Originally published by DC’s Zuda Comics imprint in 2007 and the Winner of the Harvey Award for Best Online Series, High Moon is a unique western and horror genre mash-up about Matthew Macgregor, a former Pinkerton agent and current bounty-hunter who investigates a series of strange happenings in a small Texas town. Drought has brought famine and hardship to Blest. The summer heat pushes the temperature to unbearable heights during the day. The nights are even worse– for the streets are haunted by strange, unnatural creatures. And even as Macgregor works to uncover the truth about the creatures, he struggles to keep his own supernatural nature a secret.
Now, the acclaimed graphic novel series by writer David Gallaher and artist Steve Ellis arrives in the first of three volumes of the definitive edition of the series, with remastered artwork and new covers by artist and co-creator Steve Ellis. High Moon Vol. 1: Bullet Holes and Bite Marks arrives just in time for Halloween from Papercutz’s Super Genius imprint.
David took some time to discuss the origins of the series, it’s influences and his upcoming projects.
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FOG!: High Moon comes back to print a decade after it was first released. For those unfamiliar, what is the series about?
David Gallaher: High Moon is the story of a bounty-hunter named Matthew Macgregor who is too damn stubborn to change with the world. On the search for an outlaw and a missing girl, he finds himself forced to make a decision to either live like a beast or die like a man. It draws on real historical events — the expedition to Jim Bowie’s silver mines, the All-Black towns of Oklahoma, the expansion of the railway, the murders of H.H. Holmes and the Wounded Knee Massacre — to illustrate the violence that moved west with young America, and the people who who tried their damnedest to stop it.
What was the genesis of the project and how did you and Steve Ellis come together to collaborate?
The genesis for the project came to me in a dream.
Thirteen years ago, I had this dream about a werewolf showdown at midnight in a dusty, dingy old boom town. I sprung up from the dream with the title High Moon. My roommate thought I was bonkers, especially after I elaborately described the plot, the characters, and the tropes to him in lavish detail.
For three years, I battered it around in my skull. I’d write some notes on in a coffee house one day. A week later, I’d scribble some dialogue there. A month later, I’d draw some character designs on a napkin. That sort of thing. It was a project that almost emerged fully-formed, but required some extra muscle to get it to where it needed to be fully-realized.
In the early part of 2007, Kwanza Johnson, who was DC Comics’ digital editor at the time, approached me about submitting a project for their [as of yet unnamed] digital comics line.
A few days later, I ran into Steve Ellis at New York Comic Con and we started talking about the different projects we were working on. I started to describe the ideas for High Moon to Steve in pretty elaborate detail and from there this awesome, collaborative partnership sort of emerged.
Strangely enough, Steve and his family ended up moving just a few blocks away from my apartment — and I think High Moon really benefited from that close working relationship. We’ve been working on projects like Green Lantern Corps, The Only Living Boy, and Box 13 ever since.
Why do you think Zuda didn’t work? Technology? Timing? Do you think publishing High Moon as web-series affected the pacing and storytelling when collected?
Zuda was a beautiful experiment that no comic publisher has really been able to quite emulate. On one hand, I think it DID work. It earned Eisner nominations, won Harvey awards, swept the Glyphs. In 2007, using the web as a space to pilot new comics before they hit print was also fairly novel idea. That insight allowed Zuda to bring new creators and a new audience to the DC website month after month after month. It’s a landscape format of storytelling preceded the iPad by a few years and if the imprint had continued, I really think it would have thrived.
While there are a lot of little moments you could probably point to that lead to Zuda’s fall as an imprint, I think the most damning were the The Great Recession of the American economy and the DC’s corporate reorganization in 2009, following the tremendous success of The Dark Knight. So, yes, I guess it was timing.
If you’re translating a comic from digital to print, there are always going to be challenges. Having worked at Marvel Interactive developing digital comics, I knew that every page of High Moon would have to be a cliffhanger — that it would have to give the readers a reason to read the next page. When adapting it to print, we went over every page and every caption, remastering the lettering and the art, to ensure that the reading experience didn’t feel too abrupt or choppy.
Papercutz is reprinting the first two volumes and you’re going to be finishing the story with a third volume. A decade later, is this the story that you originally wanted to tell or did it change over time?
I originally envisioned High Moon as this massive 600 page epic. Once the third volume is printed, we’ll be just around the 500 page mark. Bringing the series to Papercutz has given us the opportunity to look at the series’ original ending and shift some moments so that we’re making the absolute best use of every panel on every single page. The ending is the ending I’ve had since the start of the series and I’m pleased as punch we’ll get to share it with our readers sooner rather than later.
You and Steve have also collaborated on The Only Living Boy. How has your storytelling changed from a decade ago until now?
It’s funny you bring this up because I was just writing a script for High Moon this morning and I was just thinking about this very question. Steve and I have worked on a variety of projects together. We tend to work best when we’re collaborating at every stage of the process from plot to pencils to dialogue to colors. The biggest difference between something like The Only Living Boy and High Moon is the denseness of the scripts. High Moon, for instance, is written in the ‘full script’ format and rolls deep with historical references. A four page script for the series might actually be twenty pages long, filled with pictures, references, and hyperlinks. The level of authenticity is important to me for a project like that.
Scripts for The Only Living Boy are much breezier, heavy on the action and the movement of the characters. We’ve certainly learned how to navigate a range of different formats and I think that’s really been a great benefit to our partnership and to our storytelling.
Were there any specific influences on High Moon?
Visually, Steve will tell you that he drew a lot from films like High Plains Drifter, which uses a very intense color palette. That film is hot, sweaty, and dirty. He also referenced films like The Good, Bad and the Ugly and the original Django films which both have this gritty intensity. Steve wanted a dirty texture for High Moon and I think it really shows in the artwork.
To tell you you truth, I never really cottoned much to Westerns. That is not to say that there aren’t some fantastic stories of the Old West, but for the most part, I found many of the tales of the Old West a little too simple for my tastes. The man who changed that perception for me was a writer by the name of John Meston. John doesn’t get a lot of credit these days, but he was the principal writer behind the radio series Gunsmoke. Meston thought that few Westerns gave any inkling of how brutal the Old West was, and he was dedicated to destroying the cherished archetypal Western hero. Working with producer Norman Macdonnell, Meston made a list of every single western trope they could think of — and during the run of the series decided to break each and every single one. That’s the sort of thing that really influences the stories we’re telling with High Moon.
What else do you have coming up?
Steve and I are always incubating new ideas and new stories. We liken ourselves to mad scientists with dozens of projects sitting on shelves, not all of which we can talk about. I mean, we’re thrilled that new High Moon stories are debuting next year and this October we’ll have the fifth (and final?) volume of The Only Living Boy hitting the stands, and there is this awesome nautical adventure we’re interested in telling.
I can say that Steve just finished N-KRYPT — a free-to-read digital comic series for [email protected], the online master’s degree in cybersecurity from Syracuse University — which explores the challenges of cyber-security. It’s perfect for fans of Mr. Robot.
Fans of our work can also keep up with our new projects (like High Moon, The Only Living Boy, and the aforementioned mysterious nautical project) by heading to our website: bottled-lightning.com
What are you currently geeking out over?
Steve is re-watching Game of Thrones and digging how the narrative can shift from intrigue to horror to suspense so fluidly. We talk about it a lot. He’s also totally geeking our on Walt Simonson’s Ragnarok and finishing up on Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo’s work on Doctor Strange.
I’m reading a couple of great books right now. Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he was one of the co-writers on Marvel’s Doctor Strange film. It’s a robot western about survival, nihilism, and humanity. It has characters that are amazingly complex and vivid. I’m also reading Dietland by Sarai Walker, which explores the beauty industry, society’s obsession with weight loss, and eating disorders. It’s sort of like the feminist Fight Club — and incredibly subversive.
High Moon Vol. 1:Bullet Holes and Bite Marks is available in both
hardcover and paperback in bookstores and comic specialty shops
on October 17th from Super Genius Comics.