Dark Horse Comics hit the New York Comic Con in a big way this year. For horror fans, there are a ton of upcoming titles that you should be checking out. The publisher held a panel to discuss some of them and what else is hidden up the sleeves of the writers, artists, and creators. This was a great panel last year and dived into some great concepts of storytelling.
Joining the panel were Editor in Chief Scott Allie, Creepy writer Dan Braun, Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight writer Alex de Campi, The Occultist writer Tim Seeley, Bad Blood writer Jonathan Maberry, Veil writer Greg Rucka, and Beasts of Burden writer Evan Dorkin, who showed up late due to traffic and arguments with police officers. When introduced, Seeley was asked to describe The Occultist (which is one of my favorite titles). He explained that it was pitched to him as “What if Dr. Strange was Peter Parker?”, which is something I had never heard but makes total sense when looking at the comic. It gets dark and there are “undead carnivorous babies” in the new first issue and “people punch babies in the face.” Maberry and Rucka each gave brief descriptions of their upcoming titles. More information on each of these, as well as all of Dark Horse's horror announcements can be found in my recap.
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Dorkin was asked to explain Beasts of Burden a bit. This was a series of one-shots that came out over the course of a few years beginning in 2004 about a group of dogs and cats in a small town serving as supernatural detectives. It sounds corny but it's actually pretty good. Dorkin said “If you hate animals, they get diced up a bit.” He still gets letters from people about the comic and how it affected them. “I cared about this and then they severed its head.”
Scott Allie opened up the questions by asking if the writers are setting out to create fears. De Campi said that she tried to give the readers nightmares and make them uncomfortable. Film has it easy in how they develop scares and the same things that work there don't translate to comics so you have to work harder. When writing Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight, she aimed to put gore and/or boobs before page 10 and succeeded. “There's a dildo with broken glass on it” in an upcoming issue.
Rucka said that he never set out to write crime or horror comics, they just sort of happened. Veil came about after the writer had lunch with Scott Allie. He was tossing around a few ideas and Allie jumped at one. What works with stories is that you have “this poor guy wandering into the worst situation for the best possible reasons.” That makes so much sense to me.
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Seeley jumped in next saying that every horror writer he ever met was a total chicken shit as a kid. This created a great discussion between the writers discussing what makes a good horror story. By being terrified of stuff as a child, it makes the writer feel in control when writing a horror story. Dorkin, who stole the show in last year's panel and proceeded to do the same this time around, poked fun at a lot of clichés that pop up in modern day scary movies. “Lovecraft hotel? I wonder if there will be trouble there?” Dorkin went on to say that characters need to do things that are true to them and as a result, they end up in a shitty situation. Forcing a character to do something that doesn't make sense for them for the sake of moving the plot along is lazy writing.
Maberry said that he doesn't write about monsters. He writes about people fighting them. Many writers today are spending too much time with the monster and not enough time with the humans. The result is that you end up with characters you don't care about. He went on to tell a story of how he met Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson when he was in 7th grade. He asked both of them what they thought of as the scariest book ever. Both answered with The Haunting. He read the first paragraph and let it stew in his mind for a few days. It was this moment that led him to become a writer.
The concept of imagination was discussed briefly. Everyone agreed that you should leave something to the reader to figure out. De Campi said that you should take the reader to the edge of the cliff and give them just enough to let them go over on their own.
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Dorkin went into a brief tirade about the movie remake of The Haunting and how awful it was. His favorite horror movies probably star no one you've ever heard of. He's been told, “You don't like people, so I guess that's why you write horror”, which isn't true. His “A-ha” moment came when Scott Allie asked him to write something for money. We're all fortunate that happened because Beasts of Burden is pretty great. He also said, “We can fight about that later...with knives”, but I don't remember the context. It's worth mentioning though.
Dorkin also explained that what terrifies him now is different than earlier in his life. One of the issues of Beasts of Burden deals with the loss of a child, which is something that he's truly afraid of now that he's a parent. The idea of something happening to his kid is what keeps him up at night.
The group was asked if building suspense is difficult in comics. Braun said that you really just need a good story. Creepy collects a number of very short stories and manages to not only provide scares, but suspense too. Maberry reiterated the need to focus on the human element. De Campi pulled up the film Alien as an example of good suspense. The first half of the movie is boring as you watch some space truckers go about their routine. It's all build up to something later on.
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Piggybacking off of Maberry's earlier comment, Dorkin said that it's easy to kill stupid people in a story, but not so easy for smart people. “If you have to go into any part of your house with weapons, you should leave your house.”
Several of the writers said that one of the scariest stories they've read was The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft. The reason this hasn't been turned into a film is because nothing is sexy about fishes.
A fan asked if the writers ever put a phobia of theirs into their work. Maberry was writing a zombie novel when his father-in-law began suffering from Alzheimer's. The fear of losing his mental capacity was something that affected how the story developed. Allie said that he was swimming in the ocean once and was pulled out to sea by a riptide. His wife was pregnant at the time and as he was drifting out he had come to terms with the fact that he was probably going to die and that he would never see his child. He's since used this in at least two comics and will probably do so again. Dorkin had already spoke about his phobia earlier in relation to the loss or injury of a child but said that all horror writers put some element of this into their work. Lovecraft was afraid of Jews, brown people, and sex, and Cronenberg had a thing about zits.
The panel was wrapped up with a hasty look at some covers and interior art for some upcoming Dark Horse horror titles.
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