Matthew Sturges talks about THE FOUR NORSEMEN of the APOCALYPSE
Coming from the new Devil’s Due/1First Comics is Matthew Sturges’ The Four Norsemen of the Apocalypse. The name itself makes you think of the The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. So we had to know was this the end of the world with a Nordic twist or was this some kind of comedy about life, death and the end of the world. Matthew was nice enough to stop by First Comics News just ahead of Comic Con to catch our fans up on all thing Apocalyptic.
First Comics News: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are Conquest, War, Famine, and Death. On the other hand the Minnesota Vikings 2008 front four defensive line was called the Four Norsemen of the Apocalypse and they were Ray Edwards, Pat Williams, Kevin Williams and Jared Allen.
Who are your Four Norsemen of the Apocalypse?
Matthew Sturges: To actually answer your question, my Four Norsemen of the Apocalypse are four dead Norse warriors in Valhalla who decide to break out of the all-male Valhalla to go find chicks, but end up having adventures all across the various afterlives of every human religion.
First, I have to admit I wasn’t aware of this Minnesota Vikings thing until I read your question. All I can say in response is that I’m at least as good at coming up with names for things as professional football players are, which has to count for something. That said, my four guys have never played football, but I feel like they actually wouldn’t be so bad in a game of four-man tackle. They’d probably even win, though one or two of them would most certainly cheat.
They are: Pippin, firstborn son of Charlemagne (of musical theater fame), who is very bitter about never having been crowned Holy Roman Emperor. You’ve got Ragnar Lodbrok, who is nothing like the impostor who struts around on the TV show Vikings. In reality, he’s a smart, adventurous soul, but a bit of a blowhard. You’ve also got Olaf Olaffson, who in life was a berserker, but who sadly died in battle–in a rather unfortunate and unflattering manner–before he could make a name for himself. He’s not too bright, but he means well, and he’s great at killing. And finally, you’ve got… I hesitate to call him the “hero” of the book. Maybe let’s stick with “protagonist” or even just “main character”, Bendix Falk. Falk is a Navy jet pilot (call sign “Falcon”) who dies at the tail end of the Afghan war and discovers that he is , as it turns out, a full-blooded Norseman, and thus entitled to enter Valhalla. Which is fortunate for him, because he was most definitely headed for the hot place otherwise.
It’s sad, though, that just as they are gearing up to begin having awesome adventures, it turns out that the Universe is about to end. Which is a real bummer if you’re in Valhalla because that means you have to spend a bunch of time fighting a wolf with the full knowledge that the wolf is going to win and you’re going to get torn to bits for no reason. It’s bleak.
1st: Do they represent the end of the world?
Matthew: They don’t. There are other things in the book that do, but these guys are mainly there as witnesses to the end of the world. They’re a quartet of everymen (“everymans”?) who are in the right place at the right time to see all the various ways that various cultures have envisioned the end of the world and act as surrogates for the reader, pointing out just how bleak, nasty, and fucked-up it all is.
1st: The book starts off with God as the narrator. Did this come to you in a vision?
Matthew: I’d love to say that it did, but sadly it was just plain old vanilla inspiration. My feeling was that I really needed a strong narrator for this book, and it just it me like a lightning bolt: who better than God? He’s the ultimate omniscient narrator! Plus, his books are consistent bestsellers. And I don’t have to worry about copyright stuff because all of his previous works are in the public domain. He really needs better lawyers; he could be making a mint off this stuff.
1st: God is swearing in the Four Norsemen, does God always swear of is this another sign of the Apocalypse?
Matthew: God can do whatever the hell He wants. For one thing, He’s omnipotent, so nobody can stop Him, and for another, He defines “goodness”, so whatever He does is automatically good. If God accidentally stepped on a kitten, it would then be totally okay for us all to step on kittens. Let’s hope it never happens.
This is as good a time as any to point out that if you are the kind of person who thinks you will be offended by a book that is narrated by a foul-mouthed God, then this book will most certainly offend you and you should not read it. Seriously. But before you go, just consider that Four Norsemen of the Apocalypse has professional wrestling in it, and a funeral where a drunken mother vomits into her son’s grave at his funeral, and tacos, and serious meditation on how we as humans cope with our own mortality, and a double-page spread filled with bare boobs. And ask yourself, “Isn’t that what America is all about?”
1st: Until I read the Four Norsemen I never knew God wants us to eat pork. How did the Jews and Muslim get this wrong?
From Deuteronomy 14:8 “And you may not eat the pig. It has split hooves but does not chew the cud, so it is ceremonially unclean for you. You may not eat the meat of these animals or even touch their carcasses.” So was this just a mistake?
Matthew: I emailed your question to God. Here’s his reply:
Oh, that? That one wasn’t supposed to end up in the book. That one was just for Moses personally. You know, I’m up there on the top of a mountain, it’s hot, I’m a bush, I’m on fire, and this guy comes around most days smelling like a frickin’ ham sandwich, and finally I’m like, “Moses, man, what, are yourubbing yourself with ham?” And he gets all defensive and he’s like, “Maybe I enjoy a bit of pork from time to time,” all snotty. And by that point, to be honest, I was just sick of the guy. So I say all that stuff about the split hooves and cud to make it sound official because in those days I really loved the sound of my own voice, and apparently he thought I was dictating. It’s my bad for not copyediting the thing, but have you ever tried to actually sit read the Torah? I gave up like halfway through Exodus. I was like, “Who has time for all this,” and I’m immortal. Next thing you’ll be telling me Moses put in all that weird stuff about gays he was always threatening to slip in there. Weirdo.
1st: How does Bendix Falk end up on the wrong side of the Norsemen?
Matthew: Falk is one of my favorite characters to write because he has this quality I’ve always perversely admired in people, which is that whatever you tell him to do, he’s going to do the opposite. He’s not afraid of anyone, he’s not afraid of consequences–he’s all in the moment, which is a very fun quality in a character, but a very unpleasant characteristic in real life. If you actually knew Falk, you’d hate his guts, but reading him on the page I get a lot of vicarious enjoyment out of him.
So when Falk gets to Valhalla and finds out that there is a hierarchy and there are rules, he immediately craps all over that hierarchy and breaks those rules, and is immediately ostracized for it.
1st: Falk is an atheist, what does he make of the afterlife?
Matthew: Falk doesn’t really have a very sophisticated understanding of this stuff. He wasn’t raised religious, so all of his notions about theology and eschatology are things he picked up from popular culture. In his mind, Hell is a place where there’s a rock band made up of Jimi Hendrix and Randy Rhodes, and everyone is partying all the time. The reality of what these afterlives are “really” like is mostly depressing to him because of how senseless and mean-spirited so many of them are, and how they mostly just reflect our own very human smug sense of self-importance, entitlement, and vindictiveness.
1st: How does one escape Valhalla?
Matthew: That isn’t actually written down in any of the Icelandic sagas or Norse mythology that I read while I was doing research for the book, so I honestly don’t know. I just had it happen off-panel. I wouldn’t want someone who knew more about it than me to be all like, “That’s not how you escape Valhalla” and have it ruin the verisimilitude of the story.
1st: Is it harder to get out of Valhalla or hell?
Matthew: I’m guessing Valhalla, since for the most part, everyone in Valhalla is there because they want to be. I mean, it’s a great deal for a certain kind of dude: all the pork and beer you can consume, plenty of outdoor exercise, and no pesky women to tell you to put down the toilet seat or clean the blood off your axe. It’s the ur-bro paradise.
1st: What’s with Bendix Falk all decked out like Hannibal Lecter with the full face mask and strapped to a dolly?
Matthew: As for Falk with the dolly and the mask, that was something I just tossed in the script on a lark because I knew he would make it funny. That’s the beauty of working with someone like Lucas. You can just give him a half-assed idea like, “Oh, and put him on the dolly with the mask like in Silence of the Lambs,” and Lucas will take that half-assed idea and make it full-assed and make you look way smarter than you really are. This is probably a good time to mention how much better this book is because it was drawn by John Lucas. Lucas’s imagination is always-on, always reaching for something new and cool and funny and different. Looking at his pages makes me feel like I did when I was a kid and I was reading Mad Magazine. In a way, this book is kind of an extended Mad Magazineriff on eschatology, with exactly the same level of sophistication. Which makes Lucas the perfect person to draw it. It’s irreverent and smart and funny and always damn clever. There were so many times when he was drawing the book where he would email me or text me that he thought what I’d put in the script was okay, but could he maybe do this instead? And his thiswas always so much better than what I’d come up with that I don’t think I ever once said no. It was his idea to make the Norns be the Marx brothers. That was genius. (I just looked it up and in the script, I suggested the Kardashian sisters. How lame is that?)
1st: What makes the Four Norsemen decide on the Mystery Machine as their mode of transportation?
Matthew: The hell you say. That is not a Mystery Machine. That is a custom van. Like the A-Team drives. “Mystery, Inc.” are a bunch of wusses with a talking dog. The A-Team are badasses.
The van isn’t just any van, it’s a totenpass, which is a magical device that lets its owner travel between worlds. In this case, thetotenpass is a custom van with fuzzy dice and carpeting everywhere and a sick painting of a wolf on the side (sometimes). Falk and the boys have been lent this van by a Mysterious Stranger for Unknown Reasons which I cannot divulge, because that would tell you the whole story of the book and then nobody would want to read it.
1st: Ultimately does Falk find redemption, or just escape Valhalla?
Matthew: Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. Four Norsemen is actually the first in a series of four graphic novels that I hope to write with these characters, so I don’t know exactly how he’ll end up. When Bill Willingham and I were writing Jack of Fables, it was very much a Seinfeld “No hugging, no learning” kind of affair where it was clear that we could never let Jack become a better person or it would ruin the whole thing. Falk might actually be salvageable. He does really enjoy post-war Italian cinema, though nobody believes it.
I make Four Norsemen out to be this really wry, aggressively blasphemous thing–which it most certainly is–but that just happens to be true; that’s not what it’s about. What it’s really about is the frailty of the human experience and all the various ways that we as people cope with the essential facts of nature that we are mortal and that our lives are brief, inherently meaningless, and often painful. There’s some depth to it; and some sweetness, too.
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