“It is a story that is going to pull the rug out from under readers’ feet at multiple points” John Lees on the mysteries behind Mountainhead from IDW Publishing
Part of a series of exciting creator owned series from IDW Publishing, comes Mountainhead, the new series from Sink’s John Lees and artist Ryan Lee. With it’s mix of horror and mystery, we caught up with John to find out more about the meaning behind his multi-faceted new series:
Tell us a bit about the world of Mountainhead and what inspired it? The first half of the story seems to be very different to the second, and then the sub plot involving the mystery on the mountain feels like a third element. Did the story come together from various elements or did the whole concept come together as one?
John Lees: The story was indeed drawn together from various elements. The character of Abraham Stubbs has been in my head for many years, right down to his name. I drew from a couple of real-life stories that had a big impact on me, and combined them together with some original elements to create this conflicted young man and his father, Noah. But while the character felt rich and alive to me, I didn’t have a suitably compelling story to use him in, and so the concept went on the shelf.
Later, I developed the story of the town of Braeriach and the mysterious events that unfold there, and thought it could make for a visually striking narrative. But the story felt hollow because it wasn’t anchored in character, the characters I had feeling merely like vehicles driven by the plot than fully-formed figures. And then I remembered Abraham on the shelf, a character without a story to go with my story without a character, and I was taken aback by how well these two elements clicked together once I combined them, each enhancing the other so well that you’d think they were always meant to be paired.
There is quite a major twist in the middle of the story. Was this always part of the conception of the story? And did you always intend for the first issue to change tack so drastically? (We could have read an entire first issue about Abraham and Noah doing burglaries!)
JL: Yes, the twist was always part of the story. And while we certainly could have got more mileage out of Abraham and Noah in their opening status quo, if it wasn’t always the plan to upend that status quo mid-issue, it certainly came very early in the process. And I have a specific reason for that. One of my pet peeves with comics is when it takes the full first issue of a series to set up the concept of the book. You’ll read the elevator pitch for a new series in the article announcing it, you’ll read the Previews solicit, then it takes the whole first issue just to get to that point, which can leave the experience of reading it feel redundant.
If my solicit had read, “Abraham and Noah are living off the grid, burgling houses to survive, but a big secret will change their lives!”, and then took the whole first issue to get to said secret, I’d feel I was guilty of doing the same thing. And so I wanted to dig at least a little into the aftermath in this first chapter, set up more of the dynamics going forward… while still holding onto a few mysteries to be revealed later!
How important is it for readers to avoid spoilers to really make the most of this first issue? And how important is it for you to take readers on a journey when telling a story?
JL: Taking readers on a journey is what we all want to do, in one way or another. That journey can be pleasant or funny or sad or frightening, but I think a good story crafts that sense of a shared experience, of the reader (or viewer, if we’re talking about film or TV) being drawn into a world and coming along for the ride. And for stories like Mountainhead, I think an important element of enjoying that journey is surprise.
Mountainhead is a story that is going to pull the rug out from under readers’ feet at multiple points, not just in issue #1, and I think the best way to experience it is to go in knowing as little as possible. It’s certainly made writing solicits for each issue a challenge! But yes, I’d recommend that readers avoid spoilers if they can.
Ryan Lee’s artwork is amazing on this and help brings a really creepy and grotesque feel to some parts of the story. How did you get to work with him? Have you worked together before or did you find him online? (The covers have an amazing symmetry to them as well by the way)
JL: I’ve known Ryan Lee for years now, and have been a fan of his work since I first encountered it. He is one of the most distinctive talents working in comics today, and I’ve long wanted to see him have a project that could showcase his immense talents. I had played with the idea of being the one to write that project, but I didn’t know how likely that would be. So, imagine my delight when I first met Ryan in-person in Chicago back in 2016, and HE was keen to work with ME, too. He actually tasked me with developing a story idea for us to work on together, and that’s how Mountainhead came about. It was developed for him, and we’ve built up the story and the world together. It couldn’t be done by anyone else.
The book is being released by IDW, how did that come about? Did you pitch the book to them or did they approach you?
JL: I had previously worked with IDW on the issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe that I did with Nick Pitarra and Felipe Sobreiro. That had been well received, and through that I built up a rapport with editor Bobby Curnow. I had enjoyed the process of working with Bobby. He’s an insightful editor with a keen eye for story – which makes sense, considering he’s a talented writer himself – and it made me keen to work with him again. So, Ryan and I pitched Mountainhead to IDW, and they were very receptive. We went back and forth on a couple of things, made a couple of adjustments to the pitch, and then they went ahead and picked it up! And it’s worked out great, as Mountainhead has become part of a wave of exciting new creator-owned properties from IDW, including Ghost Tree, Canto and Road of Bones.
For those who are new to your work, which other books should people check out? I’m guessing And Then Emily Was Gone is the one everyone else points to? But more recently Sink is getting you a lot of plaudits as well?
JL: For years, And Then Emily Was Gone was indeed the work I was best known for, and Ryan and I have both talked about Mountainhead playing like a spiritual successor to that comic. But more recently, Sink has become my signature work. It has been my most successful book, and with issue #10 set for release soon, certainly my longest-running. It’s a pulp crime/horror anthology series, each issue its own self-contained one shot, with them all connected by the shared location of Sinkhill, a forgotten, nightmarish district of Glasgow, Scotland. If people want to check the series out, the Volume 2 collection is currently available for pre-order in Previews, and Volume 1 has also been re-solicited. So, let your local comic shop know if you want to get yourself caught up!