No one knows voodoo like they do.
“Duppy’78” is as modern a comic production as one can get. Writer Casey Seijas and artist Amancay Nahuelpan met on Facebook in 2009, with Seijas based in the United States and Nahuelpan in Canada. And to top it off, both editors on the book are based in England. So it only makes sense that the publisher, Com.x, is digitally-based.
Seijas and Nahuelpan have never met one another in person, but that certainly didn’t stop them from creating a chilling graphic novel about the underbelly of Jamaican crime in the late ’70s, and the voodoo that comes into play when a crime lord is assassinated during a ceasefire. According to Seijas, the audience for this particular brand of nasty, are folks who enjoy J-horror and crime; and it’s sure to live up to that description with Nahuelpan on art duties. Both creators spoke with CBR News about the digital production of “Duppy’78,” which goes on sale in early January; their influences and their beliefs in the supernatural.
CBR News: Casey, let’s talk about the premise behind “Duppy’78.” But let’s go deeper than the solicit. What’s the story about and who would you say your target audience is?
Casey Seijas: “Duppy’78” takes place primarily in Kingston, Jamaica in the summer of 1978 — which, historically, was a very important year for the country; definitely worth a Google if you’re interested. Anyway, the story follows three crime lords — I’m calling them Dons — named Johnny “Too Bad” Bustamante, Martin Isaac and Chris Mansfield. Each of these guys has a loyal army, an equal piece of the criminal underworld and, most importantly, an Obeahman. The Obeahman — which is a bit misleading since, in this story, they are actually kids — is known as a Duppy Conqueror. In other words, he or she can control or defend against the Duppy, which in Rastafarian culture is a spirit of the dead; sometimes they’re benevolent, but more often than not, Duppies will play tricks on people, inflict bodily harm or can steal someone’s shadow.
Essentially, the story starts to ramp up when one of the Dons is assassinated during an agreed-upon ceasefire during a week-long festival, which not only abruptly ends the peace and kicks-off a gangland retaliation war between the three factions, but also causes his Obeahman to unleash a somewhat literal Hell on Earth as he builds up a wall of supernatural protection, inadvertently throwing the city into chaos. It’s up to the two surviving Dons — who begrudgingly have to trust each other — and the other two Obeahman to put an end to the violence before the city crumbles.
As for the target audience, the high concept is “The Harder They Come” meets “Ju-on,” “Ringu” and other J-horror classics, with a healthy dash of “Akira” thrown in for good measure. So if you happen to like any of those things, or horror or crime comics in general, I think you’ll dig the story. That said, I definitely wouldn’t consider this to be “light” reading by any stretch; if you’re a fan of the Nicholas Sparks genre of feel-good literature, I highly recommend you pass on “Duppy’78.”
Amancay, how did you get involved in the project? And what type of visuals, what type of research did you do to nail down the macabre, the voodoo, of the book?
Amancay Nahuelpan: I got involved in the project back in 2009. It was around April or May of that year that Casey got in touch with me through Facebook. It was just when I was moving back to Canada from Chile. I started working on the pages a couple of weeks after I had arrived to Vancouver and split a part time job I had at the time with drawing the pages of “Duppy’78,” until I finished the inked book in 2010. So it’s been a long, long ride since we first started working on this, which makes me even happier to finally see it out there.
In terms of visual references, Casey had tons of them. He sent me some Jamaican ’70s movies, photo references and all sorts of material to get in the mood of the story he wanted me to tell. The only thing I wished we would’ve done for “better research” was having a trip to Jamaica. I also did some research on my own for the visual of the book, lots of character study of faces and clothing, for the Duppy demons, I Google-searched some really creepy stuff that gave me the chills more than once, but helped captured that macabre feel.
Your work has a distinct look and feel, a certain weight that adds a visceral touch to the story. How did you get started in the arts, and who are some of your influences?
Nahuelpan: It’s funny, because my style in “Duppy’78” and what I do now has changed quite a bit. It has definitely evolved. Every time I go back to those pages I go, “Man I could have done that better or should have done that this way,” etc. But I guess that’s something that happens to every artist. Also, the fact that I finished those pages so long ago makes it feel even more different. It’s as creepy and visceral as it can get, and that’s what we were aiming for. If someone reads this book and has nightmares, I guess we’ve done our job.
As many artists, I’ve been drawing since I can remember, but it was in high school when I really got serious about making comics. There was nothing really close to comics or animation in the city in Chile, where I was living at the time, so I went to the university to study Interior Design, but my passion was always making comics. Finally, in 2006, I had the chance to publish a miniseries called “Hijos de P” in Chile, which I wrote and illustrated. After that, I had some Zuda participation in their monthly contests, “Duppy’78” and since then, I’ve been working on anthologies, with other writers on some stories, hopefully soon to be published, and my own GN.
My biggest influences of all time have been Travis Charest, Eduardo Risso, Greg Capullo and Adam Hughes. Nowadays I’m a big fan of Sean Murphy, Yanick Paquette, Olivier Coipel, and Zach Howard. Casey, how did this project land at Com.x? Seijas: I’ve known Eddie Deighton at Com.x for several years now. I first connected with him back during my early days at “Wizard” magazine when I was a staff writer. I used to cover the indie comics beat and wrote a monthly review column called “Secret Stash,” and covered a lot of Com.x’s books like “Bazooka Jules,” “Cla$$war,” “Puncture” and so on. Needless to say, Com.x has always been one of my favorite independent publishers out there in terms of the quality of their books, the actual finished products, the talent that has passed through there and the wide range of stories they produce.
Anyway, between doing the research and actually sitting down to plot and write the script, I’d been working on “Duppy’78” for several years prior to pitching it. But because I worked within the industry as a reporter and/or editor, I had to sit on it until there wasn’t a conflict of interest, so to speak. When I eventually found myself freelancing after being part of a mass layoff at MTV, I decided then was as good a time as any to pitch the idea, and honestly, Com.x was the first place I went to. They bought it, and here we are today.
What’s the collaboration process like between the two of you? And what type of role did editorial have?
Seijas: To me, it’s been a cool experience in working with someone creatively in the modern age, mostly because Amancay and I have never actually met each other in real life, and this whole book happened over email and file sharing. It’s a far cry from the halcyon days of the original “Marvel Bullpen” — as we were finishing this book, it was being created in four completely different time zones in three different countries, so I think that’s really interesting to see that evolution.
As far as collaborating with Amancay, the guy’s a nightmare — overly demanding, never hit deadlines, incredibly unprofessional, hates puppies — I’m kidding!! The dude’s been awesome and is remarkably talented. I know it’s only a matter of time until he’s scooped up by a smart editor and makes a genuine career out of his art.
How we collaborated — I was a fan of Amancay’s work when I first saw it in “Clandestino” — you could see the potential he had early on, and it’s clear to see his progression as an artist with every passing panel in “Duppy’78.” So short of writing the script and then giving him some reference for character designs, I tried to sit back and let him have fun with the project. At least, I hope that’s the way I came across!
Also, the colorist on the book, Daniel Warner, deserves a lot of credit, too. He came on a bit later in the process and took on this giant, screaming mountain of a project for little more than a book credit, and the guy truly rocked the house. I owe him, like, a million drinks the next time I see him.
Editorially, I think this was a big learning experience for everyone involved. I mean, my time as an editor at Vertigo kind of prepared me for this, but being on the other side of that screen as a creator was a completely different world. I realized quickly just how important the role of an editor truly is. Eddie and Ben Shahrabani played that role at Com.x and provided invaluable feedback that made the story a thousand times better. Granted, it was a lot of extra work — just in a sense of, “I thought we were done, now I have to re-write 15 pages?!” — but I’m really proud of the finished product and appreciate Eddie and Ben’s input.
Nahuelpan: As Casey says, this was a very “modern age” working experience, as I was first in Chile when he approached me through Facebook, then I moved to Canada. Com.X is in England, and Casey and Dan in the States, so we’ve never crossed paths. It’s funny that after all these years we’ve never met. There’s writers I’ve been working with for even a shorter time that I’ve met in person. But yeah, from the beginning it was great working with Casey. He gave me a lot of creative freedom, so that made me feel more invested in the project. There would be times where I’d suggest changing a panel or the storytelling of the page or even adding an extra page, so I felt that collaborative flow working all the time. Same thing with Com.X — Eddie and Ben have always believed in the project from the get go, and have done a great job with the final product, It really looks great. Also, those extra 15 pages Casey had to re-write? I had to re-draw them.
Speaking of editorial, Casey you’ve worked both sides — writing and editing. Have you been able to apply best practices you picked up along the way as an editor to your writing craft?
Seijas: Yeah, as I mentioned, the one thing I definitely took from this experience is just how important an editor’s role is on a book. Looking back on my time at Vertigo, MTV and Wizard, I can confidently say I was a pretty lousy editor. I mean, I think I had some key strengths, otherwise I don’t think I would’ve been hired on at those places, but in terms of really being part of the creative process and giving feedback, I definitely could’ve done a better job at that.
Regarding best practices, I definitely brought a lot of my background as an editor over to writing — knowing the value of a deadline and how it’s a show of respect to the other people working on the project, understanding the craft and everyone’s role creatively, and truly appreciating the talents of everyone involved. But I was also extremely fortunate to be able to work with some of the best writers — both in terms of comics and journalism — to see how they operate, and needless to say, I learned a lot that way, in a fundamental sense. I’d highly recommend to anyone that wants to be a writer, they should also spend some time as an editor, and vice versa — you’ll learn a lot about what to do, and more importantly, what not to do.
The closest I’ve ever been to voodoo is having someone read my tea leaves in New Orleans for thirty bucks. Fun, but not very harrowing stuff. What about you guys? Any hair-raising or interesting experiences
Seijas: For me, sadly, no, I’ve never had any sort of supernatural experience — is it weird that I really want one, though? I mean, to me, ghosts are one of the only “real” monsters out there — like, rational adults out there will tell you they believe in them or have a story about a supernatural encounter. No one ever talks about the time they were in their creepy attic and saw a Frankenstein monster — you’d think they were crazy — but make that a ghost in the attic and you can almost believe them.
But yeah, I’ve never had that type of experience. At the risk of getting too philosophical, as scary as I’m sure something like that would be, in a weird way it would be cool, because it would be proof — at least to this atheist — that maybe there’s something else beyond this life, you know? So yeah, any ghosts out there, please feel free to give me a good haunting — you’d be doing me a solid!
Nahuelpan: Unfortunately, I haven’t had any hair-raising stories either. I’ve reached a point where I don’t believe in any supernatural thing. I don’t believe in ghosts, or spooky stuff. Even when I watch a horror movie, it’s [hard] for me to really get scared, because I’m thinking of how they made that special effect. I’ve been in houses where people totally freak out because they hear noises or weird stuff going around, and I can only think it’s the woods of the house stretching, or a couple of nails missing in the floor. That said, I wouldn’t walk alone in a cemetery — not because of the spirits, but because of some crazy guy that could show up with a gun or something. The living people scare me more than dead people. The closest I’ve been to some sort of supernatural thing was my sister’s friend who read my cards, and said that I’d live in a different country. I guess that she nailed that. I say let’s have a trip to some really creepy haunted house somewhere!