Back in April of 2010, writer Aaron Alexovich and artist Drew Rausch’s Eldritch! battled nine other webcomics to win the monthly competition held by DC Comics' Zuda imprint. It was a hard-fought battle, and Eldritch! would ultimately earn the distinction of becoming the last Zuda winner, as DC shut down the competitions and ultimately the entire imprint soon after.
Eldritch! never had the opportunity to begin its run on the Zuda site, but that didn't stop Rausch and Alexovich from pushing forward. A little more than a year after their victory, their comic is finally being released by the duo in various digital formats, including through Graphicly, comiXology and via the comic's website.
The duo was kind enough to answer a few questions about and share some artwork from the new book. You can see even a longer preview on their site.
JK: Let's start with a question about how this project initially came together. What made you guys decide to enter the monthly Zuda contest? And how did you guys know each other before all of this?
Drew: I was aware of Aaron's existence from reading Serenity Rose way back when it was in single issues. I remember thinking "Man, this guy can write!" Seriously, each issue was a sequential novel. And I liked that. It had substance, wit and charm what with the "spooky" cute art. Eventually, I ended up asking Aaron to do a pin up for the second volume of my creator book Sullengrey. He and I just started chatting after that and found we both had a lot of similar tastes.
As far as entering the Zuda competition, that was a spur of the moment thing. David Gallaher, who was successfully writing High Moon for Zuda sort of planted the seed in my head. He basically sold it as the cool place where all the talented creators that mainstream comics didn't know what to do with go. Around that time, Aaron had shown me some of the pitch work for a book he was going to do with DC's MINX line before it got cancelled. What I saw was the perfect blend of Lovecraft and The Twilight Zone, which is right up my alley. I'm Drew Rausch and I have a tentacular addiction. Just can't quit the stuff. I asked Aaron if he would want to rework it a bit with me and submit it to Zuda. That story eventually became Eldritch!
I'm not sure he has forgiven me yet for that.
JK: You guys were chosen as one of the 10 contenders by the Zuda folks, and go on to put in a lot of time and effort into the competition. You end up winning, but before you can enjoy the fruits of your labors, Zuda shuts down its competitions and, ultimately, DC shuts down the whole imprint. Did you guys feel slighted that you got the victory but not the spoils?
Aaron: Oh sure, I’d be lying if I said that didn’t feel like a knife to the gut. Not just for us, but for all the fans who really threw themselves into promoting the book, as well. There’s was a lot of RIGHTEOUS FURY out there for a while. But at the same time, I understand DC’s position. Big companies like that have stockholders to answer to, so if something doesn’t make sense financially, their hands are pretty much tied. The Zuda people did everything they could to keep us happy, though, by letting go of the rights with no fuss, giving us a little money, etc. I really appreciate that. I think what I learned from it all is that I’m much happier in the small, underground, vaguely disreputable world of indie comic-making. It’s just more comfortable here.
JK: Once Zuda shut down, they gave you guys the full rights back. What did you guys do at that point?
Drew: We had already started a good amount of the work for the first issue which we didn't want to just throw away. Eldritch! had been received well by fans, I mean it had the highest amount of votes and unique page views in Zuda's two year run, so there was a market for it. There were emails, Facebook and Twitter messages from fans bummed about the whole Zuda thing wondering if we were going to finish. Right after DC announced it wasn't continuing with ZUDA, we were in contact with digital comic juggernauts Graphicly and comiXology and a few other publishers, wanting to pick up Eldritch!. Other former Zuda winners went the self publishing route, so Aaron and I thought we would help them build the tracks into uncharted digital territory.
Aaron: JUGGERNAUT TRACKS.
JK: Initially you guys created a webcomic for Zuda, but are now releasing it as a digital comic on the various platforms that are available nowadays, including your own website as a download. Did you have to do anything differently from a storytelling standpoint to switch from one format to the other?
Aaron: Nah, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between what we had planned and what we’re doing. I guess the Zuda thing was supposed to be two pages a week, as opposed to the “24-page comic every six weeks” thing we’re doing now, but we’re not approaching anything differently, story-wise. I mean, yeah, if you’re only putting out one or two pages a week, you might feel like every one of them has to end on a cliffhanger to keep people coming back, but I sort of write that way anyway. I always try to end each page with a moment that keeps pages flipping.
JK: So for those who missed it the first time around, what is Eldritch! about?
Aaron: Eldritch! is a horror book. A dark, brutal, MESSY horror book, but with a lot of humor built in... The story’s about Anya Sobczek, an angry punk-rock science major who discovers her teenage occultist brother is full of black tentacles and ancient, awful powers. There’s a lot of Lovecraft in it, obviously... Lots of monsters, lots of gruesome images, lots of peculiar behavior. I wanted something with a bit of that cool odd Sam Raimi/John Carpenter feel, where you’d have genuinely horrifying images and a real sense of THREAT, but you’re still laughing at the absurdity of it all. I love that kind of thing. It’s a hard balance to pull off, but I think Drew’s nailing it.
You know that scene in The Thing where the guy’s head tears loose and goes scuttling out of the room on spider legs? The “You’ve got to be fucking kidding” scene? Eldritch! is more or less “You’ve Got To Be Fucking Kidding: The Book.”
JK: What are some of your personal favorite horror comics?
Drew: Wow. Not shying away from the tough questions, are we? So many to choose from. I have a rekindled love for the old EC Tales from the Crypt comics. And I'm really glad that Dark Horse has been reprinting them. They're a fun read and there is some stunning artwork in there. Some real gems. I appreciate the amount of gruesome scenes they got away with considering the time period.
I'll tell you the first horror comic I bought was a Nightmare on Elm Street comic that I found in a cigarette shop, which was where I bought my comics as a kid. It was one of those over-sized magazine books that Marvel put out. I must have been 10 or so. It had this fully painted cover and all this detailed black and white interior. The last page was this splash of two girls sinking into Freddy's steaming brain. I'm sure they were trying to make this overly sexual image but it was the ridiculousness that stuck with me.
One of my more personal favorites though has to be Charles Burns' Black Hole. Never has a comic made me feel more uneasy after closing the cover then that book. Particularly due to his use of shadows and the way he drew expressions. The people ended up being more ugly then actual gory stuff.
These days, I look out for more of the obscure weird stuff. Not horror per se, but the weirder the better.
Aaron: Oh definitely, Black Hole is a masterpiece. His new one, X'ed Out, is pretty impressive so far, too. Just eerie and uncomfortable in all the right ways. I love being put off balance like that. And, obviously, I have to agree with Drew about the EC stuff. Jack Davis was a HUGE influence on me as a kid, and still is. It goes back to that balance between humor and genuine awfulness I mentioned before. Creepy and Eerie did some memorably disturbing stuff, too, especially when Bernie Wrightson was involved. I think my FAVORITE horror comic of the past few years, though, is Beasts of Burden by Jill Thompson and Evan Dorkin. That story about the ghost puppies is seriously one of the most unsettling things I've ever read. It's brilliant.
JK: What else are you guys working on?
Aaron: Serenity Rose Volume 3. It’s a comic I’ve been doing off and on since 2002, about a massively social-phobic witch who lives in this kind of supernatural tourist trap. It has a lot of the same feel as Eldritch!, but it’s a bit looser. More about building interesting characters than plot, I guess. This new one is a love story: “Break Your Stupid Heart.” Probably good to get outside my horror/monster comfort zone once in a while.
Drew: There's a couple projects that I have in the works that are kind of exciting, and I'm hashing out the plot details for the third volume of Sullengrey with writer Jocelyn Gajeway. But right now, I'm mostly focused on Eldritch! and making the coolest looking book we can. Hopefully if it goes well, we'll get to do more!
Aaron: Yep! Got at least two more Eldritch! books in mind. We WILL make those, one way or another. I’ve already picked out a nice, secure basement prison to keep Drew confined. Not too dirty!
JK: Is the story open-ended, or do you guys have a specific ending planned?
Aaron: I think these first six issues make for a pretty satisfying single story. If it ends there, I'll be happy. There will definitely be some mysteries left unsolved, though... Enough to explore for another three or four books, I think. Should probably share some of those story ideas with Drew at some point.