Lake of Fire: Crusaders and Heretics Meet Their Match [Interview]

IMAGE COMICS: In broad strokes, can you describe LAKE OF FIRE for us?

NATHAN FAIRBAIRN: LAKE OF FIRE is the story of a small group of crusaders who find themselves on the front lines of an alien invasion when a spacecraft crash-lands high in the French Pyrenees.

IC: Which Crusade are you working with here?

FAIRBAIRN: This story is set in southern France in 1220 AD, during the Albigensian Crusade, a particularly bloody and protracted religious and military campaign designed to eliminate Catharism. The Cathars were Christians, but not the right kind of Christians, I guess, so they were branded as heretics and effectively wiped off the face of the Earth.

IC: LAKE OF FIRE juxtaposes rookie knights with more seasoned ones, believers with fanatics, and those who wish to help with those who don't want to be bothered. What kind of a story are you two telling here?

FAIRBAIRN: Right. Well, obviously, on a superficial plot level, we're telling a story about knights vs aliens. I mean, that's what happens. But that's not really what the story is about.

To me, this is a story about faith. It's about how faith can elevate the human spirit and also lead it down some of the darkest paths imaginable. It's about how faith provides easy and false answers to complex questions, and how those answers can nevertheless give us the courage to live without fear and, hopefully, to be our best selves.

The characters in this story come from the depths of the Dark Ages. Their entire world is viewed through the prism of faith. Their ignorance, compared to ours, is so profound that it's almost unimaginable. They don't know why they get sick, or why the seasons change, or why the sun goes down at night. All they have to cling to is their faith. So the ways in which our characters use their faith to understand and confront the bewildering and terrifying situation they are faced with is what's really fascinating and compelling to me.

MATT SMITH: Yeah, but it's also MOSTLY about knights vs aliens.

FAIRBAIRN: Well, sure.

IC: What brought you together on this book? How did you meet?

FAIRBAIRN: Ha! We've actually never met!

SMITH: I heard from Nathan by email. I think he had come across some of my work online.

FAIRBAIRN: That's right. Some famous artist that I'm Facebook friends with—maybe Mike Mignola—had liked a post of Matt's and it showed up on my feed, or Timeline, or whatever the hell they call it. I don't know if it was a page from Matt's book Barbarian Lord, or the cover he did for Jeff McComsey's Mother Russia, or just a sketch, but it blew me away so much I spent the next half hour checking out the rest of his online work. When I came across a drawing he had done of a broken-down old knight on horseback, well, I knew he had to be mine.

So I wrote to him and said "hi i'm some rando plz draw my comic book" and, as is almost always the case with that sort of thing, he jumped at the amazing opportunity.

SMITH: Ha. Actually, he came presenting a great story, a clear plan on how to go about it and get it published and most importantly, to me, a real open-handedness towards collaboration. I also looked him up after the email and saw his fantastic color work—that didn't hurt.

IC: Matt, you're penciling and inking. Nathan, you're writing, coloring, and lettering. That's a pretty small team. It may seem obvious, but why'd you two choose to handle everything yourselves, rather than hiring letters or colorists?

SMITH: For my part, I just got lucky to be contacted by a guy who was willing to not only write, but take on the coloring and lettering as well. My only real experience in comics up to this point has been my own series, Barbarian Lord, which is a solo effort. What I like about our two-man team is that it's really easy to keep on top of everything. It probably takes a little longer—okay, it definitely takes a lot longer—but it's two guys fully invested in giving this story every aspect of care we can.

I was about to draw a ridiculous parallel full of allusions to us and the knights, fighting side by side against a horde of hideous beasts, but I'll spare you.

FAIRBAIRN: I actually don't think you did just spare them.

SMITH: Fair comment.

IC: Color is an incredible storytelling tool. Nathan, how early in the creative process are you thinking about color? What's your approach to the palette in this series?

FAIRBAIRN: Unsurprisingly, I think about color constantly. Before I even write the script I've already key colored the scenes I'm imagining in my mind. You asked earlier why I chose to color this book as well as write it and, honestly, the thought of not doing so never even occurred to me.

IC: Matt, LAKE OF FIRE is a period piece. How are you approaching the fashion and setting? Are you aiming for pitch-perfect replication or something more like the mood of the era?

SMITH: Nathan made this part real easy. He'd thoroughly researched all aspects of his story, from fashion to the setting, and sent me a whole bunch of reference. I had to find a way to take it all in and streamline it all a bit into the way I work, so any deviation from pitch-perfect toward mood is totally on me.

That being said, I'd like to think we've managed to keep this wild fiction with one mailed foot firmly planted in historical accuracy. This is a very specific time and place with specific worldviews—take those and put them up against unknown horrors from another world and you have the foundation of our book. It's definitely not some collection of vague, generic medieval tropes and that gives it a pretty distinctive feel.

FAIRBAIRN: Yeah, it's very important to us that this story be as grounded and fixed in as authentic a time and place as we can make it. Many of the characters are actual historical figures. Whenever people ask me what genre I'd place this story in, I always say "historical science fiction," which is something I probably just made up.

SMITH: No, it makes sense. Like a mix of historical fiction and science fiction.

FAIRBAIRN: Right. And while historical fiction can be pretty dry and mundane and sci-fi can get too fantastic and untethered to reality, our story hopefully takes the strengths of each genre to complement the other.

SMITH: Yeah, and it's mostly a story about knights vs aliens.


LAKE OF FIRE #1 is available now.