A sudden and devastating virulence has swept the land. Bizarre (undead?) monstrosities have wiped out most of civilization as we know it. Escaping into a dry wasteland, a small band of survivors discover this was the results of a plot to end all life -- and replace it with a newly engineered race of abominations. They also learn that one among them is linked to the plot, albeit unwittingly.
Richard Sala's new full color graphic novel, The Hidden, fuses two classic horror tropes -- the story of Frankenstein's monster, and the ever-popular zombie apocalypse -- into a new form that is surprisingly free of cliché and enriched with a strange sensitivity, owing far more to the classic horror literature of the 19th and early 20th centuries than it does to more contemporary EC horror comics, slasher flicks, or Stephen King.
Sala was part of the alternative comics movement of the '80s, having contributed work to RAW and BLAB!. He also did animation for MTV's Liquid Television in the '90s, before publishing his acclaimed graphic novels The Chuckling Whatsit and Mad Night. We talked to Sala recently about The Hidden, Frankenstein, and our collective fascination with the apocalypse.
What elements in horror interest you most?
When I was younger, the horror genre helped me feel more at peace in a world that seemed absurd and filled with irrational violence and meaningless cruelty. As I got older I also liked the fact that it was a way to approach the enigmatic, to ask questions that have no answers or explore mysteries that have no solutions. I always felt tremendously grateful to authors and other creators -- even the corniest or cheesiest -- who could turn our fears into stories that could be thrilling and entertaining and that you could experience and still survive to live another day. I wanted to be a part of that noble tradition.
What inspired the plot of The Hidden?
The Frankenstein stories, initially. Not just the Mary Shelley book, but the hundreds of variations -- from the sublime to the ridiculous. It's such a rich corner in our popular culture. I thought I might take a shot at it. Then, as I began to write the book, elements of it started to seem oddly autobiographical -- on some kind of psychological level, that is -- and I realized the story had become less about Frankenstein specifically and more about the act of creation and its consequences. I liked the fact that there was never any need to use the word "Frankenstein." It becomes pretty obvious as the story progresses, but it's never stated outright. That freed me to wander even farther away from what we might normally expect to find in a "Frankenstein story."
In the book, the characters plotting to end the world and begin anew are big-business tycoons. Do you believe their real-life counterparts pose a threat to global safety?
I've always been one of those mildly paranoid types fascinated by stories of secret societies -- real and imagined -- of powerful people controlling things from behind a curtain. And certainly it could be argued that the wealthy and powerful seem to live by a different set of rules than the rest of us. But do I think their real-life counterparts would ever display the kind of casual cruelty and contempt for humanity that the characters in the book do? I would hope not -- but that mildly paranoid part of me does occasionally wonder, so I thought it might be interesting to explore.
There is a fair amount of apocalyptic imagery in The Hidden. Why do you think the idea of the end of the world is so pervasive right now in our popular culture?
Usually it takes a little bit of distance -- a decade or so -- to make sense of certain motifs that start appearing frequently. The last time we saw so many end-of-the-world scenarios was in the 1950s -- and now we can look back and say, "Oh all those Martian invasion films -- that was our fear of communism. And all those movies about giant bugs caused by radiation, that was just our fear of the bomb crawling out of our collective id -- or whatever." But I have no idea why it's been so widespread lately -- except for the feeling of a free-floating anxiety carried on the breeze by all the cable news shows. People are wary and touchy and waiting for -- or expecting -- bad things to start happening more and more frequently. Or maybe that's just me!