Comic Book Yeti Contributor Lauren Smith welcomes Paul Allor into the Yeti Cave to discuss Past the Last Mountain, the series he created with artists Louie Joyce and Gannon Beck. Past the Last Mountain was a successful Kickstarter project and is now being released by CEX Publishing. Paul discusses the series, the inspiration behind the characters, and that the contrast between the art style and the content is a feature and not a bug.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Thank you for chatting with me, Paul! For those that don’t know: What’s Past The Last Mountain about?
PAUL ALLOR: The story of Past the Last Mountain takes place in a world where fantasy creatures are real, and the United States government rounded them up and imprisoned them. The adventure begins fifty years later when a small band of fantasy creatures escapes – including Kate the faun, Willa the dragon, and Simon, an adorable troll boy who discovers a passion for soda! I call Past the Last Mountain a geopolitical fantasy – a book that mixes fantasy creations and tropes with real-world concerns. But the real draw of this book is getting to know our wide cast of wonderful characters, as they strive to survive and to carve out a new life for themselves along the way. And the other draw, of course, is the gorgeous art by Louie Joyce and Gannon Beck, along with all our amazing backup artists.
CBY: When I saw this comic, I knew I had to read it, particularly after you said: “It's a deeply personal and deeply political story, about confronting the injustice and evil that's ingrained in society. But with dragons and trolls, and a few jokes along the way.” What encouraged you to write a story that is both an escape from reality and a comment on things in our own reality?
PA: Oh, boy, I think that describes nearly everything I write, whether I want it to or not! As with any great writer, I strive to write comics that both make you think and make you feel – and that entertain the heck out of you along the way.
CBY: Before each chapter, there’s pin-up art, such as “The Faun;” “From the New Texas Museum of Art’s Permanent Exhibition;” “Cultures Interrupted: Pre-War Perspectives on the Enemy.” I really love each of these. Why did you include these before each chapter?
PA: Oh, it sounds like you read the Kickstarter collection, then! In the mini-series, those paintings are used as variant covers. Those are watercolor paintings by an absolutely extraordinary artist named Jody Edwards. She does both incredible nature paintings and pop-culture paintings, everything from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Godzilla to the Universal Horror monsters. Jody originally painted them as prints for the Kickstarter, and yes, in the trade I treated them as real, in-universe paintings, from a fictionalized version of Jody that exists in our universe. With her very kind permission, of course! I just thought it lent a fun sense of verisimilitude.
CBY: Why did you choose Kate the faun, Willa the dragon, and Simon the troll boy specifically as the main characters, rather than humans?
PA: Oh, that’s interesting, because I think of the book as having two sets of main characters – the fantasy creatures, and the humans who are pursuing them. I also don’t think of this book as having any villains – there are people who do horrible things, but they’re all enmeshed in a terrible system, put in place decades before any of them came on the scene. And so they’re just doing the best they can, to do what’s right, and hopefully to change things for the better, in some small way.
CBY: As a reader myself, I was drawn heavily to Kate the faun! Kate is a character with a tough exterior, but a heart and morals of gold. There are moments with her later in the series that I identified fiercely with. Who or what did you want Kate to represent, if anything?
PA: I'm glad Kate resonates with you so well! As a writer, the goal is always to create characters who the reader can identify with, and who feel fleshed-out and nuanced, like real people rather than representations. But I also have a definite answer for this question, ha. At the beginning of the story, Simon the Troll Boy is a true believer, Kate is a non-believer, and Willa falls somewhere in the middle, open to either possibility. And then we see how their experiences change those points of view, as…
Well, I almost spoiled the ending, just there!
CBY: The action in this story is more brutal than I thought it would be, and not in a bad way! What was your intention in portraying violence in this story?
PA: Ok, I'll be using “More brutal than I thought it would be, and not in a bad way” as the cover blurb for the trade! But you are right, it is a fairly brutal book, and feels more brutal because of Louie’s delightfully light and open art style, and his bright, beautiful colors. It was my intention to portray how structural violence – the terrible policies of our governments and institutions – can filter down and spark individual violence.
We’ve actually had a few people criticize that contrast between the art style and the content, but to me, it’s absolutely a feature, and not a bug.
CBY: Past The Last Mountain is a full and complete 4-issue limited series, but there is also a collection of "War Stories," written by you, and drawn/colored by other creators! What are these "War Stories" for and why did you feel it was so important to include them?
PA: The main story takes place in the present-day – nearly a half-century after the war between the humans and fantasy creatures. And the shorts take you back to the war. They’re all between two and six pages, and they range from full stories to vignettes, but I think together, they tell a cumulative tale of life during wartime, and the terrible choices that presents.
It’s also just an absolutely thrilling lineup of artists. Rebekah Isaacs, Casper Wijingaard, Ashley A. Woods, and on and on – plus frequent collaborators like Chris Evenhuis, Paul Tucker and Juan Romera. Just an incredibly wide range of art styles, but gorgeous all around.
CBY: Why did you choose to reach out to different artists for these "War Stories"?
PA: That was kind of baked into the idea from the beginning, so I never considered doing anything else, ha.
CBY: Between the "War Stories," do you have one that you’re most proud of, or one that resonates with you the most?
PA: Ah, I want to talk about all of them, haha. But one of our "War Stories" features the first interior pages from Jeffrey Veregge, an extraordinary illustrator and muralist, and a member of the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe. The story I did with Jeffrey took place on his tribe’s reservation, and I know he was very pleased with and proud of that. And it’s just a beautiful, touching story, with art unlike anything else you’ll see in a comic book anywhere.
CBY: With times being the way they are in the real world, what do you want people to get out of this story? Is there any message you hope reaches the most people?
PA: I’d prefer to let people take from it what they will, rather than saying what message I was trying to impart. But it’s obviously a book with deep resonance right now, in many different ways.
CBY: Even though Past The Last Mountain is a complete story, can we hope to see more of this world in the future? Any word on when we can expect the rest of the issues to release?
PA: Issues are releasing every two weeks. The first two are already out for shops that ordered through Diamond, and Lunar orders will be rolling in later this month!
While I have no immediate plans to write more, I do absolutely love these characters, and have plenty more stories to tell. Louie, Gannon, and I are all quite busy at the moment, but who knows – our schedules may align, so we can reunite to tell more stories about Kate, Willa, and Simon the troll boy!