This week, Berger Books at Dark Horse launches new series Ruby Falls from all-star writer Ann Nocenti, with art by Flavia Biondi, and colors by Lee Loughridge. This neo-noir miniseries set in a small town uncovers the buried secrets of a mobster-era murder and also peels back the layers of a community and a family over time. The “look” of the series is very distinctive and alluring, from its fluid lines to its distinctive blend of cool and warm tones in a contrasting dialog.
The official description runs:
Ruby Falls is a fascinating tale of what happens in a sleepy town with secrets. Lana stumbles into the middle of her hometown’s biggest secret: the ”disappearance” of infamously progressive Betty Gallagher during the mobster-ruled heyday of the old mining town. When details of the cold-case murder start to come out through her grandmother Clara’s foggy, dementia-jumbled memories, Lana becomes obsessed with cracking the case, even if it splinters the peaceful town–and endangers everything she loves.
With plenty of pyschological drama to boot, Ruby Falls is, quite simply, intriguing, and we’re thrilled to have both Ann Nocenti and Flavia Biondi join us today to talk about their new series, as well as to debut a trailer for you below!
Hannah Means-Shannon: Do true crime stories interest you generally? They really are massively popular these days whether on TV, podcasts, or blogs. This idea that ordinary people might help crack a real case by paying attention is common, too.
Ann Nocenti: True crime tales are popular; perhaps solving crime and finding justice is soothing to us in stressful times? And true crime stories are windows into human nature, so yes, fascinating to me. In Ruby Falls, Lana has a glimpse of a crime buried in her grandmother’s memory, so at first, she is chasing the ghost echoes of a possible false memory. Then, as the evidence becomes more tangible, it shifts to: What it is that Lana is trying to prove to herself by digging up the past? The universal part of this story is, I think, the mystery of lineage, how ancestry snakes back in time, and what impact do familial crimes of the past have on someone today?
HMS: What about the prohibition era of mobsters appeals to you as storytellers? What makes you want to work in that world as well as the modern era in this story?
AN: I wanted to set the story far enough back in time that most records were lost, and yet some people were still alive and could remember the early 1930s. So more the oral history, rather than the written history of a small town. And also to an era, prohibition, that has both a mythic glamour and brutality. A time of complicated freedom for women, too. This murder mystery is also about the mystery of memory, the treachery of memory, how slippery it is. The film Rashomon is always an inspiration to me; how even seeing something with your own eyes doesn’t guarantee its veracity. Memory is colored by the witness, and the mystery become more about: why does that happen? Clara’s view on memory, “It’s a gem of a memory, but it’s fake” came out of that.
HMS: Does this story have a “style” or “mood” of verbal and visual storytelling that you feel you could describe in comparison to your other work? What elements of style seem to belong to this book?
AN: We knew we wanted Ruby Falls to feel like a “neo-noir” and so I was thinking of the film tropes of that, the shadows and angles, and put some of that in the script, but it is really Flavia that created the style. Her artwork has so much grace and tenderness, and mystery too, in simple things like the look in someone’s eyes. For references, I was thinking of the Historian Jane Jacobs, her writings about the importance of street life, the community of the street, and so from comics I referenced Will Eisner, who did that street ambiance so beautifully. So I wanted the noir aspect, but also normal life rolling by like tumbleweeds, in the falling leaves and scampering dogs, and kids and stoop sitting. The ballet of the street.
Flavia captured all that beautifully. So in some ways, it’s a eulogy for the death of a small town. And I knew I wanted it set in the fall, with colorful leaves falling, and red tones for the caves; I guess kind of an obvious “Ruby Falls” metaphor, red falling leaves… And the time period is short, just 24 hours really, with flashbacks. Flavia created a wonderful design with the various time periods, and with Clara’s memory lapses and her eerie hallucinations that reflect her fragile mind.
HMS: Women are at the center of this story, though there is an inclusive cast of characters. What do you think that brings to the story, though, since it’s a less common element in comics?
AN: One of the early inspirations for Ruby Falls was kind of a question: Just what IS a “fallen woman”? I was thinking about the infamous Black Dahlia, and how her story became so judgmental of what “type” of woman she was. So that’s partly why we ended up surrounding her with women, to give the “fallen woman” a female gaze, rather than the classic “male gaze” of film.
HMS: The setting of a small town, with its own traditions and history, is really engaging and makes for great storytelling. What kind of effect does that have on storytelling for you?
AN: I wanted the feeling of a small town, everyone knowing everyone else’s business, but in a good way, again, to reference Jane Jacobs and her notion that “eyes on the street” keep people safe. And my own nostalgia for a certain street life that used to exist in New York City that is mostly gone. The story is set in present-day, but there are no TVs, and people aren’t on their cellphones, and James’s drone and tech talk coming to town is more like an alien invasion than the normal technology of the landscape. Ruby Falls is a town outside of time, in that the commerce of life is right on the street, not in a far-off shopping mall or hidden at home on computers. In that way, it is a fantasy, a nostalgic notion, and, I guess, a eulogy.
HMS: There are obviously some deep and important themes at work in Ruby Falls, like the idea that Ann mentions in her essay, that women carry secrets “through generations.” What are some of the themes that made you excited to work on this story?
Flavia Biondi: I grew up in a very small town, very similar to the idea of the Ruby Falls community. So I immediately felt a sense of affinity with Lana, because I know what it means to be different from the common expectation about how a woman should be and behave in a context like that. Especially when you’re 20, and you think it’s up to you to change things.
Inside this story, Lana isn’t really alone. She’s part of a bigger story than herself. She’s part of the story of Ruby Falls and also her family’s story. She grows up because she immerses herself in the larger story.
HMS: Can you tell us a little bit about the characters and designs in Ruby Falls? What did you hope to convey for each of them?
FB: I really enjoyed working on Ann’s characters. None of them seem to be made just of paper. I tried to make them as humane as possible through their acting and their characterization. Lana aesthetically resembles Blake, her father, but has the same movements as her mother. She has her grandmother’s big eyes and eyebrows and her own curiosity.
Blair has a quieter personality than Lana, but she dyes her hair an unusual color, perhaps because it’s her way of expressing her differences from other people in the town.
Greta always crosses her arms standing on the defensive when she is outside her bar. Blake doesn’t care about his appearance; he always has his working apron. Clara smiles much more often than the other characters.
HMS: The colors by Lee Loughridge are very specific and have a lot of personality. What kind of dialog or thoughts did you all have about the colors, and what do you think of the outcome?
FB: I really like the colors Lee has chosen. The outdoor scenes have the warm colors of autumn, while inside the buildings, the colors become darker. It’s like everything goes well “on the road” but “inside the house” things are actually more complicated.
Check out our Exclusive Reveal of the trailer for Ruby Falls below!
Thanks so much to Ann Nocenti and Flavia Biondi for taking part in our interview, and you can catch up with them at New York Comic Con this Week!
Issue #1 of Ruby Falls arrives in comic shops this week, on October 2nd.