‘Scott Pilgrim’ colorist-turned-writer launches aliens vs. crusaders comic

Nathan Fairbairn has been working as a comic book colorist for nearly 10 years, with titles like Scott Pilgrim, Batman Incorporated, and DC”s Multiversity filling his resume. But today marks the achievement of a longtime goal of his: Fairbairn is releasing a comic he”s written.

Lake of Fire, which Fairbairn co-created with Matt Smith (the comics artist and illustrator, not the actor), has been “a long time coming,” Fairbairn told HitFix. He began work on this story about five years ago, in the midst of a career as a colorist he”d started as a way to get his foot in the door of the comics industry with hope of writing published comics someday.

Here is Image Comics” official synopsis for the new knights-vs-aliens series:

In Lake of Fire, it is 1220 AD, and the gears of the Albigensian Crusade grind on. When an alien mining craft infested with legions of bloodthirsty predators crash-lands in the remote wilderness of the French Pyrenees, a small band of crusaders and a Cathar heretic are all that stands between God's Kingdom and Hell on Earth.

The first issue will hit comic book stores this August, with the five issues of the limited series being released monthly through December. Fairbairn says issue 5 has a clear conclusion but is also open-ended enough to make more issues a possibility.

Lake of Fire was announced at Image Expo in Seattle today, and HitFix has the first interview with Fairbairn about the comic. We talked with the Vancouver, Canada-based colorist-writer yesterday before he drove down to the Emerald City for the Expo. Also below: Check out issue 1's cover and the HitFix-exclusive reveal of the comic”s opening pages.

HitFix: You must be excited to finally have this comic out in the world!

Nathan Fairbairn: I am. It's been a long time coming. It's a little surreal to actually have it be a day away from something everyone else knows about instead of just something I'm working quietly away on for years.

Why was this a story you wanted to tell?

Superficially it's a story about knights fighting aliens. That's what happens, but for me, that's not what the story is really about. To me the story is about faith. It's about how faith can elevate the human spirit and also lead it down some pretty dark roads. How faith provides easy and also false answers to really complex questions but how those answers can nevertheless give us the courage to move without fear and to hopefully be our best selves and to accomplish things we never would have accomplished otherwise.

The characters in the story come from the depths of the Dark Ages, and for me as an atheist, I'm just fascinated with how religion shapes so many other peoples' worldview. The way that they grasp reality, the way that they interact with reality. And in the Dark Ages, that was the only way to interact with reality. They didn't know anything. They didn't know why they got sick. They didn't know why it got dark at night. Everything was a mystery to them, and that must have been terrifying, and all they had to cling to was their faith.

Were there any specific people of faith you know or you talked to who influenced the story?

That was mostly internal, just like most writing is exploring your own understanding of the world. This is something that's fascinated me throughout my life. I was raised in a completely areligious household. I wasn't taught to be an atheist. It just didn't exist in my house. Until one day, I was sleeping over at a friend's house, and his mom took us to church on Sunday. And it was one of these super Evangelical churches where people are falling down. It was a real powerful moment. I was terrified. I didn't know what was going on. Ever since then I've been fascinated with how faith changes people and how it makes people behave, for good or for bad. 

And you did a lot of historical research for this?

It was really important to me and to Matt to kind of ground this story in an actual place, an actual time. A lot of the characters in the story are actual historical figures that I've found out and tried to work into my story. There are a couple that I've just created out of whole cloth. But a lot of them were actual people. It's not just this loose collection of medieval tropes. The armor's been researched. The clothes have been researched. The food that they eat.

Who are some of those historical figures who are characters in the comic?

Amaury de Montfort, who at the time was the leader of the holy crusade in Languedoc, which is the area of France where the Albigensian Crusade took place. The main character's name is Theobald – I just call him Theo – of Champagne. He's an actual historical figure. I stole him from history to use in my story cause he was just too perfect. He's an interesting historical figure. He didn't actually fight aliens at any point, but records from that era are spotty at best, so who's to say there's no gaps in the historical record! [Laughs]

Is that Theobald on the issue 1 cover?

That is Theo, yep.

How did you and Matt approach the challenge of designing aliens that don”t look like aliens we”ve seen a million times already in other books and movies?

That was the fun part. I draw as well. I don't draw nearly as well as Matt, but I draw well enough to bounce ideas off of him. So he would do these great designs, and I would send him reference pictures of a tongue louse underneath a microscope. I just wanted them to look creepy, and I hate bugs, so for me, that's a starting point. And we didn't want them to look too much like movie aliens that people know. They had to be red, for one thing. With the story, the way that the knights perceived everything was through the prism of religion. So they don't see an alien spaceship. They don't see aliens. They see demons that have sprung out of the Earth and are covering the land, and they have to fight back. And so, of course, the symbolism of the red worked with me. Plus it's fun to color things that are red as a colorist.

I”m sure you bring a lot more thought about color to your writing than writers without the colorist background do. 

Yeah, when I'm writing, I often thing of things in color, and what would look nice in color, along with key colored scenes before I've written the script. I do think in terms of lighting and color and just mood a lot when I'm writing scenes.

Have you decided where in the universe these aliens came from and do you know when you”re going to reveal that to the readers?

The interesting thing about this is this is a story about the knights. They have no idea what's going on. I'm never going to explain to the reader what happened to this spaceship, why it crashed here, where it originally came from. We only see the world through our characters' eyes. There's a lot of winks there where it's “oh I know what that is,” where they're looking at a failing fusion reactor, and they're seeing a lake of fire or something, and we, the reader go, “oh that's clearly the warp drive.” But there's not gonna be some universal translator on the computer that explains everything that's happening to them. The whole thing is through their eyes, which is filtered through their religion.

Issue 1 of Lake of Fire will be released by Image Comics in August 2016.