Words: George Garner
Something metal this way comes…
In 2017, it goes without saying that comics and rock have a healthy relationship. Hell, they’re basically sharing the same toothbrush at this point. Yet when it comes to combining the two mediums, HERETICS – a new folk-horror comic-book series created by Martin Simmonds and P M Buchan – looks set to be one of best yet. It all started last year with a very special ‘Issue Zero’ – which featured a prelude story about the main characters going undercover in a suicide cult in Cumbria, including a brief interlude at a Misfits gig! Ahead of the full series launching this year, we decided it was time to catch up with P M Buchan and Martin Simmonds to talk about the title and further explore what happens when the worlds of rock and comics collide…
How did the HERETICS project come about and what’s the premise behind it?
P M Buchan: “As far as the story goes, HERETICS comes from a couple of key places. One was a ton of research that I did into the Manson Family murders, which fascinated me because on the surface of things American society was shocked in 1969 by these all-American teenagers that seemed to have been brainwashed by a charismatic cult leader who sent them out to kill innocent people in their own homes. However, when you scratch the surface, it turned out that these all-American teens weren’t cheerleaders and star athletes, they were mostly runaways and drug addicts that had been let down by their parents and abused by the people that were supposed to take care of them. And their charismatic leader was an aspiring rock star who came from the most broken home of all and had spent all of his formative years in jail. None of this excuses the crimes that they committed, but I don’t believe that there’s any such thing as born evil.
It was convenient to blame Charles Manson, but a lot of other people were complicit in shaping those teen runaways into killers. I was interested to discover that Charlie’s frustrated musical aspirations played a big part in their love cult going wrong. Hell, the Beach Boys once recorded a song written by Charles Manson – he came really close to realising his musical dreams before it all fell apart! But that’s a tangent. For HERETICS the key was that this cult of young people went with Charles Manson to a very dark place and were ultimately arrested for their crimes, but think about how much further they’d have gone if they hadn’t been caught. And if we’re going to talk about love cults and the consequences of leaving society to live that way, let’s be realistic about what your life might look like if you grow up around all that drug abuse and communal sex.”
As well as horror, it seems rock/metal/punk plays a big role in the tone of the story, there’s even a scene at a Misfits gig. Why did you want music to be a significant presence in it?
PMB: “Music and comics have always been interchangeable for me. Growing up I always thought that the coolest things in the world were loud, offensive music, and equally loud, offensive comics. Both are filled with larger-than-life characters, stories of horror and loss, and both are just as likely to offend your parents and be viewed as a frivolous distraction, when the truth is that they’ll offer you an escape from some of the worst things in life.
Horror is such a big part of my life that I’m also drawn to any bands that can capture a similar vibe in their sound or look. Misfits are the godfathers of horror-punk, but I’m also in love with every band they ever influenced – bands like Creepshow or Calabrese in the US, or Zombina and the Skeletones closer to home in the UK. It’s less the case that me and Martin sat down and agreed that music would play a big part in HERETICS, more that I spend my days listening to the Misfits and my nights watching Rob Zombie’s horror films, and my love of those things bleeds into everything I write.”
Martin Simmonds: “There’re a few music references contained within the artwork and those visual references hopefully help to place the story in a specific era. Aside from that, it’s just great fun to throw in a few visual references for readers to spot.”
Can we expect more bands to appear in the pages over the course of the story?
PMB: “HERETICS follows the story of Isobel Lockwood, who escaped from an abusive love cult as a teen but failed to save her younger sister. As an adult, she finds the whereabouts of the cult and has a chance to go back for her sister and hopefully make good on some of the mistakes of her past. So although the story starts in Camden, at a Misfits gig, as it progresses there’s a lot more time spent on an isolated island off the coast of Scotland than there is in London.
That said, one of the main characters is a shamed rock star that led the industrial-metal revolution in the 1980s, so there’s still that thread of music that never really goes away. And we’ve made a point of creating a world that’s very grounded in 1999, the year that the story is set, so look out for little details, like the posters for Ozzfest ’98, the first festival that I ever went to! My biggest regret that year was that Korn pulled out at the last minute…”
MS: “The rock star character that Bucky mentioned is really a kind of Frankenstein’s monster of iconic rock stars, so readers may be able to spot a few of the influences in there. I’ve tried to include a few music-based references throughout HERETICS, because I love discovering things like that when I read comics. I remember Simon Harrison’s front cover for the 1988 Christmas issue of 2000AD had band names painted on a pimped up sleigh speeding down a hill – Napalm Death, Electro Hippies, Extreme Noise Terror etc., and it’s stuck with me ever since.”
Can you name some bands that influenced you and how their music/aesthetics have affected your art or writing?
PMB: “1999 was the formative year for me and music. Michale Graves was fronting the Misfits (Danzig will always be a close second in my eyes) and Famous Monsters had just been released. I’m pretty sure that I bought that album after hearing a track on a free Kerrang! cover CD! Incubus released Make Yourself, which at the time felt like the future of music, not just a good album that happened to have a DJ scratching on it, as all bands in the late ’90s did. I don’t know, I was a pretty miserable teenager but the bands I discovered through reading Kerrang! gave me an identity and way of knowing that I wasn’t alone. The first cassette I ever bought was Megadeth – Countdown to Extinction, the first CD I ever bought was Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral, and discovering Marilyn Manson’s Antichrist Superstar provided me with all the fuel for rebellion that I ever needed. I never write without listening to music, it’s an emotional shortcut for me to get into the right frame of mind to write. These days I’m listening to a lot of Beartooth, Marmozets, Birthday Massacre and Harley Poe. Harley Poe are the world’s greatest horror-folk-punk band. I 100% recommended listening.”
MS: “I find music really helps to inspire me while I’m working, everything from punk/hardcore and metal to jazz, classical and film scores – it all depends on the mood of the scene I’m drawing I guess. As a kid, Iron Maiden were the first metal band I got into, which led me to Anthrax, Metallica and the whole thrash metal scene, and then the hardcore/punk scene. There are so many bands I could mention, but the band that had the biggest impact on me growing up was Fugazi – intelligent, experimental punk rock and hugely influential in the punk/hardcore scene. It’s incredibly dynamic music, and it’s that light and shade that I love to see with comic art as well – quiet, minimalist artwork on one page, then turn the page and see a full blown painted splash page on the next, or simple greyscale or washed out colours on quiet scenes and fully painted bolder colours on more intense scenes, kind of like the equivalent of the quiet/loud dynamics used in music really.”
There seems to be a special relationship between the rock and comic worlds – are there any examples you think have proven particularly influential in tying the two together?
PMB: “When I was a kid, I had a copy of the first issue of an Alice Cooper comic called The Last Temptation. I don’t remember very much about it, but there was a showman trying to convince a little kid to run away with the circus and never grow up, and it was very sinister, with a vibe that reminded me of the morality plays in the best issues of Marvel’s Man Thing. The Last Temptation always stayed with me, and years later I found out it was written by Neil Gaiman, writer of The Sandman who is generally acknowledged to be one of the best living comic writers – which might account for why it was so good! I don’t know how widely influential it was, but The Last Temptation always stayed with me. At the height of their popularity I also picked up some Insane Clown Posse comics, but the less said about them the better. Just because you’ve got the clout to swing a comic deal, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got a good story to tell! The other side of the equation is how comics can influence music. An American dark punk-rock band called For the Wolf recorded a song based on another series that I write called La Belle Dame Sans Merci, and it felt exciting as hell to me to hear something inspired by a story that I’d written, but interpreted in such a different way. Ideally in the future I think I’d like ALL bands to write songs based on our stories.”
MS: “Love and Rockets by the Hernandez brothers is a pretty fine example. One of the main storylines follows a group of teenagers involved in the California punk scene. It’s an absolute classic and a hugely influential series. Another thing that springs to mind is, I remember buying Anthrax’s ‘I Am The Law’ on 7″ vinyl and being just as excited about the Judge Dredd cover art as I was by the song itself. I think that was one of the first metal singles I ever bought, and certainly my first experience of underground music and comics coming together in some way. I’d only been reading 2000AD for a little while at that point, so it was very much a starting point for me with both comics and metal, so my interest in both grew simultaneously.”
There are now several musicians who have broken into comics – including Gerard Way, Corey Taylor, Good Charlotte’s Billy Martin and Life Of Agony’s Alan Robert. Do you see rock music as now playing an important role in the world of modern comics, especially their direction?
PMB: “It would be fair to say that Gerard Way has done more than just broken into comics, he’s curating his own Young Animal line of DC/Vertigo comics at the minute, setting the direction for what’s to come. He’s even going to be Guest of Honour at Thought Bubble in Leeds September 2017, one of the UK’s biggest annual comic conventions and celebrations of the medium. What you’ve gotta remember is that for at least the last 60 years there’s been a preconception that comics are cool (which they are) and that loads of young people are reading them (which isn’t necessarily true) – even though comic books set the tone for pop culture in the West, the actual readership of printed comics has been dwindling since the boom in the mid-’90s. Without new readers, comics will die out, and do you know what rock stars bring to the table? Hundreds of thousands of fans. I can’t imagine anything more important for the medium than bringing in new readers, because after you’ve picked up an issue of House of Gold and Bones, maybe you’ll check out something else Dark Horse has published, and maybe you’ll go back to your local comic shop the next week to see what else is new. Comics need rock music in my opinion, no doubt.”
MS: “And let’s not forget that Brett Gurewitz (Bad Religion/Epitaph Records) is one of the founders of Black Mask Studios, who’re putting out some amazing titles – 4 Kids Walk into a Bank, Young Terrorists, Kim & Kim, The Forevers and We Can Never Go Home to name a few. Everything that BMS releases seems to have the punk rock vibe, so yeah, music and comics can compliment each other nicely.”
Finally, do you guys have any plans to pick up instruments and take on the rock world next?
PMB: “I’m going to have to let Martin have the last word. I always thought of myself as frontman material until I picked up a guitar and found that I had ham fists and sausage fingers. After that point I learned to party like a rock star, to compensate, but never picked up another instrument.”
MS: “I used to play in a band called Beacon and we released a couple of 7″ singles (one of which was on Subjugation Records – home of Bob Tilton, Spy Vs Spy etc.), but these days I’m happier sat behind a drawing board rather than a drum kit!”
You can order a very special signed edition of Heretics Issue 0 from Forbidden Planet here.