Wednesday, November 22, 2017 • Morning Edition • "Bring your own straight jacket."

Indie Comic, "The Shepherd," shows readers the harsh effects of PTSD and grief.

Written by the indie huntress on Thursday, March 24 2016 and posted in Features

Indie Comic,

An interview with comic creator Andrea Lorenzo on his comic, "The Shepherd," and why it deals with tough issues like post traumatic stress disorder, the grieving process, and other mental issues.


Source: Andrea Lorenzo

Welcome back, my faithful companions! Your Indie huntress has returned from a crazy week with my splendid partner in crime, and from C2E2. Before I dive into transcribing all of the wonderful interviews, and showing you photos from the event- I have something else for you to check out: The Shepherd: The Path of Souls from Andrea Lorenzo Molinari

The Shepherd, (at it's core) is a story about a father that loses his son in one of the most horrific ways- a drug overdose. Sure, a lot of comics revolve around a loss, or the protaganist having someone close to them being harmed, BUT a lot of that is centered around supervillany, or powers of some kind. This story deals with something that is very real and hits close to home for a lot of readers. The way I see this is, we all have someone in our lives that we have lost to death. Be it a friend, several family members, a dog... anyone that you were attached to in some way. The Shepard takes the feelings of grief a few steps forward. Traditionally in comics, (at least from the ones I've read) when there is a death, the classic emotions of outrage are shown, along with tears, revenge and other expected reactions. However, what I have often seen is they are short experiences that never drift far from the center focus of the story. Those dark thoughts and feelings aren't focused on for long, because let's face it, they are hard to read and deal with. Especially if they are well written in such a way that you feel it in your core, most likely because there are experiences you can relate to as well. 

That's what The Shepherd did for me: shook my core and rattled my senses because I have been in Lawrence's shoes. 

I lost my father three years ago. He was ill, yes- but his death was something that happened suddenly. I was fortunate enough to be here when he suffered a massive heart attack suddenly, but despite best efforts CPR was useless. The ambulance didn't arrive for thirty minutes, and there would have been no way to save him, even if they had been there sooner. Three years later, I still hear the thud of his body on the floor, and see his eyes rolling back and hear the gurgling from his throat. Three years later I still have sudden attacks where I relive the experience and have to sit curled up in a ball and wait for the panic to pass. 

After his death was a different story. I didn't eat and strictly consumed cigarettes, coffee, and other mentally altering substances. I lost 60 pounds in a matter of a few months, I wouldn't speak to anyone, and found myself angry and abandoned. I was withdrawn for over a year. If anyone spoke to me about his death, I would typically become angry with them because I felt they were offering fake sympathy. I became violent towards myself, and took my rage out on others around me. It was a difficult time and still is for me. 

Reading The Shepherd was like reliving a lot of that pain, yet finding some kind of comfort in knowing that someone else not only understood it- but was able to translate it into one of my favorite mediums: comics. Andrea is a talented writer with a knack for bringing the issues of grief to life, but in a way that not only explores the darkness, but also unveils the way to healing. Join me as I interview Andrea on writing this series. 

First Picture with The Shepherd and its co-creators

What made you decide to write the story of The Shepherd?

For clarification, it is important for your readers to know that there are two Shepherd stories that we will be discussing in this interview. The first, The Shepherd: Apokatastasis (a Greek word meaning, a complete restoration, re-establishment, reconstitution, return), was published by Caliber Comics in 2015. It is an origin story for our series. The second story, The Shepherd: The Path of Souls, exists in script form at present. We have assembled an art team and we are currently running a Kickstarter campaign to help fund their work. The original story was based on a nightmare I had.

I have retold the story elsewhere in great detail so I will summarize it here. The dream was horrible. I woke up in a cold sweat, my heart pounding. After calming down, I told my wife the contents of the dream which involved, among other things: 1) my son dying of a drug overdose; and 2) my committing suicide, being convinced that he was in trouble and had not been able to transition to the other side. She was horrified and angry. I told my (then) teenaged son Roberto (the one who had died in my nightmare). He thought it was cool. From that point, Roberto was adamant that we write down the nightmare, fashioning into a story. He pestered me... relentlessly. Believe it. Finally, in June 2011, I had a small window between large projects. He got wind of this and pressed his attack. I started writing just to get him off my back. The story, contrary to all my expectations, flowed out of me. The entire thing was written inside a month, my son leaning over my shoulder the whole time offering advice, corrections, edits, and rewrites.

By early July 2011, I was finished with the first draft. I thought I was done. Off the hook. Au contraire, mes amis. Roberto would have NONE of that. Now his mantra shifted to: we have to get this made into a comic book. Long story short, we found a company called Scattered Comics Studios (Sacramento, California). The studio was run by Jason Dube, an accomplished artist and writer himself. He helped us choose an artist/ inker and a colorist, thus forming the nucleus of our creative team. The production phase of the first five issue story arc lasted from September 2011 until roughly January 2014.

How have readers responded to the dark nature of this book?

The tone of the Shepherd IS dark (after all, it is based on a nightmare). The first story arc, The Shepherd: Apokatastasis, involves (as we stated before) 1) a tragic death from a drug overdose; 2) a fathers extreme grief and nagging fears that his son is in some kind of peril in the afterlife; and 3) that fathers decision to commit suicide, so as to pursue his son into the afterlife. Once on the other side, the father searches (unsuccessfully) for his son and begins to wage a brutal campaign of retribution against those responsible for the drugs that killed his son. As he does these things, the father is himself consumed with grief, regret, and anger. Yet, he knows that he has lost his way.

Obviously, the story is very visceral. It deals with themes of loss, grief and anger, and the connections we share with those who have gone on before us. It also considers what it takes to move on from loss and find a way to heal. I think that peoples reactions have varied. The main character, Dr. Lawrence Miller, is essentially a good man. However, as he succumbs to grief, he makes a series of very poor decisions. Some readers have struggled with Lawrence's journey into the heart of darkness. In many ways, he is a fallen and broken hero. Only as the story unfolds does he begin to find his footing... and the journey is a difficult one, taking the reader down a terrible path none of us would wish to travel. Its funny. I have had a few people tell me that they struggled to like Lawrence. I laughed and told them, Good. That isn't a problem... because Lawrence doesn't like himself either. That said, most readers instinctively understand and relate to Lawrence's grief, even if they cannot endorse his actions. They understand that, while the story may be a dark, it is also brutally honest. It forces the reader to grapple with emotions and realities that cannot be ignored... even though we would all wish to ignore them. Of course, as an author, I hope that they will see that the end result of the journey is worth the struggle. Its a case of the old saying, "Nothing worth having comes easy."

shep2p8

You mentioned that your wife works with disabled veterans, some of whom suffer from PTSD. Was she an aide in your research?

My wife, Myrna, is a social worker who has done just about everything over the course of her career: child protective; drug and alcohol counseling; elderly services; medical social work, corrections, and working with individuals and families who are homeless. Her work with the homeless population led her to the Veterans Administration as many among the homeless population are veterans. One of the chief issues among many of these homeless veterans is PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, from their experiences in combat or from MST, Military Sexual Trauma. Needless to say, her understanding of the human psyche has been vital for me. I often talk discuss scenarios I am considering or working on with her. In this most recent story arc, The Shepherd: The Path of Souls, her knowledge and experiences with those suffering from PTSD has been invaluable.

The subject of PTSD literally permeates our daily lives. Not only does she work with veterans with PTSD at the VA but she also participates in various weekend therapeutic retreats for veterans, their spouses, and their children. These retreats are sponsored by non-profit foundations such as The Lone Survivor Foundation, founded by the famous Navy Seal, Marcus Luttrell (played by Mark Wahlberg in the movie, Lone Survivor). My wife often shares the general life stories (but not the names) of her patients with me. I am astonished at the misery these people have suffered. Many have agonized for decades, enduring depression, grief and regret. They relive their experiences over and over again, as if they were a record that keeps skipping and replaying a single line of a song.

What are you hoping to accomplish with this series? How far do you want to take it?

What am I trying to accomplish? I am very interested in otherworldly journeys, tours of Heaven, Hell, Hades (not the same by the way), etc.. It is interesting that the earliest surviving piece of Western literature, the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh (ca. 2100 BCE) involves the main characters journey into the afterlife in search of the secret of eternal life. Of course, the theme recurs in many famous pieces of literature from Homers Odyssey to Virgils Aeneid to Dante Alighieris Divine Comedy to Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. (The list could be lengthened without end.) In many ways, I am consciously throwing my creative hat in the ring and joining the group of those who wish to speculate about the Afterlife. As for how far we wish to take this? To date, Roberto and I have charted out four story arcs. One is published. The second (The Path of Souls) is written and awaiting artistic development (hence the Kickstarter campaign). The third (The Tether) and fourth (The Burning Maid) are fully outlined but are still being researched. I figure that these projects should keep us busy for the next six to eight years. After that? Its in God's hands.

Would you be willing to discuss any personal experiences that led you to being so in touch with the behaviors of your characters?

I know more than I wish about the loss of those close to me. When I was in high school, I lost both my maternal grandparents within the space of three years, my grandfather in 1981 and my grandmother in 1984. I lived with my grandmother from 1981-1984, so the loss was very deep and personal. As a young man, I sustained two further devastating losses: in 2003, my mother-in-law, Wanda J. Wahmhoff, was killed in a tragic automobile accident. I was very close with Wanda and she played a truly meaningful role in my life. Later, in 2005, my father, Achille Franco Molinari, was diagnosed with and died of bone marrow cancer in the space of less than two months.He was 66. He appears in The Shepherd as Lawrences father, Franco, so that should indicate how well I have gotten past his loss. Finally, I lost my older sister in 2013. She was 46. I do not mean to disrespect anyone by implying that my losses are somehow worse than anyone elses. Rather, the number and closeness of those lost has afforded me plenty of opportunity to reflect on
issues of grief, loss, and the possibility of reunions in the Afterlife. The Shepherd was born in this furnace.

Legio

Will this be available through Diamond distributing?

Our first graphic novel, The Shepherd: Apokatastasis, is available through Diamond. The Item Code is NOV151223.

What reward options do you have for the Kickstarter? Do you have plans for stretch goals?

As you would expect, there are a variety of options. We have some very nice graphic novel rewards from Gary Reed at Caliber Comics. These rewards packages bundle several novels of the same genre (e.g., war comics; detective/crime; horror; supernatural). You get four graphic novels for a $30 donation. That is a pretty solid deal. Of course, there are t-shirts and digital download but there are also some cool options at the higher end too. You can get a hand-sculpted statue of The Shepherd or his spirit-wolf companion, Legio. You can get a one-of-a-kind hand crafted working Staff of Truth (The Shepherds signature weapon... I want one of these myself!). Further, you can get painted into one of our covers or serve as a "consigliere" to Team Shepherd for an issue, which allows you to be part of the actual creative teams decision-making process! We do have stretch goals. At the moment we are trying to fund two of the six issues. If we can accomplish that goal, we will stretch to try to raise funds for Issues 3 and 4.

What is next for you after this series?

I plan to pursue The Shepherd for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, Roberto is working on an illustrated Dungeons and Dragons-type fantasy novel.However, we are open to whatever opportunities may arise.

Will you be at any signings or conventions in the coming months?

Yes. We are just dipping our toes into the convention scene. As such, we are mostly staying in familiar territory as we learn the ropes. My son and I live in Florida (Tampa and West Palm Beach respectively) so are set to exhibit at: 1) Megacon in Orlando, FL (May 26-29); 2) Tampa Bay Comic Con (August 5-7); and 3) Grand Rapids Comic Con (October 21-23). We are also doing a number of smaller shows at various comic book stores around Florida. We hope that 2017 will see a much larger docket of activity. 

Where can we follow you on social media for updates?

Caliber Comics:

http://www.calibercomics.info/the-shepherd.html

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/The-Shepherd-353479431497293/

Tumblr:

https://www.tumblr.com/blog/lawrencemillerphd

Twitter: Andrea L Molinari @ShepherdCaliber

Instagram: andrealmolinari

When will print and digital copies be available?

The Shepherd: Apokatastasis is already available on many sites (see below).

The Shepherd: The Path of Souls will undoubtedly follow suit asap.

Local Comic Book Shop: Diamond Previews (Item Code: NOV151223)

Amazon (paperback collected edition; collects Issues 1-5):

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1942351127/

Comixology (digital; pdf of Issues 1-5 and collected edition):

https://www.comixology.com/The-Shepherd/comics-series/53635?ref=c2l0ZS9saXN0L2Rlc2t0b3AvbGlzdC9zZXJpZXNMaXN0

DriveThruComics (digital; pdf of Issues 1-5 and collected edition):

http://www.drivethrucomics.com/browse/pub/403/Caliber-Comics/subcategory/779_23484/

The-Shepherd Google Play (digital; pdf of Issues 1-5 and collected edition):

https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Lorenzo_Molinari_Andrea_The_Shepard?id=4IECCwAAQBAJ

Who was on the creative team for this work?

CREATIVE TEAM BIOS for The Shepherd: Apokatastasis

Andrea Lorenzo Molinari (writer/ creator)

https://www.facebook.com/andrea.l.molinari

Roberto Xavier Molinari (writer/ creator)

https://www.facebook.com/roberto.molinari.90?fref=ts

Ryan Showers (pencils/ inks)

http://score6.deviantart.com/

Heather Breckel 

https://www.facebook.com/scorecreations/Heather Breckel

Jacob Bascle (letters and logo design)

https://www.facebook.com/jacobbascle

NOTE: The COLORS for the COVERS for Issues 4 and 5 were done by Mike Stefan. Stefan is a comic book and digital colorist who goes by the name Scar. He works for Scattered Comics Studios.

Creative direction and art production services for The Shepherd: Apokatastasis were provided by Jason Dube and Scattered Comics Studios of Sacramento, CA http://www.scatteredcomicsstudios.com/

For our new story arc, we have expanded our art team to include:

Kyle Pommier Huston. For examples of Kyle's work, go to: https://www.behance.net/

LePommierCristóbal Torres Iglesiasis. For examples of Cristóbal's work, go to: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/qfmubb8ejapc7jx/AACOQB_PrU_J_r-XZ6orM_BSa?dl=0Kate Kuenstler

For examples of Kate's work, go to: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/ym6ff9ej4z61n2p/AAD1pDKirVmubG3XzZRS6vpBa?dl=0

The Shepherd 2

How did you meet these people and how did working with them help shape your book into what it is?

At the beginning of the process of assembling the creative team for The Shepherd: Apokatastasis, I worked with Jason Dube of Scattered Comics Studios (http://www.scatteredcomicsstudios.com/).

I simply cannot recommend Jason Dube highly enough. He is a good and honest person and he is also a writer/ artist himself so he truly has an insiders perspective. His patience and capacity to teach is just what the doctor ordered for new creators. The studio has a stable of artists and colors, all of whom had a gallery of art samples on display on the website. It was there that I found Ryan Showers and Heather Breckel. Later, my letterer, Jacob Bascle, was recommended to me. All three team members (Ryan, Heather and Jacob) absolutely shaped the book! Ryan literally created the characters and world, interpreting the text visually. Heather's use of color is amazing! I have heard it said that her colors almost rise to the level of another character in the story. I'm not sure if a color can rise to the level of character but I can tell you that she has a firm grasp on the use of color and texture to create and drive the mood of a story. For example, she often uses a dark and rich green color. I asked her why and her response, "It reflects the sickness in Lawrences soul." Nuff said.

Finally, Jacob's placement of our script controls the pacing, actually controlling the readers path and speed on the path through this story. Remarkable. The biggest lesson I learned in working with my team that I would pass on to other beginning comic book writers is: allow your team to help you tell the story. Do NOT imagine that your vision needs to rule the day. Rather, be open to the brilliant insights that your team will bring to you. Unfetter them and allow them to be free. Sure. Ask questions. Make suggestions. But do this with a spirit of respect for their gifts and with openness to their insights into the story... which is no longer yours but has become "ours."

What would you say to aspiring creators that may be dealing with depression and/or PTSD?

Obviously, this is a VERY serious question. I am a theologian, not a psychologist or social worker, so I have called on my wife, Myrna, who is a licensed clinical social worker, to help me. She has 25 years of experience counseling patients who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, depression, PTSD, military sexual trauma (MST), and traumatic brain injury (TBI). The first thought that immediately comes to mind is: Get help. This may seem obvious... and it is. However, there is an unfortunate stigma that is attached to the idea of getting counseling, talking with a therapist or taking medication for depression. Somehow this is perceived as being weak. Frankly, nothing could be further from the truth.

First, getting help is smart. Think about it, if your upstairs bathroom water pipes break and water starts pouring through your ceiling, no one thinks that you are weak if you call a plumber for help. Quite the opposite. If you faced this kind of threat to home and family and didnt get help, you would be considered at best foolish and at worse grossly negligent in taking care of your familys well-being. Yet, if you choose to access psychological and medical help for your depression, that is weakness? Nonsense. Second, having the personal courage to admit that one has a problem and then do something to address it is a sign of inner strength, not weakness. Lots of people see their weakness, flaws, and failings but do not seek help. That, my friend, is weakness. Give me a recovering addict or person in counseling any day. I will show you someone who has courage. Okay, once you make the decision to get help, you need to understand that not all forms of therapy are created equal. It is crucial to understand what each type can offer. Some will help your ability to cope with the symptoms of a problem and some will help you to resolve the traumatic memories and underlying issues that are the root of the problem. Each can be beneficial its own way.

On a personal level, another thing that is also helpful is that you need to understand how your 1) thoughts, 2) feelings, and 3) behaviors can either support depression OR support recovery from depression. When you deal with moods your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are three sides of a triangle. Each influences the others. If I think in positive terms and do positive things, then I will feel better. Conversely, if I tell myself self-defeating, self-sabotaging messages, and I don't take positive actions, then I won't feel good about myself. Allow me to paint you a picture of a person suffering from depression. The person suffering says to themselves: I don't want to get out of bed in the morning. I look at the day and it already feels overwhelming. It's too much. I can't handle it. Then they start to feel even more anxious. This makes
them feel they are unable to cope. Getting out of bed feels like too much to effort. It's too hard to get in the shower or to make a healthy breakfast because it takes too much energy and they don't have any. So the person sits on the couch, in the same spot every day, in the dark. They keep their windows closed, the blinds drawn and they don't look at anything. Sometimes the television isn't even on. They just stare at nothing. They may overeat or under-eat. Thoughts of all the things that they wish were different play over and over in their head. They feel more depressed or anxious and less inclined to do anything. They don't answer the phone and they don't reply to texts. They avoid family and friends because they don't understand. They try not to go out anywhere, avoid people, and try to sleep as much as possible so that the day goes by faster. In order to fight depression, there several things that need to happen.

You need to tell yourself that even when you don't feel like it, you need to get out of bed. You need to make sure that you shower and get dressed. You need to eat something. You need to reach out to family and friends and keep the communication going. You need to fight and overcome the feeling of not wanting to talk to anyone. You need to make the effort to go outside and take a walk and engage. Just by doing that you will feel a little better. You need to keep doing activities and finding things to enjoy, even if you am just going through the motions at first. Now if you continue to feel blah, then you know you also need to address it medically and find the right medication or medical device, like the Alpha Stim-M or Nervana. Most importantly you need to find the right treatment that will help you address the underlying issues so that you can be free of them.

Having the right therapy is essential. For example, there is an evidence based treatment called Accelerated Resolution Therapy that is very effective in treating PTSD, depression, anxiety disorders and more, that can reduce and/or eliminate negative physical and emotional sensations and helps quickly change unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaving. Positive changes, including resolution of symptoms of trauma and depression, typically occur in 1-5 sessions. Obviously, this is a serious question that you have posed. We are only scratching the surface here but hopefully we have touched on some important aspects of addressing the issue.

That wraps up the interview. Please consider supporting The Shepard on kickstarter here: 

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2025955669/artwork-for-caliber-comics-the-shepherd

As always you can find me on social media here:

https://www.facebook.com/theindiehuntress/

https://twitter.com/IndieHuntress





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About the Author - Crystal O'Rourke


"ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!!!"
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