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Black Stars Above #1
Written by Lonnie Nadler
Illustrated by Jenna Cha
A young fur trapper flees her overbearing family only to get lost in a dreamlike winter wilderness that harbours a cosmic threat.
The year is 1887 and a storm brews. Eulalie Dubois has spent her entire life tending to her family’s trapline, isolated from the world. A chance at freedom comes in the form of a parcel that needs delivering to a nameless town north of the wilderness. Little does Eulalie know, something sinister hides in those woods and it yearns for what she carries. A chilling historical cosmic horror tale of survival from the deranged minds of Lonnie Nadler (The Dregs, Marvelous X-Men) and debut artist Jenna Cha.
Diamond Code: SEP192092
FOC due October 21st, 2019
In stores on November 13th, 2019
Why It’s Cool:
“There’s this scene a little over half way through the first issue of Black Stars Above where the main character, Eulalie Dubois, is asked to deliver a package. The man who asks her to do this job promises her $200 for this simple task, which in 1887 dollars is a pretty significant sum for such a small request. The whole thing just feels wrong. Cha and Nadler play the scene in a simple and straightforward manner, but somehow that just adds to the wrongness of it all. The man’s speech is off, body language stiff and awkward, and as a reader you know that this innocuous request is sure to lead to nothing but pain and madness for all involved. Like the best horror, you want to tell Eulalie not to take the package, or the money she needs so desperately, scream at her to leave that strange, wrong man and go home. But of course she can’t hear you, and with the turn of a page it’s too late anyways. It’s always been too late. And it’s only going to get worse.“
Q&A with Lonnie Nadler & Jenna Cha
Tell us a little bit about Black Stars Above. How did everything come together?
Lonnie Nadler: For me, this all started a few years ago. I was doing research for an article on the history of Canadian horror and as part of that I read Margaret Atwood’s book, Survival, which offers a survey of Canadian literature and the themes that tie it together. I realize how dull this sounds in answering the opening question, but it was an eye opening read and sprung upon me this desire to tell a distinctly Canadian story that also had wider appeal, and since my brain always separates whatever I’m conceiving into its darkest constituents, this wanted to be a horror story. I had this image in mind of a young fur trapper trekking through a dark forest with a parcel in her hands and some black stars in the sky, and that wouldn’t let go of my brain. It invaded my thoughts, and as I set out to explore the history of the fur trade, everything began falling into place in ways that had me very excited. The story gestated for quite some time, but eventually grew into this mixture of historical fiction, cosmic horror, survival fiction, weird fiction, folk horror, and, most sub of all the subgenres, Southern Ontario Gothic fiction. I had been wanting to work with Vault for a while and and they were kind enough and trusting enough to see the merit in this bizarre story. After that, as I built out the issue breakdowns, the search for an artist began. It was long and grueling at some points, but it couldn’t have worked out better. I feel so genuinely fortunate to be working with the living embodiment of a creepy 50s pop song, Jenna Cha. The book would not be the same without her, but I’ll let Jenna tell that part of the story.
Jenna Cha: Everything did fall together kind of perfectly. Lonnie had stumbled upon my Twitter account through a hashtag, and he emailed our editor to recommend me. According to legend, a second later our editor told Lonnie that he had just sent him an email recommending me for the book. After I was told all of this, I accepted the job out of fear of provoking the omnipotence that possesses the fibers of my fate. In all seriousness, when I first read the pitch for Black Stars Above, the look of the story unfolded in my head almost immediately. It was very clear what the story’s visual intention was; its mode of storytelling had investment, research, and most notably a voice. Lonnie and I communicated extensively about the theming and technical style of the book before and during its development, as well as enthusiastically collected a bank of visual inspiration references once we realized we have the same love for Junji Ito, Gustave Dore, Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, weird horror and old films in general.
What are you reading/watching/listening to as inspiration for this work?
LN: Oh, you just had to go and open that proverbial can of worms. Research is my favorite part of the writing process so I did a borderline obsessive amount of it for Black Stars Above, both primary and secondary. It takes place in rural Canada in 1887 during the tail end of the fur trade, and I needed every element of the book to feel authentic to that period. Because the book grows into something cosmic and otherworldly, the beginning had to be as grounded and in-reality as possible, to feel lived in, to feel intimate. So I read several text books about the Canadian fur trade, as well as dozens of online databases with first hand accounts and journal entries from trappers at the time. One of the most important texts I read was the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada, specifically the sections on the Métis people, because the family in the book is Métis and I wanted to ensure, above all else, I was portraying their culture honestly. Everything had to be accurate, from the beadwork on the moccasins to the headlines on the newspapers. I even went as far as looking up weather and snowfall amounts on particular dates in history to make sure those aspects were historically correct as well. I was a little bit like Jim Carrey in that movie The Number 23, but instead of obsessing about a number, I was obsessive about portraying secluded trapper life in such detail that nobody will notice it other than me. Aside from that kind of research the book was also inspired by a lot of H.P. Lovecraft’s work, specifically At the Mountains of Madness; Poe’s novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym; several Cormac McCarthy books; Ice by Ana Kavan; movies like The Witch, The Road, and Kwaidan; and Thomas Ligotti’s short stories. As for music, I listened to a lot of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis movie soundtracks, and a sickening amount of dark ambient music from a label called Cryo Chamber that has since become the all-too-haunting score to my everyday life and now every moment feels like an icy nightmare.
JC: I cross-contaminated a lot of different worlds of visual inspiration for this book. I looked at photography by Edward S. Curtis and Ansel Adams, art by Stephen Bissett and Gustave Dore, comics like Gou Tanabe’s At The Mountain of Madness and Greg Rucka/Steve Lieber’s Whiteout, and watched movies like The Witch and The Revenant. Like Lonnie said, portraying the world with authenticity and respect was of utmost importance, as well as illustrating the realism of how difficult and rough life was back then. Visually, that aspect came out as a literal roughness to the art itself, which was augmented by the great Brad Simpson, who colored the book. He provided a fantastic layer of dreariness to the world, where nothing was allowed to look too clean and unscathed while still making everything look beautiful.
When you started this project who did you have in mind as an audience for this, and did it change by the time you finished?
LN: To be completely honest, I was the audience. I know this sounds a bit pretentious and overly writery and art-school-kid, but I wanted to make something that felt like it specifically captured me and my tastes – the kind of comic I would pick up in the shop and read and think, “That’s the kind of story I love. That’s the kind of comic I want to make.” This all goes back to the best writing advice I’ve ever received (indirectly). I believe it was in an interview Alan Moore was doing around the time of Neonomicon. He said, “If you don’t love it, why should anybody else,” and that really struck me. It’s something I’ve tried to carry with me through all my work but Black Stars Above is the first time I feel like I’ve achieved it. I love this book through and through, and the hope is that since I feel so strongly about it that readers will as well. With all this said, the book is for readers looking for more literary comics and atypical horror stories. If you like movies like The Witch and Midsommar, and books like Annihilation or The Road, or comics like From Hell or Uzumaki, then Black Stars Above is very much for you.
JC: This book definitely felt like something for fans of the “folk horror” genre, which is starting to become popularized. But having worked on the book for several months, I now don’t think folk horror is necessarily nuanced in terms of its audience. The genre itself is specific, but its themes of things like solitude, losing control, family, and fear of the unknown are familiar to anyone who opens themselves to such exploration. While I don’t expect or would even intend for this book to be made for everyone, I do think it’s a book that allows anyone to get lost in.
Can you give us an idea of what readers can look forward to in this series, maybe a little down the line?
LN: Black Stars Above was designed to be a slow burning, moody, broody horror story, frontloaded with plenty of strangeness, questions asked but not answered, and mysterious happenings at every turn. The cosmic monster elements are teased throughout the issues, but the answers, horrible as they are, really begin to arrive in the second half of the series. That’s when anything that was held back is suddenly unleashed upon our protagonist. That’s when a shift occurs from the intimate to the cosmic. As Eulalie loses her sanity more and more, so too does the world around her grow to become less rational and more terrifying. The hope is that this pot-always-about-to-boil-over style creates a very tangible, uncanny sense of unease and anxiety, not to scare the reader on the page directly, but rather to linger in their minds after they’ve closed each issue. I want people to read this book and carry it around with them in their thoughts for the rest of the day or week. Plus, Jenna and Brad Simpson (our colorist) are crafting some truly terrifying imagery together and those pages alone are worth the cost of entry in later issues.o.
JC: The book gets exponentially weirder with each issue. Lonnie takes deep care in his grasp of the comic language, which has been incredibly fulfilling for me as an artist. I’m given free range in composing imagery with layers and nuance, and as the madness and horror of the book swells, so has my drive in thinking more inventively in order to illustrate such insanity. Readers can look forward to having no idea what’s going to happen next.
What’s great in comics right now that you’re currently reading?
LN: I’ve been playing catch up recently. I finished Little Bird not too long ago and it’s a stunning debut book – wonderful, strange, and emotional. I’m finally reading Immortal Hulk and it’s been hard to put down. These Savage Shores has been more and more arresting with every issue. Coffin Bound is off to a delicious start. Something Is Killing The Children took me by surprise, it’s crafted with so much care. I love all these creator owned titles because they are written by my contemporaries and I truly believe these are some of the best comics on shelves right now. It’s inspiring to see young people crafting these unabashedly bold titles. It makes me feel the need to step up my game, and hopefully I have with Black Stars Above.
JC: The series that I’m ecstatic to give all my money to whenever I can is a manga called The Girl From The Other Side by Nagabe. I don’t read much manga besides Junji Ito (and even then I can barely handle just looking at the google image results for his work) but this series is one of the most pleasant reads I’ve ever gotten into. It’s a very light read without much dialogue in a super atmospheric folktale-esque world of storytelling. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous—the kind that makes you feel how cathartic the artist must’ve felt while making it. I like getting lost in that series whenever I need a break from the other 23 hours in the day thinking about nothing but boundless nightmarish existential annihilation-of-the-soul-level horror.
What makes Black Stars Above different from other books currently on the shelves?
LN: Black Stars Above takes a very different approach to horror than most other titles in the genre these days, hopefully in a way that is novel and exciting. It’s deliberate in its pacing, there’s a lurking sense of dread, and something is simply…off about this world. It’s largely influenced by cosmic horror and weird fiction in the vein of Lovecraft and Chambers, and more contemporary writers like Thomas Ligotti and Laird Barron. We just don’t get those kind of stories in comics very often. I know this sounds a bit holier-than-thou, but I think a lot of comics that position themselves as Lovecraftian either are not Lovecraftian, other than having some sort of Cthulhu-esque monster, or they simply rely too much on existing lore. What we’ve set out to do is build a world that pays homage to those writers, while also offering a unique reading experience through the lens of a character who is impacted by such horrors differently, in a setting that also shifts the meaning of such horrors. Another aspect of the book that I think makes it stand out is just how much of the story is told visually alongside very poetic narration, and how so much of the narrative is hidden among the pages. You cannot breeze through this book. It requires your attention, and if you are willing to give it, the series becomes a rich, infecting, and active experience. Readers who play close attention will be rewarded, in a similar vein to how a player uncovers the story in video games like Bloodborne or Silent Hill.
JC: Black Stars Above is holding the horror genre up to a different standard, one that takes its time and has the magnitude of the genre seen through to its fullest potential. I think this upcoming wave of “folk horror” in today’s culture (namely in movies) is happening because audiences are instinctively pulled by the unique mystery of these stories and subsequently engulfed by a dread they’ve never felt before. Black Stars Above is a horror story that invites the reader to fall into it with open arms and become completely lost in.