Eisner Award-winning creator Chip Zdarsky (Sex Criminals, Daredevil, The White Trees) has been involved with some provocative projects over the years, and now he's teaming up with collaborator and countryman, Eisner Award-winning artist Ramon K. Perez (Tale of Sand, Jane), for a disturbing new horror series for Skybound/Image — and SYFY WIRE has a special sneak peek at the premiere issue alongside some insight from its creators.
Stillwater #1 hits comic shops on Sept. 16 and revolves around a mysterious town where the idea of mortality is a distorted concept due to the fact that nothing residing within the city limits actually ever perishes. Ever!
Written by Zdarsky with atmospheric artwork courtesy of Perez and colorist Mike Spicer, this compelling Twilight Zone-like story is a slow burn that lures you into its labyrinthine plot page by page.
Pushing forward in the story, we learn how it's been getting harder to hide the town in an era of satellites and Google maps. Unexpected conflicts arise as Daniel, our main character thrust into this world, makes decisions that will affect everyone in the uncanny village.
Zdarsky has had this idea percolating for years and relates the genesis of this unsettling new horror series and where its inspirations sprang from.
"I think like with most writers, I have a mild obsession with the idea of mortality," he tells SYFY WIRE. "As a teenager, I was deep into the goth phase and quite enjoyed the Anne Rice novels. I loved how she crafted the idea of immortality, the highs and lows of it. It got me to thinking that there's some glamor there to most immortality stories. But what would happen if it was average small-town people who had it thrust upon them and how that would play out?
"Then I thought, what if they're actually trapped to retain that ability. I've always loved small-town narratives where the town seems normal but something is lurking underneath. Like Twin Peaks or It, and Stranger Things. As soon as I locked onto the idea that the physical town itself is what retained the immortality, I saw that there's so much you could play with. What does this mean for animals, for children, for seniors? I loved all the weird worldbuilding you could extrapolate from the idea."
The titular paranormal town in this supernatural offering was patterned after a place Zdarsky and his family once lived called Coldwater.
"At the time it was a population of about 1,000 and we felt like the outsiders that had moved there and were treated as such," Zdarsky recalls. "I think my parents had a harder time acclimating than I did. The only thing I had to get used to was that I couldn't talk about farm equipment with the other kids. It's strange how intimate a small town could be. My dad would often have fights with the town mayor and I was kind of in love with the mayor's daughter. It's funny how insular and tiny small-town living can get."
When artist Ramon Perez was invited to come on board Stillwater, Zdarsky had already written a few issues.
"Every time a new character was introduced, Chip would give me a rough breakdown of an actor or someone he thought it would represent," Perez tells SYFY WIRE. "So I'd riff off that and tend to design on the page a lot as I find it more natural. With Stillwater's regular people, everything from the choice of what kind of shoe they wear speaks to their identity in some fashion. Certain characters will dress down a bit more. Daniel is a little more slick-looking, simple hipster style being that he's from the big city. Local townies will be more casual, plaid, country stylings. Caps. Cowboy hats. I try to play with that and familiarize myself with the characters. Then Mike Spicer takes it up a notch by adding his color palette to each one. It's actually a lot of fun.
"There's so much boiling under the lid of this small town. It's gonna be kinda fun as things spill over as the issues progress and the whole town explodes. It's been great being part of that building process and seeing these characters grow and how they react to everything."
Zdarsky and Perez have known each other for nearly 20 years since they're both Toronto artists and once shared a studio.
"He's a fascinating artist because he jumps around from genre to genre," Zdarsky notes. "He'd never really done horror so I thought maybe this would be our chance to finally work together. We worked together briefly at Marvel. One was a story about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a boxing match with Tony Stark during Civil War II, which garnered us some Canadian attention. Then he joined us for Marvel Two-In-One for the final few issues. He was the number one choice to be the artist for something like this and luckily his schedule allowed for it. His gestural work is the best in the business and he does it with ease.
"When we were looking for colorists, Mike Spicer jumped to the top of the list. He has fantastic palettes, but he understands what emotion or mood a scene needs in terms of color. It's never just a literal color job. We're lucky to have Mike."
Now take a trip into our exclusive preview of Skybound/Image's Stillwater #1 in the full gallery below.