HERETICS: A brand new folk-horror comic-book series
"Set in 1999, HERETICS follows the journey of investigative journalist Isobel Lockwood as she travels to a remote island off the coast of Scotland in an attempt to save her younger sister from the Children of the Sun, an abusive cult, founded by their father, that believes in free love and group sex"
This is the footing for a brand new folk-horror comic-book from the art collectives at 44 Flood, that is incorporating the locale of 1999's rock, metal, and punk scene to dress the backdrop of a malevolent suicide faction operating out of the North-West of England.
Released last year, the first official entry into HERETICS, Issue #0, laid the foundations for the rest of the main series and comes complete with a nine-page story that follows journalist Isobel Lockwood as she explores the Heaven's Gate Commune. We spoke to the comics' creators Martin Simmonds and PM Buchan, and delved deeper into what inspired HERETICS, how music became an underpinning for the fabric of the story, and why a pre-millennial era was chosen as the basis for this new series.
Tell us a little bit about HERETICS: What inspired the general concept?
"HERETICS is a folk-horror comic-book series, published by 44FLOOD, created by me and artist Martin Simmonds, alongside series editor Kasra Ghanbari. Set in 1999, HERETICS follows the journey of investigative journalist Isobel Lockwood as she travels to a remote island off the coast of Scotland in an attempt to save her younger sister from the Children of the Sun, an abusive cult, founded by their father, that believes in free love and group sex."
"One of the biggest drivers behind the creation of HERETICS was my fascination with Charles Manson and what happened with the family he assembled in Death Valley in 1968 and 1969. Members of his cult committed murder under his instruction and mass media at the time spun it as the story of a group of all-American wholesome teens corrupted by this evil guru and sent out to kill, but the truth was much more nuanced than that. The truth was that most of the teens that Manson took under his wing were runaways and drug addicts from broken homes long before he got to them, and that Manson himself had one of the most appalling childhoods you could every read about. Society washed their hands of all responsibility when it came to the Manson Family murders, but then society had already abandoned most of those involved long before they became killers. That was the starting point for me writing HERETICS, the idea that a group of impressionable people fell under the spell of a very damaged, charismatic leader. The Manson Family were caught relatively quickly, but what might have happened to a group of people like that if they were allowed to continue undisturbed?"
What inspired the decision to include music as an overarching theme throughout the comics' storyline?
"Music and comics have always been interchangeable for me, for as long as I can remember. I grew up listening to bands like Alice Cooper, then when I was older it was Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie. Larger than life characters with explosive stage shows. Calling it a decision to include music as an overarching theme would probably be a stretch. I'm not sure that I had any choice in the matter! In the past I've named comics after songs by The Cramps, referenced obscure lyrics by Alkaline Trio, worked on a comic about a cannibal clown with the singer from my favourite horror-folk-punk band Harley Poe..."
"This isn't something I've really spoken about publicly before, but when I first started writing comics seriously I decided I was going to put together an anthology of comics by all the horror-punk bands that I loved at the time but that not everybody had necessarily heard of. I contacted people from so many bands I loved, bands like Harley Poe, Calabrese, Zombina and the Skeletones, Ghoultown, Creeping Cruds, Schoolyard Heroes... I even had the editor from one of the world's greatest horror magazines. And I managed to persuade almost all of them. It was going to be amazing, apart from one thing... I'd never edited an anthology before, or published a professional comic, and there were so many pitfalls that I let the whole project fall apart. I really regret that it never happened, but not as much as I regret putting myself out there and pissing off so many of my favourite bands! Music and comics have just always gone hand in hand for me."
Did you find that the long association with horror themes and rock/metal music helped the decision to include this particular genre in the comics? Or was this premeditated?
"Honestly, I think a lot of what it came down to was the idea of trying to create the kind of comic that I would love to read. For years I've reviewed comic-books for a lot of magazines in the UK and overseas, and part of being a good reviewer was having the objectivity to read and review the sorts of things you might not normally read. After years of reading diary comics and lighthearted adventures, it felt like time to create something dark and adult, something visceral and new. I put together a mixtape for myself that included beautifully melodic music by Isobel Campebell alongside dark and dirty Danzig, and listening to that soundtrack helped me to write HERETICS. As far is influences go, we've tried to capture something beyond just a rock and metal aesthetic, we've tried to juxtapose darkness with light."
Did the music scene of 1999 inspire the decision to set the scene for that specific year for the comics, or was it other personal highlights that motivated this decision?
"Have you ever watched a period movie like Donnie Darko, created many years after the 80s were over, by a director who obviously felt a strong personal tie to that timeframe? That's how I feel about the end of the 90s. I hated most of the 90s. I hated Britpop, I hated rave. I hated pop music. I was picked on by just about everybody that I went to school with at one point or another, for having long hair or for being different from them, for liking things that they didn't think were cool, but something changed for me towards the end of the 90s. I started discovering bands like Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, Korn... I went to my first festival in 1998, Ozzfest, where Black Sabbath were headlining and I also got to see the last UK gig by Human Waste Project after they'd been dropped by their record label. The end of the 90s was such a formative period in my life, defined by the music I was listening to and the friendships I forged through that music. I feel like I understood that time period better than I have done any other in my life. I was truly present, there on the streets, part of something bigger than myself."
"1999 specifically was also an intense year to live through. The shadow of the 21st century loomed heavily over us all and there was this feeling that the world might come to and end. Pre-millennial tension was a very real thing. There was the Columbine massacre, the Y2K bug, and there was that revival of Woodstock that turned sour when the summer of love was ruined by big corporations charging extortionate amounts for water in the blistering heat, while gangs of criminals roamed the campsite. Music played a big part in 1999 for me, but it was a weird year whichever way you looked at it."
I noticed that The Misfits made a cameo appearance in Issue #0, are there any other artists that were influential during that period set to make cameos in the main series?
"The Misfits are the only real cameo in the series (that's 1999 Michale Graves-era Misfits, not Danzig BTW!), but that's not to say that you might not see some familiar faces if you read the comic closely. One of the characters took his surname from the singer of Sublime, some have wardrobes or other characteristics inspired by people from our favourite bands... Nobody's going to miss out by not spotting this stuff, but we've had a lot of fun creating this world."