Dylan Dog is a character you may not be very familiar with, but that’s likely to change soon. Created in 1986 by Italian cartoonist Tiziano Sclavi, Dog is a perennially bankrupt London private eye who handles cases of a more horrific nature, finding himself smack dab in the middle of the world of the undead. Dog is deeply idiosyncratic, suffers from numerous phobias, is a recovering alcoholic, and lives with a sidekick who looks and behaves exactly like Groucho Marx.
Published in Italy by Sergio Bonelli Editore, the sometimes comedic, often anti-establishment and usually surreal “Dylan Dog” books are wildly successful all around the world, having been translated into 17 languages, including an English edition last published by Dark Horse Comics in 2002.
The character’s star is set to shine brighter as production begins this Summer on a live action feature film adaptation. Titled “Dead of Night,” the Dylan Dog movie is directed by Kevin Munroe (“TMNT”) and stars Brandon Routh (“Superman Returns”) in the leading role. Hyde Park and Platinum Studios are producing, with a release date to be announced in the coming months.
CBR News spoke with Munroe earlier this week for a chat about “Dead of Night.”
What is it about the Dylan Dog character that drew you into directing this project?
To me, it’s his flawed normalcy. He’s just a regular guy stuck in and surrounded by some crazy circumstances. He’s cocky, sarcastic and can sometimes be a bit of an a-hole, but there is a very human core to him. He gets beaten up a lot, but still manages to win the day. He’s not over-contemplative or tortured - Dylan just makes a living doing stuff that most of us wouldn’t dare go near.
What can you say about what's being brought over from the comics and what's not? Will the setting still be London? Will supporting characters like Groucho and Inspector Bloch be included?
It’s set in New York, probably the biggest difference from the source, but it doesn’t affect anything really. There will be characters included from the comic world, but in varying degrees. Dylan is the star, and he’s very much in tune with what fans know him as in the comic.
What about the story itself?
We are really sticking with lore from the comic in this capacity. Namely, the biggest theme is “who really is the monster?” In a lot of the Dylan Dog books, it’s usually mankind. I responded to that a lot.
The Groucho character is clearly inspired by Groucho Marx, whose estate wasn't too excited when it came time for the publication of the English language translations -- will this character appear in the film as was in the comics, or will he be changed to avoid those sort of legal disputes?
Yeah, I love that about the original comic. But he is going to be altered to fit this movie. Not sure if it was for legal reasons originally, but creatively, Dylan’s sidekick in our movie provides more than just comic relief. He has a great arc that’ll surprise a lot of folks out there, and really works well alongside Dylan’s storyline.
Are you working off an original Dylan Dog storyline or going with something completely original?
Josh Oppenheimer and Tom Donnelly (“Sahara”) wrote a fantastic script that feels like it comes straight out of the comic lore. It’s an “original” story in that sense, but if you’re a fan, you’ll see a lot of thematic parallels.
The Dylan Dog books aren't typical horror, nor are they superhero books -- what tone are you looking to strike with this film? What category will "Dead of Night" fit into, or is it impossible to pigeonhole this project?
It’s not impossible, as I’m sure people will naturally pigeon hole it anyway. I think primarily it’s a detective story, but it’s hidden in this great mix of horror/dark comedy/action. I think of old Film Noir flicks, but also of “American Werewolf in London” and “Lost Boys.” While not as comedic as “Men in Black,” it sort of mixes genres in the same way.
Have you spoken with Dylan Dog creator Tiziano Sclavi? Is his involvement or blessing something you feel is needed for the feature? We understand he hasn't been that involved with the book in recent years.
I have not yet. I hope to soon. I had a good relationship with [Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator] Peter Laird on “TMNT.” I think it’s always useful to have that kind of input/collaboration where possible. I love when someone is really invested in a property and can relate how they see it. Not to mention if it’s successful, there is usually a correlation.
When it comes to American audiences, there won't be many preconceived notions about what the film should be. But in Italy and around the world, there will be certain expectations when it comes to translating this character to the silver screen. Is this something you're keeping in mind as you bring Dylan Dog to life? How do you balance out the needs of making a film for an American audience while also paying respect to the international source material?
That’s the million-dollar question. You have to balance making a movie that is good, with making a movie that will make fans happy. I still believe that balance can be struck in theme/tone. There will always be purists who will never be happy, just as there will be film goers who will avoid a movie by feeling you didn’t make it for a broad enough audience. You can’t please those people. I think the key is to acknowledge what it is about the property that makes it so beloved and successful, and keep it in the back of your mind through all stages. Nothing beats the enthusiasm of a fan when it comes to inspiration. I’m a fan of tonally matching the source material first and foremost.
When one describes the character of Dylan Dog to someone unfamiliar with him, they may draw some parallels to John Constantine, more the one depicted in the "Constantine" film starring Keanu Reeves versus the one in the “Hellblazer” comics. What separates Dog, the one you're bringing to the silver screen, from a character like Constantine?
I suppose a lot of people will draw that comparison. Knowing our movie the way I do, I can't imagine them being more different. I think John is a great character who is cursed, paranormally gifted (especially in the movie version), and has his fair share of (I guess literal) demons. Dylan, on the other hand, is just a regular guy. His luck is just as crappy, but it's all sort of self-imposed. The themes in both are very different, both in the worlds and their main characters.
Your first feature film, "TMNT," was an animated feature with a very strong design sense. Looking at other comics-based films like "Sin City," "300" and others, they borrow heavily from the design of the comics. Have you begun discussing an approach to design on "Dead of Night?" What might it end up looking like?
We’re really going for a strong sense of realism with the look. Gunning for a film noir, gritty vibe. The creatures will be real, as will the stunts. It’s the best way to sell the monster/over-the-top elements. I am still a fan of the camera work and look we started with “TMNT,” so this will be a continuation of that to some extent. Really graphic staging, strong lighting sense, pockets of black shadow, etc.
Is the plan with "Dead of Night" to use traiditional sets or green screen backdrops like we've seen with "Sin City," "300" and the upcoming "The Spirit?"
Again, in the spirit of realism, mostly using existing locations.
What does Brandon Routh bring to the role of Dylan Dog? What have your conversations been like?
Brandon and I have been hanging out for the past couple of months working on the movie. He’s an amazing guy and I have so much faith in what he’ll bring to it. At the core of Dylan’s hard-boiled exterior is this glimmer of humanity. A man who has a moral compass through all the B.S. I think Brandon effortlessly possesses that.
When it comes to making "Dead of Night," what do you see as the biggest challenge you face?
I feel like we have a great core group of people working on this movie. So I can’t really think of any challenges. Hmmm, maybe that will be the biggest challenge.