“The Pale” is a supernatural crime drama set in the contemporary American Southwest. The story features a small-town murder mystery and a few character tropes that might seem familiar to fans of Twin Peaks and The X-Files, but the Fabares’ naturalistic storytelling and dialogue go far to make “The Pale” relatable, interesting and, ultimately, pretty hard to put down.
“The Pale” follows the faceblind FBI Agent Franklin Ink (Fink) and small-town Sheriff Logan as they attempt to catch a mysterious killer in Rocket Ridge, Arizona. Agent Ink’s investigation might be unsanctioned, but Sheriff Logan’s keeping secrets of his own.
I got to spend some time with Jay and Sanders Fabares recently to chat about their artistic process, their inspiration and what fuels them to keep creating. Read on for more about small towns, detectives and some very subtle hints as to what’s in store for our Rocket Ridge crew!
First off, thank you for your time! You finished issue #6 of “The Pale” and released it on your site after Thanksgiving last year. What’s next on the back end for the second arc? How far ahead have you plotted/drafted/drawn?
Jay Fabares (JF): I’m just starting the artwork on issue #7 while Sanders is working out issue #8 a bit more. As for the plot, we have certain events we want to hit, but letting the characters and pacing help us determine when to show those events. It’s sort of fun letting the story take on a life on its own and not have every little thing plotted out!
Sanders Fabares (SF): Yeah, we have a general direction where the story is going to go, as well as certain events we know will happen, but we try to remain as open-minded as possible as to how we get there. Most of the main characters have been introduced in the first arc, so now it is just a matter of weaving them into the story in ways that seem realistic and interesting. One thing that I can say is that the first arc was a slow burn, but the second will have more action and conflict.
JF: Yeah, big twists and turns. I think readers will like it!
Do you have a definite ending in mind for “The Pale”? How many arcs/issues are planned right now?
JF: As of right now we have two arcs planned out that’ll take us to 11 issues with no problem.
SF: We have a few general endings in mind for the final ending, a big picture of what it is all working toward, but we are also trying to be open to that morphing a bit on the way there if it feels like it “wants” to. Just seeing how our ideas have changed toward the book since we started it, it is entirely possible that it will continue to change from what is in our minds now.
JF: Yeah, I like how it has grown organically in such a way that makes sense and feels fresh to both of us.
How’d you both come up with the idea for “The Pale,” and what inspired you to work in the comic medium?
SF: I lived in Arizona for 6 years, and since then I have always wanted to write a story about a mystery in a small town in the Southwest. It seems like most of the mysteries are always set in the woods or the city, not in the desert. I never really thought about doing it as a comic, because I didn’t really have much artistic talent or know anyone who did.
Years later, I was trying to get Jay interested in some of the lesser-known comics that I grew up with. This led to her REALLY getting into comics, and soon she started using her artistic talents to try making her own. She has always wanted to be a storyteller, but up until then she was trying to do that through animation. She was playing with a few story concepts that never really took off. When she first came up with the idea for what was to later be “The Pale,” I immediately wanted to help her if I could. She came up with most of the characters and the idea for having a faceblind detective, I helped with finding some of the narrative beats and came up with the name.
JF: Yeah, Sanders got me into comics around 2008. Eventually I was inspired to make my own comic but kept running into story problems. Concepts from that story helped inspire “The Pale” and some of its mythology and themes. The concept of Fink and the setting came to me in 2013 after watching an episode of “Hannibal” (Buffet Froid) where a character with face blindness couldn’t see Hannibal disfiguring someone he had just killed. I don’t think I ever created an original character that fast before. I even knew his name! After the episode I rushed to my computer to draw this character in a sea of smiley faces and write down my other notes. I shared the idea with Sanders and it really struck him too.
What I like about working in comics is that it can be a small team. It’s a fun visual medium that’s really engaging with the reader. We can do visual changes – Fink’s point of view, for example – that just read better as a comic.
One of my favorite things about “The Pale” is the narrative’s pace. Each character gets enough time on the page to resonate without dissolving any of the tension you’re both building through the larger mystery. Can you talk about how you balance dialogue with the plot beats you want to hit in each issue?
SF: A lot of people have said they like the slow burn feel because it lends itself to the small-town feel. We love the overall concept of the story, but the most important part of the story is the diverse cast of characters that we introduce to the audience. Much like “Fargo” or “Twin Peaks,” the charm lies in the interactions between the wide spectrum of characters and how they deal with the conflict when it happens.
JF: It’s a balancing act, for sure. Those character moments are very helpful to transition us from one plot beat to the next too, so they are very purposeful in that regard. When we have those scenes, the reader is learning something new or progressing through their storylines a little more each time.
There’s a deep familiarity with small-town life in “The Pale,” with all of its humorous and serious moments alike. Did either of you grow up in an environment similar to Rocket Ridge?
JF: Nope, I grew up in suburbia and hated it! “The Pale” is sort of my love letter to those small towns I experienced as a kid (and adult). I want Rocket Ridge to feel real, so it’s romaticized and treated as a character too.
SF: I grew up in a small city called Lakeside on the eastern outskirts of San Diego. Back then, it was best known for the local dairy farm and its “world-famous” rodeo. Fun fact: the street that I grew up on was actually called Rocket Ridge, hence where we got the name for the town!
A few years ago Jay and I moved back to Lakeside. It’s changed a lot, become much more populated and even has two Starbucks, but we still see encounter elements of “small town” life all the time. When we do we look at each other and say, “We have to use that.”
I think Lakeside definitely factors into influencing the book, but also the town of Wickenburg, Arizona, which we enjoy going to for bird-watching, factors in quite a bit. Everyone knows each other, there’s a single-screen movie theater, one grocery store. Definitely a small town that we have gotten to know.
How did you decide to include face blindness (prosopagnosia) as a character trait for Franklin? It’s a unique condition and a very clever way to add a lot of flavor to a comic page.
JF: I already mentioned how the idea of proso[pagnosia] came from “Hannibal,” but the visual change is something that translates so simply – I’m surprised it hasn’t really been explored before. A reader who isn’t familiar with proso understands that Fink has trouble recognizing faces, it’s a shorthand that doesn’t require a lot of explanation and adds an extra layer to the story. How is this character going about this unfamiliar area? Who can he trust? When will it be a problem?
Without delving too deep into spoiler territory, how important are Franklin’s backstory and his dreams to what’s going on in the comic right now?
JF: I like to think of his dreams as insight into his subconscious … what’s he trying to work out? What’s troubling him? Or what he wants to pursue.
SF: His backstory is a huge part of the story which directly relates to what is happening in the present. I really can’t wait to get to it.
One thing that makes “The Pale” unique is how well you balance supernatural elements with the procedural mystery of the murders. Rocket Ridge’s culture is complex and tense, and adding in possible aliens or spirits means you risk diluting the human drama of the story. How weird are we going to get as we go along?
JF: We want readers to trust the emotions the characters are going through, to believe their interactions, so when things start to get weird you’ll believe it just as much.
SF: It will get weird, but not weird just for the sake of weird. We want the audience to constantly be trying to figure out what they think is going on, but there are always definite reasons for everything that we show.
Jay, what made you decide to stick to black and white for this comic? It definitely allows you to play with shading and boost the shadows during the creepier and more surreal moments, but we still get that good sun-bleached desert feeling.
JF: Originally, I wanted it to be in color because I thought color would be more appealing to readers. But eventually I started shading my pages, adding tones here and there and found I could create the atmosphere just as well with black and white. I’m much faster at black and white than color, so it works out!
Can you talk a bit about your process? Do you work out a complete script for every issue, or is it more fluid given how closely you two work?
JF: We spend a good amount of time getting to a working script that I can draw from. Our scripts are dialogue- and beat-focused because I also end up adjusting the script as I draw. It’s been a learning curve, but we trust each other to point of what works best for the story.
SF: This being our first big project, I think the hardest thing for us has been figuring out the work pipeline. We both have strong ideas that we get attached to when doing our script pass. Learning how to compromise so we both get what we want has been a huge step. For the first few years of formulating the ideas and doing the early issues we were more fluid and unstructured in our approach, but now that we have more concrete beats we want to hit and have a workflow we have found that structure. Now it is less about “how” we do this and more about finding the time to buckle down and do it.
What do both of you like to read, watch, play and/or listen to while you’re working on a project? Is there any media that directly inspired “The Pale” or that you revisit to fill the creative well?
JF: To no one’s surprise, I’m sure, I like watching crime dramas while I work. Media that I know by heart and like to hear as I draw are “Twin Peaks,” “Fargo,” “True Detective” and “Mind Hunter.” I think I go through all those series maybe a few times a year. I also like to listen to “Deadly Premonition” cutscenes while drawing.
SF: I like to listen to ambient music like the “Hearts of Space” playlist on Spotify, as well as anything with dark, moody vibes. I like to read books relating to Native American culture as well as dramas set in small towns. The last book I read was “Everything You Want Me To Be” by Mindy Mejia, which I really enjoyed. I also like dark, atmospheric video games. I played “Remothered” recently, and had a lot of fun with that.
Anything else you want to plug? Print releases, appearances, other projects, etc?
JF: 2020 is going to be a big year for us, we’re heading to San Diego Comic Con! But you can also catch us at a few other appearances at the start of the year. We’ll be at San Diego Comic Fest and Rocket Con in March. We plan on starting up a mailing list so we can send out update on print releases, etc. Follow us on social media for updates on that.
SF: We are planning to really pick up the pace with the issues in 2020, as well as possibly print a trade which includes the first six issues. Look for that later this year.