Rick Remender: Where Fear Meets Sorrow

A comics interview article by: Matthew McLean
Rick Remender, one of the more prominent creators of independent titles, took some time to sit down at the San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) to discuss his upcoming project Sorrow and the re-launch of Fear Agent.

Matthew McLean (MM): As Sorrow is coming out just around the corner and Fear Agent has recently re-launched, why don’t we start by talking about those two titles. Sorrow is coming out…?

Rick Remender (RR): Sorrow comes out in late August. It’s at the printer right now. It’s a good classic ghost story and it’s basically about two young girls that get trapped in a town where nothing is at it seems. Sort of “Twin Peaks” meets the “Exorcist” the series focuses on the terror of possession. What’s more terrifying than somebody trying to kill you-- Someone trying to be you.

MM: For something that deals with the super-natural, it starts out with a very mundane but frightening experience; a serious car crash in a rural location where there’s not necessarily any help. Where’s it go from there?

RR: Once they’re stranded, and that’s basically the best setup for anything – you strand your characters someplace and they can’t get out. Once they’re stranded in this creepy little town, it unravels to reveal that they’ve got themselves into a real, real bad situation. Nothing is as it seems, no one can be trusted because slowly spirits are possessing members of the crew and issue by issue we up the ante on how ugly things are in this town and what’s really been going on.

MM: Do you want to give readers any sort of hint as to what’s really been going on?

RR: Uhm…I think that would kill the reveal. Knowing the possession thing isn’t a secret, because you get an idea that’s what’s going on right at the beginning. But the actual secret of the town and the actual secret of the origin would kill it.

MM: We certainly don’t want to spoil that for people. In the release promoting the book you mention that gore is the least interesting facet to horror stories. What are you relying in Sorrow?

RR: Psychological, terrifying ideas. Seeing someone hacked up anymore has no impact. It seems to me what you are dealing with is a lot of desensitized people who have seen it all. From the 70s onward, they’ve upped the ante for the average horror film. I’ve seen entrails and people cut up a million times. What’s truly horrifying are concepts. Psychological horror are things that scare the shit out of you in idea alone. I think it’s the second Omen film where one of the characters gets trapped underneath the ice and the river starts pulling them down current and everybody above the sheet of ice is looking down and chasing them as the victim is being pulled down current—and just a foot of ice away from living. There is something claustrophobic and terrifying about being trapped under ice, where you can see out but you can’t get up. That’s one of the most horrible, anxiety filled ways I can imagine of dying. So if its psychological horror versus the idea that some guy is trying to find you and chop you up I choose psychological… or a healthy mix of both.

MM: Given how easy it is to go the gore route, in opting to explore the psychological aspects of horror, as a writer can you convey a little bit of how challenging it is to opt to go the harder storytelling route of psychological horror?

RR: Well, it’s harder and more difficult because it’s obviously easier to have someone with a blunt weapon chasing somebody ready to kill them. It’s harder to think of scenarios in a comic book that actually give the reader chills when they imagine themselves in that situation.

MM: Do you and co-writer Seth Peck share similar or vastly different perspectives on horror?

RR: Very similar. That’s why it is a successful collaboration. We both agree that there needs to be gore, there needs to be shock, but you need to do it in a way that grabs people in concept, in a ‘oh shit, that’s a horrible, horrible situation to be in’ way. I like a slow build to the story and so does Seth. We wanted to have the first issue really take its time, and just let you see who the characters are and the basic setup in the town and give you a little bit of a sense that there’s something really creepy underneath it all. Then slowly, as the four issues progress, reveal more and more of that.

MM: If you don’t mind, I’d to move over to Fear Agent now. Is there anything else that you’d like to share about the Sorrow book.

RR: FRANCESCO FRANCAVILLA is doing the work of his life; it’s very Eerie and Creepy magazine inspired stuff. He’s captured that 70s horror feel in the art and I want to make sure to mention him as he’s the one doing all the heavy lifting.

MM: Excellent. As for Fear Agent, Heath Huston to me seems like the type of hero you’d get if you caked Buck Rogers in a decade of blood and booze. How did the idea of such a contradictory hero evolve for the protagonist of Fear Agent?

RR: In anything that I’ve been writing lately I try to avoid unrealistic motivations. Indiana Jones’ motivation was selfish – he wanted to get the Ark, he was on a job. His motivations were selfish, but he’s such a likeable character you want to see him succeed. So with Heath the idea is that he’s an alcoholic and kind of a mess and he’s not necessarily altruistic or always looking to help other people all the time, but he’s a guy in a situation from the first arc on he’s just happens to be in a situation where he could potentially help save humanity. The weight of that, if it were to fall on someone’s shoulders, in reality, is pretty heavy. It’s a fun concept to play with. Just boiling it down to its core at that; it’s up to you to save humanity – off you go. And you’re a fuck up and a derelict alcoholic, floating around in space doing alien extermination jobs. The character isn’t immediately somebody who dons a cape and fights for justice. He’s just a guy in a situation. Which is a lot more fun to write…for me.

MM: While readers see the psychological results of Heath’s alcoholism (lying, failed marriage) there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of physical ailments; he’s athletic feats are incredible from time to time. Will the physiological destructiveness of his addictions ever enter into the story?

RR: Yeah, more so. He received a brand new body in issue five.

MM: He got cloned.

RR: He was cloned. But that body is decomposing and we’ll see more of that in Jerome’s arc, Hatchet Job. Number one of that ships in November. In Hatchet Job we start to see the effects of his decomposing cloned body. He did happen to get a new liver with it, so when you see all the ass-kicking and stuff after that…but that alcoholism, we’ve also seen him take alien narcotics and melt away in prison. I think we have shown the physiological effects of his propensity to find himself off his ass drunk.

MM: Vomit on his ceiling, vomiting on prison guards…

RR: Right, stuff life that.

MM: Good point, I hadn’t thought about that. With the aid some nightmare flashbacks and time travel, readers can see that the plot of Fear Agent is thought out pretty far in advance. How long have you been cooking on the idea? Just how far in advanced do you have planned out?

RR: Tony and I started rolling around ideas in 2004. In 2004, I sat down and wrote out a 15 page story treatment with just story beads. That will compromise the first five volumes. So, most of this has been written for awhile. I’ve always been a fan of stories that are intertwined, where something that seems like an unimportant fact in one book ends up being a huge pivotal event in another. In the first trade we see it when he kills this huge jelly brain that we don’t think has anything to do with anything, until later we discover that the jelly brain he killed, is the same as the one in the past that he’s dealing with. So, there are a lot of things that as we get to the fourth and fifth volume of the series we find out that was setup in the first and second volume are having a real affect on Heath’s life.

MM: So obviously you’ve got it planned out way in advance. Do you have a definitive end in mind or is this something that you hope to keep going?

RR: Heath gets his ass kicked pretty frequently. The book is basically a series of this guy getting handed a lot of bad luck. In the fifth volume things get a little bit better. He has some luck and gets a girl. Things turn around for him - to an extent. It gets really good, then again right after that things get worse than ever.
I don’t have an ending – I don’t have one mapped out. At this point I’ve done another outline and I’ve got eight volumes of the thing planned. No ending anytime soon. I see it going on for years and years.

MM: That’s good news for fans of the book. Now this question is covered in the most recent issue of Fear Agent, a bit when they are in the bunker, but I want to throw it at you anyway. In the first issue of The Last Goodbye it seems as if there isn’t a single invading force, but a multitude of competing forces. What event caused so many conflicting alien civilizations to invade Earth all at the same time?

RR: Well, the two warring empires in Heath’s universe are the Dressites and the Tetaldians. Their motivations will become more clear as the series current progresses. I wouldn’t want to give away the reveals. There was a lot hinted at in the second issue. Whether or not that’s true or not, because of the source where the information comes from…

MM: The source is kind of a UFO conspiracy nut.

RR: Right. And he might be right. He seems like he knows something. He knew the names of the alien races. As it progresses we see that it might be tied into some of Heath’s time traveling adventures.

MM: Very cool. I’m sure people will be excited to see that.

The last couple of questions are very tangential. I’m just curious, how did you get Jack Davis to agree to do cover work for the book?

RR: I didn’t. That was Tony Moore. Tony had sucked it up. We had been talking about who would be a dream cover artist and Jack Davis was at the top of the list. We didn’t think it would be possible to get him. But we sent him a copy of the first volume of Fear Agent and he absolutely loved it. He told us that he wishes Harvey Kurtzman was alive to see it because he knows that he would love it as well. It’s probably the height of my career and probably will always be. So, Tony got a hold of him and sent him the book, he loved it and agreed to do the cover.

MM: High praise indeed. If I understand it right, you were from San Francisco but live in Portland now?

RR: I did 25 years in Phoenix. Then I lived in San Francisco for eight years and then just in October I moved to Portland. So I’ve been sort of making my way west and north over the years.

MM: So where did you get your inspiration, examples, whatnot, of the speech patterns of the various Texans you’ve got in the books?

RR: Well, growing up in Phoenix, you know, it’s pretty close to Texas in the sense that it’s a very similar culture and I have a lot of relatives that you know…my grandfather was a farmer, a man of the Earth and I have a lot of relative that still are sort of…I was going to say redneck, but nobody likes that term.

I spent a lot of time in Dallas, Austin and Phoenix. So growing up in and around those areas I’ve got a pretty good understanding of the dialect and the euphemisms.

MM: Well, that’s really all the questions I had today. I appreciate you taking the time. Is there anything you want to say to fans?

RR: On Saturday (this interview occurred right before SDCC Saturday) they’re going to announcing the End League which is my new super-hero book at Dark Horse. They’re going to let me do an on-going super-hero book.

MM: That’s good news. You’re going to be busy.

RR: It’s basically Lord of the Rings meets The Watchmen. Matt Broom and I are doing that. That launches in December as well.

MM: Great. Good luck with it.

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