Many artists and writers -- working in a self-imposed isolation, struggling to connect plot points or properly render imagined demons -- have at some point questioned their own mental stability. Writer Paul Tobin and artist Juan Ferreyra ("Falling Skies") have used that self-questioning as the seed for their new miniseries, "Colder," from Dark Horse Comics. Comic Book Resources spoke with Tobin about the inception of "Colder," and what Tobin sees as the blurry line between sanity and insanity.
"Colder," hitting stores on November 7, follows the story of Declan Thomas, an ex-asylum inmate. Declan never gets sick and never feels pain, his body temperature slowly, but steadily, falling. He also finds that he can move into another person's unstable mind and, sometimes, repair the damage he discovers. The story opens with Declan comatose and cared for by a nurse, Reece.
"Strangely, Declan's body temperature is way below normal. Way below possible, even," Tobin told CBR. "The story of why that is begins to unfold when Declan wakes up, when we start to see a tragedy that occurred in the 1940's during early LSD experiments at Sansid Asylum, a home for the criminally insane."
Whatever manifested Declan's ability to restore the mental stability of others also brought forth an antithesis: the figure known as Nimble Jack.
"Something happened to Declan: something that's frozen his age, and that has been steadily dropping his body temperature ever since," explained Tobin. "Worse, something was awoken at the same time: a strange man named Nimble Jack who feeds on insanity. "Colder" is about Declan's insanity, his struggle to avoid being another dish on Nimble Jack's table, and about a battle that wavers back and forth between the worlds of the sane and the insane."
Declan sets out to repair minds and protect potential victims of Nimble Jack mostly out of empathy, but sometimes for survival. Declan is not alone in his struggle, however. The book also follows the growing relationship between Declan and Reece, who becomes, as Tobin put it, "unfortunately aware" of the struggle Declan faces with Nimble Jack.
"Colder," treads in horror territory, navigating damaged mental landscapes and nightmares brought to life, but it also has at least one foot partially in the superhero realm, as Declan is determined to utilize his abilities to help the less fortunate and face down the demons others are ill equipped to confront. As readers of his work know, Tobin delights in pulling threads from varied genres, whether in "Colder" or in other works such as his web comic "Bandette" and recent novel, "Prepare to Die!"
"What I really want is to tell a damn fine story, and if that means I pluck elements from multiple genres, so be it," said Tobin. "In fact, that's better for me. I love multiple genres. I'd love to write superhero stories that were true horror stories -- westerns that were Lovecraftian horror. Anything where I can explore character -- that's where I want to be."
Tobin's inspiration for "Colder" stems from a range of sources, both personal and historical. As a primary plot point, the book critiques early experimentation performed by the US Government with the mind-altering hallucinogen LSD, sometimes administered to unsuspecting patients.
"There simply isn't a drug (at least prior to the 1950's, and, often, even beyond) that hasn't been foisted on a group of unsuspecting 'crazy' folks," said Tobin. "There's a point in 'Colder' where two doctors are explaining that these people simply don't matter, that it's almost for the best to do strange medical experiments on them. I mean, hey, it's better than trying the experiments on 'real' people, right?"
Tobin also allowed his own experiences to inform the book, examining his own forays into altered consciousness and trying to understand the thin line separating sanity from insanity.
"Hell, I think we've all crossed [that line] at times," said Tobin. "There was a month when I was writing so much, that at one point I had an extremely vivid hallucination of a well-dressed man unfolding his legs out from under my writing table, then scooting outwards, standing and looking at me for a bit, and then walking out of the room through a closed door in ghostlike fashion. I mean -- I was writing a lot that month, really straining my mind. Hallucinations weren't all that unexpected. But then I began to wonder what it would be like to be one of those people who were having hallucinations all the time. And what if they were the ones seeing things as they truly were. That was really the genesis of 'Colder.' Then a night with some absinthe and other fun stuff really triggered the connection with sight, with insanity, and with worlds unseen."
As a writer, part of the challenge is rendering that imagined world, that unseen world, in such a way that it can be seen or, at least translated by the reader's imagination. Working with artist Juan Ferreyra, Tobin had to also allow Ferreyra's vision of this world to take its own form, its own reflection of Tobin's written word.
"I see stories as fragments of visuals," said Tobin. "A flash of something here, a swatch over there. But mostly I see stories as lines: lines with connections and parts where the lines are thicker or thinner, and I gauge the spaces between events (the thick points) and characterization (which I tend to see as the more focused thin points) and try to make sure there are no breaks in the line.
"Juan, in 'Colder,' changed my 'lines' in a lot of ways," Tobin continued. "Chief among them was that he took Nimble Jack, the scary bad guy, and made him far more unsettling. He's just as scary, but now he's -- he's wrong. Just the way Juan draws him makes my skin crawl, so I changed a lot of story to let that unsettling quality come to the fore, and give Juan more ways to give us nightmares.
"Juan is amazing! He's turned in some art that's absolutely unsettling. Several times my response to his pages has been along the lines of: 'This looks great! And I'm putting a restraining order on you, because I'm honestly frightened of you, and don't want you within seven continents of distance,'" Tobin joked.
"So many of my favorite creators have a touch of insanity, I think, ranging from 'oddball' to 'you, sir, are blisteringly whacko,'" Tobin said. "In fact, most people I admire, whether they're in creative fields or not, are a bit off from center. Maybe creativity is just the ability to let yourself go, let yourself rage, and to desire the connections and experiences that other people avoid. If that's insanity, then I pity the sane!"