All week long, readers of the Robot 6 blog have been getting a tease into the strange and slightly horrific event about to overtake the quiet town of Wausau, WI. Today, at Emerald City Comicon, the morbid yet animated articles shown there had their full purpose come to light with the announcement of "Revival" – a new Rural Noir regular series by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton starting in July from Image Comics.
The "Penny Saver" ads and news clippings hinting at the return of the dead in a decidedly different way than, say, a zombie tale are only the tip of the iceberg for the book. When the dead walk and try to resume their own lives, the residents of Wausau must also confront mysterious specters, religious crises and many more creepy thrills.
CBR News spoke with studiomates Seeley and Norton about the origins of "Revival," what the ads hint about the book's tone and story, how they're collaborating closer than ever before and why the long-game mysteries of the book should prove to unnerve readers at the same time as the small town whose story they're telling.
CBR News: All right! So let's start at the beginning. Everyone knows your guys' work, and most folks know that you work together in the Four Star Studios where you launched your own stories in the Double Feature app last year. I assume this book was born out of discussions at the studio, but what were its specific origins, and why did you want to take it to Image?
Tim Seeley: I've been having a great time doing "Hack/Slash" through Image, and it's doing well enough that Image Overlord Eric Stephenson suggested I might want to try taking on another monthly book through them. I had a few ideas kicking around, and I knew whatever I did I wanted to work with Mike. I mean, together we created the GREATEST SINGLE ISSUE OF G.I.JOE THAT STARRED ROADBLOCK AND A LACTOSE INTOLERANT PUG EVER. So over a few months, sitting about 9 feet from each other, we came up with a series we knew we'd both enjoy doing -- a crime/horror comic set in rural central Wisconsin.
Mike Norton: Yeah, some of the most creative times of the day at the studio are when we're walking to and from lunch. It was then that Tim told me of this idea for "rural noir." That appealed to me, but when he brought in the mystery of the undead into the picture, I really saw this going somewhere.
So before we get into some of the particulars of this series and the rad ads you guys have had out, let's just talk about the general hook for the comic. You describe the book as a "Rural Noir." What can you say in general about your attraction to that kind of tale?
Seeley: Both Mike and I grew up in small towns, he in Tennessee, me in Wisconsin. We both hated the towns we were from as teenagers and young adults and got the hell out. But, now that we're both older, we can look on those towns with more understanding and affection. Central Wisconsin is a really interesting place. It's like concentrated America. It has all of the strengths and all of the weaknesses. All of the good stuff, and all of the conflicts on a more intimate scale. We thought it'd be the perfect setting for our story of a cop charged with policing the dead.
As for the "noir" aspect, at some point I heard the term "Farm noir" to describe films like "Fargo," "A Simple Plan," and "The Gift." They transferred the "hard boiled detective" trope from the "big city" to rural America. "Revival's" "Hollywood pitch" is basically "'Fargo' meets 'The Walking Dead'" so it seemed appropriate to invent a new genre name for ourselves.
Norton: I think the appeal of those kinds of stories is you have all the darkness and danger of a noir story, but placed in a setting that's not what you would expect with characters that are just as weird as the ones you remember when you grow up in a small town. I personally am attracted to the character development in this story. Tim's really fleshed out some interesting folks.
The dead have returned to life, and they've actually got themselves together mentally. What more can you say about what characters we'll discover this event though, and the mystery of why it's happened?
Seeley: The cause of the "Revival" is our big, over-arching, "Lost"-style mystery, and the readers will follow our small town detective as she discovers the truth. Our "living dead" are the people you knew -- or at least, they seem to be. And their sudden reappearance is going to cause a lot of problems for her. She's going to be so busy with murders, a government quarantine, and her own family, she's going to be a bit distracted from finding out why the undead are back working at Megafoods, and rejoining their old bowling leagues.
Norton: The mystery is really fun for me. Like I said, Tim's really fleshing out some interesting and unique characters. It's going to be fun to see who has something to hide and why are some people doing the strange things they're doing.
You've both written and drawn your own stuff -- what's the division of labor like here? And how long are you looking for this series to run?
Seeley: I'm doing the writing, Mike is doing the drawing. We kind of split up the character designs, but even if I took the first pass, it's Mike's version that we see on the page. I go through all the ideas and plot points with him. I would refer to it as "some collaborative shit."
We don't have a specific end issue in mind yet, but we know the ending. This'll be one of those long form finite series, like "Y: The Last Man." We've got enough ideas to keep it up as long as people are digging it, and Mike hasn't turned into a gibbering drool-monkey from drawing too many books a month.
Norton: This is by far the most collaborative project I've been part of. Tim had the idea from the start and even designed many of the characters. When he hands me a script, I look at it like I'm watching a TV show and tell him what I think works and what I would like even better if it were changed. Tim's very good at that kind of give and take process of writing. It's been very educational for me. Up until recently, I've been used to just drawing what other people want.
Let's dig into these teasers a bit! One real standout that everyone's discovered in looking at them is that this story takes place in Wausau, WI -- of which I'm sure a lot of readers will say "WHERE?!?" What inspired placing this story in a mid-sized city up there when so many of these kinds of genre horror tales either overtake massive metropolises or center on super remote cabins in the woods?
Seeley: That right there was one of the main reasons -- it hasn't been done very often. And, "Revival" kind of comes from two different ideas I wanted to do as comics, one a horror comic, and one a crime comic set in my hometown. I really love writing places, which maybe sounds weird or pretentious. But by setting "Witchblade" in Chicago (a place I'm really familiar with) I feel like I got so much more out of it. Setting "Revival" in a town I grew up in and still go back to several times a year meant I could include all kind of local color and really make it unique. Wausau is an interesting place -- it's very conservative as most small towns are, but it was also the smallest city in the US to have an alternative newspaper for 15 plus years. It's safe, and clean, but it has a legitimately dark side that have resulted in some pretty bizarre crimes. In fact, the first arc features several bizarre crimes, all of which are based on actual events. In fact, a murder in the first issue, as strange as it is, actually happened.
Norton: I went skiing in Wausau once. ONCE.
The other takeaway from these teasers -- or at least a standout element of them -- is that they're pretty damn funny. What kind of tone will "Revival" have? Is this straight horror, or will there be elements of humor working their way in?
Seeley: It's a straight horror/crime comic. My first really SERIOUS comic -- almost the opposite of "Hack/Slash." But, it being me and Mike, there's going to be funny stuff in it. We both love funny in our comics, and, believe it or not, a story of people coming back from the dead definitely lends itself to some good laughs. The teasers kind of got away from me, to be honest -- they're probably too funny, but almost all of the stuff mentioned in the teasers does occur in the book.
Norton: I think they're perfect. The same way you look at the "Penny Saver" style local paper at your local grocery store and go, "Seriously? This is a newspaper?" As far as the story goes, it's definitely more serious. I think the best way to make somebody scared, however, is to make you care for the people involved. Many times, the best way to make you care is to inject some humor.
There's also a definite religious thread that runs through the ads. In what way will religion play a role in the series, both in the heartening and horrific ways it manifests itself in the face of terrible events?
Seeley: Central Wisconsin, like most rural America, is a very religious place, predominately Christian. There's no way to tell a story about the dead returning without referring to religion, especially Biblical stories. The Bible, like all religious texts, is full of resurrections. You could probably say the whole point of religion is to guarantee some kind of resurrection for yourself. It's definitely an ongoing theme of the series, with a certain percentage of people affected by this believing it's a signal that they've been given a gift, or that the end of the world is coming, or both. One of our main characters is a transplant from Atlanta, who happens to be a Muslim (though not a particularly good one) and we'll see some of this through that view point as well.
Norton: Religion is definitely a part of the story. In fact, we'll have viewpoints on the revival from several different beliefs as we go along in the series.
We're getting a look at some of Mike's pages with this announcement, and in it, we see a ghostly/ghastly figure lurking out in the Wisconsin woods. What can we say about this figure and how he... er... figures into the story?
Seeley: In the scripts that weird critter is referred to as a "creep." And, yes, they're one of the most compelling mysteries in the first arc and after!
Norton: IT'S A MYSTERY!!!
Finally, what's the element of the series that you're most excited to get out in front of the readers and why?
Seeley: For me it's getting a chance to write real people. They want to do right, support their families, and, y'know, maybe go ice-fishing with their friends on weekends. They're not typical heroes or villains -- they're very realistic, small town people dealing with an extraordinary situation. Horror often present very generalized people -- archetypes, so they can get right to the scares. "Revival" is going to be as much about the characters as it is about the creepiness.
Norton: That's my favorite part about it as well. This project has me really excited. The characters live and breath for me, and I can't wait to see if people react to them the same way.