Brereton Stays Up With "Nocturnals"

Writer-artist Dan Brereton grew up in San Francisco's Bay Area, where he used to wander the many hills, discovering hidden gullies and valleys along the way. There, the young Brereton and his friends would battle one another with fake swords, catch newts and snakes and lizards, and engage in other assorted activities that only a child can dream up. Little did Brereton know at the time that his childhood games and this remote locale would eventually inspire his creator-owned series, "Nocturnals."

"The idea of a small town just off the beaten track that conforms to its own laws and forces is not part of my childhood - it's found in crime fiction and horror, too," Brereton explained to CBR News of the setting for "Nocturnals," his self-written and painted comic book originally released in 1994. "'Nocturnals' is about the things we don't know about going on just off our beaten paths. It's about monsters and criminals and family and friends. But mostly, it's about monsters."

Olympian Publishing previously collected a significant chunk of "Nocturnals," and in July, Image Comics will release a second hardcover of Brereton's work - "Nocturnals: The Dark Forever and Other Tales" - with the two volumes combining to encompass "about 90% of what exists" in the "Nocturnals" universe. Brereton spoke with CBR News about the upcoming collection, giving pause to not only look back upon the history of "Nocturnals" - how it was developed, the specific stories he's told, his collaborations with other creators - but also towards his future plans for the series.

CBR: For newcomers to the "Nocturnals" universe, can you describe the premise and some of the lead characters?

DAN BRERETON: Doc Horror is a scientist who escaped with his daughter to our parallel world and found work in the sleepy coastal town of Pacific City as an aging mobster's physician and enforcer. In the meantime, his daughter Evening - also known as Halloween Girl - was found to have special gifts, and the supernatural aspects of [Doc Horror's] new home began to surface. Night creatures and societal outcasts were drawn to this place and to Doc. Eventually, he gathered together his own crew [to combat these creatures] and they have become a family over time.

Some of the crew consist of the Gunwitch, a resurrected gunslinger who is perhaps the oldest creature alive fighting monsters and supernatural evil; Polychrome, once a vengeful wraith, she was able to escape the mania of vengeful ghost to evolve into a being of pure spirit energy, and remains pacifistic in her outlook and a mother figure to Eve; The Raccoon, a lab-raised hybrid who escaped to a life of criminal notoriety until joining Doc's band for love of a tough-talking amphibian girl, Starfish, another of Doc's crew; and Firelion, a flame-generating android who lives and fights like a samurai.

Was "Nocturnals" a concept you'd had in mind for a while, or did its development come about sort of serendipitously?

Both, really. I had some of these characters running around in my sketchbooks for years, but Doc and the concept jumped to mind on a trip over the Atlantic. I write about this in the afterword to the upcoming hardcover collection. It seems very serendipitous now, but I suppose it had really been percolating for many years. My daughter has a lot to do with the development of Eve's character, and she played a large part in how I portrayed Eve slowly growing older in the stories.

It's been over a decade since the first "Nocturnals" story. How does it make you feel knowing that there's enough interest in the concept to generate not one, but two hardcover editions of your work?

It feels great, even if the current climate in the industry isn't as welcoming to painted, creator-owned comics as it once was. I feel fortunate enough to have been allowed to generate this amount of material over the last 15 years, so it's a rewarding project, this collection. The fact there are still "Nocturnals" readers and the material continues to draw more readers is a wonderful gift to a storyteller.

[This second volume] caps off about 90% of what exists [in the "Nocturnals" universe]. There are still many paintings and a few short stories I wrote for other artists I'm saving for Volume 3, including the "Sinister Path" miniseries I'm slowly working on. I'm saving the illustrations for an "Art of..." book and I'm hoping there will be a "Nocturnals Volume 3" down the road, probably for their 20th anniversary. I certainly have plans in that direction and plenty of material for the art book.

In your experience, what has been the fan reaction to the "Nocturnals" collections?

Newcomers love it, and the initiated are equally as enthused. I get asked many questions and suggestions from readers - it's clear that they not only support the idea of having it all at hand in a collected edition, they also really get a kick out discovering something in the books they had missed. Also, putting the stories into a context that fits the "Nocturnals" timeline, rather than the order I completed the stories, gives a sense of their saga.

Did you have to pitch the collected edition to Image Comics, or were they actively seeking to collect these stories?

I found Image very welcoming before I got back into the "Nocturnals" stuff in 2006. They'd collected "The Psycho" and "Giantkiller" into trades and seemed very open to future collections and new material, so I took their open door policy and ran with it. So far, the door is still open and there are plans for new projects for next year. Image is basically a great ally - they are there to work with the creator to realize the creator's vision and make great comics. They know comics, love comics and are a company in service to comics. They are a boon to the creator. I know how this sounds, but its true. Look at how many creators have flocked to them.

Moving on to some of the specific stories you've got in the collection, can you tell us how you developed the idea for "The Dark Forever?"

The first thing I wanted to do was move the characters forward in time to a situation very different from the first miniseries. So the Raccoon is now an ally instead of a menace, Doc is involved in an archaeological excavation and the rest of the group is returning from personal missions and responsibilities. The story deals quite a bit with Starfish's ancestral background and her yearning for real purpose in a world that may no longer hold a place in the big picture for her. She's the last of her kind, and has just returned from traveling the globe looking for answers and finding none - until her return home. This is a theme that applies to several characters in "The Dark Forever."

Also, more importantly, there are zombies. I cannot stress this last point enough: the Nocturnals battle walking corpses back in 2001.

How about "Gunwitch: Outskirts of Doom," how'd that come up?

I had discussed the idea of a Gunwitch spin-off with Oni Press and they were excited about the idea of staggering a "Nocturnals" miniseries bi-monthly with a "Gunwitch" mini-series, also bi-monthly. So for six months, readers would get "Nocturnals" action. Ted Naifeh was my first and only choice to draw the book, which is my homage to Dashiell Hammett and his novel "Red Harvest," which inspired the films "Yojimbo," "A Fistful of Dollars," "Miller's Crossing," "Fresh," "Last Man Standing" and countless western and crime show plots.

I plotted, laid-out and conceited "Gunwitch: Outskirts of Doom" during a car trip from Lake Tahoe to Missoula, Montana - one mute, undead gunfighter lingers in a small town infested by two rival vampire clans. This is one of my favorite stories I've written and Ted's artwork is pitch perfect.

You bring up Ted Naifeh, and I know other artists have contributed to "Nocturnals" over the years, which you typically write and illustrate yourself. Is it hard for you to pass the reigns off to another artist?

It's not difficult at all when you're working with the right people. I've found that I love working with other creators - I become a sort of editor. The "Gunwitch" miniseries was my second time doing this, after "Troll Bridge." Ted Naifeh was the perfect and only choice for the story; he brought a wonderful gothic feel to the story and characters. He nailed it down, captured the mood and feel of the story perfectly. I treasure his work on "Outskirts of Doom" and I feel it's some of my best work as a writer. I thoroughly enjoyed writing "Troll Bridge" with the idea of a different artist illustrating each chapter of the story where our heroes visit one world after another. So you go from Stan Sakai to Jill Thompson to Arthur Adams and more - the plot of the story fit the multi-artist collaboration perfectly and it worked out better than I ever imagined.

If readers were open to it, I'd [let other artists work on "Nocturnals"] more often. At this point, I feel they're probably more interested in seeing me do both story and art, but it doesn't stop me from collaborating further.

Do you have a favorite "Nocturnals" story, or is that like asking you to pick a favorite child?

I'm partial to "Beasts." I feel it has some "real" moments with Eve and Doc. And I'm very happy with the "Gunwitch" story. But you're right, it is difficult to pinpoint or even separate the stories from the overall saga. And getting that overall feel of an ongoing adventure throughout each story is a prime benefit of just such a hardcover collection.

Stemming from that, are there any characters that you can't help enjoying more than others?

Naturally, I'm very tied-in to Doc and Eve, but I love drawing the Gunwitch and Polychrome. The Raccoon fascinates me - his constant back-and-forth from outlaw to hero is great fun. I'm very comfortable with all the Nocturnals. I set out years ago to establish a group of characters I would never tire of working with and that's exactly what I got.

How about the opposite question - are there any stories or characters that you regret, or think that you could've improved upon?

As a creator, I guess you always think you could have performed some aspect of a story better - a panel, a line of dialogue, whatever it might be. I used to harp on it quite a bit. I take the writing thing pretty seriously and I'm hard on myself. But if "Nocturnals" has taught me anything, it's how important it is to be able to tell the stories you carry around and to love what you're doing.

Will new "Nocturnals" readers be able to hop aboard with this hardcover, or will they need to start with the previous volume?

Actually, I read in a review of the story "Beasts" - which appeared in last summer's "Carnival of Beasts" one-shot special - that the story makes for a good jumping-on point for new readers, which made me very happy. The stories aren't so convoluted a reader can't find their way around them, and I think it will be fun for new readers to pick up the collection and dive in. I treated the very first "Nocturnals" mini-series, "Black Planet," the same way. Comics are supposed to be about adventure, and I will go down defending that statement. "Nocturnals" has always been an immersion of the reader into another world.

Other than the stories being collected, what other extras are included in the hardcover?

I think having all these stories together in one beautiful hardcover volume is pretty special in and of itself, but it doesn't stop there. The regular edition contains an afterword where I delve into stories and history pertaining to the creation of the characters, and Howard Chaykin's introduction is great. Howard was very helpful and inspirational when I wrote the first "Nocturnals" books, and his no-nonsense approach to storytelling and writing was invaluable and put it all into perspective for me. I really push myself because of Howard, even after 15 years.

The Previews Edition of the hardcover, limited to 1000 copies, features a different cover illustration and contains 16 extra pages of material in the form of "A Nocturnal Alphabet," a spooky bedtime verse illustrated with full page paintings. It's pretty lavish in comparison with what one usually gets in the extra section of a limited run edition, and I expect the Previews edition to go fast, just as the Volume 1 Previews edition did.

Folks attending Comic-Con in San Diego this July will be able to pick up a third edition, limited to 94 signed and numbered copies - after all, the 'Nocs debuted in '94! I will be drawing a small sketch inside each of these.

Can you reveal anything about your future "Nocturnals" plans?

I have a miniseries in the works, and I attack it between projects. Its working title is "Nocturnals: Sinister Path" and it deals with the idea that the Nocturnals are fairly new to the scene and the night creatures who have lived in the countryside for many decades (some for centuries) see them as newcomers, interlopers - except for the Gunwitch, who has been around in one guise or another for a very long time. As to when it will see the light of day? I couldn't say, but the work is underway, and I continue to devote time to it when I'm not doing other gigs.

I have other projects regarding "Nocturnals" in various developmental stages, such as the "Art of Nocturnals" volume, as well as stories to be hatched with a few collaborators, but I cant talk about them yet! I wish I could, but it would only jinx them. I will say I still want to work with other creators, as there are several very talented folks who've approached me about "Nocturnals." So the wheels are always turning.

Beyond "Nocturnals," what else do you have in the pipeline?

I recently started work on one of the "Immortal Weapons" books for Marvel, starring the Bride of Nine Spiders, written by Cullen Bunn. I finished writing the script for a "Red Sonja" one-shot that I'll also be doing some interior art for. I'm writing two creator-owned miniseries I'll be announcing in the coming months, and generally trying to put as much of the stories in my head on paper and in print as I can.

Image Comics will release "Nocturnals: The Dark Forever and Other Tales, Vol. 2" on July 8, 2009.

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