A Violent American Frontier And The Supernatural – David Gallaher On High Moon

by Hannah Means Shannon

High Moon arrives in shops on October 31st from Papercutz, joining the growing line of comics by David Gallaher and Steve Ellis with the publisher, including The Only Living Boy. This first volume appears as the “remastered” and expanded version of a comic that began as an experimental digital comic at Zuda, made its way into further digital life and print, but now launches as the first of a series of books set in the world of a Western town struggling with an invasion of werewolves. The book will be available in both softcover and landscape-format slipcase edition upon release.

Featuring a bounty-hunter and former Pinkerton agent, Matthew Macgregor, who is investigating a series of “strange happenings” in Blest, Texas, the series follows Macgregor’s encounters with the town’s dark secrets. But Macgregor may have skeletons in his closet, too, including association with witchcraft and the supernatural.

David Gallaher joins us today to talk about the journey of High Moon.

HMS: The big question that everyone answers differently: what is it about our love affair with werewolves that means with each fresh take we’re still interested to see where the story is headed? What made this story feel new to you at the time of its inception?

DG: High Moon is the story of how violence impacted the American frontier. There was a certain lawlessness and brutality that we’ve glossed over in our history books. Some human beings are savage monsters capable of extraordinary evils. The best way to visualize that was telling a story about werewolves, which represent our more abject, base behaviors. I think that’s the appeal really–that no matter how hard we try, we can’t escape the monsters we really are.

HMS: Do you have a philosophy regarding “gore-threshold”, how much readers want to see versus how much you’re prepared to reveal? How do you see that affecting story?

DG: This may sound weird coming from a horror writer, but I don’t particularly like gore or horror. I find suffering of humans and animals to be incredibly, incredibly heart-breaking. In general, I find that too much gore takes me out of a story. High Moon has some gore and it is certainly violent–but for the most part, we try to let most of the truly ghastly violence occur in the minds of our readers. We are telling a series of stories about how violence shaped the wild west, but…and this may sound weird…I also want my mother to feel comfortable reading the book.

With a few rare exceptions, I try to write scenes that might work for the Comics Code Authority or a primetime CBS crime drama, showing just enough violence to get the point across. It’s important to me to have the violence and gore work in service of the story, not the other way around.

HMS: This comic has an interesting publishing history that’s about to get even more interesting. Digital originally on Zuda in 2007, now being “remastered” for two volumes, and then new content for a third volume? Can you walk us through your plans for the new presentation of the series?

DG: When it came to remastering High Moon there were months of discussions of how to present it in a way that felt true to its Zuda origins, but also make it feel like a true cinematic, wide-screen epic we intended it to be. The new series, which is available in both paperback and hardcover, is presented in a portrait-style slipcase, that allows the book to sit nicely on a comic book rack or a bookcase. When you pull the book out of the slipcase, it’s this gorgeous landscape book formatted in the style of Frank Miller’s 300 or a European-style graphic novel. Our editor, Jim Salicrup, came up with the idea to present the book in a slipcase, so all of the credit goes to him.

HMS: Geof Darrow says ‘Everything’s a Western’ but maybe that’s in the eye of the beholder. Do you agree? What led to want to invest so much storytelling in a Western?

DG: I’m not sure I believe ‘Everything’s a Western’…mostly because I hate Westerns. That’s a little hyperbolic on my part, but let me explain. I certainly believe that the western had a profound impact establishing the parameters of American masculinity for generations of men and women. The cowboy archetype beget the noir detective, the superhero and John McClane. Westerns set the standard of rugged individualism and stoic brace that defined America’s self-image. So, yes, I guess most pop culture owes something to the Western.

But at the same time, apart from The Lone Ranger and Gunsmoke, I never really liked westerns. The Old West was brutal and I felt a good majority of Western films either sensationalized the violence or glamorized the hero. I never wanted High Moon to be a straight-up old-style-shoot-em-up. I never wanted it to feel phony or inauthentic, which sounds weird for a werewolf western, I grant you. I just wanted to break the tropes, tell some stories about some messy characters and build the sort of western that I would want to read.

HMS: What goes into creating characters who inhabit a world like High Moon? Can you introduce us to some of them and give your thoughts on how they came about?

DG: Great question. High Moon is primarily the story of two characters–Matthew Macgregor and Eddie Conroy–and how their lives are intertwined. Macgregor is a former Pinkerton detective turned bounty hunter, whose life is steeped in witchcraft and the supernatural. Mac is a stubborn son-of-a-gun, who refuses to accept that the world around him is changing. Conroy is a stoic outlaw who is haunted by his past and just trying to do what he can to survive.

Mac is loosely inspired by Robert Roy MacGregor, a Scottish outlaw who later became a folk hero. Conroy is loosely inspired by Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile. I wanted characters that really contrasted one another.

There are other characters in the series–like Tristan Macgregor, Jeb Garret, Tara Bradley, Young Raven, and Doc McNear–who all have an archetypal role to play. When we decide to add characters to our world, we look at the trajectory of the story and think about our characters from the inside out. Who are they? Why do they do what they do? And how do they play a part in the story?

HMS: Have you ever traveled out West? What elements of that open landscape and geography work well for horror?

DG: I was born in Hawaii, which is about as far west as you can get and still be in the United States. But yeah, as a kid, I moved around a lot. The three places that had the greatest impact on High Moon and the stories we’re telling are Georgia, Oklahoma, and Maryland, where Confederate iconography litters the landscape. High Moon is a work of optimistic nihilism. When I started working on the series, I wanted to address America’s embarrassing history of violence, slavery, and savagery. When you look at over the Appalachian Trail, the Ozarks or Blue Ridge Mountains and see such incredible splendor, it’s hard to imagine that people lost their lives there and that they aren’t even footnotes in American history. Knowing that beauty could be tainted by such cruelty… that’s the true horror.

High Moon is out in stores on October 31st, 2017.