One of two launch titles for the Vertigo Crime imprint, noted novelist Ian Rankin's original graphic novel "Dark Entries" is set to debut in August from the mature readers division of DC Comics. Written by Rankin, the Scottish author most famous for his Inspector Rebus series of mysteries, with art by Werther Dell'Edera, "Dark Entries" places "Hellblazer" star John Constantine in the role of supernatural detective. CBR News caught up with Rankin to discuss "Dark Entries," the character of John Constantine, and writing for comics.
In "Dark Entries," Constantine finds himself in a reality television show that seems to be haunted by forces beyond the program's intended purpose of scaring the housemates. Somewhere in the house, there is also an unfathomable prize for the one lucky contestant who can find it.
"I'm intrigued by reality TV shows - what do they say about us as humans and about the prevailing contemporary culture? Do they change the participants? Do they change the viewer?" Rankin told CBR. "With 'Dark Entries' I wanted to take a traditional horror/mystery set-up -- a group of strangers gather in a haunted house then begin to disappear -- and have it take place under 24/7 surveillance."
As to the other men and women appearing on the program, like our familiar reality television, there's an eclectic mix of young, good-looking people in Rankin's game show. "We have a Japanese student who likes to dress as a Goth in her free time; a macho British guy, who's cocky on the outside but filled with inner turmoil and fears; a straight-talking, straight-thinking American guy; a self-harmer; and a young woman who reminds Constantine of someone he let down badly in the past," the writer explained. "They all have secrets and some of those secrets are shared."
Each writer who has tackled John Constantine, from early Alan Moore-penned adventures in "Swamp Thing" to the twenty-odd scribes responsible for 250+ issues of "Hellblazer," has brought a different focus to the character, showing the depths and hidden facets present in Vertigo's pre-eminent occultist. "John Constantine is a blank canvas - he is unknowable, the original Mr Enigma," Rankin remarked. "This gives writers a certain freedom. We can re-imagine him, find new corners of his psyche to explore, and discover a little more about him.
"In 'Dark Entries,' I see him as being a gumshoe - a sort of Private Eye for hire."
Rankin said that he most enjoys "Hellblazer" tales in which Constantine and his companions face impossible odds and supernatural forces. "It's a bit like those episodes of 'Star Trek' where Kirk is beamed down to a planet to fight some uber-monster; or Arnie in 'Predator,' faced with a perfect alien killing-machine. How can we puny humans prevail? Somehow we do..."
This original "Hellblazer" graphic novel represents Rankin's own dark entry into the comic book field. "I got an e-mail out of the blue from [editor] Will Dennis at Vertigo. He'd seen interviews with me and knew I was a comics fan. He was putting together a series called Vertigo Crime, utilising established crime writers who had not written for comics before. Was I interested? Of course I was!" Rankin recalled. "But Will said there were no real rules: I could write about an existing character or invent some new ones."
Rankin's own comics reading habits began early and have evolved over time. "As a young kid I devoured lots of British comics (Dandy, Beano, Victor, Hotspur, Lion, Tiger, plus anything by Gerry Anderson - TV 21 for example). Later I got into US comics, but the only place near me that stocked them was a grocer's and he didn't always get the next month's instalment, which could be frustrating," Rankin said. "Later I got into '2000AD' and 'Watchmen' and 'Dark Knight.' These days I read anything by Mark Millar, Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis. I'm also rereading Howard Chaykin's 'Black Kiss' and some old Rupert annuals from the 1960s - those are really strange reads!"
Regarding the differences between writing prose fiction and comic books, Rankin said, "Novelists have it easy - we make the reader do all the work. Writing a comic script, I was having to detail point of view, background, what characters looked like and what they were wearing. It's like being director, cameraman, scriptwriter, and editor, all in one. Nobody gave me any tips or advice on scripting, which meant my editor had to do a lot more work than would normally be the case!"
The format of "Dark Entries" has gone through a few changes since Rankin and Vertigo editor Will Dennis first discussed the project. "'Dark Entries' was envisaged as a four or six-part story within the continuing series, but then we realized it worked really well as a standalone," Rankin revealed. "It was meant to be 100 pages, but just kept growing, and Will was relaxed about that, bless him. I was in New York early on in the process and Will showed me some of Werther's work - we agreed he had an engaging take on Hell and its denizens, but I also like what he's done with the feisty female characters in the story."
As to whether readers can expect more comics from the acclaimed novelist, Ian Rankin indicated there are no plans at present but that he has some ideas. "A while back, when I found out that Batman was coming to Edinburgh on a case [in Alan Grant's 'The Scottish Connection'], I did offer the services of Rebus, should a local detective be needed. That fell through because it was a legal minefield," he said. "I would love to read a contemporary take on the cop story or private eye novel. 'The Wire' would do the job nicely! But whether I would be the writer, well, time will tell.
"As for characters I'd like to write about, Batman and the Joker spring to mind. I really like what recent writers have done with those two characters. I prefer my heroes and villains to be human rather than alien."
"Dark Entries" goes on sale in August from Vertigo.