By Andrea Lorenzo Molinari
I am a fan of William Shakespeare. There is certainly nothing unique about that. Among the many writings attributed to him, Hamlet is my favorite. One particular line often comes to mind during my darkest moments:
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy (Hamlet, 1.5.167-8, Hamlet to Horatio).
To my way of thinking, this is a succinct reminder that, despite humanity’s best attempts, there are many things about the universe that we simply do not know. There are some things that we can’t explain. There is mystery.
This is important for me to state at the outset as what I am about to tell you, while completely true, comes from the realm of the mysterious.
The story of The Shepherd: Apokatastasis began as a nightmare.
Like most people, I don’t remember my dreams. Even the most vivid, violent or frightening dreams do not stay with me. Like sand through my fingers, they slip away, leaving no trace. This one was different.
The dream had started innocently enough. I saw myself in my own house. Sometime in the near future. In my dream, my career (always a source of frustration) was somehow much more stable, more in line with what I had envisioned back in graduate school.
I saw my family, absolutely recognizable and normal. Then, as if someone reached over and yanked the wheel of a car I was driving, the dream took on a much blacker tone. Suddenly, something unspeakable happened to my perfectly balanced existence. In an instant, dark waters washed over me, pulling me under as I repeatedly fought back to the surface, gasping for air. I was being forced to endure the worst possible thing a father could experience.
The visions flashed and I was compelled forward, forced to look at each awful event as if being shown a police lineup. But it was more than that. I wasn’t merely an observer. I was a participant, enduring all the suffering and feeling the terrible roller coaster of emotions. It was a ride I couldn’t escape. I was strapped in and I had to finish what had started, whether I wanted to or not.
I woke up with a gasp, as if drowning, in a cold sweat, my heart beating out of my chest. I lay there, trying to catch my breath, waiting for it to go away. It didn’t.
In the morning, I was still shaken. The dream was there as if branded into my soul.
I told my wife. She was understandably horrified.
I didn’t know what to do with this thing that was now suddenly part of me. Later, when I had calmed down, I recited the whole experience to my son Roberto, who had been the focal point of my dream.
Unlike his mother, he thought it was cool.
Then Roberto began to pester me about writing this story. Relentlessly.
I had “serious” work to do (i.e., scholarly papers, presentations, classes to teach, administrative duties without end, etc.). There was no time for such a project. Besides, the story disturbed me. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to probe too deeply into that kind of darkness.
However, in June 2011, my schedule opened up. The academic year was over. I wasn’t scheduled to teach a summer session. I had finished a major academic research project. In short, my “dance card” was empty. Roberto sensed his opportunity and turned up the heat.
I caved and began to write. Roberto and I talked all the way through the first draft. He read my work, critiqued it, and proposed editorial changes. His “voice” is present, not just in his doppelgänger Val but in plenty of other characters. He also shaped a number of key scenes.
Much to my surprise, the story flowed out of me like water. By early July 2011, the first draft (fairly polished) was complete. I was satisfied. My work was done. Not.
Roberto was certain that this story could be, needed to be a graphic novel. He wasn’t going to let go of the idea.
We began looking for artists. The search led me to Jason Dube and Scattered Comics Studios of Sacramento, CA. Jason, serving as my production manager, helped me select a creative team, initially Josh Barker (pencils/inks) and Heather Breckel (colors). After completing the first issue, Josh had to step away due to family obligations. However, things worked out very well as I had initially been torn between the work of two artists, Josh and a younger illustrator named, Ryan Showers. In my mind, they were both very talented and I had had a very difficult time choosing between them, ranking them 1a and 1b. Luckily, Ryan was still available and interested… the rest is history.
The experience of watching our story get molded and shaped by Ryan and Heather was amazing. We quickly realized that both Ryan and Heather were interpreting our story, fleshing out things in the script that we hadn’t seen or thought about before. Recognizing what was unfolding before us, Roberto and I were determined to give Ryan and Heather as much freedom as possible to follow their creative instincts. We are definitely pleased with the results. Eventually, our letterer Jacob Bascle came on board and, like Ryan and Heather, contributed his own considerable skills, not only lettering the books but also designing the logo for The Shepherd. It was clear that the telling of this story had become a group effort. I assure you: it is better for it.
Okay. So, I’m done, right? Wrong. Roberto will have none of that.
As I write this, Roberto and I have finished the script for the next Shepherd story entitled The Shepherd: The Path of Souls. We also have detailed plans for another story arc beyond that.
It seems that the nightmare has become a dream. My life is better for it.