In his over two decades of comic book experience writing and illustrating comics, Daniel Brereton has amassed an impressive resume. As a writer, he’s tackled characters like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Superman, and as an artist he’s worked with other A-list creators, like Howard Chaykin (“Thrillkiller”) and Walt Simonson (“Legends of the World’s Finest”).
But for most fans, it’s Brereton’s creator-owned series that resonates strongest. A pulpy adventure story that combines horror, action and superheroes, “Nocturnals” turns 20 this year and to celebrate, Brereton is releasing “Nocturnals: Legend.” Not a graphic novel and not an art book, it combines brand new art with letters and behind the scenes details in the characters’ voices, making it an essential volume for old fans and a great introduction for new readers.
CBR News: Has it really been twenty years since the “Nocturnals” first debuted?
Dan Brereton: Yes! You know, I first pitched “Nocturnals” in early 1993, after the concept coalesced the year previous from my notebooks and sketchpads. They’d been building in my mind for years before — some of the characters had been showing up in my personal work since the early ’80s. Doc Horror was the central character then, because I figured most male readers weren’t going to identify with Halloween Girl.
After finally settling on Malibu Comics as publisher, I began writing and painting the miniseries in earnest around Halloween of 1993. Issue #1 hit stores in December of 1994. You’d think it would make a person feel old, realizing its been two decades, but to be honest, it makes me feel like its time to get back to work. They never really leave me. I think about them when I’m not working on a story, and when I am, I can’t get the thing done fast enough because five more ideas are piling up to follow. But its difficult to do one creator-owned project after another when you don’t want to share ownership and you’re painting the damn book. And many other juicy ideas and projects come along and you get caught up in those, too. But I always come back around to “Nocturnals.”
Do you remember where the idea for “Nocturnals” originally came from?
It came from all over the place! It was a stew that brewed for years, I think. There were a bunch of characters in my sketchbooks, Halloween Girl and the Gunwitch especially. It wasn’t until I was flying over the Atlantic on the way to Scotland that Doc Horror came into being.
Back then, the idea was called “Doc Horror’s Pawn Shop.” He was a bit more sinister then, and the plot was ambiguous and not very heroic. Gradually the story evolved — I didn’t realize it then, but it owes an awful lot to the old pulp stories. Much of the inspirations came from work that started in the Pulps, and I gradually came to see this, which was a relief because it honestly didn’t fit into any category of the time in comics, film, TV. It wasn’t strictly superheroes, horror, or crime — it was all those things, with other influences as well. I had it in mind to do something inspired by the stories of Hammett, Chandler, Lovecraft, supernatural crime. A hard-boiled monster hybrid, laced with elements of Halloween. A much better title came to mind a few months later and “The Nocturnals” storyline began to come together very rapidly. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I remember bringing some drawings to this industry-centered convention in Oakland, called Pro Con, and sheepishly showing them around. A few publishers turned out to be interested, which amazed me. After that the hook was firmly in place. It just had me.
I’m sure readers have their own opinions, but for you, what has changed about the Nocturnals over the years?
Off the top of my head, I’d have to say the biggest change is probably Evening. Halloween Girl became more of the focus. She began as a spooky kid with a big smile and a pumpkin full of protective ghosts — but with each successive story, she became more central to things. I didn’t plan it — in the beginning, Doc was the leader, it was his story. Eve has really broken out since then. Partly, it’s her impetuousness, a total lack of concern about getting into dangerous predicaments, because she is almost fearless. She finds joy in situations other kids would never get themselves into willingly. I’m fascinated by her. Eve’s abilities are growing and evolving as her personality matures, and I am anxious to explore these changes. She gets a little older in each story, too, probably because my kids were getting older as the years passed. But I’m keeping her a kid, there has to be a cap on that.
Starfish, who began as a tough, gun-toting amphibian girl, turns out to be the Queen of Sea Monsters! I had no clue about this going into it in 1993. The Raccoon began as a nasty villain, but gradually he’s inching toward redemption. Doc is less haunted by the past, and more rooted in raising his daughter and making the world safe for her. I guess its natural — over the years their individuality can’t help but emerge.
What about the characters and the concept keeps you interested after all these years?
What keeps me interested is this: Twenty years later, I’ve barely scratched the surface of their world, their saga. After all these years, no other stories have been more captivating. I care more about them, understand them better, and what makes them tick. The benefit of having over 20 years to think about all of it, I suppose.
Conversely, I want to see them get into more real danger, more scarring situations. This comes from a desire to see them get stronger and really live on the page. When we’re tested, character emerges — or fails us — and the less comfortable we are, the more inventive and clever we need to be. Or we lose. It’s exciting to discover what’s around the corner in terms of story, just as it’s fascinating to me to delve deeper into their heads. My favorite stories are ones where a character I know and love turns out to have a side previously undiscovered, but also feeds into who they are — complements them. That’s so cool.
“Nocturnals: Legend,” which is coming out in November, isn’t really a comic book-style story.
It’s a 9×12 hardcover volume, advertised at 168 pages, but we are looking into expanding the page count, provided this would not increase the retail price once bit. It will have a 6-page fold-out piece, and its packed with page after page of art — much of it never before published. For years, I have been saving up scores of pieces of Nocturnals-related art — drawings, pin-ups, commissions, concepts, painting after painting. After producing four hardcover art collections, and monographs about my work in general, I was holding back on all this material. I had always planed to do a retrospective “Art of Nocturnals” book when we hit 20 years. As the anniversary approached, it became apparent this was the last thing I wanted to do! I want to tell stories, and I want this to be about them, not my experience. Readers and fans of the characters don’t want to hear from me — they want more stories, and more light shed on the characters. So alongside the art filling this book, we’ll hear from them. Interviews, journal entries, letters, sound bites and other, I guess you could say epistolary-style writings. The overall picture is an illuminating one. For those folks who are new to the characters, this book will prime them to read the stories and graphic novels. For those who are well-familiar, there are treats and morsels — and even a few revelations.
Was it easy to get back into the character’s voices?
Normally, they are all very distinct in my mind, but I had to start somewhere to get things rolling, so it seemed natural to begin with Eve. It’s all her project, you see, her idea. Since the Nocturnals must by necessity remain a secret from the world, she’s documenting who they are, as no one ever can or will. It was a challenge to find to that pre-teen voice — and there are two: The inner voice, and the everyday. Once I got into her head, it all flowed. From there, you’re following links in the chain that encircle them. The sorts of thoughts and ideas and history which can’t be covered in a story. Questions people have asked for years. Questions I’ve asked myself and have avoided answering. I was somewhat surprised at the direction the writing took. You don’t always end up where you expect.
What has the experience been like, working with Big Wow on this project?
I’ve always enjoyed working with Steve Morger, who is Big Wow Art. He has been my collaborator for years on two sketchbooks, three hardcover art books and various prints. I have a booth in his Big Wow Art island each year at SDCC. He has always supported my work and been a great friend, and a friend to artists in general. Working with him is always easy — always an atmosphere of freedom and support, an exchange of ideas. He is very much a patron of the arts and artists. And because he’s not a big company, I don’t ever feel lost in the shuffle, because there isn’t any shuffle. Most importantly, he loves the Nocturnals — and has always wanted a shot at publishing them. Things clicked, we have similar ideas for the direction Nocturnals should take from here on out. I’m very dedicated and serious about returning to the property and doing more. “Nocturnals: Legend” kicks off a hopeful new phase for both of us. We are very anxious to reconnect with the loyal readers as well as bring new ones into the fold.
You also have also another new art book, this one a more traditional art book, “Enchantress.” Talk a little about what you wanted to do with the book.
“Enchantress” is a 96 page 8.5×11 hardcover. The theme centers on a nameless, magical figure and her gallery of fantastic and legendary ladies. It features several pieces done specifically for the book. Over the course of a year, I tend to do a lot of personal and private pieces that don’t always see publication, and its great to collect the best examples of these and other works in a single volume. So far, this is the third in the Big Wow Art series. The previous books we did were “Siren” and “Sorceress.” Prior to this, I did my first art book with Image called “The Goddess & The Monster.” “Enchantress” is set to hits stores the same week as “Nocturnals: Legend.”
You said “‘Nocturnals: Legend’ kicks off a hopeful new phase for both of us,” so I’ll ask the question a lot of us are wondering — will there be more “Nocturnals” in the near future?
As Steve and Big Wow Art have primarily published art books, moving to the graphic storytelling medium would be a new phase for him. For my part, seeing this happen with Nocturnals is my sincere intention and our emerging focus. I’ve been wrangling the idea of new material in graphic storytelling form since 2008, when “Nocturnals: Carnival of Beasts” hit.Â Since then, I have managed to produce a limited amount of material, but it’s been very difficult to produce new pages working on spec, so to speak. So we’ve been planning a comeback — working out a plan to allow me the time and space to devote full-time to “Nocturnals.”
I can’t give any details yet, but I’ll make a prediction:Â Next year will see our plans coalesce from shadows and dreams into something tangible we can all hold in our hands. I consider this my primary reason for being a comic book creator, and staying in this medium. I’m going to do more “Nocturnals.”