Interview: Artist Matthew Therrien discusses his new horror comic anthology, The Gates of Misery

I’m a big man of anthology comics like Creepy and Eerie, and I grew up loving the late 80s/early 90s Tales From The Crypt tv show (not to mention the Twilight Zone, as well). It can be a lot of fun watching writers, actors and artists play around in short form storytelling. It means the creators have to deliver and deliver well in a relative short space. It can be tough, and I speak from experience, as one of the contributors to Biff Bam Pop’s digital comic series, Biff Bam Boo.

Artist Matthew Therrien also knows of the trials, tribulations and ultimate success of putting together a horror anthology. That work that began with a successful Kickstarter campaign with some incredible collaborators has finally led to the publication of the first issue of Gates of Misery. Working with a variety of names familiar to horror fans, Therrien’s ambition has delivered and then some.

Over email, we discussed the genesis of Gates of Misery, how Brandon Cronenberg, Steve Kostanski, Jon Knautz, and Dave Alexander wound up contributing, the crowdfunding experience and much more.

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Andy Burns: Congrats on the Gates of Misery! I love horror anthologies and I thought you did a solid job with the first issue. Where did the inspiration come from to make this happen?

Matthew Therrien: Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the first issue. Just like you, I’ve always shared a love of anthologies; in particular, horror shorts. They’re just a great way to feature a variety of different styles and stories, and keep the whole thing within a manageable and easily-enjoyed length. The tough part is finding a way to make them all somewhat cohesive and feel that they belong together. I’ve always had a love of cemeteries, and one day the idea just sort of struck me: what if I create a universe in which the cemetery itself has a sort of consciousness, and learns about the person’s life when they’re buried within it. After that, the Mount Misery Cemetery was born. It allowed writers to tell whatever tale they wanted, provided that one of their characters died by the end and found themselves in their final resting place at Mount Misery. At this point the character of the cemetery is still developing, so I couldn’t tell you exactly why, but the Mount Misery Cemetery seems to derive some sort of joy in recounting the particularly tragic and gruesome deaths of those bodies that inhabit its grounds.

As far as the writers, I thought it would be absolutely fantastic if the majority of those involved were filmmakers, many of whom had never written for comics before. This would be a new way of storytelling, and would provide them with a chance to create whatever tale they desired with no budgetary restrictions at all (the great benefit of telling stories with comics instead of on film).

AB: You’ve got some very solid writers on board – Brandon Cronenberg, Steve Kostanski, Jon Knautz, and Dave Alexander, all well known to genre fans. Tell me how they got involved in the project.

MT: Yes, I like to think of these guys as sort of my “dream team” – it was great working with them all, and I’m still so thrilled that they jumped on board and joined this project. Obviously going into this I knew Steve from our work together on the Manborg comic project from 2013… we’ve become really good friends over the last couple years, and when I was putting together this initial Gates of Misery concept, I knew right away that I wanted Steve involved. His imagination goes to such insane places that I knew whatever he wrote would be a blast trying to come up with the imagery and illustration to do it justice.

Brandon I had never met before we worked together. I first became familiar with him after seeing a poster exhibit here in Toronto in which he collaborated with an artist to create a “fake” movie; he wrote the synopsis and the film title, and the artist illustrated a poster for this purely hypothetical film. Brandon’s synopsis for this movie was so radical and so amazing I immediately logged it into my brain and thought: if I ever have a project that I can work with this guy on, I need to remember to call him. Luckily Gates of Misery provided just that. I got in touch with him, sent him a rundown of what the project was all about along with some sample artwork, and was thrilled to hear that he dug the idea and wanted to be a part of it. In fact, for anyone who saw our Kickstarter video, he was generous enough to come down and record a short clip of himself talking about the project. The day of the video recording was actually my first time meeting him face-to-face, so I feel extremely honoured that he believed in the project enough to trust that I was going to do his story justice!

Jon was another person who I didn’t know before going into the project. I had seen him in Toronto at a screening of Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer years and years ago, and I just remembered him being a very down-to-earth guy who loved oldschool horror and oldschool horror effects. So when I was thinking of making an oldschool horror anthology comic, he of course came immediately to mind. I took a long shot and reached out, and again was glad to hear back that he was into the concept and wanted to write a segment for it.

And Dave Alexander I did know; Rue Morgue has always been incredibly supportive of my work as an illustrator, and when the news of Gates of Misery was starting to come out, Dave and I were chatting one night and he mentioned he had written a short horror segment that he was interested in having illustrated. After reading it, I knew right away that it was going to work perfectly for The Gates of Misery, and I’m thrilled to have it as our closing story in the first issue.

Gates PageAB: I’d love to know about your actual illustration process – the stories are short, but the art is often intricate. How long did it take to create a given story? What’s happening when you’re working – is music going?

MT: I’ll be honest, I generally work quite quickly, but I really took my time with Gates of Misery because I wanted this first issue to be as perfect as it possibly could be. You’re absolutely right, the stories are short, but they’re dense. And they each provide different challenges. For Steve’s, his monsters take time to design – especially when you’re dealing with big monsters. For Brandon’s, there was so much of the comic that was purely visual with no text narration to accompany or help convey the weight of what was happening. So there’s a lot of pressure to make the illustrations “just right” so that the reader can feel what is happening. All of that is to say, it took quite a while to get everything done, especially since when I work on a story I pencil, ink, and colour it all myself.

As for what’s happening while I work… it really depends. I love having horror films on in the background, but they can easily get distracting so I find myself listening to A LOT of commentary tracks (by far the best of which has been John Carpenter and Kurt Russell’s commentary of The Thing!) I also listen to a lot of soundtracks to help stay in the mood, and when that fails and I really need to just focus, I’ll toss on a white noise app that has plenty of rain and thunder.

AB: From experience with our own Biff Bam Boom digital comics, there can sometimes be unexpected spacing issues, etc. What challenges, if any did, came up as you set out to craft the comic itself?

MT: When I worked on the Manborg comic back in 2013, that was my first time doing any real comic illustration. I think it was a massive learning experience in a lot of ways, including just the actual act of prepping the files for comic printing and dealing with space and page-count issues. Since the first issue of Manborg I’ve illustrated another five-or-so comic books, so going into Gates I was familiar with what challenges to expect.

The main issues I dealt with were stylistic ones – I knew going into the project that I wanted each story to have a different visual look to separate them, and to also give me a chance to flex my drawing-muscles and make each story as unique and reflective of the writer as possible. Having Andrew Barr come in and provide artwork for Jon’s story, as well as having Shira Haberman step in and draw a few of the “cemetery introduction” panels was great in my opinion. It added a new level of depth to the comic, and gave it some visual variety that I probably wouldn’t have been able to achieve if I were doing everything on my own.

Aside from that, the main thing I fought against was just time. This obviously isn’t a full-time job, but a passion project. So while I was working to illustrate this comic, I was also taking on constant freelance work. But thankfully it all came together, and I couldn’t be happier with the first issue.

AB: How was the Kickstarter experience for you? Would you revisit it for future issues?

MT: Crowd-funding is an interesting experience to say the least. It’s humbling and stressful all at once. I can’t thank everyone enough who believed in the project and helped donate funds to bring this thing into existence, but I don’t believe I would crowd-fund any future issues.

In fact, the plan going forward is to not release traditional “issues” of the comic, but to release individual stories as often as possible in a digital format and at a reduced price. This way we can keep telling stories, releasing new material, and getting it out there to horror fans as quickly and affordably as possible. That said in the future we may do more print copies – perhaps even a larger anthology that features 20 or 30 stories if the comic continues to last and the fans remain interested – but we’ll cross that bridge in the future. For now the emphasis is to just keep telling tales of terror, and giving horror fans some quality material to read.

AB: As is obvious from your website and Gates of Misery, you love horror. What is it about the genre that appeals to you as an artist?

MT: I’ve loved horror my entire life, so I think it was just natural that my art reflects that. When I was younger I was completely enamored with the work of Stephen Gammell… in particular his illustrations for the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. In addition to that, the painted covers of Tim Jacobus on the original Goosebumps books remain forever burned into my memory. I’m not sure what specifically appeals to me about the genre from an art perspective; I just know that given the choice between painting a beautiful lakeside cottage on a gorgeous summer afternoon, or painting a dilapidated, crooked old house silhouetted by a full moon and a red-tinted sky filled with bats… I willforever be unable to resist the temptation of the haunted house scene.

AB: With the first issue completed and ready for the world to read, what comes next for you?

MT: Jumping straight into more stories for The Gates of Misery! I have some more amazing writers that I’m working with and currently developing new material, so I’m hoping to release a new story next month (September). Aside from that, I do a fair bit of work as a poster artist, so I’ve been in negotiation with a few new clients to create work for some of their films. There’s always something happening, it seems!

AB: Finally, what are you watching, reading or listening to that you think Biff Bam Pop readers should be checking out?

MT: I’ve been on a bit of Stephen King binge lately, and I’m currently working my way through 11/22/63, which is absolutely fantastic so far. Additionally, I just discovered a series of interviews called “Post Mortem”, which features Mick Garris speaking to some truly legendary horror masters – great stuff! I would also recommend that people check out a band called The Cybertronic Spree. Seriously, you won’t be disappointed.

Buy the digital Gates Of Misery comic here.
Visit the Gates of Misery website, find it on Facebook, and follow on Twitter @Mt_Misery

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