Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door-
Only this, and nothing more.”
Most of you probably recognize the above passage as the opening to the timeless piece of poetry “The Raven” by American author Edgar Allan Poe. It’s one of the most famous and popular examples of American literature that’s influenced many a creator since it was originally published more than 150 years ago. Just one of those creators is Dawn Brown. The creator of the “Little Red Hot” series has a new, original graphic novel coming out this May called “Ravenous” from Speakeasy Comics. We spoke with Brown to learn more about the graphic novel and how Poe’s body of work played a role in the creation of “Ravenous.”
“Edgar Allan Poe believed that within each of us lurks the ability to commit evil deeds, and that every moment holds the possibility for sanity to crumble into madness,” Brown told CBR News. “This is a new, original graphic novel that explores the duality existing within each of us, and a grisly situation that drives a certain someone over the edge. A sleepy little town is caught in the clutches of a serial killer. All his victims are found sliced in two. Our story follows a young detective following the body trail, racing to piece together this mystery before the killer can strike again.
“Our narrator and hapless hero is Detective Mason. He’s a young hotshot who’s just arrived from the big city. Think Brad Pitt’s character from ‘se7en.’ He’s got the hots for his associate, Detective Catherine. She’s the beacon of reason, love and hope in this otherwise senseless, gloomy world. She’s the object of Mason’s affections and yet always remains just out of reach. And then we have The Red Death. It’s Mason’s imaginary personification of the yet unknown serial killer. It’s a powerful and merciless creature – a fictitious wraith symbolizing the bad guys the good guys are always fighting.”
A couple of years ago Brown was researching classic literature for her next “Little Red Hot” project when she happened upon the work of Edgar Allen Poe. “I noticed how a lot of [Poe’s] stories were more or less the same, he would just change the situations and the characters. I thought it might be interesting to strip these stories down to that common framework, and lay new stories on top.
|Pages 4 & 5 of “Ravenous”|
“There’s a common theme that runs through all his work, an honesty about the dark side of human nature, something I’ve always been interested in,” explained Brown. “I had to resume my day job for a while and work on a few movies, all the while this project was brewing – no longer a vehicle for ‘Little Red Hot,’ but as something entirely of it’s own. About a year ago I was able to resume this project full-time, and ‘Ravenous’ was born!”
For those of you new to Brown’s work, her name has been absent from the comic industry since 2002, when she did some work on “Vampirella” in 2002. Before that she had two “Little Red Hot” series published by Image Comics. In the last three years, though, her work in the film industry as a set designer has kept her away from the drawing board, busily designing the sets on four films back-to-back without a break. “I went from Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Solaris,’ to Tim Burton’s ‘Big Fish,’ then I worked with the Coen brothers for a remake of ‘The Ladykillers’ and then a Bruce Willis movie called ‘Hostage.’ It’s all freelance in the film industry, so it’s wise to work when you have the opportunity.
“After ‘Hostage,’ I had about six months off to do all the drawings for ‘Ravenous.’ Then in July I started another film, Michael Bay’s ‘The Island,’ which will be out this summer. I painted ‘Ravenous’ during my evenings, lunch hours, and weekends while working on ‘The Island.’ Whew!”
|Two of the “sets” built by Brown for “Ravenous.” Top picture is outside Cat’s apartment, bottom is the interior of the police station.|
Since the debut of “Little Red Hot” about seven years ago, Brown says her art process has evolved, becoming easier and more streamlined. Brown explained that she’s taken a cue from her day job of building movie sets to help with the design process on “Ravenous.” “I built models for most of the ‘sets’ in this story, light them properly and shoot them with a digital camera. I do a line drawing over the photographs, scan it into Photoshop and paint the pages digitally. For the figures, on previous projects, I used to look for poses from books and magazines, but that took too long. Then I used to hire models, but that became too expensive. This time around I used these artist’s reference figures. I could position them however I wanted in the models and get some really great perspectives – bird’s eye views – to illustrate that the ravens are watching everything.”
And while the technical approach has evolved quite dramatically, the mental approach to making comics remains the same. “The story has to come first,” said Brown. “I decide the message, or the feeling I want to leave the reader with, and work backwards. The bottom line in ‘Little Red Hot’ is about committing yourself to doing whatever it takes to get what you want, and having faith in yourself that you can get there. The bottom line in ‘Ravenous’ is about acknowledging that we are innately good and evil. We always have a choice which side to embrace, and have to face the repercussions that go with that choice. Both of these are very simple concepts, the part I figure out first. That’s the seed, and the details branch out from there.”
Previously, Brown has set-up her comics work with Image, but this time out she’s hooked up with Adam Fortier and Speakeasy Comics. “They say everything happens for a reason, and maybe I’m just not supposed to be with Image anymore. Time to move on! Last year I was shopping this project to potential publishers when I read (on CBR, no less!!) about the call for submissions for Speakeasy Comics. I submitted my project to Adam just as everyone else was invited to. Obviously I’m thrilled he digs the book. There’s a great energy at the beginning of a new company. The enthusiasm and potential is sky-high. I find that very appealing, I am exactly where I’m supposed to be!”