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Comic raises the question: What the heck’s going on at VitaMart?

Comic raises the question: What the heck’s going on at VitaMart?

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Photo courtesy Dark Horse Comics

Three issues of a spinoff from the “Hellboy” series are set in Payson.

Move over Mogollon Monster, things are about to get very weird — and scary — in Rim Country.

Brace yourself for a macabre and frightening tale involving dissolving horses, strange doings in the VitaMart parking lot and a sinister plot twist at the Pioneer Cemetery.

The body count’s higher than the Pleasant Valley War and more twisted than Zane Grey could have possibly imagined, but the art’s good, the hero scaled but likeable — and the publicity invaluable.

Payson is the setting for a new, three-part Dark Horse Comic following Abe Sapien, a half-human, amphibious creature as he travels on foot through the Southwest. In the first issue released this week the spinoff character from the well-known “Hellboy” series seeks shelter in little old Payson, only to discover that things are not what they seem.

The company also publishes Sin City, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Wars comics. Dark Horse Editor in Chief Scott Allie explained Abe is on the run from the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.). Abe once worked for the agency, but now he suspects the agency is playing a role in a supernatural crisis.

“He’s trying to avoid trouble, but when he comes to Payson he finds out that there’s some weird growth in a field full of dead horses and he stops to help the locals deal with the monster growing there,” said Allie, who co-wrote the comic. “It turns out that there’s actually a much more sinister and violent threat going.”

The series is part of a larger plot that involves the efforts of assorted monsters to wipe out cities and countries that’s currently playing out in the Hellboy comics. Already, Houston and England have been wiped out.

“All I’ll say is Abe is not able to do a lot for the problem in Payson, partly because he’s got his own problems to deal with since everyone accuses him of being the cause of all this,” he said.

But how did Payson, the epicenter of several Zane Grey western novels, wind up in a comic?

Sheer luck.

Allie said he knew the route he wanted Abe to take across the Southwest, but wasn’t sure if he would make up towns as he went or use real locations.

Unlike Grey, who discovered Payson on horseback, Allie looked on Google Maps. He used Google’s ground view feature to take a virtual walk through the area and liked the look of things and the rugged geography. He especially liked the look of Payson Pioneer Cemetery and so worked it into his chilling plot.

After a little more online exploring, he came upon the Payson Roundup’s Web site. Specifically, articles on the golf course and Police Chief Don Engler stuck out.

So he worked the golf course into the story — but couldn’t figure out how to use Engler.

“It seemed to me he was a pretty beloved guy and it wasn’t respectful to pop someone into the book I’d never met,” he said. “My chief has nothing to do with him.”

Allie, based in Oregon, and the comic’s illustrator, who is based in Argentina, used a variety of actual locations throughout Rim Country, plucking details from Google Maps. “He probably viewed more of your town through the map than I did, trying to get it right,” he said.

The wealth of information proved a little overwhelming.

“I got so many details about Payson I wanted to get into the story, but it makes for a lousy story if you’re shoehorning in every scrap of factual information you come across,” he said.

For example, he wanted to incorporate the historic Oxbow Inn and Saloon, but couldn’t find a way to integrate it. His illustrator did use the front of VitaMart and Dairy Queen.

“The point for me of bringing Payson into it is to give the story a firm foundation,” he said. “Whenever you do this sort of thing, you run the risk of being called out by the real locals, the real experts.”

Still, creating a sense of place “as complex and nuanced and weird as real places are” is key to any good story, which Allie realized as a kid by reading Stephen King novels.

Allie grew up in a small Massachusetts coastal town. He got into horror stories at a very young age and then comics as a teenager after a friend stuck into his hands a Wolverine comic book drawn by Frank Miller.

Hellboy was his first title at Dark Horse and has defined his career ever since. Hollywood even turned Hellboy into a series of movies about a well-intentioned demon’s effort to protect humanity.

At Dark Horse, Allie was lucky enough to work with Miller on Sin City, which was “amazing.”

Allie has since edited books Abe appeared in. A year ago, Allie and Mike Mignola gave the character his own title.

From Payson, Abe will travel to Texas for a big showdown in the Gulf Coast. “Threads that we set up in the Payson story reach a climax at the coast and at this point I’m wrestling with whether to set that in Galveston or make up a town that suits my needs.”

The first issue of the Payson story came out Wednesday and is available in comic shops everywhere and at the Dark Horse store, www.digital.darkhorse.com.

Allie named the Payson storyline To the Last Man after the Zane Grey film shot in Payson. The poster for the movie appears in the second issue.

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