We were very fortunate to receive an advance copy of Jamaica Dyer and Eddie Wright’s Lake Imago recently, and after reading and reviewing it we were left with a number of questions. The first issue of the comic lays out a lot of the groundwork for what will surely be a haunting and poignant pastoral horror piece and it’s a testament to the skills of artist Jamaica Dyer and writer Eddie Wright that so much of the mood and feeling of the series is established so well so early on. Over a conversation with the two creators, we learned about the horror works that inspired the series, the way they channel grief in their art and what it’s like to shift from a stark, dreamy thriller to Regular Show comics.
Nick Hanover for Loser City: One of the things that stood out to me immediately with Lake Imago is how well it handles the language of grief, both in terms of verbal communication and body language. Eddie’s script utilizes repetition of phrases that anyone has been through a tragedy is used to overhearing– specifically “Are you okay?”– but Jamaica’s art effortlessly communicates the “zoning out” and blankness that many of us have witnessed in loved ones or wielded ourselves. Is Lake Imago a work of exorcism for the two of you, originating from personal grief? What went into making it such an accurate portrayal of the grief and trauma process?
Eddie Wright: To give you some background into the series, Jamaica created the overall idea and characters, and broke down the beats of first issue. I then came along and fleshed out the characters and situations, and wrote the scripts. So while “exorcism” would be extreme, there’s definitely a lot of me in many aspects of the story, particularly this idea of losing a person who was antagonistic in your life. I’d simply say it’s relatable for me. We’re going to get into this stuff more in future issues, but something we’re exploring is this idea of having a terrible relationship with a parent, and losing that parent before anything can ever be resolved. Basically, the question we’re asking is, what happens when your life has been built on a foundation of misery and fear and that foundation is removed? In Belle’s case, it doesn’t go well.
Belle’s definitely seen and felt a lot in her life, and she’s internalized all of it. Which I can certainly relate to and as the writing progresses, it’s something I’m drawn to more and more. She’s not the type to lash out, but the type who will absorb things and hold them. Her sister Poppy’s obsessive mothering and Pris’ insistence to just “shut up and have fun” is more fuel onto the fire. How that fire manifests itself is yet to be seen, but the use of repetition is definitely there to stoke the flames.
Jamaica Dyer: When we first started talking about this story, I had a very murky but strong feeling of internalized horror and dread. An unspeakable bleakness held together with symbols, shadows, and muffled conversation. Eddie did a great job of taking those shapes and giving them character, a backbone, and detail.
I’ve joked that this is my breakup album, it only took me two years to figure that out and realize that the story can be easily applied to any trauma, from depression to heartbreak to grief to addiction. It’s been a trip to develop a story about holding in darkness and being afraid to connect with anyone.
LC: Although Lake Imago is billed as a supernatural horror work, its first issue is almost serene, with the horror ominously hinted at through cult symbols and iconography. What were some of the references and influences that went into crafting this story? To my eyes, it seems to have some of the feel and style of ’70s pastoral horror works like The Wicker Man.
EW: Horror, not just from the ‘70s, is a big influence on not only this story, but everything I do, whether it’s meant reflect the genre or not. I think horror movies, when done well, are structurally the most sound writing there is. Rosemary’s Baby was something I watched a lot when working on this. I also listened to the soundtrack while writing the scripts. What’s great about that movie, and other good horror movies from the late ‘60s and ’70s is the story starts at an authentic and sincere place and naturally evolves/devolves into a horrific nightmare. The horror isn’t “out there,” it’s “in there” and it’s just waiting to come out. I really love that.
JD: I LOVE stories that really take their time to bleed out the horror. Friday the 13th captures a lot of that feeling, the carefree “just kids” lightness before bad things happen. The Shining does such a great slow build, nothing can compare. I’ve only seen the Evil Dead once and it scared the shit out of me. And The Wicker Man, same thing — I only saw it once but the story sunk in and fermented over the years.
Also it’s new, but Cabin in the Woods just hits all of those points on the head so well. And The Descent, naturally, has a pretty strong influence on me. Twin Peaks, as well, combines the day-to-day banality with strange characters and supernatural to absolute perfection. Let’s get David Lynch to direct this comic.
LC: Lake Imago has a masterful handle on location-based moodiness, with each character responding to the environment in different and thoughtful ways. Was there a particular location that you based Lake Imago off of, either visually or narratively? Was it difficult to straddle the line between making the location comforting enough to make it a reasonable setting for a getaway but also sinister enough to foreshadow the horror to come?
EW: For me, the location isn’t something I think about a whole lot. When writing this issue, I just pictured a campground, woods, and a lake. It’s really about the characters and how they affect their surroundings. I tend to think about things from the inside out and not the other way around. Whatever the opposite of a world builder is, that’s me.
JD: I worked sort of backwards, spent a really long time trying to get certain details right that I had in my head from the beginning, like the camper at the truck stop. That had to be perfect, it was like sculpting it out of clay. The forest itself I’m keeping very fluid, based off my own memories of hiking around in the Santa Cruz Mountains and up at the Yuba RIver and Mt. Shasta, mixed with some weird influences like Wet Hot American Summer. Right now the forest is sort of pastoral and a little fairytale-ish, stylized and inviting, because I really want to be able to push the contrast and shadows when we get to the other extreme.
LC: Personally, a big part of what I loved about the first issue of Lake Imago was the status of the three main characters as fully realized people rather than just tropes, even though as you’ve pointed out they do occupy certain archetypal positions. That’s pretty unique in the realm of horror, where characters are often purposefully designed as disposable. Were you consciously trying to subvert that style of horror character development from the start? Which character was the hardest to fully develop? Have there been any reactions to these characters that have surprised you?
JD: We took our time to let each character develop naturally. Belle slowly became real as I drew her over and over, from a simple moody kid in the back seat to someone with lots of intricate little inner workings that nobody around her sees. Poppy has remained the most constant throughout the process. And Pris, that girl, she’s become so real that Eddie and I talk about her like she’s our best friend. “That is so Pris” comes up often as we email back and forth hairstyles, models and actors. I can’t wait for people to get to know her better, she’s a blast.
EW: I wouldn’t say we were trying to subvert any specific horror tropes. I think characters in horror fiction can be one-dimensional because, simply speaking, the writing often stinks. Characters should develop as the story progresses regardless of genre. Horror creators can take a paint-by-numbers approach with characters because they’re only interested in plot. Neither myself nor Jamaica are plot machines. We’re both interested in characters, so they come first and inform the rest.
LC: The two of you also seem to have a shared interest in stories about art and the creative process, with Eddie’s Tyranny of the Muse and Broken Bulbs directly dealing with inspiration while Jamaica’s shorts for Noisepop offered up a very different kind of rock criticism and Fox Head stew dealt with creativity and depression (and shares some of Lake Imago’s stag and animal skull imagery). There appears to be some of that in Belle’s visions too; in a different kind of story they could be artistic inspiration rather than a potentially more fatal kind of inspiration. Do you see creativity and depression and other mental struggles as directly linked? Is there an element of “inspiration” to Belle’s transformation?
JD: We were both drawn to each other’s work, so it makes sense. Eddie found me on Twitter after reading my first book Weird Fishes (about growing out of childhood, daydreaming, and hallucinating about monsters) and I was delighted to read Broken Bulbs and really relate to it. We’ve wanted to work on a book together ever since, there’s a pretty potent combination there with the darkness and wittiness of Eddie’s writing and the organic frailty of my drawings. Those scenes with Belle daydreaming in the car were an aesthetic addition I made to the script, I wanted to bring a hint of things to come in a wordless way. I guess the link you’re seeing is the struggle to bring inner workings into physical space, and yeah, bringing beauty and inspiration into a horrific transformation.
EW: The meeting place of creativity, inspiration, art, depression, and mental health is endlessly interesting to me, and everything I do is informed in some way by the actual act of creating something. Lake Imago is not about the creative process, but since I think about these things constantly, its influence naturally found its way into the story. While I don’t think all creative people are miserable, there must be a link between someone who is sensitive, open to the world, and can see what they view as “authentic truths” while simultaneously internalizing their emotions. How could that not result in at least some kind of issue? This is something that I experience as a creative person and can certainly see it in Belle.
LC: Both of you primarily focus on independent work, but you’ve also had notable gigs utilizing other people’s creations, with Eddie contributing to the Regular Show comic and Jamaica turning in a celebrated Phonogram “B-Side.” How do you maintain your unique style while working within other creators’ worlds? What do you find rewarding about these kinds of projects? What is less rewarding?
JD: Well we both have day jobs, so the comic work better be gut-wrenchingly rewarding and personal or else it isn’t worth it, you know? I love the freedom and total control you can have doing independent comics, the constraints of the medium allow for infinite creativity. This project is my first long-form project that I didn’t write and draw alone, and it’s super unique in that I have the space to rebuild scenes and influence character decisions, while also having the support and structure of a solid script. My style changed pretty drastically for Lake Imago, but that was a personal decision I made early on, to see if I could push myself out of my comfort zone of watercolors and pen lines and construct a new language in black and white brushwork.
As for stepping into the world of Phonogram… well… those were pretty big shoes to fill, especially considering I was reading the first issues of that series when I was a comic store clerk just imagining doing comics. Kieron Gillen is just about one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, he immediately remembered me from my early comics and was super gracious to pull me in for Phonogram. The B-Sides are a beautiful thing, and it gave me an excuse to go back and re-read issues and get a feel for the mysterious ex-girlfriend that my short story revolved around. We talked about doing a few other ideas, but the pull of doing a silent script about dancing alone, distant longing and the weight of all the unsaid things, well that was just too perfect. For this I got to merge my two styles, I painted all the watercolors but inked them separately, and it turned out really nice. That project went so smoothly, and it was on comic shelves all over the place before I knew it. Quite a different experience than the push of self-publishing. I really loved it, if I could fill out my calendar with guest spots in other books I’d be a happy cat.
EW: It’s all about relating to the characters. I think Regular Show actually fits pretty nicely into my creative world. It’s about two guys who struggle with existence every day. Frank Fisher from Tyranny of the Muse and Belle from Lake Imago both deal with the same thing. In Regular Show, it just happens to be lighter and sillier, but there’s still a root of existential dread there despite being an all-ages story about a raccoon and blue bird. Which sounds super pretentious, but it’s something I’ve realized. Also, I just think Regular Show is great and I loved the show before I got involved in the comic. As long as I relate to certain aspects of the characters, I can find something to dig into.
For more information on Lake Imago’s release, check out the comic’s site.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover