Talking Comics with Tim: Daryl Gregory

Back when I interviewed novelist Daryl Gregory in February for my pop culture blog (TalkingwithTim) I found myself thinking: "I bet it's not long before Gregory's writing comics". But to find out a few months later that he was teaming with one of my favorite comics writer, Kurt Busiek, still took me by surprise (in a positive way, promise). On August 25 (next Wednesday), BOOM! Studios will release the first issue of Busiek and Gregory's Dracula: The Company Of Monsters #1. Back on August 9, CBR offered a preview of the first issue. As described there, the concept of the ongoing series is "A powerful, predatory corporation acquires a valuable asset…Dracula! They think they own him, but no one can own the Son of the Dragon. There's a monster in their midst that puts Hannibal Lecter to shame--and he plans to gain his freedom in blood. It's bloodsuckers vs. bloodsucker, as Busiek brings an incredibly modern spin to the Dracula mythos." In addition to the preview, once you've read this interview with Gregory, be sure to enjoy CBR's July 29 interview with Busiek about the project. All combined, with this info you'll hopefully find a number of reasons to be on the lookout for the first issue next Wednesday.

Tim O'Shea: Did BOOM or Busiek contact you to join the project?

Daryl Gregory: Matt Gagnon from BOOM! contacted me. Chris Roberson, a friend of mine and a fantastic writer who's doing a book for them (DUST TO DUST, the officially sanctioned prequel to DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRONIC SHEEP), basically forced my first novel into Matt's hands. Kurt had pitched them his idea for Dracula but didn't have room on his schedule to write it, and fortunately, something in Matt's head went "ding!" When he asked me if I'd like to co-write a comic with Kurt Busiek, I thought about it for perhaps 2 nanoseconds. I've been a fan of Kurt's since THUNDERBOLTS, and MARVELS was a huge influence on me.

O'Shea: How are you and Busiek breaking down the writing chores on Dracula?

Gregory: Kurt provided what you could call the story bible. He mapped out the major characters, the key conflicts, and the main plot for the first 12 issues, laying out a three-act structure that builds _so_ nicely to a climax. And because he's such a writer's writer, he couldn't stop himself from including in the outline dozens of lovely details: key actions, cool gimmicks, important lines of dialogue. I'm using all of that I can.

My job is to flesh out the characters and the details of the plot, then write the scripts. Kurt's been great to work with, and so generous to me, a newcomer to comics. Early on we had several conversations about the story, and not only was he open to changes if a better idea came up, he deliberately made room in the outline for innovation and creativity -- anything we might discover along the way in the writing. For example, he created the main vampire hunter, a Romanian woman named Marta, and then said "...and her team of vampire hunters." That's the kind of hole to fill that makes me rub my hands together in glee. As I write each issue, Kurt gives feedback, and then we keep rolling along.

O'Shea: Would it be fair to say that this modern day approach to Dracula could be boiled down to "Dracula Joins Corporate America"?

Gregory: I think it's more "Medieval Vampire Prince Meets Corporate CEO: Compare and Contrast." Kurt's basic idea is that feudalism, vampire hierarchy, and corporatism are all about pyramidal power structures. A feudal lord is a the top of the pyramid, but he also is responsible for protecting his people and lands. In the corporate world, sometimes it seems like the CEO is looking out for no one but him or herself. Vlad Tepes was seen in his day as a defender of Christendom, and he's still a folk hero in Romania. So while Dracula is admirable in some ways because he follows a code of conduct, he's scarier and more vicious than any corporate honcho you'll see on "Undercover Boss." You can't get around the fact that he impaled a lot of people -- and most of use would rather be laid off than skewered on a pole.

O'Shea: Are you doing a great deal of research for this series, or are you leaving the research for Busiek?

Gregory: Kurt knew a lot about the historical Dracula, and had included flashbacks to the 15th century in his outline. So when I joined the project I dove into the research to get the details right. I picked up several books on the Ottoman Empire and Romanian history, just to get my hands around the subject -- and of course looking for the interesting bits to add flavor. So much of that research never reaches the page -- you can only hope that readers sense that there's more there than you're telling.

Now that I'm further into the writing of the issues, I'm reading about the history of the steel industry in Pittsburgh, where the modern day story is set. I find myself spending way too much time on Google Images "scouting locations." Need to know what a mansion in the richest neighborhood of Pittsburgh looks like? Well, you can find it, from multiple angles. Scott Godlewski, the artist on the book, is doing this too, but he can also create buildings and geography out of whole cloth that you feel MUST exist in the real world.

O'Shea: Are there certain past takes on Dracula that informs your approach to the character?

Gregory: We're treating Stoker's DRACULA as canon -- everything else we're ignoring. But for me, the key figure is Vlad III. Let's take the mindset of a 15th century prince and see what he thinks of the way corporations treat their employees.

O'Shea: Would you describe the series as horror or drama--and do you think given the corporate trappings and such, there might be room for satire on some level?

Gregory: Speaking as a corporate drone for many years, I can tell you that corporate life is self-satirizing. Adding vampires is almost redundant.

That said, we're playing this straight, and that's my default mode. Both my novels and several of my short stories have been called horror, but I've never seen them that way. For me, they're just stories about ordinary people caught up in strange, sometimes freakish situations. And in DRACULA, the main point of view character is a twenty-something guy trying to figure out who he should be, and what his duty is to his family and the family business. So, it's a drama -- that happens to include a lot of biting, some stabbing and shooting, and a ridiculous number of impalements. It's too much fun.

O'Shea: How much are you enjoying getting to see what artist Scott Godlewski does with your scripts?

Gregory: This is one of the best things about working in comics. As a prose writer, you get a cover for your novel, or maybe an illustration for one of your stories, but it's nothing like seeing an artist breathe life into a story. I figure my job is to get out of the way as much as possible and let the artist tell the story, because the art contains so much detail and emotion. Just wait til you see some of the pages Scott's done.

O'Shea: Last month you attended your first San Diego Comic-Con, what were some of the highlights?

Gregory: I think I'm still recovering. The energy and excitement was mindblowing. The highlight for me was getting to meet comics pros whose work I had been buying for years. I tried to keep my fanboy face in check, but it was difficult. And I got to meet Mark Waid and Peter Krause, whose book IRREDEEMABLE is one of my favorite comics right now.

O'Shea: What else is on the creative horizon for you in the next year or so, given how busy you typically are?

Gregory: I'm finishing up my third book, RAISING STONY MAYHALL, a kind of literary anti-zombie-novel zombie novel that will be out summer 2011. I'm also working on a couple more prose projects that are in such a fetal state that I can't talk about them. Knowing the way things usually work out for me, these babies will mutate greatly by the time I'm finished with them.

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