Within a broken home in a fantastical land, young Abel learns that some mistakes aren’t written in stone and goes on the adventure of a lifetime to make right of once went wrong and to confront the harrowing storm that knows his name.
This is Middlewest.
Hitting shelves November 21, Middlewest comes from the collective minds of writer Skottie Young and artist Jorge Corona, that bring the heartbreak of adolescence and outrageous fantasy together for this new ongoing series from Image Comics.
Newsarama had the chance to talk to both creators about this new series, its visual inspirations, and the story behind its original concept.
Newsarama: Skottie, Jorge, first off, let's talk about how you guys came together for Middlewest.
Jorge Corona: Skottie and I met a few years ago when he was visiting my old college and kept in touch through different conventions. A couple of years back we started talking about working on a project together, that first time around our schedules didn’t quite work so it wasn’t until Middlewest came along that Skottie reached out and I fell in love with the story. It was hard to not make it work after that.
Nrama: You have this billed as sort of Return to Oz with Don Bluth animation vibes, but it feels so much darker than that, even with the Return type of visuals. Where does a story like this come from
Skottie Young: It’s hard when you have to try and boil your story down to seem “similar” other stories. But if I had to nail down the main inspirations for this book it’s a mixture of old, dark Jim Henson movies like Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, Bluth movies like An American Tail and Secret of Nimh and more modern influences like Miyazaki movies and Neil Gaiman books. But that’s just really tonal reference. Most of the story comes from a much more personal place growing up in a broken home and in the midwest.
Nrama: What can we actually say about Abel's relationship with his father? Does he hate his son or something else entirely?
Young: That’s really something that’s much better to find out while reading the book. I will say, nothing is as black and white as “he hates him” or “he doesn’t.”
Nrama: You have Middlewest located in a seemingly normal place, with normal neighbors and antiquated general stores, but then you add in Fox to the location and it becomes something more magical. What can you tell us about Farmington?
Young: Farmington represents that place that is keeping you from knowing what the bigger world has to offer. That small town a lot of us wanted to escape from when you’re a kid. Even though it’s usually never the actual town that’s the problem, we just lay it on the town. Think of Tatooine in Star Wars. That place that Luke felt was holding him back. Or the Shire to Frodo. At some point, we choose to leave or are driven out of a place like Farmington.
Corona: Farmington was definitely the place that we wanted to make the reader relate the most as another run of the mill small American town. The aesthetic of Farmington was the base for the rest of the Middlewest, but it was also the first level of sorts after Abel goes out to explore the rest of the land we’ll get to see more of the fantastical scenery.
Nrama: It's interesting to think about where your career sort of took off Skottie with the Oz books over at Marvel with Eric Shanower, while Middlewest has a few similarities with Oz, how long has this story been nestled in your head?
Young: I’ve been wanting to tell a story of a father and son and the struggles of that for about eight years. The bones of Middlewest started to come together with a single sketch in 2016. A wizard telling a farmer he didn’t look like a wizard and the farmer replied: “What does a wizard look like?” That’s when I started crafting a midwest like a journey story and eventually, I grabbed the father/son struggle from the older idea and mashed them.
Nrama: You've got Mike Huddleston on covers and they have this Dave McKean/Yuko Shimizu look and design to them, do you give him on what you guys want or just loose notes?
Young: We were a little more hands-on for the first cover since that has a lot of weight on it. But after that, we were really excited to see what the genius that is Mike would come up with. He really is a gem. We’re lucky to have him on for the series. he really elevates the whole team.
Corona: Having Mike work on the covers has been a really great experience. We were such big fans of his work that we knew what we wanted from him on the covers. For the most part, he just took what I had in character designs and pages from the first few issues and took off from there. Getting to see him take that into his own style has been amazing.
Nrama: Speaking of design, Jorge, let's talk about the designs for Middlewest. Where did you pull inspiration from for Abel, his friends, and looking at future covers, any of these characters that haven't been introduced yet?
Corona: From the beginning, we knew that we wanted Middlewest to feel like a very Americana kind of fairytale. A lot of the inspiration for the characters and setting has come from research into that Midwest identity. The environments have definitely informed the characters when it comes to the designs. Everything is a little bit worn out and affected by the surroundings.
Nrama: Do you both have a favorite character yet or is it too early to say?
Corona: Drawing Fox is definitely one of my favorite things, I love the voice of the character and just to play around with the body language has been a lot of fun.
Young: I think Fox is my favorite at the moment as well. I have a few others I'm partial to, but you’ll have to wait to meet them in coming issues.
Nrama: You both have your own sort of brand recognition, but for somebody who might not be familiar with your work, how would you sell them on Middlewest?
Young: I would say if you like young adult, darker material like Hunger Games, or Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and Ocean at the End of the Lane, or Henson and Bluth movies of the 80’s, then you’re going to enjoy this book.