Brutally attacked and thrown into Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay, 17-year-old Kathy Sartori’s life seems to be over, but she survives, struggling to the shore where she discovers that it’s no longer 1969. Fifty years have passed and someone has lived her entire life in her place. Dealing with her double and her attacker and the dark entity inside him, Kathy must solve the mystery of her own death.
The concept came to comics veteran J.M. DeMatteis while at a spiritual retreat center in South Carolina, flooding him with ideas that he refers to as “mind movies.” Following the “download” of ideas as they took on a life of their own, awaiting the right moment. That moment, DeMatteis, says, was the launch of long time friend Karen Berger’s new Dark Horse imprint, Berger Books. After a call from Berger, Corin Howell was on board.
Now, the first four issues of the mystery of Kathy Sartori “death” resurfaces in a collected volume that captures this ethereal crime fiction tale of horror and mysticism. The creative team of writer DeMatteis and illustrator Howell share a few thoughts about The Girl in the Bay.
JM, you mention on your website and in the backmatter of the first issue that this particular story was waiting for something, which turned out to be Berger Books. What was it about this story that you felt was just right for this imprint?
DeMatteis: I knew when I pitched it (well, I strongly suspected) that The Girl in the Bay would appeal to Karen’s sensibilities. For one thing, the story launches in Brooklyn, on streets we both know very well. For another, it’s got a dark, twisty tone that’s rooted in a layered human story, two qualities that I know she responds to.
How does it feel to be working with Karen Berger for this particular story?
DeMatteis: Karen and I go way back: we were friends before either of us worked in comics. Once she got in the business—and I’m proud to say I opened that door for her—she was my editor on several pre-Vertigo books, and then I was part of the Vertigo launch. Working together again, after too many years, feels like a wonderful reunion. Aside from being one of my dearest friends, Karen is one of the best editors the business has ever seen: that’s a combination you can’t beat. It’s been a joy coming together again for The Girl in the Bay.
Howell: It feels very exciting, considering all the major stories she’s worked. It’s a wonderful opportunity to work with someone that has a real eye for storytelling. I’ve learned a lot from Karen on this project.
JM, issue one opens with lyrics from Winston Burton, who is mentioned again later in the issue. Given your history with music, how much does music influence this story? Will we learn more about Winston Burton’s influence in Kathy’s live(s)?
DeMatteis: I could write a lengthy essay about the links between music and comics writing, but I’ll spare you that here! That said, Kathy is a specific kind of person from a specific time and place; a ’60s kid who surrenders heart and soul to the music she loves and the people who create it. Winston Burton is, to Kathy, what John Lennon was, and remains, to me: the musical voice that speaks most directly, most intimately, to her soul. And, yes, Winston Burton will be integral to this tale, in very surprising ways.
There are several important historical moments mentioned to ground the opening of Kathy’s life in 1969 — but what was it about this very specific year that spoke to you? How has this specific year helped to shape the story and characters?
DeMatteis: Not so much the year as the era: the ’60s were a time of incredible turmoil—our current political madness seems almost tame by comparison—but, paradoxically, they were also times of incredible idealism and hope. (Something that’s often missing in today’s more cynical climate.) That mix of existential terror and unyielding, utopian idealism defined Kathy’s personality and beliefs. Despite the fact that I was a few years behind Kathy, they defined a lot of my beliefs, as well.
Corin, given this timeline, what resources did you use to shape your visuals for these parts of the story?
Howell: Mostly music. Since I’m a ’90s child, a lot of my research and inspiration came from Marc and the vast ’60s/’70s playlist I could get my hands on. I find music is what fuels most of my work.
Imagine that your own doppelgängers have shown up at your doors. What might your initial thoughts be?
DeMatteis: I’d react with a mix of awe, curiosity, naked terror and metaphysical delight. (Yes, it would be scary, but it would also be very cool.)
Howell: “DON’T OPEN THE DOOR.” Because in the original background of the doppelgänger — once you’ve seen your doppelgänger, you die.
Featuring colours by James Devlin and lettering by Clem Robins, The Girl in the Bay Volume 1 is available now from Dark Horse Comics.