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Ian Boothby and Gisele Lagace Summon Laughs and Terror in Exorsisters

In the first scene of the new ongoing Exorsisters, from writer Ian Boothby and artist Gisele Lagace, a monstrous demon interrupts an idyllic wedding, dragging one of the participants into the infernal abyss. Cue the involvement of Cate and Kate Harrow, a pair of paranormal investigators who specialize in occult nuisances. Cate is impulsive and indulgent, whereas her sister is restrained and logical—a yin and yang of personalities devoted to aiding those victimized by otherworldly forces. But this scenario isn't quite what it appears to be—and neither are the sisters looking into it.

“The series is about lies, the ones demons try to trick us with and the ones we tell ourselves, thinking they’ll keep us safe. So misdirection will always be a part of the book,” Boothby explains. His body of work leans heavily into comedy, including long comic contributions to The Simpsons, Futurama, and Sparks, a graphic novel for younger readers illustrated by Nina Matsumoto, as well as other work in television. Lagace’s resume spans such projects as Jem and the Holograms, Archie Meets Ramones, and Betty Boop. The two first met through their mutual friend, Guardians of the Galaxy artist Nick Bradshaw, and immediately began concocting an irreverent brew of the spooky and sassy.

For Boothby, the idea for the series emerged from his frustration with horror cinema. “I was watching a movie about demons where evil won, and while it was well done, it really bothered me,” he says. “I wanted to see someone outsmart evil because, at its heart, evil is pretty dumb.”

From that observation, the series’ title characters emerged. “Cate and Kate Harrow came out of that, an odd couple with a twisted backstory that have every right to be bitter and angry, but instead try to make things a little better by fighting for lost causes,” he explains.

The resulting comic balances the supernatural with the everyday—bolstered by smart dialogue and Lagace’s deft attention to posture and timing. “It’s a pleasure working with Gisele because she has such an amazing grasp on body language that gives the ‘real world’ such depth,” Boothby says. “Then she applies the same skills with a cartoonish twist to the demon world that makes the funny scenes funnier and the creepy ones creepier.”

Lagace has delved into comics history to find the right balance between realism and the horrific. “I take a lot of inspiration from Rumiko Takahashi (Inuyasha), who often mixes realistic settings with fantastical ones. I love her monster designs,” she explains. “Takeshi Obata (Death Note) is another artist who I took inspiration from. My previous work on Betty Boop also helped me set up this world, oddly enough, as she often ended up in Hell,” Lagace says with a laugh.

Though the monstrous and demonic characters in Exorsisters look appropriately sinister, Lagace also adds a dose of surrealism. Sometimes her designs go for the delightfully bizarre—a pair of horned, chain-spewing frogs, for instance—while others lead to moments of offbeat comedy. A sequence in which Cate and Kate venture into the underworld finds the pair of supernatural detectives observing the end product of an exorcism gone wrong: a demon possessed by a six-year-old girl. “That was fun,” Lagace recalls.” I just designed this big demon and put him in a little dress. How he found one his size, I’ll never know, but that’s what’s fun about working in this world.”

The idea came to Boothby after watching the classic horror staple, The Exorcist. “I thought, what if while a demon was possessing a little girl’s body, the girl slipped into the demon’s back in Hell? And is there anything more destructive than a child? Gisele then took the idea and ran with it,” he says.

The series’ first issue ends on a perfect cliffhanger, taking the familial underpinnings of the series and both challenging and expanding them. (We won’t spoil anything, but rest assured that the creators have every intention to explore the Harrow family tree.) “The first issue shows what a day on the job is like for Cate and Kate Harrow,” explains Boothby. “Future issues will reveal a larger threat while showing what turned them into soul savers.”

That balance allows the creators to weave a series of concise cases against a larger tapestry of family drama and world-threatening strife. “We want each issue to feel complete, but at the same time, we want the readers to come back for more,” Lagace says.

Since starting work on Exorsisters, Boothby and Lagace have evolved the tone of the comic, adding a dynamic contrast between the whimsical and wicked. “Hell has gotten more cartoony than I originally thought it would be, but that just makes the dark scenes darker, and Gisele draws a cartoon demon so well,” Boothby says. “Some side characters in future issues became too much fun to get rid of right away as well. The story itself has definitely let me know where it’s going to go, my intricately crafted plots be damned.”

“Art-wise, when I started working on it, I was seeing very clean lines with lots of black like Clamp’s xxxHOLiC in my head. So I started with that in mind, but since I’m not Clamp, it’s gonna be what it’s gonna be,” she recalls. “Since this is colored, I have to approach it with that in mind. And speaking of colors, Pete Pantazis is doing a wonderful job on that front. We’re lucky to have him. I’m sure the series will continue to evolve in ways we did not see coming, but that’s the fun of working in comics.”

Exorsisters #1 releases in comic stores on October 17, 2018