] But Bob very much has his own agenda in this story, and the first meeting between Trent and Bob sparks the whole shitstorm that ensues in the first place. Without giving too much away, he's got his own thing going on. He could well be using Trent just as much as Trent is using him.
What are some of the challenges of writing a mysterious character like Bob without tipping your hand too much about his secrets?
The story is told completely through Trent's perspective, so his gradual character evolution is witnessed entirely by the reading audience. When things start getting messy in the town, his attitude towards the town and the situation starts to deviate and become something else along Trent's more natural train of thought. But with Bob, each time we see him, there appears to be something else going on. It's almost as if Bob is orchestrating every experience that Trent is having in Lowesville. That said, it's not necessarily Bob's fault — and that's all I'll say for now. He's a very prominent player in the mystery, but at the same time, his involvement may be as much out of his hands as it is out of Trent's.
It's quite interesting. When Trent first gets Bob's invitation to tell him everything he remembers, Trent's thinking that this guy is the springboard to bring him to the next level. He's trying to force himself upon Bob, but when he's done, he tries distancing himself from Bob, because he's going to exploit the story. But when things start getting out of hand in Lowesville, Trent is forced to track down Bob again, but for very different reasons. Maybe he knows what's going on. Maybe he's behind this. Maybe he's an innocent passenger on this ride. Trent doesn't quite know; he never had any intention of talking to him again, and now he has to, knowing full-well that he's betrayed his trust. Trent and Bob have no choice but to work in correspondence with one another, but neither necessarily likes it. But it's their only choice.
When you have two characters who share a common bond but couldn't be anymore different, that's very interesting to me. I love throwing these guys together just to see what happens. I'm a big people watcher, and when it comes to plotting and developing the stories, I'll do a lot of observing at the cafe or the bar or wherever. I'll notice the way people approach each other, how they speak to each other, and to me, that's absolutely fascinating. When you have a story as bewildering as this one with two characters that are such polar opposites, it's always fascinating to me to see what happens when you throw them together.
When you first began fleshing out the "Memoir" cast, was there one possible reaction to the memory loss that immediately struck you as an interesting place to start building a character?
I'm a very, very nosy and inquisitive bastard just by nature, so the very first thing I did was try to ascertain how I myself would respond to this. I genuinely believe that I would be the most curious, fervently answer-seeking annoying bastard possible. [Laughs] I'd be the guy glued to the internet and looking through photo albums, because I'd need to know everything. I would feel lost without a confidence and understanding of who I really am as a person. I'd do everything I can to counteract what was happening and recapture [myself] as quickly as possible.
That led to a particular character, Sandra, the kooky-ass librarian. She needs to know everything. In researching her past and people she was associated with, she's managed to spin up these crazy conspiracy theories of what might have happened and who was behind it. As far as she's been able to understand, Sandra has worked in Lowesville's public library for years. She stayed there while she was in college, she's worked her way through the ranks to becoming the head librarian, and she smells a rat. "This is just ridiculous. How could this have happened?" Anytime someone new comes into the town, she's very hostile towards them. What she's eventually done for herself is establish a network of followers in the town who believe that something's going down. It's a complete conspiracy. She has a meeting place underneath the library that no one else knows about, and she kind of spies on people during the night without attracting much attention.
Sandra is the pioneer behind this movement and she takes it a lot more seriously than anyone else does, but she has four or five friends who she's managed to convince that this is just a crazy-ass government-orchestrated abomination. She's determined to expose whoever is behind it. Inside her own library, she sets up an internet center where people can come in, get online and she'll talk them through her research of who they are now and things like that.
How do Sandra and Trent first come into contact?
When Trent first arrives and starts looking into what's going on, people are understandably dubious of him as an outsider. He takes it upon himself to head to the library and he starts looking into people on the Internet. Sandra very gruffly approaches and is absolutely appalled by Trent, thinking he works for the government, banning him from the library; she's completely hostile towards Trent. But her involvement certainly increases as they go along.
If Sandra's whole life is based around finding out what really happened in Lowesville, what happens to her once she gets those answers? Is someone like that ever going to find satisfaction in this situation?
It's interesting you say that. When the story begins, she's completely self-centered and driven by this need to know the answers without really thinking about the consequences. As her and Trent start talking more, that's explored slightly — how satisfying is it going to be? Once you know the truth, what then? As it stands, upon meeting her in the story, her absolute goal is finding out what the hell happened and who the hell is behind it. That's pretty much her driving factor in the story.
Sandra has historical and documented evidence to tell her that she's a librarian, thanks to the information center she's established at the library. But if something as astonishing as widespread memory loss can occur, does it dawn on Sandra and her neighbors that even the so-called proof of their past lives might be filled with lies?
Josh, you're absolutely brilliant. [Laughs] Okay, one of the co-themes of "Memoir" is almost a political observation. I'm fascinated with China, North Korea and doctored Internet access. To me, it's as disgusting as it is astonishing.
An interesting point is raised midway through "Memoir." If Internet content was somehow doctored, if what you're searching for is somehow what somebody wants you to think, how do you respond to that? Not only have you been completely sabotaged with your memory being removed, but once you're brought back to life as it were, if you were one of these people who was absolutely dead set on researching who you were and what was going on in your life, then all of the sudden this doubt is thrust upon you that what you're reading isn't absolutely true, how do you respond to that? If you found out that somebody in town actually does know what happened, what would you be willing to do to get to him?
These questions absolutely come up. I love the idea of doctored Internet access and camouflaged information, even edited information. To me, that's almost as fascinating as losing your memory in the first place: you were led to believe one thing, but then you find out that it's all a complete fabrication, what happens then? That subject matter is very much explored in "Memoir."
Sandra is just one of the many paranoid people living in Lowesville, of course. Who else can we look forward to meeting?
There's a butcher called Melvyn, who is a very surreptitious element to the story. He's convinced he's selling something other than animal meat in his store, and he refuses to sell meat to anybody that he doesn't know instantly. In issue one, Bob recommends that Trent pays Melvyn a visit. Melvyn seems to think that bad things have happened in this town and that what he's selling in his store is a direct result of that. He's a complete lunatic, but however, he seems to know something about what's going on in Lowesville. Perhaps he knows a bit more than anybody gives him credit for.
Towards the end of issue one, there's a rather disturbing discovery buried beneath Lowesville's main street. There's a crazy-ass guy named Doug the Digger, and Doug is obsessed with digging the roads around Lowesville. He makes a pretty gruesome discovery by the end of issue one. Everyone is shocked, appalled and frightened, but Melvyn mutters to himself: "Keep digging down, Doug. Before long, you'll hit Hell itself." Melvyn certainly has, I wouldn't say another agenda, but he knows a lot more than he's given credit for.
Melvyn also shares an interesting relationship with Bob, which we'll explore a little bit later on [in the series]. He's come up with some conspiracy theories of his own that are very different from Sandra's, but he seems to know a lot more about what actually has happened. Whatever weird shit goes down, he doesn't seem the slightest bit surprised. Also, he's the first person to offer Trent with a warning to avoid "the shadow people." Who the shadow people are and what they want, I can't say. But Melvyn seems to know a thing or two about these shadow people, so keep an eye out on the guy.
Let's go back to Doug the Digger. Who is he?
There's a huge forest which features prominently in the story, and between the forest entrance and the edge of town, there's a small graveyard. Doug the Digger, as he's come to be known, was the town's undertaker. Various books showcase the fact that he and his family have been doing that for quite some time. Doug, however, is one of the guys who went mad upon awakening from this "incident." He just couldn't deal with it. "This is beyond my mental capacity. I'm going to become a fucking lunatic." At least, that's the perception that the people in town have of him.
Doug spends his days wandering around the town digging up random pieces of road, out in the forest, because he claims to hear and see people, especially when he's asleep at night. He wakes up at night and his room is filled with shadows, these shadow people, perhaps the same ones Melvyn is talking about. They constantly whisper howls of anguish, they're praying for help, and they won't leave Doug alone — at least that's what he says. So he walks around town digging randomly, saying, "I've got to find them all! I've got to find them all! They won't leave me alone until I've found them all!"
Doug's an interesting character in that he couldn't adapt to life without knowing who he was. Maybe he's insecure, maybe he lacks confidence, but starting as a blank canvas, it's most definitely not a blessing for Doug. He's the town lunatic, if you like, and our first introduction to Doug the Digger is Trent looking on as Doug hacks into the road, exclaiming that he must find them all. But a discovery made by Doug could add weight to what he's saying.
People always like the crazy guy in movies and books, and when the crazy guy might be on to something, that's very interesting. Has this guy been driven mad by what he knows and suspects? Are these voices actually for real? Could somebody have done this to this guy? How was he when he first woke up from his memory devoid slumber? The crazy guy was a must include for this story. There are a few [crazy people] in this story, but Doug absolutely represents the lunatic contingent that dwells within Lowesville. But as the story progresses, there may be some weight to his claims. Perhaps his fragmented mindset is a direct result of things that happened to him post-incident. He's fairly limited in his capacity as a character, but he contributes to some important discoveries that lead into the situation that Trent is eventually faced with.
Everyone we've talked about so far has some level of discomfort with what happened in Lowesville. Is there anybody in the cast who's actually doing okay post-memory loss?
There are a number of people who seem to be doing just fine. Most of them are considered dangerous by the rest of Lowesville's residents. The hotel clerk, Brian, is a very unusual character. There's one hotel in Lowesville, and when Trent arrives, he's the only one staying there. Brian works at the desk and he seems very blasé about everything. Trent intends to speak with him about what to check out in the town and who to interview, but the clerk seems to be very despondent. He doesn't seem to give much of a shit, which in itself is very curious. It's one of the many reasons that people in Lowesville, in particular Sandra, think that he has something to do with what's going down.
There's another guy, Ted, who was allegedly a farmer. He's completely given up. It's not that he's gone completely bonkers, but he almost doesn't care anymore. He doesn't feature too prominently in the story, but he's someone that Trent encounters briefly. Ted's explanation is, "I'm old and I've lived my life. It's too late for me to start over, so I'm just getting on with it. I'm sowing my seeds, working the fields, doing what I know how." These people are devoid of memories, but they still have their instincts about them — they can still talk, they can still cook, they can still read — so it's not like their primary survival instinct has been taken away from them, they just don't know who the hell they are or what the hell has happened. This guy feels comfortable farming, and that's all he does. He farms, gets on with it, and he doesn't give a shit. Other people keep away from him because they're intimidated by this mindset. How can you not want to know more? Why the hell not?
This is an event that caused certain people to fall off the deep end, others to grow apathetic, while some people are fired up and motivated to find out what happened to them. Who in the cast is psyched about this? Is there anyone who saw this incident as an opportunity to start over and seize the day?
There's a character called Dennis who, for whatever reason, thinks that he's killed his wife. Now he thinks he's gotten away with it. He can't remember for sure whether or not it actually happened, but for some strange reason, he senses it. He woke up that morning and his initial realization was, "Oh my god, I've done something so traumatic, I've completely dissolved my memory! Perhaps I put [my wife] in a meat grinder, or perhaps I put her into a vice — but I got away with it!" [Laughs] His guilty conscience is removed, because he's not sure if he did it or not.
He's not exactly a main character, but when Trent starts speaking to him, it presents a whole new angle to the story: what were these people up to? Perhaps there was something devious happening in this town. Maybe he went crazy because of the incident and he manufactured this as a way of getting over it. I wish that I'd been able to get Dennis more into the story, because he really is quite a great character.
It sounds like Lowesville is filled with great characters, or at the very least some eclectic ones! Is there anybody else you think we need to know about before "Memoir" begins next month?
There is one more character that I want to talk to you about. This character is very different from the rest for a number of reasons, most prominently the fact that not everybody can see her.
Bob, when he's telling his story to Trent about the incident and what actually happened, claims that he was visited by a young lady who said she was the daughter of God. He said he was lying in bed when he noticed someone standing in the corner of the room dressed in hospital garments. She communicated with Bob telepathically, laying her thoughts into Bob's mind, without opening her mouth — this is what Bob claims — and she's explaining that a storm's coming, that people were going to be in town and nothing would ever be the same. Bob isn't sure whether he's seen her before. He thinks she's a girl from around town, but he isn't sure that it's the same person. The daughter of God seems rather outlandish and improbable, but at the same time, as soon as she disappears, that's when [the incident] goes down. Bob, in reciting his tale to Trent, is actually convinced that she's the centerpiece factor to whatever the hell happened in Lowesville.
She does indeed appear at various points in the story in more of a fleeting manner than most of the other characters. Like I've said, Bob and Sandra and these characters come into play as a result of Trent's actions, whereas the daughter of God seems to make up her own mind about when she wants to show up and what she wants to do. I can't say much more about her, but she's most definitely a driving force in the story. Trent can apparently see her, if she is the same person that Bob was talking about. Melvyn at least knows about her, and Doug the Digger claims to have buried her once despite the fact that she's walking around and speaking to people. Others don't see her and refuse to believe she exists, thinking that she's a figure of these crazy people's imaginations.
She's very prominent in what's going on and what's going to happen, but at the same time, she's a complete enigma in that nobody knows who she is, what she wants or why she's even there. All will eventually be revealed, but whoever she is, she's a very important cog in the many turning parts of the machine that is "Memoir."
"Memoir" #1, written by Ben McCool and illustrated by Nikki Cook, arrives in stores on January 19, 2010.