Dark Horse Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie hosted a lively panel last Friday at New York Comic-Con on the company’s latest horror offerings. Announcements included new five-issue limited series called “Veil” by fan-favorite crime writer Greg Rucka with artist Toni Fejzula, and “Bad Blood” by horror novelist Jonathan Maberry with artist Tyler Crook.
In addition to Rucka and Maberry, the panel included Dan Braun, editor and contributing writer of the EC Comics revival series “Creepy” and “Eerie;” Alex de Campi, writer of “Grindhouse” and “Ashes;” Tim Seeley, who is writing “Ex Sanguine” and “The Occultist” for Dark Horse; and Beast of Burden writer Evan Dorkin.
De Campi described “Grindhouse” as “the comic your mother warned you about. Like literally when they said comics were bad for you, they were talking about ‘Grindhouse.’ It’s sex and gore, basically, and it doesn’t care what you think.”
Allie said “The Occultist,” by Seeley and artist Mike Norton, “is more of a superhero story, but with these guys doing it, it’s more of a horror title.”
Seeley said, “They told me it was Doctor Strange meets Peter Parker and I was like, ‘I’m in!’ He’s a guy who doesn’t really know how to control his magic powers but he fights like monsters and stuff. The goal was to make monsters that had no historical equivalent. You don’t know the rules. It’s crazy stuff.”
Maberry makes his Dark Horse debut with the graphic novel “Bad Blood.” Mayberry said, “I’d been doing superhero comics for Marvel since 2008 and this is my first step into horror comics, which is what I love to do anyways. Horror comics are my favorite things… This is the furthest thing from a superhero. It’s a kid with leukemia whose blood is toxic to vampires because of chemo. So his only superpower is that vampires get sick or die when they bite him. It’s not exactly a feel good story. It drops in January.”
Allie invited Rucka, a surprise guest, up to the stage to announce that he’ll be writing “Veil” for Dark Horse next year.
“[“Veil”] is very different from what I normally do… It is about a woman who appears one day in an abandoned subway station without a stitch of clothing, or any idea of who she is, how she got there, what she is, why she is,” Rucka said. “She has some rapidly acquired language skill that develops over the first issue or two. People die in horrible, horrible ways. Sometimes people who deserve it, sometimes people who don’t.”
Dorkin asked de Campi to help him out in describing the “Beasts of Burden.”
“‘Beasts of Burden’ is a horror book starring talking dogs, basically,” De Campi said. “Now you might think talking animals sounds really cutesy and Jill’s art is all watercolor and stunningly beautiful so that adds to it, but in the way that beautiful art only makes the dark stuff more dark. Evan is a really, really, really dark writer so when he gets to do these things it’s generally scary and it makes you cry when bad things happen to good creatures, which inevitably they do. It really touches you.”
Dorkin added, “It’s about talking animals but it’s not anthropomorphized or something like that. It’s hard to tell people about the book without showing it to them because, you know… talking animals.”
“Beast of Burden” started 10 years ago as an eight-page one-off story about a haunted doghouse. The new run will consist of a series of one-shots over the next couple years. Dorkin also revealed there’s a movie deal in the works, although he was pessimistic about the chances of it ever getting made.
Dorkin joked, “And if you hate animals, they get diced up pretty badly too!”
Scott asked Rucka how he came to “Veil.”
“I never set out to write crime, just like I never set out to write horror,” Rucka said. “This came about because you and I were having lunch and I said, ‘There’s this idea and that idea,’ and you said, ‘That idea!’ The nature of the idea definitely had traditional horror tropes to it. I love stuff like ‘The Omen’… I love the inevitability of horror… That kind of daunting horror, that realization that ‘Oh my god that guy just wandered into the worst possible situation for the best possible reasons. He was just trying to do the right thing and now his life is totally destroyed and no, we won’t even satisfy you with killing him. He has to live in misery, instead.’ That kind of horror appeals to me.”
Rucka added, “I’m the guy that doesn’t go to ‘Friday the 13th’ movies. I’m kind of squeamish. I don’t like them, I get scared.”
Seeley said, “I do a lot of these panels and every horror writer I’ve ever met was a total chicken shit as a kid. You want to control this stuff that used to scare the crap out of you.”
Dorkin agreed, adding that horror writers and directors that grow up loving gory stuff end up making weaker products as adults.
“I find the guys that love the bloody best of Fangoria as kids make the shittiest horror products,” Dorkin said. “They think it’s cool, and they don’t think why anything is happening. It’s just pornography. There’s nothing there. They watch horror movies and then you wind up with stuff like a Rob Zombie goof fest. Yeah, you have a great movie collection but the stuff you’re putting out there is [lacking.]… You get stuff like The Lovecraft Hotel [in their products.] Like, holy shit, I wonder if there’ll be trouble there!”
Maberry said, “The folks who can’t write effective horror tend to focus too much on the monster and not as much as the people opposing the monster, or the people affected by the monster… When the focus is on the monster you lose the connection to the emotions we should feel. I don’t write about monster, I write about people fighting monsters. It’s a completely different take… The monster element is fun, but it’s not the horror.”
Allie then opened the panel up to questions from the floor.
A fan asked the panel if they ever had an “aha” moment when they decided to become horror writers. Maberry revealed that he took a class as a child where he was able to meet both Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson. They gave him copies of their books “Something Wicked this Way Comes” and “I am Legend,” respectively, and it changed Maberry’s life. He asked them what they felt the scariest book was and they both answered “The Haunting” by Shirley Jackson. Maberry read it and it remains his favorite horror novel to this day.
Seeley revealed the moment he fell in love with horror was sneaking downstairs to watch “Fright Night” with his father when he was 8. He was so scared that he started coming up with his own horror ideas.
Dorkin said, “I love humor because life is hilarious and terrifying. I’ve
always liked horror but I guess my ‘aha’ moment was when Scott [Allie] asked me if I wanted to write some.”
When asked if suspense is hard to do in “Creepy” and “Eerie,” Braun said, “‘Creepy’ and ‘Eerie’ stories are generally 8-12 pages so you’re always thinking about that. You don’t have the luxury of 22 pages so you’ve gotta really think. If you’re just working backwards from the money shot, that’s not gonna work. You’ve gotta actually have a really good, really suspenseful story.”
Maberry added, “The payoff moment isn’t really the story. The story is what leads up to it and what happens afterwards and the after effects on the characters’ lives.”
De Campi pointed to the film “Alien” as a perfect combination of horror and suspense. “It’s basically a haunted house story in space.”
Dorkin added suspense in horror comes from the characters.
“It’s really easy to write stupid characters getting slaughtered,” Dorkin said. “It’s not easy to write smart characters or thinking characters getting slaughtered… Who the fuck goes into their own basement with a pitchfork and a shotgun? You leave the house. If you have to go to any part of your house with weapons, you’re not comfortable. Please leave the house. The person who goes over to the dead body and starts poking it and doesn’t take the knife away? That’s not suspense, that’s asshole.”
Dorkin gave “The Thing” as an example of a horror movie where every character does the smart movie, but they still get killed.
“They do the right thing every god damned time and ‘The Thing’ is incomparable in that way,” Dorkin said. “In the end of the movie, you don’t know what’s going on. It’s terrific! They keep doing the right thing, except for the whacko doctor, but they lose. They keep losing. Because this thing is not a guy named Bruno with an icepick. We know what we have to do with that guy. But a plant life vampire that assimilates you? That’s fucked up.”
Someone wanted to know if any of the panel members had inserted any of their own phobias into their work. Maberry said his biggest fear is Alzheimer’s or dementia, so he wrote a zombie story where the mind of the person who gets turned is still aware of the horrible things they’re doing but is powerless to stop it.
“By writing that story, it actually gave me a deeper insight into what the experience of dementia or Alzheimer’s might be,” Maberry said. “It was the first thing I wrote that totally creeped me out. Losing my ability to think and to articulate. I can’t imagine anything more personally frightening.”
Allie recalled the scariest experience in his life was when he was pulled out to sea by a riptide for 45 minutes while swimming.
“My wife was pregnant at the time and I was like, ‘Wow, I am never gonna see my son born.’ I resigned myself to that,” Allie said. “I used it in a story where a guy nearly drowned, and I plan on using it again. I will milk that throughout my life.”
Finally, a fan asked if anyone from the panel incorporates their nightmares into their writing.
“I think nightmares are formed by your real fears in daily life,” Braun said. “I know a lot of my nightmares are plane crashes or monsters. It’s always about something fairly real. I think nightmares are a deep well of inspiration if you remember them.”
Allie then brought the panel to a close by showcasing artwork from upcoming Dark Horse books including “Grindhouse,” “Veil,” “Bad Blood,” “Creepy” and Guillermo del Toro’s “The Strain.”