Horror vs. Crime: We Talk Revival with Tim Seeley and Mike Norton

Revival banner, Jenny Frison, Image 2014

Issue 36# and a new arc of Tim Seeley and Mike Norton’s creator-owned comic Revival dropped last week. Revival centers around the rural town of Wausau, Wisconsin where the recently deceased have came back to life. The comic explores the aftermath of this inexplicable event on the living and the dead. Teetering on the genres of horror and crime, the series explores identity, religion, mortality, and even governmental bureaucracy. I recently talked with Tim and Mike about the themes of Revival, small town life, and body horror.

Revival #36, Tim Seeley & Mike Norton, cover by Jenny Frisson, Image, 2016Since issue #36 starts a new arc and is a potential jumping on point for new readers, what would you tell a new reader to the series?

Tim: Revival is a crime series, with a definitive horror element, set in rural Wisconsin, as a detective tries to solve the murder of her undead sister. I think issue 36 is a very vital and easily digestible piece of a very big story that encapsulates a lot of elements of the larger series. If you dig this, you’ll dig Revival.

Mike: I’d reiterate everything Tim said except that Revival is a horror mystery series with a definitive crime element.

Oh, this sounds like fighting words. Okay, Tim, Mike, make your case for whether it’s horror or crime. Or we can sort this out in Thunderdome?

Mike: Hah! Not at all. It’s pretty obvious there’s a huge scary element to this book. I think those elements are more important than the crime elements. That’s all.

Tim: I think the series focus on the human elements and the temptations to do things outside of  their usual moral center makes it a crime series first.

You call Revival a “rural noir,” and the setting of Wausau, Wisconsin plays an important part in the series. So my question is: Why Wausau?

Tim: I grew up in a rural area outside of Wausau, and I spent my teenage years amazed, sometimes proud, and occasionally aghast at the stuff that happened there. I wanted to wrote something I knew, and I feel like I know Wausau pretty well.

As someone from a small, rural town, I am curious as to what you both think about what makes the rural part integral to this story?

Tim: I grew up in a rural area outside of Wausau, and I live in Chicago. I think there’s something about living in rural areas that separates us from other people, in a way that cities don’t, for all the good and the bad that entails. I also think there’s a tendency among Americans to believe that our small towns really best represent American culture … or our ideals anyway. And, of course, there’s a fair amount of hypocrisy there. So, I felt like a story which was all about the connections between families and the distances between them would be best served by a small town.

Mike: There’s a particular sense of isolation that goes along with living in a small town. Also, the fear of being trapped. We made that a literal element of our story.

Further, while Wausau is largely depicted as white, there’s a specific focus on “others” and/or outsiders, like Ibrahaim and the General, as well as outsiders in the community, like the Hmong and Native Americans. Why include these, and why is it integral to the overall story?

Tim: I remember very specifically when the Hmong started becoming a part of life in Wausau in the early ‘80s. There was suddenly a number of non-white people from a different culture coming to what was then a lily white, “All-American” town. It was the first time I remember encountering racism, as people told all kinds of horrible stories about the Hmong and complained about them getting money from the government, and it profoundly affected me. I felt like Wausau is very representative of America that way. There’s amazing levels of acceptance there, but there’s also a lot of ignorance.

Mike: It’s a little unfair to paint this setting as being ignorant and intolerant across the board, but the small-town setting definitely makes it easier to put things like racism and the feelings those represent under a microscope.

Which I think is shown in Revival. Many of the bigoted characters in the story, such as Blaine and Edmund, are not one-dimensional. What is it like depicting characters like this? How do you tap into that kind of hatred?

Mike: These kind of people are rarely one-dimensional. Most of them think they’re right. They have families and things that are important to them. I find most often we have to be careful to make the reader sympathize too much with a character like Blaine or Edmund. I think we did that. They’re bastards.

Revival #36, Tim Seeley & Mike Norton, art by Norton, Image, 2015
Em, a reviver, crafts her trademark hoodie. Notice the scars across her body. Norton and Seeley use a lot of moments like this to show Em’s body and the tole of being a reviver on her and her body.

There are elements of body horror in Revival, and one of the things I appreciate is that one of the main characters, like Em’s body, is front and center, but not in a way that objectifies her. Is this deliberate on your part?  

Tim: Well, there’s nothing particularly sexy about the horrible body horror we put Em through. I’m not against sexy, but I knew when to use it! But yeah, Revival is certainly a body horror story, which I think is definitely part of the idea of being “undead.”

Mike: I’m not a fan of body horror. If find it repulsive, not sexy. Maybe that’s coming through in the story. Em is a normal girl in a horrifying situation.

One of the things I particularly enjoy about Mike’s art is the details in the background. I’ve noticed so many subtle things that contribute to the reader’s understanding of the characters and the setting (like the Dessa poster in Em’s dorm room in issue #24). Is this something you two collaborate on, or is this all Mike? Either way, why include this in the art? It seems like it would take longer.

Tim: Some of that stuff is in the script, and some of that is all Mike. But it’s important for comic artists to provide all that detail … it helps define the characters!

Mike: Yeah, a lot of the time it’s me just adding to what I think the characters and setting are like. Many things come me asking out loud to Tim, “What would so and so have on his/her wall?” And sometimes Tim has a definite vision of what he thinks in the script and it helps me flesh out the drawing.

Is there a clear end in sight for Revival or is the story still forming and shaping for you?

Tim: ISSUE 48!

Mike: We’re roughly a year away from the end!

Do you know what the ending will be?

Mike: We do! But we can’t tell you!

Tim: Fortunately, the ending was one of the first things we came up with.

As creators and this being a creator-owned comic, what does this comic mean to you?

Tim: To me, it means a whole lot of work, a whole lot of fun, a whole lot of freedom, and a chance to make people entertained, and touched, and a little afraid.

Mike: It’s meant very much to me. I’ve learned so much working on this book. It’s very close to my heart.

Ginnis Tonik

Ginnis Tonik

Smashing the patriarchy with glitter, pink lipstick, and cowboy boots. You can follow her on Instagram @ginnistonik