This October, gothic horror returns to DC Comics thanks to the creative team of Sarah Vaughn and Lan Medina, who’ll invite readers to see “Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love.” Resurrecting a long-gone title from the 1970s, the story focuses on a young woman called Berenice, who has the power to see ghosts – but tries to keep this under wraps from her boyfriend. However, one fateful day she finds herself at Glencourt Manor, a house with a dark history… and she comes face to face with Deadman himself.
Each issue of the limited series will be double-sized, meaning readers will have 48 pages every month of this haunted, chilling romance story. It’s absolutely a change of pace for the modern DCU, so CBR spoke with both Vaughn and Medina about how the series came about, the recent resurgence of romance stories within the comics industry, and what readers will be able to expect from each new issue of the series.
CBR: How did this series come about? It seems like such a departure for DC in tone and style – but also in format, and presentation?
Sarah Vaughn: Alex Antone, our editor, reached out to me last year and asked me to pitch a gothic horror romance with the character Deadman. Really, it all started with him! The format and presentation changed over time as we developed, but the tone and style always stayed the same. We thought that Deadman would be perfect in a romance subgenre that deals often with ghosts and the supernatural.
Lan Medina: I had no other projects at that time when my agent sent me a message, asking if I’m interested working on new series for Deadman. Since he’s one of my fave characters, I said yes without hesitation. I’ve been a fan of Deadman and all the other works of Neal Adams and José Garcia López since I started working on comics. So being part of this project is an honor to me.
The story is inspired by classic comics of the 1960s and 70s, in particular gothic romance works. What kinds of comics did you read as preparation for your story? Were there any particular works which inspired this series?
Vaughn: I read vintage horror romance comics like “The Sinister House of Secret Love” and “The Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love,” which were actually precursors to “Secrets of Sinister House” and “Forbidden Tales of Dark Mansion.” I read paperback romances from the 1960s, which were immensely popular at the time. But I also knew I wanted to spend time with the characters and the story a bit more than the usual anthology romance comics of the ’60s and ’70s. Horror romance comics actually often devoted one issue to a single story, and that was very exciting for me. Our book is a bit more in that vein.
Medina: We wanted to give the series a classic feel. So I did research on how things and places looked during this era and incorporated them into the scenes.
Romance comics in particular seem to have made a serious comeback in the last few years – you played a part in that yourself, along with Sarah Winifred in your “Fresh Romance” series “Ruined.” What do you think it is about the genre which has allowed it to make a recent return?
Vaughn: I have a lot of opinions about the how and why with mainstream American comics, but I firmly believe that romance is an enduring genre throughout mediums. I don’t think it’s anything about the genre that has changed, romance is here and always will be, and there will always be readers who want it. But it’s up to publishers and creators to build a volume of work to make it a substantial part of the industry again. You can find a lot of webcomics and titles from small and independent press, also foreign comics. I think it’s only going to grow.
Medina: It’s like fashion, whatever trend is in demand today will eventually come back and become trendy again some time in the future. It’s the same with comics, I guess. People are looking for something they were used to, emotionally, to satisfy the taste of what they are missing from their own life.
Vaughn: It’s also important to note that there are a great many kinds of romance and subgenres. Romance is simply telling you that relationships are the heart of the story. But there are so many settings and genres that wrap around that.
It’s interesting that you’re looking past Deadman and focusing instead on the character of Berenice. What kind of a person is she? What are her wants, her desires, her passions?
Vaughn: Berenice is a young woman who can see and hear ghosts but has learned, oftentimes painfully, that she needs to keep this ability secret if she wants what she considers a normal life. She has a tendency to limit herself, even though she would never want that for others. Her relationship with her boyfriend, Nathan, is centered around her hiding her true self, while her best friend, Sam, is concerned with how much she holds back.
How does Deadman come into her life – what sort of a role is he playing in the series?
Vaughn: Berenice and Deadman get mixed up together when Deadman shows up at Glencourt Manor, intending to save the day after sensing a mysterious distress call. Things get a lot more complicated than either of them had imagined when mysteries regarding the house emerge.
Structurally, again, this is a change of pace, as each issue is double-sized. Does it change the way you pace a story like this, knowing readers have 48 pages each month to work through?
Vaughn: It definitely changes. The flow of information, the time we get to spend in certain scenes, how to end the beginning chapter of an issue vs. how to end an issue. I’ve been really enjoying it.
How do you approach depicting horror in the comic medium? Is it difficult to work up the right tone, and create a truly unsettling experience?
Vaughn: There are a lot of subgenres of horror, and a lot of various depictions of gothic horror romance. My goal wasn’t to create a terrifying or gory experience, but to bring in the classic elements of a ghost story, and focus on how the paranormal affects relationships. In that sense, Deadman himself is a horror element.
Sarah, what do you feel Lan brings to the story, as artist?
Vaughn: Lan’s art is just stunning. His ink wash takes my breath away. His backgrounds are unreal. Agh!
José Villarrubia’s gorgeous colors bring it all in. And Janice Chiang has done an amazing job with letters. I’ll admit I’m always anxious about how a script will translate into a final page, but when I got to look at issue #1, I just couldn’t believe it.
How have you found working together on the series? What’s the collaborative process been like?
Medina: I have a great team, and Sarah is very accommodating and helpful. When I’m not familiar with a particular scene, like the human hair on the ring, she would explain and elaborate so I can get a better picture of it. She always makes things easier for me.
Vaughn: I’m still getting my bearings in working with DC’s process. We all revolve around Alex, our editor, but are available for discussions and questions. It’s a real treat to see pages in my inbox.
Are you viewing “Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love” as a singular statement, or would you be interested in returning to it, perhaps following up with further tales of Boston Brand and the people whose lives he floats into?
Vaughn: I wrote “Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love” to be a self-contained story. I’ve always enjoyed reading books that end. But I’ve also really enjoyed spending time with Boston Brand. Never say never.
The first issue of “Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love” will be released by DC Comics on October 5.
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