Brace yourselves for a wild, revelatory, and multi-faceted discussion that I had at length with prodigious and versatile author Paul Tobin at New York Comic Con, and that's no exaggeration. While the subject of our conversation was ostensibly the return of the Eisner-nominated series Colder to Dark Horse (out on October 22nd of this week), Tobin was happy to talk about his partner in horror, Juan Ferreyra, why his own reading and writing are so eclectic, and his survival skills when casing a museum for fictional purposes. One this he seemed adamant about: both he and Juan Ferreyra are "terrible" people, so let that be known.
But in all seriousness, Colder hit the reading populace with quite profound shock-value in its first arc for a number of reasons: its unusual blending of a "real" world and a world that can only be seen by those touched by insanity, the role of a mysterious young man who doesn't age but whose body is on a "clock" counting down to sub-zero stasis, and the overarchingly powerful role of Juan Ferreyra's multi-layered artwork that bucks the trend in horror comic expectations. And that's all back this week with Colder: The Bad Seed #1. The difference here is that Tobin and Ferreyra have whittled things down to the stories they still feel a pressing need to tell, the arrival of a new finger-based nemesis known as Swivel, and further investigation into just how much time Declan really has on his "clock".
Here's what Paul Tobin shared with us at New York Comic Con about Colder, his other works at Dark Horse like Prometheus (with Ferreyra) and Bandette (with Colleen Coover), and what makes for a creative life:
[Note: Paul Tobin and I jumped right into discussing a process piece of Juan Ferreyra's artwork on Colder: The Bad Seed that had recently appeared on Bleeding Cool]
Hannah Means-Shannon: I had a hard time deciding what order to put the images in on the process piece, trying to decide what layers happened in what order based on his stages.
Paul Tobin: Every single page he just makes it up. Sometimes he does one panel so that the panel is completely done. And then there's a happy, smiley face on the next panel to mark "I'll put something there".
HMS: A place holder?
PT: Yeah. But it always works out. He's so good.
HMS: I get the feeling he never leaves anything unfinished.
PT: Well, we have him doing Prometheus right now, as well. We're driving him a little bit crazy right now on schedules. But as good as he is, he's still pretty fast. Juan and I started out together on Falling Skies and I hadn't known how much of his art was in the colors. He wasn't doing the colors on Falling Skies. If you look at his art on that, it's an entirely different animal. So, he started turning in pages for Colder and I thought, "Oh my God. This is just far better than I expected". I felt so lucky. Juan's a great guy. I love working with him too. A crazy guy, but pleasantly crazy for the most part.
HMS: That kind of ties in to the question of the feel and tone of Colder. Because it has that softer-color feel than you might expect in a horror comic. Horror comics are often heavily inked, right? They've got this bleeding ink feel that's dark. This lighter, ethereal, dreamy feel is contrasted with the content and that's what gets me and creeps me out. The sudden contrast in the creatures and what's happening in the comic.
PT: Since a lot of Colder has another world a real world, we needed that light, airy feel because you can't contrast by saying "There's the dark grey world and then the darker grey world". Regarding the second Colder, Juan saw the first series as taking place in winter, so he used a lot of winter colors, but now this one is taking place in a Fall time period.
HMS: I noticed that. In one panel of preview art, I saw some leaves.
PT: So it's a whole different color scheme for this second series and he wants it thematically colored. Yet again, another different feel for it. He really does a great job of bringing stuff to the work. I don't know how many artists I've worked with at this point, probably about a hundred, and there's only about 5 or 6 who I've worked with who completely exceed everything that I'd hoped for. And Juan is crazy, too, because he's been doing this with Colder, but the first issue of Prometheus is a good example of it too: Prometheus ended up 27 pages long from a 22 page script. Juan kept saying, "Oh, this panel. I want to do more with it". But he also understands storytelling, so he makes sure that if he expands one thing, he expands other things so that my page-turns and things like that are still happening correctly. He doesn't want to screw up the cadence and the pacing, and things like that.
HMS: Which is so important in a horror comic, particularly. Would you define Colder as a horror comic?
PT: Yeah. [Laughs]
HMS: Your works are so wide-ranging, there are so many potential questions I could ask you. You're someone who's worked a lot with superheroes, but many other genres, too. What sort of creative need does doing a comic like Colder fill for you?
PT: I get a lot of questions about the breadth of what I do. Since I do Colder, Prometheus, Bandette, which is very charming. I do the Plants Vs. Zombies right now, which is straight wacky humor. I think it's important for my sanity to a certain degree since we are all complete human beings. And at times during the day, I think, "I want to read a Western, or screw that, I want to read Science Fiction". After three Science Fiction books, you think, "You know what, I wouldn't mind reading a Romance or something like that". So, as a writer, there are all these different beats and feels that I think are important.
If you just work in one genre, it burns you out so quickly. You almost quickly become a parody of yourself. You don't come at it with a Fresh angle. Like I could be working on Bandette, which is just about a charming teen thief. Because my mind is thinking one way, it sometimes frees it up, so that I realize I just had a good idea for Colder. And you can put that aside. And during the course of even one day, sometimes my mind goes, "I'm done. I just can't pursue that anymore. Although I could write some more of…this one". And you move over to that.
HMS: So, you work on multiple projects every day?
PT: Oh, absolutely. Sometimes a deadline says, "You will work on this today and nothing else", but usually, yes. I think the mind has to keep fresh. I'm working on novels right now, and what I consider to be my main novels are sort of dark fantasy novels, but they are so mind-intensive, that I had to have a happy novel to write. So I started a series of middle readers novels for young adults, and surprisingly, those sold first. Those come out in 2016 from Bloomsbury and we sold 5 novels to them. As long as your mind is bouncing back and forth, it's good. I meet so many readers who say, "How can you work on so many different projects?" And then I ask, "What do you read?" And they say, "I like to read this type of stuff and this type of stuff…" And I say, "That's the same thing".
HMS: I was going to ask you that. So, basically, the model of your creative writing is following the impulses of your creative reading?
PT: Yes. And I can tell that sometimes. I don't get writer's block for the most part in the way that people talk about it, but there'll be some times when I can feel like my writing is a little bit lesser. My go to question is always, "What have I been reading lately? Have I been enjoying what I've been reading lately?" I don't think creativity is a niche. I think it a broad swath. One thing that can help me if I don't think my writing has been very good lately is to go to some concerts. Just the music and the creative feel of it really get me going. Or even just very recently, on our first day in New York here on Thursday, we skipped the convention and went to the Museum of Modern Art. I'm a big fan of the Impressionists. So we did that. I'm also a big fan of John Singer Sargent and they have one of my favorite paintings there: Madame X. It's my favorite non-Van Gogh painting. Just looking at Madame X, Colder ideas just started churning in my head.
HMS: Wow. That's cool.
PT: As long as you have the creative feel. I think it's almost to the detriment, if I'm trying to think of Colder ideas, to read a bunch of horror novels. That's almost the worst thing I can do. Because then I start to think, "Oh, I could play off that idea". Which, of course, is not your idea. Thinking, "Oh, I want to do my version of this". But if you're looking at Madame X and things like that, then ideas just start to flow and you can churn it into different areas. For both Bandette and Colder, the evocative mood of the Madame X painting was getting Colder ideas flowing, but then Bandette is a teen thief and the Madame X painting is huge. So, thinking, "How would she steal that?" It's so big that it's hard to steal, and ideas start coming that way.
It's funny because I started Tweeting, "I'm here at the Metropolitan" and a lot of people were writing me and saying, "So, you're basically researching Bandette?" And no, not really, but it kind of turned out that way. I didn't want to say, "Yes, I'm here at the Metropolitan Museum of Art deciding how to steal things". Send.
HMS: Well, it's like all of life is research, especially if you have so many projects that you're working on. Everything is useful. It really is.
PT: Yes. I just did a panel about The Goon. And one of the questions was, "Where do you get your inspiration?" And I said, "Everywhere". I feel bad not being able to answer that question except as, "Well, every single second of my life, basically".
HMS: That's like being thrifty with your own existence. Why waste it?
HMS: That reminds me. I don't know if you know Fred Van Lente…
PT: Oh, yeah. Fred's a pal.
HMS: He admitted, regarding Resurrectionists in an interview here on Bleeding Cool that he got the idea in a museum. Because he saw an exhibit on the Egyptian Book of the Dead and it got him thinking. And then he was in a museum here in New York and he started looking at how one would break in. Casing museums for stories! And he said, "It just happened. I didn't intend it…"
PT: It got bad once when I was at a university museum at the University of Iowa and I was not only just looking around, but I was checking the censors and things. And I thought, "I should probably stop".
HMS: Acting so suspicious! I don't know, maybe people are suspicious of anyone who looks at things in such detail.
PT: Yeah. Right. Well, I knew that I couldn't do it, but when I was at the Met on Thursday, I really wanted to know the security. But you can't walk up to a guard and say, "This is just research, but where are the censors located? When are they activated?" Because that's basically, "Could you just escort me out of this building immediately and put my name on some kind of watchlist, please?"
HMS: So, to ask a couple more questions about Colder, did you always hope it would come back as another arc?
PT: You know, I didn't really plan it for another arc. But it became so successful, with the Eisner nomination and the Bram Stoker Award nomination, and things like that. And Juan wanted to do more art because he had creatures he still wanted to do. The first arc has those dog that are made of hands, basically, which Juan designed himself. I said, "Put in some dogs and make them creepy". And he sent those back to me, and I said, "That's creepy, yeah".
HMS: I was going to ask if you were mean enough to request that a monster be made of fingers, because that's the hardest thing to drawn right? Like in art school?
PT: Well, if you've seen the second arc, the second arc is all about fingers!
HMS: Yes, I've seen! I can't imagine an artist choosing to do that.
PT: He's crazy! He started thinking in terms of fingers and things like that. And there were more stories in mind. And I'd been kind of thinking about it when Scott Allie, the Editor-in-Chief came to me and said, "So, we're going to do some more Colder!" I said, "We are? Ok!" He's a good friend, and he knows me. We wanted to keep Juan busy. So, yes, we're going to do two more arcs.
HMS: I didn't get a chance to interview you when the first arc was coming out, so I wanted to ask you a question that's probably too simplistic about the origin of the body-temperature concept. Why was that fixed in your mind? Why was that part of the story for you?
PT: It becomes a really big, important thing, too, pretty soon. I like deadlines. Not like comic book deadlines but the James Bond, "This clock is ticking down and when it's over, it's BOOM". It lends a certain power to the story and I liked it for that aspect. And cold kind of shuts life down. Nobody ever watches a band and says, "Man, they were playing so cold!" We use cool, but hot and fire is more lively. So, "colder" for me was like the shutting down of the brain and the freezing of the carcass in some ways.
I got really into neuroscience at one point. I still am. I was running a science section in a bookstore, Powell's Bookstore, and the neuroscience was fantastic to me. There was this description of an Alzheimer's patient. It said that if they had a hundred spots in their mind, they were just "clicking off". Just losing this, losing that. And that's terrifying to me. Because memory and awareness is everything. To me, that felt like growing colder. You are freezing, shutting down, becoming not who you are. It's terrifying.
Colder was also influenced by a lot of Korean and Japanese horror films. Audition. Ichi the Killer. Ridley Scott did a great job with this on the first Alien and the second one as well. Using water and freezing, and things like that. When you watch that first Alien movie, you can't conceive of how much everything is leaking water in steady drips and it's creepy. And freezing is creepy to me, so it kind of plays into all of that.
HMS: Declan, really, is given a second chance in the first arc, because he really was on a trajectory of totally shutting down. And he's brought back more or less, but he's still on the clock.
PT: Well, you'll see more in the second arc, but Declan is really on much more than his second chance. I am making Reece a lot more of an important character. I really like writing female characters. It's much more what I'm known for. So it was actually a little weird for me to have Declan as the lead and then Nimble Jack, when he was around, just chewed up the scenery. He's probably my favorite character. So Reece ended up taking more of a back seat and being more background than I wanted. And in the second arc, she's a lot more of a full character for me. Because of some problems Declan has.
HMS: When we were talking about the neuroscience, it reminded me to ask if you were at all worried that there would be kickback or misinterpretation of the mental illness themes in the comic.
PT: This sounds horrible, but I am never worried about kickback. Because if I think too much about kickback or perception of this or that, I can't write very well. So, I basically just write for what I would enjoy and then whatever happens, happens. Second guessing is so hard.
HMS: And presumably, you trust other people as well, like your editors or whoever, to give you feedback if they think, "Oh my God, this makes you look like a terrible person!"
PT: Well, they did call me a terrible person [Laughter]…
HMS: What? [Shocked]
PT: Well, yeah, to a certain extent! They call me a horrible person all the time. I call myself a horrible person all the time.
HMS: Is that banter? Or are they serious? I shouldn't ask that. I'll leave that off the record…
PT: No, don't! Put it on the record, "They think I'm a horrible person". Well, I do sometimes think I'm a horrible person.
HMS: Well, I worry about it too.
PT: About me being a horrible person? [Laughs] No.
HMS: Well, you know. I'm the editor of a site. We run rumor and gossip stuff alongside all the other things we do. I make decisions every day about what to publish and what not to publish. And it's a moral decision. And I have to make them fast.
PT: Oh, yeah, it's much harder for you! [Laughs] When I do it, I talk about characters. When you do it, you talk about us. Declan is never going to come to life and punch me for making him do something.
HMS: But, hey, your books are out all over the world and could last for hundreds of years influencing peoples' minds.
PT: I hope so!
HMS: I'm going to give you a complex now about the danger of creative autonomy.
PT: Most complexes just go away for me. My memory is so bad that anything like that would go away. I was really happy with the reception of Colder, truly happy with it. The Eisner nomination for Colder really made me feel good, because the previous year I'd won for Bandette, and they are such different projects. So for the Eisner judges to say, "We like you on Bandette, and we like you on Colder", felt to me like, "Oh, I know what I'm doing".
HMS: Like, "We like you because you're you".
PT: Yeah. That was really nice.
Ask me questions about Juan!
HMS: Well, I don't want it to be like I'm interviewing Juan through you…
PT: Honestly, so often, interviews are, "Hey Paul, hey Paul". It's like that Bram Stoker nomination Colder got. I got the certificate in the mail and it said, "In recognition for Colder, Paul Tobin". So, I actually took my nomination scroll, and I got a marker out and said, "Screw this".
HMS: Is that because the Bram Stoker Award is more of a book market award that they just didn't think about it?
PT: I guess. But to say that Colder was created by Paul Tobin and no Juan…
HMS: That's really…
PT: First of all, we're the co-owners, and second of all, if there was just one of us, I'd have to say Juan because his artwork just grabs the attention.
A large part of the success of Colder was no one could pass that first cover by without thinking, "Whoah, what's that?" That's why when we did the trade edition, Dark Horse usually do new covers for all trades, but Scott Allie called me up. And he seemed very nervous in his intonation and said, "Paul, I was going to talk to you about something. We're doing the Colder trade and Dark Horse has a strict rule that we always do new covers for trades…". There was this long pause and I asked him, "Do you want to use the first cover for the trade?" And he said, "Could we?" I said, "Yes, let's do it". He thought I would be mad that they wanted to use that cover.
HMS: Because it was just so damn good?
PT: It was just so damn good. It needed to be the cover for the trade. It's great for, specifically kids who walk by the cover. This won't translate well for an interview but they walk by and they…[Does a casual glance, looks away, does a slow, intense look back and then a zoom in and an attempt to move one's fingers around one's face to figure out how that would work].
HMS: Do you know he came up with that?
PT: Well, we launched Colder with several other books on the first of October and the theme was, "Dark Horse Gets Under Your Skin".
HMS: Oh, of course. I remember now.
PT: We said, "Just do some kind of thematic thing for 'Dark Horse Gets Under Your Skin'" and we were like, "That'll count!" I didn't think they would let us use it for the cover. I thought it was too…whatever. But marketing said, "Yes, let's do it!"
HMS: I had it at my mom's house and she was like, "What the heck are you reading?" I'm an adult and she was thinking, "What is my daughter reading?" because of that cover. I would hang it on my wall, though, because it keeps you thinking. It's amazing.
PT: One woman sent us a photo of an extremely well done tattoo. And what really surprised me, from what I could see, that was her only tattoo. And that to me was what I would think of as a "let's go crazy" tattoo as part of a full body thing. To have that be the focus.
HMS: Tell me anything you want to tease or say about the new series.
PT: Oh, that's hard for me.
HMS: Well, the new creature in the second arc, is he going to be present throughout the whole arc?
PT: Yes. His name is Swivel.
HMS: In the original sketches, it looked like he might have been female originally. Is that true?
PT: We went all over in the possibilities, so yes, female for a while. Juan was throwing ideas out. Because I had just said that fingers needed to be involved. There were a whole bunch of different ideas, but I think we ended up going male because of that brow.
HMS: So, considering how this goes, there might be more Colder in the future?
PT: We've already planned a third arc. That's likely going to be the end.
HMS: You don't want to drive it into the ground?
PT: That's just it. So many stories that I really enjoy have endings. A story needs an ending. If you start to do horror to the point of Friday the 13th, movie 12…
HMS: That's like X-Files syndrome. If they never tell you what happens to the central characters, they just have to keep going…
PT: Yes. And just doing it to do it. After awhile, at 3 arcs, you don't know how it's going to end, but at your 35th arc, you kind of know how it's going to end. Everybody's going to be ok, blah blah blah. I don't want everyone to be ok. I'm not saying there's a horrible ending. Because I actually haven't set the ending yet at all. But I want it to be open in my mind. Because I think, to a certain degree, if you're writing a horror series, sometimes horror has to win. Sometimes things really are that bad.
HMS: Wow, I think that's my headline.
PT: [Laughs]. No, "Paul Tobin is a horrible person". That's a better ending. And make sure if you say that, you point out that Juan is a terrible person as well. We share in this. There'll be times where he sends me art and I say, "Damn, I wrote that? Come on!"
Colder: The Bad Seed Issue #1 arrives in shops October 22 and can be found with the item code AUG140097 in Previews.