Heavy Metal has come back in a big bad way with the launch of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, an epic tale of one man's journey to prevent the end of the world. The first book in the trilogy, Helldiver, was recently released. At the helm of the project is creator Michael Mendheim, who was kind enough to sit down with HorrorTalk to chat about the project.
James Ferguson: The Apocalypse is kind of a big topic to tackle. How did you come up with your spin on the story of the Four Horsemen?
Michael Mendheim: Three writers were mostly involved in the creation of the story; Mike Kennedy, Sean Jaffe and myself, but there were also a large number of contributors throughout the entire process.
We wanted to tell a story about the end of the world – the battle of Armageddon, which is the biblical story of the final battle between good against evil for the fate of humanity. The villains of this event would be the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Pestilence, War, Famine and Death… but Armageddon is such an overwhelming and gargantuan spectacle that we had to boil everything down and see it from a much smaller focus, we had to personalize it so the tale is told through the eyes of one man that readers could somewhat identify with: Adam Cahill. The end of days is experienced from his perspective and when boiled down to its simplest form, it’s really a story about love and redemption, one man sacrificing everything he has to protect his child from evil. Adam literally goes to Hell and back to try and save his daughter. God tells Adam in order to save humanity he must go to Hell and convince three despicable lost souls to stand with him against the Horsemen; if he succeeds the Earth will be saved and mankind will be redeemed and if he fails… all will be destroyed. The Apocalypse is merely the backdrop of his journey and along the way he learns that nothing is impossible as long as you have faith and believe in yourself.
JF: Adam Cahill is a Jewish soldier in an order serving to guard the seven seals. Where did this character come from?
MM: In our story, Adam Cahill is a blood descendant of King Solomon, raised by the Order of Solomon to guard the Seven Holy Seals that contain the End of Days. Adam doesn’t want this responsibility and would prefer to be left alone with his family but has no say in the matter. Adam has seen much evil and destruction in his days due to the Nicolaitans, an ancient sect (also from the time of Solomon) who conspires to bring about the destruction of mankind by systematically assassinating the Order of Solomon guards so they can gain possession of the seals. The Nicolaitans have all the money, power and resources of the world at their disposal. The Order of Solomon is a small but valiant sect that is trying to survive and thankfully they have the resources of Jerusalem and the Vatican to help them.
JF: Cahill is a Jew working with Christians with this duty. How did you come up with a balance between the two religions for the story? And more importantly, how did you do it without sounding preachy?
MM: Our focus for the back story is the Old Testament and the modern events in the story are inspired by the New Testament, specifically the book of Revelation. We wanted to create a believable story with a religious backdrop.
Christianity, Judaism and Islam all share similar roots and principles -- all three religions believe that there is only one God and this God is the origin and source of all that exists. All three religions believe we are the children of Abraham and are capable of both good and evil. When we live our life with goodness, righteousness, and love we all become more like what God intended us to be. When we abuse our freedom and do harm to other people, ourselves, and our world it means that we are going against God's divine plan. Each of us is capable of great goodness or great evil. The religious aspects of the story are counterpoints to everything; they give the story its over-arching relevance and purpose to our characters. One key theme to our story is every person has the ability to choose (free will), the choices they make will determine the fate of their own existence and in sense all of humanity’s existence. Since we handle this content as realistically as possible, it doesn’t come across as preachy but rather shockingly familiar. Everyone knows someone who abuses themselves through drinking, drugs or some other means. Everyone knows someone who is angry and bullies others. Everyone knows someone who doesn’t care about anything but themselves. These are the characters that make up our story and we hope it is interesting to see these characters grow and change in good or bad ways along their individual journeys. No character in our story is completely good or completely evil, rather our characters are all developed in shades of gray, and they all have flaws and weaknesses to overcome – the big question is in the end, how will they choose?
JF: Simon Bisley handled the art for this project and did a tremendous job. How did that collaboration come about?
MM: Simon’s artistic brilliance brought our story to life. This is his first graphic novel in over a decade and one that reunites him with Heavy Metal on their 35th anniversary. Simon gave me everything he had on this project and it took us many years to complete. We certainly had many ups and downs to trying to get this beast completed, but in the end it was a fantastic experience working with him. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse has some of the best artwork he has ever created and If you’re a fan of Simon Bisley, this Graphic Novel series is a must have.
This project started as a videogame at the 3DO Company. The key artist types on the development team all agreed Simon Bisley would be the perfect artist for the property and he was. We brought Simon in initially as a concept artist and then his role expanded into the main illustrator for the graphic novels. In the early developmental stages Simon worked with us and the late great Stan Winston to define the characters and worlds look and feel.
The actual creative process between Simon and me goes something like this… I create rough visual layouts of every page based on the script and then send them to Simon who goes to town on them. Simon has the freedom to rearrange anything he wants and from time to time add an extra page if he thinks a panel should be blown out. In the example below you can see a rough layout from Book 1:
Click images to enlarge.
The image on the left is my layout, the one that is delivered to Simon. Simon then takes the layout and adds his magic. Sometimes he stays very close to the original layout, other times he makes changes. As you can see from the examples above everything he does is an improvement.
Simon first pencils and then inks the image. When Simon is finished he sends the image back to me for final review.
Then the final image is sent to Chad Fidler and he applies color magic to the image. Usually I’ll provide photographic reference of the environments, colors, etc to go along with layouts to both Chad and Simon. Anything to make Simon’s and Chad’s life easier! Chad finishes the color and sends back to me and then the balloons, text, puzzles, etc get added.
JF: This story moves at a very quick pace, but it is packed with information. Was it difficult keeping track of all the little details when scripting The Four Horsemen?
MM: Not really. I’ve been working on this for so long and have had a lot of time to really think everything through plus I have two excellent co-writers who don’t miss much. From time to time we catch a mistake that conflicts with our back story (which no one knows but us) and then we make whatever adjustments we need to.
The fast pacing of the book was intentional; we wanted to create a ride and purposely paced it more like an action adventure movie than something slower and drawn out which is typical of good horror stories. There is a lot there, the story is almost like a rich chocolate soufflé and if you consume it too fast you're going to miss some of the subtle nuances - people have mentioned to me that on their second and even third reading they find new things they missed. I also think some of my game designer instincts crept into the book. I'm always thinking about ways to make a game interesting the second time you play it (re-playability factor), maybe Mike Kennedy and I subconsciously injected some of that philosophy into the writing style of the book to get people to go back and reread it again.
Click images to enlarge.
JF: There are a number of letters throughout Helldiver that are colored in red. Is there a deeper meaning behind this?
MM: Of course there is. Nothing in the books is by accident; there are numerous symbols and puzzles hidden throughout every single page of all 3 of the books. I'm a game designer / producer by trade, so I enjoy seeding the books with game elements. The red text has well defined and chilling meaning, but it is something to be discovered and figured out by the readers - at this point in time I'm not disclosing any clues. Once all three books come out some clues will be revealed. There is a game imbedded in the graphic novels as well as a mystery.
JF: Helldiver is just the first book of a planned trilogy. Can you give us a taste of what to expect in the next two chapters?
MM: Book 2 is called the "The Chosen" and it's a very dark tale focusing on Adam and Jesse (the first Chosen) trying to set the last two corrupt souls on a path of righteousness and convince them to join them to save humanity.
The second Chosen is an ex-soldier turned fanatical preacher named Lucas Hand, who lost his faith when his beloved wife passed away, despite his passionate prayer and dedication. The loss of this love sent him teetering towards insanity, desperately seeking some sort of justification for such spiritual betrayal. But no justification came, not even when he put Heaven to the ultimate test: to send him a sign that would stop him from sacrificing his own son. The blood on his hands was proof that God was no longer watching over us, and that his faith was wasted on a book of lies. From that point on, he waged a violent war against Heaven, repeatedly demanding God stop his hand from committing horrific serial murders. Repeatedly, Heaven failed him leaving him to wallow in insanity.
Click images to enlarge.
The third Chosen is a shady politician named Jordan Osborne, a self-centered manipulator who may have inadvertently set all of these events in motion. As clever as he thinks he is, he wasn't clever enough to recognize that he himself had been manipulated by a powerful foreign magnate known only as "Belarios" to locate certain individuals who happened to be key members of the Order of Solomon. And while Jordan is not so bold as to ever intentionally trigger the End of Days, he is selfish enough to consider a kingdom in Limbo as reward for his small part in the plot. He is a glutton for wealth and power, even if that means faceless thousands are left starving.
As Adam tries to recruit these individuals, War, Famine and Death are awakened from their eternal slumber and rise to unite with Pestilence. The Four Horsemen stand ready to smite the Earth as Adam tries to get his group together and keep them united, which proves to be an impossibly difficult challenge based on their individual personalities and motivations.
The conclusion of Book 2 is very dark and disturbing which sets the stage for the grand finale in Book 3, titled: "The End of Days". The final book is about the Horsemen bringing destruction onto the Earth and the final battle of good against evil. That’s all I’m going to say about Book 3 at this point.
JF: Sounds like Adam has his work cut out for him.
We'd like to thank Michael Mendheim for taking the time to sit with us here and discuss the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse and the end of the world. The first volume, Helldiver, was released in May 2012, with the second volume, The Chosen, in stores now. The third and final chapter, End of Days, is due out in October 2012. For more information on the comic, you can visit their official website, follow them on Twitter, or Like them on Facebook.
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