Back in 2002, the UPN television network aired the short-lived television program "Haunted." Horror on American television is something of a risky proposition and as happens far too often with horror programming, the show didn't last very long. Andrew Cosby, one of the show's co-creators, wasn't going to let that keep him down as he returns to horror this February in the three-issue mini-series "Damn Nation" from Dark Horse Comics.
"Damn Nation" begins with the discovery of a derelict Russian freighter off the coast of Miami, Florida. With the discovery of this ship, a virus is inadvertently unleashed on the unsuspecting citizens of the United States and soon enough the entire nation is a quarantine zone. "This gives us the setting for our tale," Cosby told CBR News earlier this week, "an apocalyptic landscape ravaged by a devastating plague that's wiped out most of the population. Many were evacuated during the initial stages of the outbreak, but others were left behind to either succumb to the virus or those infected by it. You see, the 'infected' are transformed into inhuman nocturnal predators driven by a single biological imperative: to feed. You might call them 'vampires,' but that's just because it's the handiest label available. We've intentionally stayed away from the 'v-word,' because the virus is constantly mutating, and what the infected will eventually become is something much darker and much stranger."
While that may be the basic setting of the world in "Damn Nation," Cosby notes the characters of this world are what really drive the story.
"Against the backdrop of this 'vampire apocalypse,' we will explore the true nature of evil - not merely as an external force of chaos and destruction, but as an internal struggle to overcome our darker nature. That's really what this story is about. It's about one man's struggle to redeem himself for the sins of his past, committed in the name of God and country. It's about a woman's revelation that there is more to living than just surviving. And it's about the painful truth that the real monsters aren't always out there hiding in the darkness. The real ones, the ones we should fear the most, are hiding in each and every one of us.
"Oh…and it looks real purty," continued Cosby. "Jason 'I'm not the guy from Seinfeld' Alexander is doing a fabulous job on the book. Fully painted spooky goodness abounds. When it comes to creepy atmosphere, this guy's the cat's pajamas (assuming you find cats in pajamas as creepy as I do)."
For Cosby, writing "Damn Nation" was his chance to do a vampire story that wasn't exactly a vampire story.
"See, for me, the vampire in movies, books, comics, etc. just isn't that scary any more. Unless you consider an undead guy in a Hugo Boss suit and wrap around shades dancing to thumping house music scary. He might be cool. But he ain't scary. It all started with Bram Stoker and his romanticized vision of the vampire, which was later reawakened in new and interesting ways in the works of Anne Rice (and those many who followed in her footsteps). Then 'Blade' (the movies) and '30 Days of Night' (the comics), took this leather-clad vamp about as far as he's ever going to go.
"What I wanted to do was a kind of devolution of the creature. Get away from all the modernisms and romantic imagery and return the monster to something much more primal and frightening. Strip the creature bare and start over. In short, I wanted to make the vampire scary again. No small task as it turns out. I'll let the readers be the judge on whether or not I was able to make a dent."
Cosby explained that he's trying for a bit more realism in "Damn Nation," while still maintaining those familiar aspects of vampirism (pale skin, bloodlust, aversion to sunlight, etc.) we're all familiar with.
"I want these suckers to be scary," said Cosby. "They're vicious, feral predators. They aren't mindless like zombies, but they also aren't intelligent enough to carry on meaningful conversations with one another. Put simply, they've got the cunning of a jungle cat. Every ounce of brainpower they've got left is focused on feeding -- like some kind of bipedal shark. It's a simple and profoundly miserable existence. Given the high concept of the books, I tried to be as realistic and scientific as possible. These are humans driven mad by an unquenchable bloodlust, tortured by a disease that's literally eating at them from the inside -- tearing them apart and rebuilding them on a cellular level. Every. Single. Night. They're essentially dying and being reborn. That's gotta hurt!"
The development process for "Damn Nation" involved a bit of trial and error. Working on the tone of the story, the characters and the rest presented a number of challenges and the influences on his story are many.
"What I initially set out to do was a kind of 'Heart of Darkness' story (think 'Apocalypse Now' with vampires) that would follow a group of highly trained, highly motivated individuals into a combat situation unlike any they'd ever encountered. In one sense, I was trying for a balance between Richard Matheson's 'I Am Legend' (love that book!) and James Cameron's 'Aliens' -- Military vs. Monster -- basically combining the character development and pathos of the one with the military action and more modern sensibility of the other. Along the way, I was hoping my chocolate would taste great with my peanut butter. Did it work? You be the judge."
"There's a unique chemistry between a boy and a killer, especially when framed by a redemption tale. Exploring that relationship on the page was very rewarding, and I knew I'd be able to touch on some of that with 'Damn Nation.'"
With movies like "28 Days Later" and "Dawn of the Dead," as well as host of other horror fiction, there's a common theme where the creatures of horror take over whole regions or nations of the world. Cosby points out that apocalyptic fiction of this nature is nothing new to the genre.
"Well, there's a lot of zombie stuff happening, and the end of the world setting is inherent to that genre. But aside from Matheson's 'I am Legend,' I haven't seen anyone do it with vampires. We've been worried about the end of the world for a long time now, long before the written word in fact, so it makes sense that that setting would repeat itself over and over again in popular fiction. If it's more prevalent now than it was 10 years ago, maybe that's because the world we live in seems to have gotten a lot more apocalyptic. Think about it. When people start flying planes into the sides of buildings, it's bound to make a lot of us sit back and think about how all of this might end. We're at war with an invisible enemy, and I'm not just talking about terrorism. Racism. Fascism. Fundamentalism. There are a lot of scary isms out there right now. Seems to me that vampirism is as good a metaphor as any."
"They paid me.
"The truth is that they paid me a lot!
"Aside from that, I guess you could say that we were of like mind on what this first mini-series could and should be, and on how far we could take it after that. Mike Richardson, Barry Levine and myself have been talking for years about doing a project together. We always thought it would be a movie. Who knew it would be a comic book first?
"See how I slipped that 'first' in there at the end? Hint hint."
As Cosby hinted above, provided the response is there you should be seeing more "Damn Nation" stories in the future. The writer says that the story in "Damn Nation" comes to a satisfying conclusion, but the world is still there at the end and there's plenty left to explore.
"I've intentionally done some world building with this first series, not only so that I can continue to follow the story of my main character(s), but also so that I can expand on their stories, reaching out to other characters just ripe for development. And like I said before, the virus is ever-evolving, so there's all sort of possibilities. New monsters. New characters. New environments. The opportunities to scare the crap out of you are virtually limitless."
With Cosby's background in film and television you'd expect that he's already shopping "Damn Nation" around town. Indeed that's the case, but Cosby says the real push into film or television won't happen until at least the first book is published.
"My goal right now is just to do a good comic and tell a good story," said Cosby. "That being said, we did luck into a video game development deal with Bits Studios out of London (the guys doing the 'Constantine' game for Warner Bros.) They happened to be cutting a deal with Dark Horse at the same time I was developing this comic. They saw the early stuff and new that it was perfect for a next gen horror survival game. So we're working on that in conjunction with the comics. And the game will continue where the comic story leaves off, taking the 'supernatural plague' concept to greater and darker heights. The guys at Bits Studios are really sharp. It's going to be a terrific game. Can't wait to get mine for free. You chumps will have to pay for yours. Sorry about that.
"Scott had an insider look at some of Jason's unpublished stuff and knew that he'd be perfect for 'Damn Nation,'" said Cosby. "At the time, I knew that I wanted moody and atmospheric, and that the book would be fully painted. Jason has all that in spades. As for his involvement in the story process, he's greatly involved, as he'll be the guy telling my story in pictures. Visual storytelling is everything in this medium. I don't care how good a script is, you get the wrong artist, and you're screwed. Jason Alexander is the right artist."
Outside of "Damn Nation," the writer's keeping busy with a host of other projects. Cosby is a producer on the upcoming "Mage" film, which Cosby says has been put on hold for the moment at Matt Wagner's request while Wagner works on closing a deal for another project of his. "Once that's done, we're out with 'Mage' again bigger and better than ever."
And the last time we spoke with Cosby he was working with artist Matt Haley on a new project, "G.I. Spy." The initial work the duo put together was printed in a Komikwerks anthology, but since then there hasn't been much movement.
"'G.I. Spy' is one of those pet projects. And those of us with pets know, sometimes you just have to put them away in a closet and forget about them for, oh, let's say, a year or so. It's like that saying about love. If you lock it in a closet and it's still there when you come back, it was always meant to be. I'm paraphrasing of course.
"The good news is that we're publishing a 'G.I. Spy' preview book through Atomeka as part of preparations for a big 48 page one-shot to follow shortly thereafter.
"So keep your eyes open."