[Interview] Paul Tobin On Madness And Paranoia In ‘Colder’

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Dark Horse Comics is gearing up for their brooding Fall lineup, chock full of brand new horror titles from some of the best creators in the business. We’ve teamed up with Dark Horse to deliver an in depth look at their latest horror creations. First on the docket, author extraordinaire, Paul Tobin, partnered with artist Juan Ferreyra for Colder, a horror-mystery tale delving into one man’s particularly eerie breed of insanity. Tobin has written across genres and mediums, having released his first novel, “Prepare To Die”, earlier this year.

I sat down with Paul Tobin to discuss his work on “Colder”, the nature of madness, writing insane characters, and plenty more. This is a book that’s sure to get under your skin.

BD: Let’s start up easy. Give us the quick and dirty on Colder?

Tobin: It’s a mystery and a horror story, together, centering around Declan Thomas, a man who has been cursed to grow colder. When we begin, his body temperature is already down into the impossible range… far below room temperature. And it’s slowly, but continuously dropping. When it reaches the zero point, he’s gone. Dead. Claimed. The series centers around Declan trying to ward off that fate, and solve the mystery of why it’s happening. It’s a rather complicated goal for him… as there are decades between him and the origins of the mystery, and a rather nasty lot of monsters, including a man named Nimble Jack, standing in the way.

BD: The main character, Declan, seems to be a major mystery of the book with his agelessness, his unnatural body temperature, and his madness. Where did Declan come from?

Tobin: That’s the crux of the series, in one way. How did this all begin? The catalyst is, in one way, goes way back to the early forties, and a mass ergotamine (early LSD) experiment conducted on the unwilling inmates of the Sansid Asylum for the Insane. It goes wrong. It goes very wrong, and some bad things happen. Now, in the modern day, Declan (who was one of the inmates) is all but comatose and in the personal care of a nurse who finds Declan, and his oddities, intriguing. In the first issue, the past comes charging through the door, and we take it from there… delving into the mystery of what really happened and if, decades later, Declan can live through it.

BD: Was it hard to put yourself in the mindset of someone like Declan?

Tobin: Wow. I’d really like to say It’s difficult to obtain a crazed mindset, but it’s not. Maybe too many days of writing until I begin to hallucinate are to blame. The main villain of the series, Nimble Jack, is even farther along the insanity track, and he was interesting to write. One thing I’ve noticed about the truly insane is an obsessive focus, an unrelenting inability to be shaken away from certain desires, and when I was writing Nimble that’s the mindset I was looking for. He was actually a lot of fun to write. It can be hard to write a character with a wide variety of deep emotions, but freaks like Nimble Jack are fun.

BD: You mentioned in a press release that you wanted to explore the idea of the resolution to the mystery being even more horrifying than the journey. Did you struggle to maintain conventions of the genre as you were venturing into this more experimental storytelling?

Tobin: To be honest, I never struggle too much with conventions. I’m not a big fan of them, because when I’m enjoying a book or a movie or whatever, it’s very frustrating for me when the author is, writing wise, just checking off all the boxes. There has been some VERY good writing accomplished by using just that very method, but it doesn’t work for me. I think blendings of genres are more interesting, and not just from a “cowboys n’ robots!” mixture, but the infusion of an entire genre’s thought process into another.

BD: You also mentioned that horror and mystery are two genres that have always fascinated you. How do these two genres come together in Colder?

Tobin: I think they’re a natural blend. Chocolate and peanut butter. Something is out there. WHAT is out there? Further, though, I didn’t want to just delve into WHAT goes bump in the night, but WHY it does. Giving the monster a face can lessen the horror, but I wanted to make sure that face was just as terrifying (in the psychological sense) as the mystery.

BD: The main element of horror in the series seems to come from notions of insanity, and giving the reader a glimpse into this private world. Is this something that’s always scared you? What about insanity lends itself to the two genres?

Tobin: Insanity is great for horror, because one of the huge elements surrounding horror is the unknown. Essentially, the two great motivating factor for a protagonist in a horror story is to stay alive, and to solve the unknown. Insanity utterly defeats one aspect of that: you can’t use insanity to solve anything, can’t use insanity to reason away a fear. And… yes… insanity is something that I very definitely fear. There’s no more complete solitary confinement than not being able to understand or communicate with the world in which you live.

BD: Horror is often divided into two camps, the paranormal and the psychological, yet Colder lends itself to both these elements. Is there a dichotomy setup between the two, or do they feed off each other?

Tobin: I think they feed off each other. I never like it in paranormal stories where everything is so wonderfully explained. It’s far more terrifying for me to think in terms of “Ahh! Ghost!” then it is to understand, “Ahhh! Ghost! Because we took that sacred artifact from the dig site and if we get it sanctified by a properly ordained Irish-Shamaness then we can return it to the grave and give the ghosts the rest they deserve after being killed in battle by the hands of the Vikings in 853 AD.” That gives too much grounding. It removes the mystery. If you open up the closet at night and find that some of your laundry tumbled against the door, everyone knows they can go back to sleep, but you’ll stay awake all night until the mystery of why it creaked open is solved.” That terror of the unknown feeds on itself, and gnaws on you.

BD:The teasers for the series are amazing, really some of the most disturbing art I’ve seen in a while. How did you and Juan come up with these?

Tobin: The covers are all Juan Ferreyra’s ideas, so he gets all the credit / blame. My communication with him has largely been notes of, “You sir, are a genius,” and then followed by, “You sir, are disturbing. How many restraining orders have you accumulated?”

BD: Will we see more of this gore throughout Colder?

Tobin: There’s some gore, but I stay away from it for the most part. Gore can be too “easy,” really. And it’s so omnipresent in horror that it loses impact. We certainly cut loose at points, but Colder is aimed more at being disturbing than being a gore-fest.

BD: Why do you think Dark Horse has been pushing their horror line so hard up recently and how does Colder fit into the mix?

Tobin: Dark Horse has been GREAT for horror, and at multiple levels. Hellboy is certainly the cornerstone, but there are so many different wonderful types of horror coming out, and on the way, from Dark Horse. Fantasy horror, psychological horror, gore-horror, everything. And the reason is because there’s a market for it. I could probably go into a semi-learned rant about why horror is making a resurgence in this day and age, but, really… horror is just a good fun read. A good release. We all like to be scared, because of the adrenalin of the scare, and the adrenalin of the release. Of course, good horror keeps you in its grasp and doles out the release sparingly, if at all.

BD: You’ve worked quite a bit with fantasy and superheroes, and your first novel just came out. Do you have plans to write any more horror?

Tobin: Definitely. I have a short prose story, “The Drowning At Lake Henpin,” which I did especially for the 2nd “Book of Cthulhu” anthology coming out from Night Shade. And artist Francesco Francavilla and I have a couple of horror collaborations in progress. My second novel definitely has horror elements as well. So… yeah… horror on the way!

BD: Thanks for taking the time to chat, I’m really looking forward to the series!