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What is True Evil in Horror? An Interview with Andrea Lorenzo Molinari on The Shepherd

Grief is a topic that deserves an artistic touch, one that can approach it with a deft and delicate hand. In most instances, horror is the last place that a reader would expect to find a nuanced and sympathetic take, which is what makes The Shepherd series, written by father and son duo Andrea Lorenzo Molinari and Roberto Xavier Molinari, so special. 

I’ve long been a fan of the series’ emotional storytelling and great blend of noir and horror elements, so it was a pleasure to speak to the senior Molinari on his latest Kickstarter campaign for The Shepherd, Vol. 3: The Valentine and the Pit.


 

The Shepherd: The Valentine and the Pit, Cover Art by Victor Santos

COMIC BOOK YETI: When I first read The Shepherd, I couldn’t help but notice that both you and the series' main character, Dr. Lawrence Miller are former professors with an interest in spirituality. Assuming you don’t also have secret superpowers you aren’t telling us about, is this story autobiographical in any way, or does it simply draw inspiration from your personal experiences?


ANDREA LORENZO MOLINARI:  

The origin story of The Shepherd (essentially Volume 1) is based on a nightmare I had that involved my family. So on that level, the characters are avatars for my wife and children. I have told this story about the nightmare many times, so I will refrain from repeating it here. Rather, I will direct people to my essay which describes how the dream led to the creation of the Shepherd in Volume 1. 

Of course, as you note, I was a university professor—for twelve and a half years—so I decided to retain that element of the parallel between Lawrence Miller and myself. I felt it would add an interesting wrinkle to the series. In my own training, I was given a strong background in ancient religion and mythology, both ancient Near Eastern cultures (e.g., Sumerian; Egyptian) as well as other civilizations from around the Mediterranean basin (e.g., Carthaginians, Greeks, and Romans). I was always fascinated by their beliefs about the afterlife, especially the stories they told about journeys into the land of the dead. I thought to myself, how cool would it be for a professor to encounter mythological heroes and creatures? And would that professor’s knowledge of the stories give them a significant advantage? (In some ways, this is not unlike Indiana Jones in that he is a professor and adventurer. His knowledge of the cultures, legends, and artifacts enhances and enriches the stories.)


So I can say that a foundational element of The Shepherd series is my affection for these ancient stories and my desire to create modern equivalents. 


The Shepherd, Volume 1, Interior Art by Luca Panciroli, Black Caravan

CBY: As a parent, the Millers are incredibly relatable in several ways. I think one of the biggest things I related to was when Dr. Miller realized his children, Nico and Lexi, have the same powers as he does and will bear similar burdens. In my view, it’s a parent’s job to try and make the next generation’s life easier by guiding them away from the same mistakes as yourself. How has your own parenting philosophy influenced this series?


ALM: Heh. “Bear similar burdens” is a good way of putting it. 


When I was a young man, I was very aware of the mistakes my parents made, and I was so determined not to repeat them. For the most part, I don’t think I did repeat them. Instead, I made my own mistakes. It turns out that I am just as imperfect as they were. Heh. Ironic, no?


As you said, as parents we want to protect our children, and we want to see to it that they are given the best advice possible so they can avoid harm. We warn. We counsel. We shield. But over the years, I have learned there’s only so much protection we can give. In the end, our children must make their own choices…and deal with the consequences of their decisions. 

Sometimes the consequences can be really hard to endure. When those situations arise, we can only do our best to love them and be there for them no matter what. 


The Shepherd: The Valentine and the Pit, Interior Art by Jaime Martinez Rodriguez, Black Caravan

CBY: And speaking of parenting, what’s it like writing this series with your son, Roberto? Are there any unique benefits or challenges to writing with a family member as opposed to a colleague? What ways do you and he complement each other?



ALM: Roberto and I have a good relationship. I feel that we have always been close. We have always talked about what we thought—good and bad—about books,  films, and television shows. We discussed what we thought worked and what didn’t. 


I have enjoyed writing stories with him. 


However, in saying that, I don’t want you to think that we have always agreed. Far from it! 

For example, one of the things we disagreed about was whether the Shepherd would kill or not. We discussed that idea at length. I finally persuaded him that the Shepherd should not kill, and I think that he would say that he eventually came around to my way of thinking. That said, Legio has a much darker temperament, and that reflects Roberto’s sensibilities. 

I guess you can say that we have learned how to present our thoughts to each other clearly and directly. That back and forth between us has strengthened our storytelling. It’s enabled us to see how all the pieces fit together. 


The Shepherd: The Pit, Page 2, Interior Art by Ramiro Borrallo, Black Caravan

CBY: What drew you and your son to write this as a horror story and not fantasy, or even action-adventure?


ALM: The short answer is that The Shepherd series itself was born out of a nightmare. That puts it squarely in the horror genre.


However, the choice for horror is also natural because The Shepherd deals with the consequences of evil and humanity’s responsibility to deal with those consequences. 


That said, what I think sets The Shepherd apart is that it assumes that the SOURCE of evil is NOT some demonic foe (busy being evil because that’s its “job”), but rather, evil is the result of the selfish actions of people. The Shepherd tells stories where humanity is stripped of pretense and compelled to confront its choices–not as if they are being punished, but so that they can own their mistakes and make some kind of restitution. 


To me, the horror is the realization that the evil consequences were NOT inevitable–they were chosen. The characters are forced to SEE with utter clarity what they chose, the consequences of that choice on others, and the end “gain” of that choice.   



CBY: Although this series is clearly inspired by Christian imagery, the story is fairly open in regards to spirituality. For example, Egyptian Gods and other figures make appearances in the story. You mentioned that you are fascinated by other religions views on the afterlife so, why was this openness to spirituality important to you to convey? 



The Shepherd: The Valentine, Issue 1, Page 1, Interior Art by Jaime Martinez Rodriguez, Black Caravan

ALM: Of course, I was trained in Judeo-Christian theology. However, I have had the chance to do some study of other world religions too. I am attracted to these things precisely because they represent human attempts to grapple with life’s biggest, most profound questions.


As you noted, we do reference other religions. Of course, the Egyptian short story in Volume 1 is low-hanging fruit. I always LOVED Egyptian myth and legend. However, the title of Volume 2, i.e., The Path of Souls, is a direct reference to Wendat beliefs about the afterlife. (Note: The Wendat, commonly known as “Huron” as they were called by European explorers, are a First Nations tribe whose homeland, the Wendake, is located in modern Ontario, Canada.) The Wendat beliefs about the afterlife are beautiful, and they have profoundly impacted Volume 2.


Simply stated, I am a theologian. I am always going to be fascinated by religious myths and legends. 


CBY: The Shepherd is a series with quite a journey. It has been published through two publishers; Caliber and Scout Comics, and your latest volume shifts the focus to the previous main character’s children. What about this story keeps drawing you back in and what aspects of this narrative world do you want to keep exploring?


ALM: I love the world of The Shepherd because it offers so many possibilities. Briefly stated, any person who has ever lived and any culture that has ever existed could be part of our story world. Furthermore, we deal with basic human realities–our regrets and the need to set things right again. How is that for possibilities?


CBY: For our last question, what’s the future hold for The Shepherd? You’re three volumes in and, as you said, the possibilities seem endless. Will the series continue to focus on Nico and Lexi? Will readers get to see any Shepherds before Dr. Miller?


ALM: I think we have a lot to look forward to as regards the future. We have Volume 4 coming out in 2024. Volume 4, The Tether is a romance that features Val Miller. Furthermore, we are currently lettering the final issue of Volume 5 called The Burning Maid, which features Joan d’Arc! (See what I meant about “any person who has ever lived”?) Meanwhile, I am writing Volume 6. 


My daughter has committed to writing another one-shot that features Lexi and Nico. That story will deal with a Japanese survivor of the Hiroshima bombing.


As for “other Shepherds,” I think that is very possible. It is certainly something Roberto and I have discussed in detail. Keep in mind, we also view the Wendat warrior Sondaqua (from Volume 2) as another Shepherd. He too has a culturally appropriate artifact (i.e., the bow from the Village).


CBY: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me!


ALM: My pleasure, Luke!


 

Volume 3 of The Shepherd has less than two weeks to go, so be sure to check it on Kickstarter or if you want to dive in deeper, visit www.theshepherdcomic.com or the series’ Instagram


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