Dr. Grave, the drunken, foul-mouthed, lecherous savior of mankind returns in April from Antix Press. "Dr. Grave and the Carnival of Blood" will feature all manner of freaks, including Dr. Grave himself, and the first issue will be available for download at the low cost of zero dollars. The hero, created by writer/artist Ed Clayton, debuted in 2000-01 in a miniseries recently collected as "Dr. Grave and the Unholy Twelve," which launched at this year's Alternative Press Expo. CBR News caught up with Clayton to discuss Dr. Grave's triumphant return, the character's prominent role at the new publisher, and the futility of human virtue.
Clayton described Dr. Grave as "a sort of crossbreeding of Austin Powers, Indiana Jones and Dr. Strange, had Dr. Strange been a chronic alcohol abuser." "He's a sort of blundering, would-be savior of the world but at the same time, a womanizing, arrogant, binge drinking bastard with a hook hand," he told CBR. "Dr. Grave could also be described as an over the hill, defrocked minister, who puts his life's energy into hunting down and subduing the Forces of Evil in the world. A man with a vast understanding of the Occult and Demonology, adept in the martial arts, who more than likely would have to borrow bus fare to his next altercation with the armies of Hell."
The first epic Dr. Grave adventure, originally published by SLG Publishing and now available in trade paperback form as "Dr. Grave and the Unholy Twelve" from Antix, sees our hero tearing through a monastery to fight a hidden evil. "I wanted to establish the reality of the 'supernatural' in Grave's universe. They don't crack jokes of themselves but they're true threats," Clayton said. "I wanted to show that Dr. Grave is not just some overly religious, delusional wacko imagining that the world is being threatened by Occult forces. They're real and this is the flawed character we have to rely on to defend us against them. In the conceptual boundaries of the comic, he's actually more aware of the nature of reality than the reader or the other characters around him. The comic itself, for me, is allegorical but I'll leave it to the intelligent reader to decipher the deeper meanings."
The new miniseries, titled "Carnival of Blood," begins in April. "Since battling the forces of evil doesn't really pay the bills, Dr. Grave finds himself completely destitute once again. Out of sheer destitution he returns to one of his earlier professions, that of a carnival daredevil," Clayton said of our hero's early travails in the new series. "He may look like a doughboy but he is exceptionally athletic and trained in the martial arts. It was a fun way for me to exploit a strange part of his past and show some of the experiences in his life that helped shape his take on the world around him. The comic takes place in the fifties; the genuine freak show is still in existence, so in keeping with his character there are several 'romantic' encounters with female oddities working the carnival. It's ripe for humor. What eventually ensues is a series of grisly murders and an evil behind them that Grave must ultimately discover and subdue."
Clayton elaborated on this idea that it wouldn't be all laughs for Dr. Grave: "There are quite a few monstrous characters in this miniseries. I've expanded his universe and explore some of his deeper motivations," he said. "It's a bit of a murder mystery/ supernatural thriller filled with 'freaks,' and we get to see Grave in a more layered storyline. I also have a fascination with the occult and religion, which I was able to explore through the book, in a humorous way. There are some genuine 'monsters' in Grave's world, which is something I wanted in from the beginning, now I have an opportunity to get it out there."
For Clayton, Dr. Grave represents the quintessential anti-hero. "At his core is a high virtue but all the peripheral elements of his personality would be totally disagreeable to most people," he said. "He does and says what he wants in almost any situation without the slightest concern of what others will think, he's the man we all want to be but never will. He's like the Terminator in that sense--just the flabby, self-righteous version. Keeping in mind that Grave has no traditional 'superpowers,' if I were forced to assign one to him it would simply be 'hubris.' He's the epitome of the hypocrite and, although I'm most likely asking for a Scorsese 'Last Temptation-type backlash, I consider Dr. Grave to be the funniest, most entertaining and greatest 'Christian' comic ever put into print, something that could truly be enjoyed by Christian and Pagan alike. A lot of people won't like that take on it but that's how I view it. Think of the balls it takes for a company like Antix to get behind such a thing."
Dr. Grave's penchant for off-hand killing, though, may cast his status as great Christian hero into doubt, but Clayton sticks to his story. "Grave is the only character in the comic that I want to be perceived as 'good,'" he said. "There may be more sympathetic characters in his story--Shandar, his long-suffering Indian manservant for one--but I want to give the reader little choice but to stand behind Grave and to empathize with his motivation, his cause. I think we're all 'good guys' and 'bad guys' simultaneously and so is he. He certainly has no mercy on anyone he considers to be in league with the Forces of Darkness and the myriad of shootings, impaling and decapitations is evidence of that. In his mind however, it's all for the salvation of humanity.
"On the other hand, I would never let my sister date him, either. So, although he is a colossal jerk, possibly the world's largest, a man lacking even the slightest social nicety, I think his internal motivation is to see evil conquered. In that way, he is, in the truest sense, 'Good.'"
As to why he is returning to the Dr. Grave universe now after nearly eight years away, Clayton said that it was simply time. "The stars aligned, the timing was right and circumstances fell into place. I had written a movie script based on the comic and it was optioned by visionary production company, shortly thereafter the idea of re-releasing the series came about," he said. "I considered too that Dr. Grave and his long suffering assistant, Shandar, hadn't been explored to their fullest; I had only scratched the surface of the comic's/character's potential. In a universe of strapping Adonis-like heroes, Grave stands apart as a hero that is much more human, flawed, and accessible to the public. He's a powerful, well-defined and fun character to write, as well, and he was too strong to be ignored. He muscled his way back into my life psychically. There are many adventures yet to be told."
With Dr. Grave's return also marking the debut of new publisher Antix Press, CBR asked Clayton how these two enterprises came to fit together. "I was approached by [Antix founders] Francis Lombard and Shawn Walker around the time that the comic was optioned as a movie property. Antix had a vision for their company and Dr. Grave fit into it like a glove, in terms of originality balanced with a public appeal," Clayton explained. "As a company, they are committed to supporting an artist's original vision, which can be rare in this industry. As an artist, who has labored over my creations for no money and no thanks for many years, Antix is what most independent artists dream of running into. Personally, when I create a work, I don't like anyone to suggest I move a comma in a sentence (I may be a bit anal but I think this is common) but in my experience with Antix Press, I can honestly say that they believe in the individual, the artist's vision and put their ass on the line for it."
Antix is also promoting Dr. Grave as its flagship character, indicating a strong confidence in Clayton's creation. "An opportunity to have Dr. Grave at the center of the company's attention I think shows Antix's focus on the future of comics," the artist said. "Dr. Grave is a fairly strange and at the same time truly funny book, and for them to say, "Let's get this out to the public and make it our flagship," shows their dedication to offering something new and different to the comic consumer.
"Considering Antix as a company, I think we are all of one mind, in terms of the vision and direction for the series. The idea is a fresh play on well established genres and fits nicely into the flavor of comics Antix wanted to launch," Clayton continued. "I think Dr. Grave fills a blank in what's currently available to the comic reader and may get some readers to examine the art form in a different light altogether.
"I've been blessed enough to have artists like Rob Schrab, Dean Haspiel, and Mike McMahon praise my work and that to me is like having Santa himself give you a Yuletide rim job. They are artists I have admired for years and to know that they appreciate my efforts and the character is awesome."
"Dr. Grave and the Unholy Twelve" is available through Amazon.com and will arrive in comic stores in February. "Dr. Grave and the Carnival of Blood" #1 will be released as a free digital edition in April.