Oftentimes the things that scare us the most are what is left unsaid—that unsettling fear of the unknown or intangible. It is those moments of uncertainty that toy with our imagination, ushering in that irksome moment when we are left alone with our thoughts and insecurities.
It is this notion that makes husband and wife duo, Lisa Sterle and Matthew Erman’s, horror comic series, “Long Lost,” so thrilling. Sure, they use evocative imagery, like twisting viscera creeping past the gutters of the panels, but it is their aptitude at slowly building tension that creates a unique and unsettling kind of drama.
“It is so much about what is not said, and what is left up to the reader’s imagination,” said Erman, who wrote the 12-issue series, leaving Sterle to illustrate. “It is about trying to build a feeling through tone and imagery. [Sterle] is as much of a writer of this as I am, because I rely on her ability to create tension through space and time. Without that, you can’t have horror. You have to build that moment before something happens.”
Scout Comics, an indie comic publisher out of New York, picked up their 12-part series last October, giving them a little more than a year to bust out a final product. Even before its initial release, “Long Lost” has already garnered national press for its engaging storytelling and unique style.
Sterle’s imagery combines viscerally charged elements from American known indie artists such as Charles Burns and Daniel Clowes with styles of Japanese manga, particulary in the use of exaggerated facial expression and lack of color. The comic lives in a sepia tone with the occasional addition of color to intensify a moment.
“It just feels right to me—having a horror comic without color,” said Sterle. “It is where all my inspiration comes from. As the issues go on, there is more exploration that happens with color.”
Each chapter—or entry—is titled after a song that they believe evokes the precise emotion of the release, nudging the reader to put it on while reading. The artists chosen range from Dirty Three, Blonde Redhead, Fleet Foxes, and Fleetwood Mac. The first issue, “The Exact Color of Doubt,” mirrors the cathartic and spacious aesthetic of The Liar’s recording, adding an additional, almost Easter-Egg-like layer to the series.
“A lot of the cultural references we plucked helped cement the tone,” said Erman. “Comics don’t have the benefit of film in that you can rely on sound to create atmosphere, so this is my way of circumventing that. I can name a chapter after a song that I think most emulates the feel of that chapter, or lyrics that speak to specific themes.”
At its core, “Long Lost” tells the story of two separated sisters, Piper and Frances, who must travel back to their small hometown to see their mother. The sisters, while sharing similar mannerisms, are polar opposites—Piper being the guarded worrywart while Frances is the bubbly optimist—in a way, symbolizing the two sides of a perfect human consciousness.
“There is a little bit of both of them in both of us,” said Erman. “Piper is an introverted person that is at odds with the world and her place in it, and Frances is this person that is settled, and OK with her place and embraces life as it comes at her. I have really grown to identify with these characters and how they navigate the world.”
Erman masterfully brings these characters to life through conflict, whether that means exploring the nuances of sisterhood or putting them in danger. Although there are strange and often frightening creatures within the series, they seem to serve as an abstract connection to the psychological conflict of the day to day.
“The themes of ‘Long Lost’ are purpose and trauma—feeling misplaced in the world—home, feeling, and belonging,” Erman said. “Sometimes you need the visceral, psychical nature of—whatever it is, a monster or a ghost—to [talk] about those real life fears.
Another unique element of the series is that there are, not including Piper’s puppy Pockets, no male characters, a conscious decision made by Erman and Sterle when creating the series.
“Originally, Piper and Frances were supposed to be brother and sister,” said Erman. “The problem with that is it really limits the roles they can play in your story—the reader is going to have an expectation. We thought really hard about why that particular character needed to be a man. And there was no good reason. And then, once we started writing the characters and their relationship with their mother, we kind of realized that is really a story about women.”
This is a refreshing change to what many has called a male-dominated media—a comic that favors emotions and subtlety over senseless action—an intelligent and witty shift in the conversation of what comics are actually supposed to be.
The first chapter of Long Lost will be released later this month. Copies will be available at your local comic shop or through their social media page,
Lisa Sterle and Matt Erman spread the love on the local comic scene:
This was our first year attending and it was so wonderful. With Tom Spurgeon running the thing, it’s putting a big spotlight on Columbus for creators.
CCAD’s Comic Major
We’re so jealous of the kids going through this major because it is an absolutely unheard of experience. The work these students will end up producing is going to be stellar.
The Laughing Ogre
Gib Bickel is a treasure in the city and his shop is nationally revered for a reason. He has seen it all. The staff there is so knowledgeable about comics—it’s the reason we’re semi-regulars.
The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library
An incredible place to have here in Columbus for every aspiring creator or fan of comics/cartooning.