When Mike Richardson, the President and Founder of Dark Horse Comics, launched his company, the idea was they would publish and produce their own books in 1986 – a self-publishing enterprise, if you will. Like all good plans, they evolve and change over the years. Where once the former art major and commercial artist was producing his own comics, his attentions turned the daily duties involved in running a publisher. As Dark Horse grew into a multimedia company, producing TV & Film in addition to publishing original and licensed comics, less and less actual comics work was coming from Richardson.
For years, Richardson focused on the running of his business, but he found himself back behind the keyboard in 2005 for “Cravan,” an OGN he worked on with artist Rick Geary. In terms of published comics, he stayed quiet for the next year, but in early 2007 made his presence as a comics writer known once again with “The Secret,” a four issue series with artist Jason Alexander.
That’s not enough for Richardson, though. Announced Sunday at Wizard World Chicago, Richardson’s next work will be seen in the form of the original graphic novel “Cut,” a horror story in the vein of “Hostel” or “Saw,” drawn by artist Todd Herman and set for release this Winter. CBR News spoke exclusively with Richardson and Herman to see how they plan to get inside our minds and scare the, well, you know what out of us.
“Cut” opens with our heroine out of sorts – she’s awakened in an unfamiliar room, uncertain how, when or why she got there. The door is locked, the windows are boarded up and there seems to be no way out. Due to lack of available food and water, she grows weaker, more tired and falls asleep. When next she wakes up, though, she finds she’s been joined by another female captive and things get weirder from there. “As we move forward, the story takes a number of twists and turns and you begin to wonder whose got them and who is responsible,” Richardson told CBR News. “The story takes a big turn when we actually find out the answer to that question. It definitely takes a sudden turn for what we consider the supernatural, but we’re looking at it as though it’s not supernatural – it’s natural.
“I’ve been working on this story for years and it sort of started with the question what if some of the more mythological creatures of horror actually existed in the real world?” continued Richardson. “I’m basically trying to put a realistic spin on what has traditionally been a fictional story. That’s where ‘Cut’ came from – if some of these creatures existed in the real world, how would they operate? How would they impact the real world? How would their victims feel if they were caught up in a series of events that one of these creatures was responsible for?”
While there is some graphic imagery in “Cut,” Richardson explained it’s less blood and guts and more a horror thriller. “The story begins with a scratch on the wall and the realization you’re boarded inside a house,” said Richardson. “There’s a strange noise coming from somewhere in the house that you can’t decipher. Then you see a light under the door and see something’s moving on the other side. Then you look through a keyhole and see an eye staring back at you. Those kinds of things are scarier than just having monsters wreak havoc on every page. There’s not a lot of blood and gore, but there are certainly horrific moments.”
The setting for “Cut” is primarily that small room our heroine finds herself in. For most of the graphic novel, the scene doesn’t change much, which presented artist Todd Herman with some challenges, but Richardson knew he was up to the task. “Todd brought me his early pages and we discussed how to handle it, but it comes down to the fact Todd has the talent to handle this kind of assignment visually. Really, it’s the things you don’t see that are scarier than the things you see, which Todd handled beautifully.”
It was when Richardson saw Herman’s work on another Dark Horse series, “The Fog,” that he knew he found his artist. “When I saw ‘The Fog,’ Todd’s work had a certain tone to it that I really liked and felt would work with ‘Cut,'” said Richards. “There was this detached feeling to it and I saw a little Alex Toth in his work, which is what I wanted to see in ‘Cut.’ [Dark Horse Editor] Scott Allie knew Todd and when I spoke with Scott about it I asked him to approach Todd, who was very enthusiastic from the start. Todd is an artist who’s at the front end of his career, is still developing and a real pleasure to work with. He worked really hard on ‘Cut’ and I hope people like the work we’ve done. It’s not your typical horror book, it’s something quite different.”
Herman was interested in working on “Cut” for a variety of reasons, not the least of which would be the chance to work with the boss, whose work he’s been an admirer of since he first became aware of Dark Horse product in his teens. He’s also a giant horror buff, both films and comics, specifically those classic EC and Warren comics. “‘Cut’ felt, to me, almost as if it had been written in that era of EC or Warren comics, it felt classic and I wanted to approach it that way,” Todd Herman told CBR News.
Herman found working on “Cut” a real challenge, especially the sparse nature of its primary setting, and found he looked at a lot of Bernie Krigstein’s work for inspiration. “The storytelling of ‘Cut’ was a real challenge and called for a lot of subtlety and restraint,” explained Herman. “The acting had a lot to do with getting the story and emotions across and I tried to make the women in the story as real as possible, tried to give them as much humanity as I could. It was tricky trying to get as much out of the shadows and grime in the environment and yet make the acting as clear as needed when possible.”
The fundamental differences between “Cut” and Herman’s last work on “The Fog” forced the artist to adjust his art somewhat from his previous assignment. “‘The Fog’ was a lot of single images telling a story; ‘Cut’ is almost entirely moment to moment panels,” explained Herman. “‘The Fog’ was also an ensemble cast, whereas with ‘Cut’ I think the reader is meant to empathize with the main character for the course of the story. Much of the horror of ‘The Fog’ kind of hits you between the eyes immediately, while with ‘Cut’ there’s meant to be confusion followed by an impending sense of dread and doom that never lets up. It’s much more expressionistic visually in that sense, I think.”
With horror comics, the artist doesn’t have the luxury of the tools a filmmaker has to scare their audience. There’s no mood music setting the scene, or quick cuts that find an assassin or monster jumping into a frame at the last second, but Herman didn’t find not having those sorts of tools at his disposal to be problematic. “The story is very well thought out by Mike,” said Herman. “The fact that the viewer is only given bits and pieces to put together the situation the girls have found themselves in helps the mystery and is what works for the story. I tried to approach the art the same way, particularly with the monster of the book. I went to great lengths to figure out the anatomy and look of the creature, but for most of the book I hide him, showing just bits and pieces, just enough to describe the action. I didn’t want the creature to entirely make sense to the reader, sort of like the first ‘Alien’ film. I wanted him to seem amorphous, even though in my mind he was thoroughly pieced together, so to speak. I figured in a real situation that’s how the main character would be experiencing something like that and I wanted the readers to see it that way, too. Also, I think the book hinges on the ending and I think Mike wrote a really great ending that satisfies all the buildup the reader experiences up to the conclusion.”
Herman admitted the idea of working with Richardson was daunting, but quickly found after meeting him for the first time that that intimidation he previously felt wasn’t something he needed to worry about. “Mike is fantastic to work with. For a person in his position he was certainly open to any suggestions and input I wanted to give him,” said Herman. “I would say his scripts aren’t exactly loose, but he does leave room for interpretation when it’s appropriate, which is both fun for me as an artist and flattering in the sense that I think he trusted me to know what he was asking for. The thing I liked about working with him was that it was real clear the important story points that needed to be met, I think that was inviolate. But particularly with the creature, I think his suggestions were almost more based on how the creature would make the characters and the reader feel and that’s, I think, the best way to approach horror, especially in a primarily visual medium like comics.”
Next up for Herman is another OGN he’s working on with his writer/editor on “The Fog,” Scott Allie, which he described as a “voodoo western.” Richardson is also hard at work on his next projects. In addition to “Cut,” he’s just finished writing a sequel to Roald Dahl’s “Gremlins” for Disney and then there’s “Living With The Dead,” a mini-series coming this October from Dark Horse with artist Ben Steinback. “‘Living With The Dead’ is about two slackers who have, for some reason, survived this great, catastrophic event where the population of has been turned into zombies, much like ‘Night of the Living Dead.’ So, this is the story of two guys who are passing as zombies. They have their outfits and everything’s going fine. It’s them against the world, until they run into a girl that they both end up liking. The next thing is it becomes a contest to out the other one so that the survivor can end up with the girl. So, it’s your typical love triangle – two boys, a girl and several billion zombies.”
“Cut” is a 102 page graphic novel, plus a sketchbook, priced at $9.95, coming this November from Dark Horse Comics.
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