Photo Credit: Disney Press
Alex Hirsch shocked his legions of fans when he announced that his incredible Disney XD show Gravity Falls would be coming to an end this past February, after a run of just two seasons. The lead-up to the series finale involved Paste’s first (and thus far only) live-tweeted binge-watching marathon, and the finale itself brought things to just about the most beautiful ending possible. Then, just like that, Gravity Falls was over.
But true fandom never dies, especially not one as rabid as the one Hirsch has cultivated over the past few years. The series left some mysteries unsolved, some secrets untold, some weirdness in the shadows. And so, in addition to the treasure hunt that’s currently engrossing the show’s acolytes, Hirsch and a few other members of the GF creative team developed a real-life version of Journal 3, the book discovered by protagonist Dipper Pines in the series premiere that serves as his most important resource in dealing with the strange and terrifying adventures upon which he and his sister Mabel embark.
It’s a must-have for any fan of the show. If Journal 3 (available at Amazon now) were just full of the illustrations of paranormal creatures Dipper encounters in the series, accompanied by the instructions he uses to defeat them, this novel would be little more than a novelty. Instead, it’s a full-on extension of the Pines family’s story—most specifically, the story of Stanford Pines, who emerged from an interdimensional portal halfway through the second season, and quickly introduced the turbulent plot elements that sent Gravity Falls rocketing toward its thrilling conclusion.
Journal 3 mostly takes the form of Ford’s first-person narrative, covering the time from the six-year anniversary of his arrival in Gravity Falls, Oregon, to his burial of the book, following the tragic incident that destroyed his assistant Fiddleford McGucket’s mind and revealed Bill Cipher to be a villainous, all-powerful chaos demon. These events are only discussed in passing in the show; here, they’re given the full, mesmerizing, heartrending treatment they deserve. Ford’s life plays out like a Classical Greek tragedy, and the horror that made the show stand out among other (ostensibly) kids’ programs translates just as well to the page.
Aside from Ford’s story—which also includes a summary of his crazy, 30-year-long interdimensional odyssey—we also get a handy and humorous diary-style recap of the show itself from Dipper and Mabel, that serves to fill in the inner monologues we couldn’t see and answer some burning questions the show left unanswered. Among the notable cameos: Wax Larry King’s head and the idea of Dipcifica. The absence of Jason Ritter and Kristen Schaal’s iconic voice acting is palpable at first, but in a testament to the strength of Gravity Falls’ writing, the twins’ personality comes across quite effectively within a few pages of their seizing the narrative.
On top of all that (oh, and the revelation of Dipper’s birth name), there are ciphers upon ciphers strewn throughout Journal 3, because this is Gravity Falls and of course there are ciphers. The end result is a book as fascinating as it is touching, a worthy addendum to an extraordinary universe.
Paste caught up with Gravity Falls creator Alex Hirsch to talk about Journal 3, celebrity fans of the show and more.
Paste Magazine: It’s been awhile since Gravity Falls wrapped up in February. When you look back on the show from this distance, how do you feel about it?
Alex Hirsch: I feel good! Gravity Falls was a labor of love, but like all labor it could be painful at times. I’m glad the show-baby is finally birthed from my brain-womb and can finally run around on its own, without keeping me up all night with its deadline-contractions. This metaphor is kinda breaking down here. The point is, shows are babies and I’ve been enjoying my vacation!
Paste: When did the idea to create a physical manifestation of Journal 3 come to you? Were there any difficulties jumping back into the world of Gravity Falls after some time away?
Hirsch: Whenever I ask fans what their Gravity Falls dream merchandise would be, the first answer is always “THE JOURNAL!” Either that or “MY OWN LIVING PET PIG.” One of those was easier to ship to stores than the other. I’m grateful that Disney Publishing had the vision to listen to the fans, trusted me to make it exactly the way I wanted. Now, if only the DVD department would take notice!
As for the actual work, jumping back into the world of Gravity Falls was like putting on a comfortable flannel jacket I’ve worn 100 times. I thought about nothing but the Pines Family for four years, so my brain is packed with stories, ideas, jokes that never made it into the series for one reason or another. This journal was a great way to introduce some of those lost ideas, and to create a parting gift to our fans.
Paste: This isn’t just a glimpse at pages the show’s fans will remember—it’s Ford’s full-blown story, packed with crushing hubris and riveting adventure. Going into this project, how did you anticipate balancing the narrative aspects with the snapshot profiles of Gravity Falls’ weirdness?
Hirsch: Canonically, the journal belonged to Ford, then was picked up and continued by Dipper, so much of the book’s story needed to chronicle their adventures to fit that canon. That being said, I wanted the journal to feel like the one Dipper has in the show. Whenever he flips it to a random page, there’s always some silly/terrifying monster. So I tried to spread the creatures out evenly enough that you had a high chance of running into one, even while in the middle of backstory.
Paste: Did any of the characters or storylines grow in unexpected ways? And if so, was that strange, given that the series is over?
Hirsch: For the most part, everything in here lines up with how I’ve always imagined these characters. In my mind these characters have lives that extend way beyond the strict 21-minute time limit placed on them in the TV episodes. This is a little glimpse beyond that border.
Paste: What were the biggest mysteries you felt you needed to address with this book?
Hirsch: I wanted to give a little insight into how someone as smart as Ford could do something as monumentally stupid as joining forces with a demon like Bill. Everyone has blind spots, and Ford’s was his own ego. I think the world is full of people like Ford—”smart” people who become so in love with their own reflection that they end up losing the world around them. I also wanted to give a glimpse into Ford’s bizarre 30-year romp through other dimensions. That was something we always wanted to show in the series, but could never find a way to fit into our main storyline.
Paste: You’ve got laudatory quotes from Guillermo Freakin’ Del Toro and R. L. Stine on the back jacket cover. Talk to me about that.
Hirsch: A weird show attracts weird fans! GDT and RLS have tweeted praise of Gravity Falls before, so I thought I’d be overly presumptive and ask them for quotes. Im still in shock they said yes! For two masters of horror, they are ridiculously nice. So nice… it’s spooky.
Paste: What strange new Journal 3 creations make you the proudest? Anything you wish you could go back and add?
Hirsch: The only thing I wish I could add are black light messages, like in the series. But I’ve been told that if this book sells well enough they may consider a special edition.
Paste: But seriously, you’ve managed to ride the line between fan service and an independent creative path remarkably well throughout Gravity Falls’ history, including in Journal 3. How have you done it?
Hirsch: With Twitter and Tumblr, it’s easy to get lost in the tidal wave of feedback from fans. I try not to listen so much to any particular fan, but rather to the general aggregate of feelings, and even then, only if I agree. When fans seemed to unanimously indicate that they were bored with Dipper pining over Wendy after Season One, I ended that story and ramped up the mystery Season Two.
I think the key as a creator is to just trust your own intuition, and follow your passion and trust that if you make something you love, an audience who loves it will find it.
Paste: You’re currently developing an animated series—we’ll assume it’s going to involve some exciting, new, non-Gravity Falls world and characters. Can you tell us anything about it?
Hirsch: Everything I’m in the process on right now is top secret. But I know Gravity Fans fans like secrets. And I hope they like what I’m cooking up next!
Paste: Regardless, you have to know fans will be craving a Gravity Falls spin-off after this. Would you mind ranking these ideas in order of likelihood of ever being made? The Interdimensional Chronicles of Stanford Pines, Dream Boy High 5: Xyler and Craz Go To College and Northwest-ed Development.
Hirsch: Believe it or not, Gravity Falls as we know it really is done. Every week or so, someone creates some fake photoshopped tweet of mine saying “LOLZ OMG SEEZON 3 IS ANNOUNCED.” And people believe it and descend on my Twitter in droves saying things like “CONFIRMED,” or “DAD.” Seriously, what’s the deal with kids on Twitter calling people “dad?” It’s a thing now, and it creeps me out. Cut that out. I’m not your dad! Probably.
Seriously though, I love the world of Gravity Falls, but I need to move on to other things for now. Although I have been considering Gravity Falls comics. We’ll see what Disney Publishing says. Fingers crossed!