Rampant chainsaw slayings. Dreams that can kill you before you wake up. Strange Japanese girls with stringy wet hair. Half naked teenagers.
These are a few of the things that have made the world of horror one of the most lucrative and beloved movie genres of the past 30 years, but while the slashers and psycho fiends at the heart of the killer style of cinema have earned a large group of fans in the theaters, comics have yet to take up the task of exploring these ideas with the same fever they've done for the last generation of movie monsters like vampires and werewolves. With his superspy/slasher mashup web comic "Necessary Monsters," Daniel Merlin Goodbrey hopes to ignite that kind of story in earnest.
"I really wanted to try and do a story that's like a straight superhero story, but everybody is a horrible, irredeemable villain," said the writer who along with artist Sean Azzopardi publishes new pages of the "Necessary Monsters" every Monday and Wednesday in conjunction with indie publisher AiT/Planet Lar. "We really wanted to stay away from something that had been a bit overly done. It kind of came about from the fact that I had a bunch of character names and half ideas that were kind of interesting, and I started to realize that they kind of fit together. It was a case of not having exact analogues of familiar horror characters, but they were in that familiar territory. I did watch a lot of that particular kind of bad horror film when I was a kid growing up."
The comic spins the story of The Chain - an ultra-secret society of deranged killers whose task stands to stop the human population from ever being laid completely to waste lest they have no more innocents to torture and terrorize. Led by Jonathon Gravehouse, a seemingly respectable Englishman who carries a number of occult secrets, The Chain's primary task force includes Charlotte Hatred, a ghostly killer in the vein of the murderous Sadako from the "Ring" films and novels, and Cowboy 13, a semi-traditional Texas slasher film killer who wears an S&M gimp mask and carries a machete. Rounding out the main cast of protagonists is Creeping Tuesday, the daughter of a Massachusetts serial killer who like her father has the power to enter people's dreams and scare them to death.
"Creeping Tuesday is the point of view character," explained Goodbrey. "The others are quite comfortable with what they've been doing and who they are. They're old members of The Chain. Creeping Tuesday is off on her own. She has nothing to do with The Chain. She doesn't know anything about this society of monsters that's outside of humanity. I'm trying to make it a little different [than the normal "new member of the team" story] as she's quite active as a monster already."
And while Goodbrey admits that while the cast of disfigured murderers who make up the main characters of his book may not scream "hero," they are most definitely characters that readers can throw themselves into. "At the same time, you're really rooting for them. That's the other thing about those B horror movies - although the villain is the villain, he's the one you're there to watch. You're not there to watch the teenagers trying to kill Freddy Krueger. You're there to watch Freddy Krueger."
But readers may want to root for the members of The Chain as well since their stated mission involves tracking down one of their own, namely Thomas Harp, an immortal Civil War lieutenant who has since allied himself with the genocidal Knife Mother and her Knife-Kind - a supernatural group of killers with much more dire plans for humanity than slaying the occasional teen. "The other thing about 'Necessary Monsters' is that I'm trying to work in a number of spy tropes, and he's the classic agent gone rogue," said Goodbrey of the pieces' "villain." The writer also noted that the history behind Harp's defection and Gravehouse's history with The Chain would be explore further in the just launched second chapter of "Necessary Monters." The full story is planned to be serialized for five single issue-length chapters before being printed as a full graphic novel by AiT in 2009.
"I find chapters a useful way of thinking about stories. It gave me more practice in writing issue-length stories, which is something I haven't done much of," said the writer who has done the majority of his own work in experimental web comics, although he has written some print stories including a tale in Marvel's "Giant-size Avengers Special."
"I've been leaning more towards print for the last couple of years because I wanted to tell longer stories, and print still seems to be the best way to do that and possibly get paid for it. It's difficult to tell a long story where the focus is on the long form and do that as an online comic - it's possible, but it's not an easy thing to do. So it seemed to me that it made more sense for something like this to lean toward print."
While "Necessary Monsters" is the first such web-to-print comic series attempted by AiT, the model has been attempted by other publishers in recent months, most noticeably in the case of Warren Ellis' series "Freak Angels" being release online by Avatar Press. Goodbrey believes that the method of introducing readers to a full story for free online may become the norm for indie comics moving forward. "The best way for getting the print comic out there and getting people to read it, I think, is the graphic novel. But because we have this long life between creating the thing and getting it out to people - it can take six months to a year to get it drawn. So it seemed the best method for releasing it was to serialize it on the web, and then when it's complete you go to print with it. I'd never had the chance to do that before."
And with a multitude of web comics already taking up plenty of bandwidth, Goodbrey said that partnering with a known print entity has helped to give his project a boost in promotion and public awareness. "I wanted to have the publisher in place before I went online because I felt that it would set me apart from a lot of the other comics on the web. There's a huge number of very strong comics on the web already, and I wanted this to be seen in a slightly different light. That's why I approached Larry Young of AiT/Planet Lar and pitched it to him as a graphic novel and then pitched it to him as the idea of updating this online first. I really do see more and more people doing it."
But between now and then, "Necessary Monsters" will continue to slash its way across the web on its eventual path to print and possibly more stories. "In the course of creating the story, I've gotten more ideas for the world," said Goodbrey. "As much as anything, [the thing holding me back from definitely writing more is] partly that I'm not sure what Sean Azzopardi wants to do. It's a real collaborative comic, and I don't want to make him sit down and draw another 100 pages afterwards. I think we'll get the book finished and into shops, and if it really takes off, I think I'd definitely like to do more stories with it. But it's kind of easy for me being the writer because I can take on several projects at once."