Published on August 12th, 2019 | by Andrew Bistak
John Lees Interview (Mountainhead)
We catch-up with writer John Lees (THE STANDARD, AND THEN EMILY WAS GONE) to talk about comics, writing and of course his new title, MOUNTAINHEAD!
Growing up what’s your most memorable comic memory?
I think some of my most memorable comics experiences have happened in adulthood! Going to San Diego Comic Con for the first time back in 2009 was mind-blowing. But if we’re specifically talking about childhood memories of comics, some of the moments I remember most fondly are my first times diving into the back issue bins. They don’t have them anymore, but back in the 90s, Glasgow comic shops like Forbidden Planet and A1 Comics had huge back issue sections filled with longboxes. Now, this was the time before you could ring up the key appearances of any given comic character from the internet through a quick Google search on your phone, and as a kid getting into comics without too much knowledge of the history, the experience was like diving for treasure, plowing through a stack of comics in hopes of spotting a favourite character on the cover. I remember nabbing all 6 issues of the “Return of the Sinister Six” arc of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and feeling like I’d hit the jackpot!
If you could choose one super power, what would it be and why?
With how busy I always seem to be, being able to stop time might be helpful, let me get caught up on my backlog. Though I’d have to be careful about that one, there’d have to be some kind of provision that I don’t age either while time is stopped!
Who are your top three favourite writers?
Stephen King, Grant Morrison and Jason Aaron.
What drew you to comic writing?
I’ve loved comics since I was a kid, and I wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. But for some reason I didn’t immediately put the two together. What did it for me was an artist friend of mine, back in 2008, asking me to write a comic script for him to draw. My friend and I never did end up working together on a comic, but writing the script gave me the bug. I loved the format. I loved the limitations and structure, and the inventiveness required to work around them. And I loved that comics still feels like a relatively new medium, like there’s still scope to do stuff that’s fresh and exciting within it.
Tell us about some of the challenges and rewards of being a writer?
Well, one of the most painful challenges of being a writer is how much you have to deal with rejection. I’ve been writing comics for a decade, and while I have a decent bibliography of credits, you could make a library out of projects that never saw the light of day. These were stories I loved and believed in, that I passionately tried to get made, and for one reason or another it never happened. I’m sure if you ask any writer, even the most successful ones, and they’ll have a similar story about a vast ideas graveyard lying underneath the work that made it to publication. It’s sad when I look back at how much of that past decade I spent pitching and waiting on e-mail responses for stories nobody will ever read. But when you DO get to make a comic, that’s when the rewards come into play. There is no better feeling than making a comic with the rest of the creative team, putting it out into the world… and it resonating with people. When I hear back that people enjoyed something I wrote, or that it inspired them, that it’s left them excited to read more… that makes all the struggle and setbacks worthwhile.
Okay.. MOUNTAINHEAD! Where did you get your inspiration from in this series?
There are a bunch of inspirations for MOUNTAINHEAD. There are a couple of dramatic real-life stories I drew a lot of influence from, though I can’t specifically say which yet without spoiling some of the twists in the book! In terms of general atmosphere, we drew from a wide range of cinematic sources, ranging from ROOM and HIGH-RISE to 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE and THE THING. A big one that Ryan and I discussed a lot as being an inspiration was the British TV series FORTITUDE, about a murder mystery unfolding on a remote, tranquil island community in Arctic Norway. That series has a similar cocktail of snow and isolation and secrets to what we are striving for with MOUNTAINHEAD.
How would you describe the series?
Honestly, the series is difficult to describe. You’ve read the first issue, you know that the rug gets pulled out from under the reader’s feet during the issue. And that keeps on happening over and over throughout the series, right whenever you think you have a handle on what’s going on! But I would describe it as horror with a human core. It’s a story of a boy called Abraham and his father, Noah, who live off the grid, burgling houses to survive. It’s the story of Theo Halbot, lone survivor of a mountaineering expedition gone horribly wrong under mysterious circumstances. And it’s the story of what happens when their two paths come together in the remote Canadian mountain town of Braeriach.
Abraham is the main protagonist in the story and I’m guessing his story will get worse before they get better for him? Without spoiling his journey, who is he and what can we expect?
Abraham Stubbs is a 14-year-old kid who, for as long as he can remember, has been on the run, always looking over his shoulder. His dad has warned him that they are on the run because shady, terrifying Government forces are trying to hunt them down, trying to brainwash them and indoctrinate them into society as pliant slaves. Abraham has lived in constant terror of being caught by these monsters he’s never actually seen, but now as we join him at the beginning of this story, he is getting old enough to start to question and have doubts. He’s starting to feel pangs of longing for the comforts of the domestic life he’s always been taught to spurn and view as a trap. And he’s aware enough to recognise his father’s deteriorating mental state, and for that to worry him. He certainly has a range of shocks and trials lined up in the coming issues, but without getting into specifics, Abraham’s journey is going to be about him figuring out who he is, how much he’s his father’s son and how much he’s his own person capable of forging his own path.
Okay so why the Rockies?
Why not, I say! They are a beautiful, scenic locale, rich in character. And also, as someone who gets queasy stepping three rungs up a ladder, I find mountains inherently terrifying!
Ryan Lee’s art was made for Mountainhead.. how Ryan get involved and what do you love about his style?
There would be no MOUNTAINHEAD without Ryan Lee. The thing that really got this project rolling was Ryan approaching me at a con (C2E2 in Chicago in 2016) and suggesting we work together. I’d been a big fan of his and his distinctive style for some time before this, but C2E2 was our first time meeting in person. And upon that first meeting, Ryan quickly pitched me on the idea of us working together, and of me coming up with something specifically for him to draw. That was quite the challenge! But after playing with a few other possibilities, MOUNTAINHEAD emerged as the project we wanted to work on together, a story that from the very beginning I imagined in Ryan’s singular style.
Mountainhead the TV series maybe?
That would certainly be interesting! I’ve had a few discussions about film/TV adaptations of other comics before, but honestly I’m of the opinion that, while that stuff would be cool if it happens, I can’t focus on that. All I can focus on is what’s in my control, which is to, along with Ryan Lee and Doug Garbark and Shawn Lee and all the folk at IDW, make the best comic we possibly can.
Lastly John what does the rest of 2019 hold for you?
MOUNTAINHEAD launches in August with issue #1 out on 8/21, and the series running monthly through the rest of the year from there. On top of that, I also have SINK #10 hitting shops next Wednesday, 31st July, with the SINK Volume 2 collected edition, BLOOD & RAIN, following in September. We also have a Kickstarter currently running for this second volume, for anyone who wants to get exclusive variant editions and other additional cool stuff – find that at comixtribe.com/sink. I also have another horror series, HOTELL, from Upshot Studios, coming in early 2020, so promotion for that will likely be ramping up by late 2019. Aside from that, my time will mostly be taken up with updating my Patreon page with essays, original stories and behind-the-scenes content, which you can find at patreon.com/johnlees, as well as continuing to write my weekly newsletter, which you can sign up for at www.deep-ender.johnleescomics.com.
Visit John at https://johnleescomics.wordpress.com/