Tim Seeley (Revival, Hack/Slash, The Occultist) and Jim Terry (The Crow: Skinning the Wolves) are set to unleash a new horror comic on the world in August from Dark Horse, but it's a creature of a different stripe than you might expect from Seeley. In this comic, Sundowners, he takes on the psychology of superheroes, how their obsessions would play out in a non-superhero world, but one very like our own where superheroes are a big part of pop culture, and sets it all to the tune of both horror and humor.
Sundowners explores the lives of a "support group" for characters who are all convinced they have superhero identities and pursue those roles at night, but are under therapy from a psychologist who hopes to make a media buck on their complexes, but also maybe help them out of their delusions along the way.
I caught up with Seeley at San Diego Comic Con during a pretty demanding signing at the Image booth where he commiserated with fans having to carry the new deluxe edition of Revival they were picking up (they weren't at all annoyed by the weight of it) and signed a wide range of books that attested to the breadth of his career in comics so far.
Hannah Means-Shannon: So, regarding Sundowners, is being convinced that you're a superhero or would like to be one, treated somewhat like a mental illness in this book?
Tim Seeley: Yes. The gist is that there are people who all feel compelled to wear a costume and fight evil at night and are thinking, "This isn't normal". So they start a support group with a psychologist who's really interested in this condition because superheroes are obviously very popular, they're in the movies and such. And he's thinking, "I can get famous out of this". So he's gotten these people together in this support group called Sundowners Syndrome Support Group. And then as they start talking together, these various superheroes who may or may not be crazy, they start to realize that they've all been seeing the same thing, which are people with glowing skulls. So, it's sort of like They Live meets Kick Ass, basically. It's a horror comic first, but it's also got some of the ideas that I've had about how weird it is that in the real world when people put on superhero costumes, everybody instantly assumes they are nuts, but in comics, if you do it, it looks great and it's cool and you can make a big movie about it without questioning.
HMS: It strikes me as being almost perilously realistic, because that's how people would be treated if they had these "delusions" or strange visions.
TS: Yes, but it's also that the superhero thing is such a part of the zeitgeist right now and the reality TV aspects of this stuff, that someone treating them could also totally become famous through this, like having their own Dr. Phil type show. So it's also about all those things put together into a crazy horror comic.
HMS: From the art that I've seen on the characters, they look very off-beat and unusual. Older than usual, a bit broken-down.
TS: They are normal people, sort of. But they also believe they have superpowers. One of the girls called Arcanika, she believes that if she does bad, she gets the power to do good. She thinks she has a curse, and so to stop a mugger, she has to mug someone so that she has the strength to stop someone from mugging someone else.
HMS: Like a karmic balance?
HMS: When the characters come up with these identities, are they created them out of their own psyches? How do they come up with these different identities as superheroes that they have?
TS: Well, we don't really know when we start reading the book. One character is called Crowlita, and she's a go-go dancer in a goth club, so her costume kind of comes with her profession, but she also kind of hates people. But for some reason, she feels the need to help them. And she's thinking, "Why? I hate them!", but it's something she feels she should do. And there's another character called Carl Wolfe who's an old guy, about 65 years old, who's had a stroke, so he can't talk, but his power used to be that he's a Doctor Strange-type wizard guy. But now he can't cast spells because he can't speak. He's kind of the arcane expert of the group, or he's a crazy old man. We're not really sure.
HMS: Is the impact of taking on these strange roles and being out all night doing these weird things fairly negative on their lives? Or is this something that's fairly positive, like it's rehabilitating them in some way?
TS: It's a little bit of both. And that's a good transition for this other character, the Concerned Citizen. He is a former boxer, a former enforcer for local gangs, and it has sort of ruined his life to do this. Because by seeing all the crime, he's become really paranoid. So, his wife left him because he wouldn't let her go anywhere and he'd follow her everywhere. Sort of being on the other side and seeing reality has kind of made him nuts.
HMS: Then reality has actually made him nuts, not "delusion"? That's interesting. Is this the sane reaction to the darker side of life in a way, to become these heroes?
TS: I think so. It's also that I think people who want to help other people are often viewed as if there is something wrong with them. It's an interesting thing to explore and ask in the real world–and this is still a crazy horror comic book first–since they don't live in a superhero universe. They live in a world like ours.
HMS: What about this psychologist? Is this person pretty much a terrible human being and amoral?
TS: Well, his name is Doctor Shrejic, but everyone calls him "Shreds" because he famously destroyed his career by having this big scandal. He's left with this as his only option and he's trying to capture the zeitgeist and use this as a chance to save his dying career. And he's not a good guy, but he's flawed. He's very flawed. But he is sort of interested in helping these people. I think inherently people who choose that profession want to help people even if they get lost in the spotlight.
HMS: Isn't it counter-productive if he manages to "cure" them, though? Because he'll lose his subjects? He wouldn't have his "product" any more.
TS: He hopes to write a book based on it. And find more people like them. He'd have to find new ones.
HMS: Can you tell me a little bit about the horror elements in this book? Why the horror rather than just doing a psychological study about superheroes?
TS: The stuff that scares me personally–I'm not afraid of vampires or monsters or any of that sort of stuff in real life–but the stuff I am afraid of is "What if someone were crazy and didn't know it?" Because I have an anxiety disorder and have been treated for it for a long time. So, that's the true scary thing to me.
HMS: So the horror elements in this book are actually less scary to you than the psychological stuff?
TS: Yes. What the book is about most of all is them trying to decide if they are insane. Which, to me, is the terrifying part.
HMS: Last question: from the sketches and the artwork on the posters, I found a bit of humor in this book, like a sardonic humor. Is there humor in this book?
TS: Oh, yeah, for sure. Nothing I write is not at least sort of funny. Because I think inherently life is funny. And I like comics, especially horror comics, that do that. Because especially in horror comics, the difference between laughing and screaming is not that far apart. It's very close. So if you can lighten a moment after a scare with a joke or fool someone into thinking that something is lighter, and then it's scary… It's like Hack/Slash in that way. It's kind of funny, but it's definitely a horror comic. I couldn't help but put what I love into it.
HMS: It's a subverting thing, the humor?
TS: Yeah, definitely. I think part of it is that a lot of people do "grim and gritty" and it's just "grim and gritty". I've never been particularly into that. To me, comics do humor so well that I tend to always write that kind of story.
And here's our preview of Sundowners #1:
Sundowners #1 will be appearing in shops August 27th and retailer FOC is August 4th. It is listed in Previews currently with item code JUN140042