Things that go creep in the night: Dan Mishkin talks 'Creeps'

[Creeps]As a general rule we avoid those who could be labeled as "creepy." Most of us don't relate well to truly eccentric or unpleasantly strange sort. But this October, creators Dan Mishkin and Tom Mandrake hope we embrace a group of creeps when their new comic "Creeps" hits the stands.

"Creeps" is described by the creators in a world that "takes place on the margins of society, where the bad stuff in the world always hits first, and it tells about the bizarre people who confront the badness when no one else will." The characters in this series are disgusting, moody, obese, disturbing and, well, creepy. Who are these Creeps?

"The Creep that everybody notices first is Gelulite," series creator and writer Dan Mishkin told CBR News, "an enormous woman who can control every molecule of her fat, using it to snare or smother or beat up the bad guys. She's also an extraordinarily kind person. Then there's Booger, who's a dead shot with mucous and can find a thousand and one uses for snot. Eyeball is probably as close as you can find to a leader of the group. He has no eyes but he can see clearly what's inside of people, and it's usually not something they want to hear about. Gulp is the guy who'll eat anything and then ask for more; Debs is the martial artist with a little something extra; Chitter is person, or so he appears, who seems to be made up of bugs; Breaker is massively strong on one side of his body and withered and weak on the other; and Mrs. Skank emits odors that have a wide range of effects on other people - effects that she can't always control. Their personalities range from gentle to terrifying, commanding to meek, and simple to inscrutable. In other words, they're like any collection of people. But they do share a commitment to one another which is crucial to their ability to deal with the problems they face."

While most might assume that "Creeps" is a horror comic, Mishkin doesn't see it that way and resists the label.

"I've really resisted calling 'Creeps' a horror comic. Not because it isn't true but because it only tells part of the story. It's got humor and it's got heroism too. I sometimes tell people that the dirty little secret of 'Creeps' is that it's a superhero comic, though I don't believe that quite captures it either. All these elements are mixed up in a way that I hope will keep people off balance. Even the horror isn't of a single kind. Some of it is just plain gross and some is the creepy stuff that makes people laugh uncomfortably. And beyond that there's the moral horror: the kind that's based on a realization of what depravity human beings are capable of rather than on simple physical grotesquerie. So instead of classifying 'Creeps' I'd like to put it in a class by itself. The horrific elements might turn some people away, just as it might draw others in, but I think anyone who sticks with it will be rewarded with an experience that doesn't allow easy comparisons."

The first nine pages of the series can be previewed online at http://www.creepscomic.com/Creeps/Preview/preview.html. In this sequence we see the group storm a court room dispensing their own kind of justice. While in our world that sort of behavior will land you in jail for any number of violations, in the world of "Creeps" there's a certain righteousness to their behavior.

"The Creeps who go into that courtroom operate according to their understanding of how the world works," said Mishkin. "It's a world that offers no protection for their kind. When Eyeball says in that scene that the proceedings there make a mockery of justice, he's appealing to a higher version of what justice is, so yes, he definitely believes in his own righteousness. One of the ideas in this series is that society's rules that exist to take care of us average respectable types are also constructed to keep down the disreputable among us. And that we wink at the arrangement because it works to our benefit. Another point the series makes is that things are not always what they seem."

While "Creeps" as a concept may be something new or different to most comic collectors, Mishkin feels it appeals to a wide group and that the enthusiasm of the creators plays a large role in why people are interested in the book.

"One of the things that people, particularly publishers, don't always seem to get is that it's the passion of creative people that sells comic books," Mishkin told CBR News. "It's not formulas or trends or even genres that make a book worth reading. Asking me to write a certain kind of story in a certain way because Joe Blow was successful doing it ignores the fact that Joe's success was probably based on the fact that he cared about the story he was telling, and then had the talent to tell it well. It also ignores the fact that my talent and interests may be taking me in a different direction. Tom and I have done superheroes, funny animals, westerns, horror, mysteries, fantasy and science fiction at one point or another in our careers. We're doing 'Creeps' now, whatever 'Creeps' is exactly, because at this moment it's the project we want to do more than any other in the world. All I can tell people is that 'Creeps' is an original. And I'd guess that if they've enjoyed work that Tom and I have done before - his Spectre, my Blue Devil, or whatever - they'll find a lot to like in 'Creeps.' People who are easily grossed out might want to avoid it, but I should also add there's nothing in it my eleven year old couldn't handle. And I urge those who think it's just a horror comic and won't pick it up because they don't like horror to look at the full-color preview at our Web site and decide for themselves if perhaps there's more to it than that."

"Creeps" has been a long time in the making and it's origins can be found in the lyrics of one of music's most talented and respected artists.

"This started with a song lyric from Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention: 'Cop kill a creep! Pow pow pow!' Something reminded me of that line and I suddenly thought that 'Creeps' would be a great name for a comic book series. I thought it should be about the kind of outcasts and marginal people that Zappa was talking about in that song: people who were glad they didn't fit in, but would suffer for it. I was visiting Tom [Mandrake] not long after that and I mentioned the idea, and that seemed to uncover some filled-to-overflowing pit of imagination. Two weeks later I got a piece of artwork in the mail with pictures of a dozen Creeps he'd come up with and given names and strange abilities to. As I told Tom at the time, the drawing was absolutely repulsive, and I meant that in the best possible way. From that point on there was no question but that we had to do this comic.

"Once Tom had created all these characters based on my initial idea, I came up with a storyline and a milieu in which they could operate," said Mishkin. "Beginning with the idea that creeps are people who will get protection from nobody but other creeps, I came up with a threat to them and their part of the world, and made sure it was as horrible in truth as the creeps only seemed to be to the world at large. From there I started working up very loose plots. I write plots for Tom more loosely than for any other artist I've worked with because I know what he's capable of and I trust him completely. It would be stupid of me to hogtie him at the outset. So although my plots are filled with incident, there's lots of room for him to add, condense and do whatever he wants. Each issue features material that wasn't in the plot and which I have to call him to get explanations of before I can write dialogue. The most striking example of this is the last page of the first issue, which goes on past the ending that was in the plot I sent him. Tom had no idea what I ought to be writing there, but he knew he wanted to carry the story a little further, into a zone that gives readers a chance to digest what's just happened on the previous page and also gives a glimpse of what's to come. So I made it work, and now I can't imagine the first issue without that little coda. It's a terrifically rewarding collaboration. We're full partners in a project we're both passionate about.

"Tom and I have been pushing this project for a very long time. Our original proposal went nowhere, despite Tom's gorgeous artwork, I think because it was so offbeat that people just didn't get it. So we decided to produce the first issue without having a publisher, and when we started showing that around we got some serious nibbles. But the market was soft and 'Creeps' was still definitely outside the mainstream. Last year at Wizard World, the first show Tom and I attended together since coming up with Creeps, we pitched it to Image and got an immediate and very gratifyingly positive response from Jim Valentino and Anthony Bozzi. These guys knew our work and our level of talent, craftsmanship and professionalism. And they liked what they saw. I think we found each other at the right moment, when Tom and I were looking for someone who'd take a chance on an unusual project and they were looking to build 'The New Image' with a wonderfully wide range of quality projects. Our relationship with Image has been tremendous in every respect."

Advance reaction to the series has been very positive, but Mishkin knows today's comic market is very much an enigma and spending too much time worrying about it before it hits the stands is counter productive. Mishkin is confident that someone who picks this book up will be entertained.

"The reaction of people I talk to about 'Creeps' has been great," said Mishkin. "Tom and I had a terrific time in San Diego and Chicago meeting fans at the conventions, and Tom was especially pleased when people looked through our preview and either shuddered or laughed nervously. As for the Diamond numbers, I've decided to just remain in 'sell the project' mode until the ordering cycle closes and the final numbers come in. I don't want to be distracted by preliminary figures. I'd like to think that all the positive vibes we've been getting from people will turn into good sales, but I also know that the market is still struggling, and by offering something as offbeat as 'Creeps,' we're asking readers and retailers to take a chance. I hope they will, and I know they'll get their money's worth if they do. Whatever happens, Tom and I will be thrilled to have a comic we've been trying to put out for a very long time available for the world to see at last."

Return Tuesday for more on "Creeps" in an interview with series artist Tom Mandrake with art previews.

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